Mt. Apo: A Place of Rest Above the Clouds

For an outsider relying on daily news, the words, Mindanao and Cotabato, conjure images of conflict and kidnappings amid a rural backdrop.

But the city government of Kidapawan in North Cotabato is working on changing this image by promoting its eco-tourism jewels, led by Mt. Apo.

Marie Fe Geronga-Pame, Kidapawan City’s tourism and investment promotions officer, said in a recent interview that tourism prospects have improved compared with previous years.

The local tourism office has worked for years to promote its tourist spots, such as Lake Agco, a village with volcanic vents, sulfur craters and hot springs and the most favorite of the six entry points to majestic Mt. Apo.

A view rewards a trekker on Mt. Apo.

Kidapawan literally means “a spring in the highland” in the Manobo tribe’s dialect. The city government has firmed up its eco-tourism program to facilitate matters for visitors who want to climb Mt Apo and enjoy Lake Agco’s hot springs and resorts.

Promotional materials present Kidapawan as a peaceful haven for eco-tourism.

A trek up Mt Apo, the country’s tallest peak standing 10,311 feet above sea level, starts from Kidapawan through Mandarangan Trail.

The trek starts at the city tourism office where a registration fee of P500 is collected.

A trekker then navigates for 12 hours through rough roads and 90-degree trails, with a surreal view of mountains hugging the clouds to accompany him.

The tourism office provides itineraries for a two, three, to four-day camping trip, depending on travellers’ preference and preparedness.

An hour away from the city is Mahomanoy Hotspring Spa and Resort on the banks of Lake Agco, located in an upland village of Ilomavis, the take-off point for the climb. This resort is the only establishment in the area with complete amenities such as lodging quarters and rooms, hot spring pools, and cave-formed sauna bath.

It is run by the Mt. Apo Ten-Kilometer Radius Multi-purpose Cooperative whose members are all from the Manobo tribe and assisted by the city government.

Ms. Pame said the local government gave Manobo indigenous peoples in Agco community capability-building training and provided them with technical assistance so they can benefit from tourism.

Climbing and tour guide Mark Raniel D. Nevisca, a young Manobo, said during weekends local tourists flock to the lake resort in numbers. A newcomer would think a festival is ongoing due to the sheer volume of local tourists, he claimed.

Mahomanoy Hotspring Spa and Resort charges an entrance fee of P30. Rooms for couples and groups of up to 10 range from P500 to P1,000 a day.

For a backpacker traveling on a small budget, a space for pitching a tent is available for just P10 a day.

Ms. Pame assured travelers of their security in the area. She said all sectors -- from authorities to locals -- are organized to help ensure visitors’ safety, knowing that all it takes is one untoward incident to ruin the attractiveness of their area.

Mr. Nevisca said his tribe, being the majority among others in Ilomavis, coexists peacefully with both Visayan settlers and Muslims alike.

The trek to Mr. Apo’s summit starts on a trail that leads to a secondary forest.

After 15 minutes, Marble River welcomes hikers.

The trek requires crossing this river seven times for nearly two hours.

Hikers then pass through a community of Mandarangan where they pay a modest fee of P10 that will be used to maintain bridges and other facilities in the area, a tribal collector explained.

Then comes a six-hour hike to a thick mossy forest passing through 87- and 90-degree rock walls.

After another hour, visitors will be welcomed by the scenic Lake Venado, a mountain lake “shaped like a dinosaur when the water level is high and shaped like a woman when the level is low,” said Mr. Nevisca.
Almost there!

Reaching this spot rewards the hiker with an enticing view of the summit from the lake. Mr. Nevisca said locals believe the weather around the lake depends on the behavior of visitors. The weather becomes turbulent when visitors are rowdy, he claimed. 

Climbers usually camp near the lake for the night before proceeding to the summit, which is three hours away.

The prize for the persevering hiker who aims to reach the summit before dusk is an orange sunset at a spot unique for being the highest point in the area where one can view the fading of the day.

Words fail to describe the silence that awaits trekkers at the peak, providing a welcome break from one’s daily troubles.

There, the world and time seem to freeze to offer one’s wearied body and soul momentary respite. The night sky is clear, flooding one’s surroundings with light from the moon and stars.

Morning at the peak is another unique experience -- you wake up with clouds rushing through you as if you were still in a dream.

Completing a Mt. Apo climb not only provides a tourist unique adventure and peaceful journey but leaves a feeling of wanting to come back, Ms. Pame said. It truly should be a top tourist destination in the country, she added.

As British travel writer Pico Iyer once said, “We travel, initially to lose ourselves; and we travel next to find ourselves. We travel to open our heart and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.”

By: Louie Pacardo
The above article was also published in BusinessWorld Weekender (A Place of Rest Above the Clouds) last January 19, 2012.


Check out my other Mt. Apo articles here:

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