The smell of the cold wind filled my lungs as my "owong" cut through the still waters of the lake. The early morning sun that softly touched my skin was enough to give me a snugly warm feeling in the cold weather of this lake community. The gentle sound of water slushing as the we paddled through its waters had a calming effect on me. A sea of pink lotuses was in full view. This is the kind of experience that you will remember when you visit Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.
Lake Sebu is a 42, 450-hectare landscape in South Cotabato made popular for a lake of the same name and its T'nalak Dream Weavers. Its landscape composed of water resources, mountains, rolling hills, and rainforests which is home to fauna endemic to the country like the Philippine deer. At the heart of these natural resources is the placid Lake Sebu - a 354-hectare fresh water lake which is a center of the aquaculture in the region. It is now being developed as an amazing ecotourism destination in Mindanao.
There are a lot of places to explore in Lake Sebu. It is a place blessed with a rich cultural heritage and natural attractions that will keep tourists at the edge of their habal-habal seat. It was also great to see that tourism efforts are well-coordinated by the local government that tour rates are standard. A half-day tour will cost you Php500 per person, covering 4 spots, while a whole day tour that covers 6 destinations is at Php750 per person. With the help of our tour guide, Kuya Ronald (contact details: 09972482160), we explored interesting spots in Lake S'bu that showcased its natural beauty and rich culture.
Lake Sebu Owong Morning Cruise
Lake S'bu is one of the tourism icons of the province. The placid lake is a beauty that can be admired the whole day with its panoramic view of the daily grind of its locals and the rugged mountains as its backdrop. The lake, situated within the Allah Valley, sits at an elevation of 1000 meters and is said to be the source of one of the tastiest tilapia in the country. It is a normal scene to catch a fisherman cruising through its still waters aboard a wooden canoe called "owong".
But the real beauty of Lake S'bu manifests as the first ray of sunrise lights up its still waters. The warmth of the early morning sun lets hundreds of pink lotuses bloom in the lake. We took an early morning cruise aboard an "owong", a makeshift wooden or fiberglass canoe that can fit 2-3 people, to an area where the lotuses flourish. You will get to enjoy the view of these pink blossoms as the owong cuts through the vegetation.
The charm of the lotus bloom can only be enjoyed in the morning until close to lunch time when these flowers fold up. It was also good that we came in to visit Lake S'bu on a weekday so the usual tourist crowd was absent and we had unadulterated view of the blooming lotuses.
Hikong Alu (Falls 1) and Zipline
Lake Sebu has 7 waterfalls within its domain and only two these waterfalls are easily accessible to tourists. A trip to Lake Sebu is not complete without visiting Hikong Alu and Hikong Bente.
Hikong Alu, commonly known as Falls 1, is the most developed in terms of tourism facilities. This is the jump-off point of the zipline that will give you a top view of Falls 2, 3, 4, and 5. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to try out the zipline as it was still closed at the time of our early morning visit.
In T'boli dialect, "hikong" means falls and "alu" means passage. Spring water cascades from a height of a 35 feet on a rock wall surface. Some locals fish for freshwater shells along the banks of the river that flows downstream towards Falls 2. Getting close to its cascade is possible because of the paved walkway leading close to its catch basin.
A few meters from the waterfalls is a cemented bridge where you get a full view of Hikong Alu. This is where you also get a chance to wear T'boli costume, for a minimal fee, for that culturally sensitive photo with Hikong Alu on the background.
Hikong Bente (Falls 2)
Hikong Bente is the biggest and the most beautiful waterfall among the seven with water cascading from a height of 70 feet. The rock wall surrounding the cascade and its downstream water flow makes its landscape more dramatic.
Unlike Hikong Alu, the riverbanks of Hikong Bente is rocky and getting a close look at the base of its cascade is challenging. It does not help that the catch basin of the falls is hidden behind a rock wall. It was a beauty to catch the sun's rays break through the foliage atop the falls while a thin mist of water rises into the air.
Lake Sebu's Falls 2 did not disappoint. The thunderous sound of water cascading was enough to excite guests as you take a 10-minute walk from the jump-off point to its viewing area. It is so majestic that one wouldn't mind taking the time just to enjoy and capture its beauty.
Tucked in one of the hills of Lake Sebu is a tranquil sanctuary of the faithful - the Divine Mercy. The sanctuary is a great place to sit still and commune with God.
The sprawling garden is lined with the images of hundreds of saints. Each saint was given his or her own space where devotees can offer a short prayer. At the center of all these saints is the huge image of the Divine Mercy that sits at the highest point of the prayer hill overlooking the rolling hills of Lake Sebu. One can actually have a panoramic view of the rugged terrain that surrounds the prayer sanctuary from that vantage point. The imposing image of the Jesus Christ seems to be looking over the stretch of Lake Sebu.
There are pocket areas where one can sit down, meditate, and pray so loud noises are frowned upon in the area. They also have a strict dress code for ladies. Guests are expected to observe the solemnity of the place.
Lang Dulay Weaving House
Lake Sebu is an ancestral domain of the T'boli, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines. Their culture and heritage are very much alive as you go around Lake Sebu as their bead bracelets and necklaces, brass ornaments, and tubao are offered as "pasalubongs" or memorabilias of the trip. But the ornament that really reflects their culture is their T'nalak - a traditional abaca textile woven by their dream weavers.
Lang Dulay is the face behind the preservation of the traditional weaving of the T'nalak. She was a T'boli princess who learned the art from her mother at the age of 12 and later on passed on the knowledge to her grandchildren. She was conferred the National Living Treasures Award in 1998 for her efforts. Up until her death in 2015, she had over a hundred patterns that was based on her dreams.
We met Sabulan Dulay and the other dreamweavers at the Lang Dulay Weaving House. Sabulan Dulay is the daughter-in-law of Lang Dulay, and now leads the other dreamweavers in the preservation of their traditional art of weaving. They were very accomodating and gave an insights about the T'nalak.
The T'nalak is a traditional clothing that holds a prominent place in their culture. It is a peized possession that outlines the T'boli culture - their dreams, belief, and religion. The inspiration for the design is based on the female weaver's dreams hence the term "dream weavers". The ability to interpret dreams into the design determines their level of weaving skills.
The creation of the T'nalak textile is a long process of 32 steps from cooking the abaca, crafting of the design, dyeing the abaca threads, and the actual weaving of the fabric. The whole process can take 3-6 months depending on the availability of materials. We had the opportunity to capture Sabulan Dulay was in the middle of starting a new design during our visit. Despite the language barrier, I could feel her eagerness to share their culture as she worked her design on the abaca threads.
The weaving house also offers great pasalubong items designed with T'nalak fabric. Having seen and heard the story behind this fabric, I am glad to be a proud owner of an iPad travel organizer made from T'nalak. If you want to order the T'nalak fabric, you can contact them directly through Charlie Dulay at (0935) 656 5280.
The T'Boli Museum is one spot in Lake Sebu where you get a good glimpse of their culture and traditions. The museum, just a 5-minute from the town center, is a repository of the artifacts that detail the history and way of life of the indigenous Philippine tribe.
The museum was designed similar to a typical T'boli house - a bungalow wooden house that is elevated from the ground. The house doesn't have any partitions and the space is multi-functional depending on the need. At the far end of the house is an elevated platform which serves as the patriarch's sleeping area.
The museum houses the largest collection of brass gongs in the region. These gongs are symbols of wealth and prestige among the T'bolis. The museum also has a collection of porcelain wares from the 8th and 15th century indicating strong trading relationships during those times. On display are brass, beaded, and woven ornaments that reflects the the history, culture, and life of the T'bolis of South Cotabato.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
As the caretaker/curator of the T'boli Museum drummed on a brass gong that created a haunting bass sound, I took in everything that I can in to grasp a deeper understanding of the T'bolis. I have to admit that I got enchanted with the T'bolis and Lake Sebu. I got so mesmerized by the place that I wanted to stay longer and discover more.
Lake Sebu was the highlight of my Central Mindanao trip. The natural beauty of the place, the culture, and its vibe captured my heart. It simply oozes with natural beauty and personality. Its charm seeps into your soul that you leave the place with a heavy heart and you make the promise to visit again soon. There is no doubt that Lake Sebu is now one of my favorite destination in the Philippines.
Getting There: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air have regular daily flights to General Santos City and Cotabato City. You can take a bus or a van to Surallah. Once in Surallah, you can take a van to Lake Sebu. You can hire a habal-habal from the van terminal.
For habal-habal and Lake Sebu tour arrangements, you can contact Kuya Ronald Maguan at (0997) 2482160.
Sample Travel Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Cotabato City / Cotabato City Tour (Click here for trip details of the trip.)
> The Grand Mosque (Habal-Habal Contact: Mohammad Edsa - 0935 9063067)
> People’s Palace
> Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral
> PC Hill and Tantawan Park
> Old Cotabato City Hall
> Cotabato City Plaza
Day 2: Asik-Asik Falls, Alamada, Cotabato
(Click here for trip details of the trip. Contact person for habal-habal arrangements from Midsayap: Jun Camap – 0919 4558958)
Day 3: Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat Road Trip in the morning enroute to Lake Sebu.
> White Mosque (Datu Odin Sinsuat)
> Margues Blue Lagoon (Datu Odin Sinsuat)
> Pink Mosque (Datu Saudi Amapatuan)
> Sultan Kudarat Provincial Capitol (Isulan)
Lake Sebu Walking Tour (PM)
> Lake S’bu
> T’Boli Museum
> Lake Sebu Town Center
Day 4: Lake Sebu Tour (Contact person for Lake Sebu Tour: Ronald Maguan – 0997 2482160).
Travel to Glan in the afternoon.
Day 5: Glan Tour
> Lago Beach
> Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Church
> Glan Municipal Hall
> Taban Beach
> Gumasa Beach
Travel to General Santos City in the afternoon
Day 6: General Santos City Tour
> General Santos Fish Port
> Queen Tuna Park
> Pioneer Street
> Plaza Heneral Santos
> Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage
> Tiongson Arcade
Day 7: Early morning departure to Manila
Marc del Rosario
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