With unique landscapes, pleasant people in the surrounding villages, and elements of outdoor adventure, it is no wonder why Lake Holon is now one of the most popular destinations in this part of the country. But there’s more to it than just the Instagram-ish photos you see on your friends’ social media posts.
The 304-hectare tranquil lake in the town of Tboli in the Upper Valley of South Cotabato was a witness to tragedies and conflicts before it became the darling of tourists that it is today. It was once known as part of a disaster than an ecotourism wonder. Collaborations of tourism stakeholders, rebranding to recreate image perceptions, and assigning the right people were some of the keys to reaching its current status.
Today, hundreds brave the unpredictable weather in the tiring trail just to marvel in its beauty. Is it all worth it? The weekly foot traffic and the mainstream and social media buzz about Holon provide the answer. Here are some interesting stories to know ahead to enhance your trekking experience should you decide to hit the trail to Holon:
Mysteries abound the volcanic lake
The lake is said to be guarded by fairies and mountain gods. Stories of unseen forces doing their unnatural routines within the vicinity of the mountain are still narrated by the locals. First timers to the mountain are usually welcomed by a blessing of rain. Proof of this weird phenomena are the experiences of many first-time trekkers getting drenched in cold rain on their first trek. Mornings and afternoons at the lake are times of unexplained events. At around 10 AM or 4 PM, the debris and leaves that float in the lake swirls to the center in a pale whirlpool observable with very fine ripples.
Locals claim it is the lake’s natural way of cleaning itself by draining out the debris and leaves. Although there are assumptions that there is an underground outlet that drains the water out of the deep lake, no technical or scientific data confirms this theory. Be mindful of the mornings. There have been accounts by mountaineers of hearing weird jubilant sounds at 3 in the morning. Isn’t 3AM considered by mystics and spirituals as the time when the gates of the underworld open?
Local culture is an ingredient for good adventure
The trek to all the campsite destinations will allow you to pass by communities home to the Tboli indigenous peoples. Greet them and be friendly. Starting a conversation with the locals will usher you to new discoveries about their culture and tradition...or maybe new information biologist or anthropologist have no idea about. The trek via Kule Trail is more recommended when one wants to experience the Tboli culture. The Sitio Kule community leaders and members are trained to accommodate tourists by showcasing the indigenous culture through food, music and dances.
Just recently, the lake was awarded by Green Destination Organization as among the 100 sustainable destinations in the world. The prize proves the stakeholders’ efforts to preserve the lake and the local culture amidst the influx of tourists.
Lake Holon tells stories of disaster, survival, and hope
The vast lake supports livelihoods of thousands of farmers in the downstream of South Cotabato and nearby Sultan Kudarat. It connects to the 100-kilometer long Allah River that feeds and gives life to some 30,000 hectares of farm lands stretching down the Maguindanao province. But in September 1995, a tragic incident claimed the lives of at least 53 people when the lake overflowed and inundated the connecting villages. The incident, infamously known as Lake Maughan tragedy, cost at least half a billion pesos of damage to infrastructure and agriculture. Eighteen people remain missing to this day.
Whether it was a natural occurrence or man-made, the surviving families in Tboli area have different stories to tell. The local communities are moving on though the scars remain and the threat of recurrence of the tragedy is still disturbing them. The name Lake Maughan was changed and reverted to its indigenous name, Lake Holon, in an attempt to move on from this tragic past.
You can camp at the summit, in the lake shore, or at the river outlet of the lake
The lake shore holds the main campsite as it is also the most popular. There are options of camping in different locations for different experiences, too. The summit of the volcano can be trekked for 6 hours via the Barangay Tbolok trail. From the top, the sunset is amazing and the sunrise that reflects golden light in Sarangani Bay in the southeast is magical. An open sky may reveal Mt. Apo in Davao Region from afar, Mt. Matutum in Tupi and Mt. Melibato in the Tboli.
See the lake from the bird’s eye view and witness the fast movement of the clouds as it blanket the vast lake. To reach the outlet of the lake, a 4-hour trek via the mossy and closed canopy forest is necessary.
A rewarding view reminiscent of Jurassic Park movie scenes will welcome the persistent trekkers. The most visited of its three campsites is the main camp that can hold up to 200 campers at once. Go fishing in the lake or simply bask in the silence under the flooding stars of the night sky… when everyone is asleep.
You can choose between the hard trail or the harder trail
The Nabol trail provides an easier access to the lake compared to the new but more challenging Kule trail. Although for first time trekkers, easier doesn’t really mean easy. Kule trail lets you scale the mountain in a tougher trail but with a rewarding panoramic view of the whole lake from one of the tallest ridges. Lake Holon can be your take-off to other eco-tourism destinations in Tboli.
Aside from Lake Holon, Tboli also cradles underground wonders and multiple waterfalls. After completing a 2-day trek, one can consider including the rafting adventure inside the underground river of Bakngeb cave in Barangay Laconon. Another option is waterfalls-hopping in the heavily-forested patch in Barangay Kematu where Hidak falls and its two tributary falls are settled. Posh huts and cottages are available, too, if a night’s stay is necessary.
Lake Holon’s rise to becoming a traveler’s darling is one story of reinvention to become better
Popularity of the lake soared since the attempt to erase the tragic past. But the tourism sector thought that there’s more to just receiving an average of around 50 visitors every weekend, hence, the rebranding of the destination. It’s a new phase the tourism sector, led by the local tourism office, chose to enter. New brand means reinvention-new strategies to promote local tourism without taking out of the big picture the people and the local culture, the concerns of the environment, and its sustainability.
Locals were trained to engage in tourism; roads were improved; and aggressive promotions using new images were launched in different media platforms. It was the sector’s response to the challenge of becoming better. The lake now receives around 300 bookings every weekend with a limit of 200 per night. Hundreds more have to be turned down to minimize the footprints as sanctioned by the local code. More than 200 locals directly benefit from the booming tourism through guiding, providing porter and transportation and, other tourism related services. With this, trekking to Lake Holon doesn’t only make you appreciate its beauty, you are helping the locals, too.
How to get there
Tboli is 40 minutes away from the City of Koronadal or an hour and forty minutes away from General Santos City where the international airport is located. Public vans and buses are available for transfers. Bus or van fare from Koronadal to Tboli will cost you less than P80. Register at the tourism office of Tboli (P20) located at the municipal grounds before heading to Barangay Salacafe, the take-off point to the lake. Salacafe is accessible by riding the habal-habal motorcycle for P100 per person, one way. Drivers may charge an additional P50 for extra luggage. Upon reaching Salacafe, there is another registration at the tourism center. Guides (P300 per day) and porters (P20 per kilo, one way) are available here.
Contact NumberArts Culture and Tourism Development Office
Enjoy your mountain! Cheers!
*This is the blog version of the same article of mine published recently in Aventuras Magazine of AMCOOP in South Cotabato.