Revisiting the past and the present in the city of balanghais

Even in ancient times, we Filipinos have a rich maritime culture. Our ancestors travel for so many different reasons – to discover new trade routes, to find new settlements, or simply, to chart a new course.

The former capital of Agusan in Northern Mindanao, Butuan, was an ancient sea-faring kingdom by the river and a major center of commerce in pre-colonial Philippines.

Today, Butuan is dubbed as the “Timber Capital of the Philippines” and is now a highly urbanized city that lies at the heart of the province, bounded by mountainous terrain along its northeastern and western parts, with flat, rolling lands in its center, particularly where the Agusan River cuts through as it empties into Butuan Bay.

Butuan’s unique geography of gentle rolling hills of tropical rainforest, fascinating rock formations and mysterious caves, enchanting beaches with crystal-clear water teeming with marine life, and magnificent waterfalls leaves one with wonder and awe in the vibrant and timeless hues of nature.

But Butuan’s claim to fame lies in its ancient past.

Butuan City has been known here and abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia, as a city of antiques and archaeological finds – a treasure throve of knowledge and discovery of cultural relics from ancient Philippines. The discovery of nine balanghais or balangays – wooden sailing vessels of pre-Spanish Butuanons – in Ambangan, Libertad  is unprecedented across the world and has no parallel in SE Asian prehistoric archeology. These finds gave experts, and us, a glimpse of the maritime history of the early Asians, particularly, the pre-colonial Filipinos.

Walking through Butuan’s glorious past

The Balangay Shrine Museum is built in the actual excavation area in Brgy. Ambangan, Libertad of what is now known as the Butuan Boat No. 1. The museum houses the more than 1,650-year old balanghai or “mother boat” excavated in 1976, the oldest of the nine balanghais dug in and around Butuan City. Declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 1986, this wooden boat averages 15 meters long and 3 meters wide across the beam and is the same type and construction as those recovered in Sumatra and Pontian in Malaysia, apparently of the same period.

Also on display here is Boat No. 5 (discovered in 1986 and carbon dated to about 990AD) and several 14th- to 15th-century relics – skulls of anient Butuanons, coffins, pots, jewelries, hunting tools, and ceramics.

Located inside Luna Compound in Brgy. Bading is the balanghai building site where one can marvel at the huge Masawa Hong Butuan – one of three boats recreated only with materials available during the time period and faithfully adhered to the craftsmanship of the early Butuanons. The 40-man crew Masawa completed in December 2010 a 15-month journey through seven countries in SE Asia, retracing ancient Filipino trade routes.

To maximize your trip to this site, head off to the Banza Church Ruins just across Agusan river. You can hire one of several bancas moored near the balanghai building site for the 2-minute ride to the ruins.  This once magnificent stone structure was burned by Moro pirates in 1753. A centuries-old banyan tree engulfed in its huge trunk parts of the ruins, making for some unique formation.

The Butuan Regional Museum of History showcases Butuan’s prehistoric existence and rich cultural heritage. It comprised of two galleries – the Archaeological Hall and the Ethnological Hall – where specimens of stone crafts, metal crafts, woodcrafts, potteries, goldsmithing tools and products, burial coffins, and other archaeological diggings, as well as various contemporary Butuanon implements used for everyday living are exhibited.

Located in Doongan Road near the city hall, the museum is about a 10-minute walk from the city center.

The Magellan landing (or anchorage) monument is found along the beach of Masao (Masawa, which means “bright” in Butuanon), a 30-minute tricycle ride from the museum. Common folk lore says that Magellan landed here in and made blood compact with the Butuanon chieftains, the brothers Rajah Siatu and Rajah Colambu.

Another 30-minute tricycle ride from Masao Beach, nestled in the cooler hills of Brgy. Poblacion in Magallanes town (which is formerly part of Butuan City), is the Bood Promontory. Found here is the historic marker commemorating the celebration of the first Catholic Mass in Mindanao held on April 8, 1521.


CONTACTS: BUTUAN CITY TOURISM OFFICE | Butuan City Hall Complex, J. Rosales Avenue, Doongan, Butuan City | Phone: (085) 225 4041

BED FOR THE NIGHT: FLOR-AL MANSION | J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 0922 360 5664 | Cozy budget hotel at the heart of the city
DOTTIE’S PLACE | #26 J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 960 777 8841
BUTUAN MANSION HOUSE & RESTAURANT | R. Calo St., Butuan City | Phone: 085 341 5313

WHERE TO EAT:
LANGIHAN PUBLIC MARKET | Langihan Road, Butuan City | Sample Butuan’s very own palagsing! This local delicacy, usually sells at PHP10 per bundle of four, is as a brown, sticky suman, made of sago starch or unaw, young coconut meat and sugar.

Pink: The Color of Peace and Harmony

Masjid Dimaukom

The Pink Mosque of Maguindanao — constructed in December 2012 and formally opened to devotees in June 2014 — is a gift to the people of Datu Saudi Ampatuan from its mayor, Samsudin Utto Dimaukom, Al-Hadj.

Pink, Mayor Dimaukom revealed, is his favorite color; in fact, it is also the color of choice for the town’s municipal hall and other government structures.

Ni-research namin ‘yan kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng pink, [it means] peaceful, pagmamahal, iba-iba naman ‘yan, pwedeng pagmamahal kay Allah, pagmamahal sa taumbayan, at pagmamahal sa bayan.

Masjid Dimaukom, as the mosque is now called, stands on the Dimaukom family property and has come to symbolize peace and love.

 

To Get There

The national highway that connects Cotabato City and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat passes by Datu Saudi Ampatuan. There are vans coming from Cotabato City bound for Tacurong City (also in Sultan Kudarat) or Isulan and vice versa. If coming from Isulan, ride a Cotabato City-bound jeepney stationed at the Isulan “roundball” or rotonda. First trip leaves around 7AM and every 30mins, thereafter, depending on the volume of passengers. Advise the driver that you’ll get off at Datu Saudi (to avoid any confusion as there is another town called Ampatuan); or, you can simply tell the driver that you’re going to the Pink Mosque. It is now a popular landmark in Maguindanao known to many locals. The  mosque is just a short walk from the main highway and fronting the municipal hall.

Ciao 2015! It has been a wonderful ride.

When asked, most people would say that the principal value of traveling is that it breaks the monotony of life and work.

Y’see, life, for many of us, is a mad rush. A dash from home to the office–from one place to the next. A sprint from one client meeting to a waiting company presentation–from one money-making deal to the next career-breaking move. Day-in, day-out we try to accomplish as many stuff as possible. Thus, traveling becomes a form of escape for the likes of us–a time to relax, reflect and ponder. Traveling gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our regular life and, for a fleeting moment, not think of any problems or issues for a few days (or weeks). Being away on a weekend can also afford us the much-needed time to help us figure things out that we would not have understood without the distance traveling can give. We all have crazy schedules, work, and a family to take care of and going away alone or with some friends gives us that break we rightfully deserve.

Very few find a great deal of informative value in traveling. More often than not, our focus centers on the promise of a fun-filled R&R, of selfies and jump shots. This is where I realized that a lot of people don’t seem to share some of my views about traveling. For me, it is very important to see and experience the places I visit from a local resident’s perspective. Traveling is an avenue for me to open my heart and mind to new things and explore different cultures and traditions; thus, experiencing life in new and exciting ways–widening my perspective about life, especially the life I have in relation to how other people live. If viewed with an open mind, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones…

Before I totally bid adieu to 2015, indulge me as I look back at the highlights of my adventures and travels:

Got on a road trip from Iloilo City to Cebu City, passing through Bacolod City, Sipalay, Dumaguete City and Badian.

“Traversed” North and South Mindanao, bringing me to Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental, Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls in South Cotabato, Asik-asik Falls in North Cotabato; as well as allowed me to revisit the majestic cascades of Maria Cristina, Mimbalot and Tinago in Iligan, and Tinuy-an in Bislig.

Scratched off a few more things from my To-Do list

Brought home these wonderful ‘loot’

 

Had some of my travelogues published

The year 2015 has indeed been one helluva ride!

Hmmmm…. now, where am I in the Lakbayan map:

My Lakbayan grade is A+!

Talakudong Festival: Wear Your Hat

The Talakudong Festival in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat is a neo-ethnic cultural extravaganza celebrating the city’s rich and diverse cultures and tradition. The spectacle is highlighted by streetdancing and a field demo competition, participated in by various elementary and high schools across the region. Dancers in colorful costumes don the traditional “kudong“–the Ilonggo term for salakot–adorned in indigenous trimmings, and comes in various hues and sizes.

Celebrated every 18th of September, this week-long festivity opens with a float parade and agro-industrial fair, showcasing Tacurong’s best agricultural and industrial products.

Aliwagwag Falls: Inspiring Awe

Aliwagwag Falls

2012. When I first saw a photo of Aliwagwag Falls from an airline’s in-flight magazine, the ONLY word that I was able to summon was: AWESOME.

“Awesome” is a word I stay away from as much as possible. I generally file it in my “for-lack-of-a-better-term” folder, and only pull it out in “emergency cases”, where I ran out of adjectives: Last night’s party was “awesome.” Your new Fujifilm X100T is “awesome.” The extensive coverage given by the tri-media to the presidential bid announcements of Binay, Roxas and Poe, while ignoring the masses’ call for a Duterte presidency, is simply “awesome.”

My reluctance on the use of “awesome” stems from a purely semantic point of view. Isn’t it strange, if not weird, that we describe such profound beauty that it inspires awe as “awesome”? Shouldn’t it be full of awe; therefore, awful? So, last night’s party was in fact awful, as was the camera and the media coverage.

But in the case of Aliwagwag Falls, I make an exception.

This beauteous stairway-to-heaven-like cascade is definitely awesome! I was mesmerized. Scanning the pages of the magazine, I excitedly searched its location, mouthing an inaudible “Whoopie!” when I found where it’s at: Cateel, Davao Oriental.

2013. Typhoon Pablo happened… and Cateel was among the badly hit municipalities in the region: and. Aliwagwag Falls was severely damaged. My hopes of seeing her was dashed.

#TeamBAMid 2014. I got a call from a friend who works at the Davao City Tourism Office that they’ve just recently visited Cateel, and that efforts to “restore”  Aliwagwag Falls is “well underway”. The news got me excited–and sad at the same time, because I wouldn’t be seeing the falls in all her natural splendor. Nevertheless, that didn’t dampen my desire to visit Aliwagwag a single bit.

Fast-forward to 2015, I was finally able to make the trip with these awesome people…

Aliwagwag Falls
Cateel, Davao Oriental

Aliwagwag Falls is a series of 84 falls, mimicking a stairway with various heights in between steps, ranging from 2m to 33.5m (7ft to 110 ft). The highest cascades are about 22m (72 ft) and 20m (66 ft). Overall, Aliwagwag Falls is 340m (1,120 ft) high and 20m (66 ft) wide. If upright, it is undoubtedly the highest waterfalls in the country!

The Philippines is such a beautiful country; and the fact that I can enjoy its beauty is wonderful. Life, indeed, is full of beauty and wonder.

P.S.

To Cateel by Grab Taxi-DavaoThere are two routes leading to Aliwagwag Falls: through Compostela Valley (which we took) and via Mati, Davao Oriental. The latter is the more practical option, as there are many trips going to Mati (via Bachelor Bus Lines), compared with only one trip (via Mallen Express) if going by way of Compostela Valley. Travel time varies from 6hrs to 8hrs.

Since we were pressed for time, we opted to hire an AUV for two (2) days: Davao-ComVal-Cateel-Mati-Davao route.

 

Seek and you will find… Asik-asik.

The island of Mindanao is blessed with rich and bountiful natural resources, not to mention majestic land- and seascapes. It is home to three of the highest peaks in the country, several marine and wildlife sanctuaries, and hundreds–if not thousands–of waterfalls, explored and unexplored. No wonder it is called the Philippines’ Final Frontier.

Hitting two birds…

When we talk about Mindanao waterfalls, Tinuy-an in Bislig and Maria Cristina and Tinago, both in Iligan come to mind. But there still exist some equally-glorious-yet-seldom-talked-about cascades in the island of Mindanao: Limunsudan in Lanao del Norte; Asik-Asik in Alamada, North Cotabato; and Aliwagwag in Cateel, Davao Oriental–my Holy Grails of Philippine Waterfalls!

Much of the allure these waterfalls possess is due to their reputation as difficult-to-reach destinations, coupled with stories of brigands and other lawless elements patrolling the roads leading to these natural gems.

On my most recent trip to Mindanao, I was fortunate to have visited two of these three breathtaking waterfalls in Mindanao: Asik-asik and Aliwagwag.

Asik-Asik Falls
Brgy. Dado, Alamada, North Cotabato

“Discovered” only in April 2012 by local students on a field trip, Asik-asik Falls opened its doors to visitors in September that same year.

At 140 meters wide and about 60 meters high, this natural formation resembles a vast jade wall veiled with silky smooth curtains. Unlike most waterfalls, Asik-asik does not have a visible water source at its top, instead, water flows out from the mountain’s side, more like a series of springs.

According to some locals I chanced upon, this phenomenon may have been due to strong typhoons that ravaged the area a few years back, where clumps of trees were uprooted… and from these, cracks appeared which allowed the water to spring forth. A flowing natural pool formed at the base of the cascades where visitors can swim in the cold, clear waters.

SIDETRIP:

Still as magnificent as the first time I saw it in 2012.

Still as magnificent as the first time I saw it in 2012.

After an arduous trek to Asik-asik, you might wanna visit Cotabato City’s Grand Mosque.

The golden mosque or the “Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah dang Brunei” (Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque) is located a few kilometers away from the main highway, Sinsuat Avenue, in Barangay Kalangalan, on a parcel of land donated by the Dilangalen clan. Nestled beside Tamontaka River and the Moro Gulf, the masjid is a sight to behold from the air, as it is near Awang Airport.

The golden masjid is partly funded by the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam as part of a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. Designed by world-renowned Palafox and Associates, the mosque incorporated domes and minarets of the Arab-Islamic influence.

To Cateel by Grab Taxi-DavaoNext:

From here to eternity… that is Cateel, Davao Oriental…

Going Solo in the Land of Promise (Part 2)

This is the continuation of my travel log for my week-long Mindanao Road Trip.

Mindanao Roadtrip

What to see in Marawi City

What to see in Marawi City

Day 04: Marawi City. With my Limunsudan Falls trip going bust, I was left with an extra day in Iligan. Feeling a tad adventurous, I decided to make a quick visit to Marawi City.

Aware of the fact that Marawi is 90% Moslem (that is why it was named as The Islamic City of Marawi), I heeded the advice–more like a warning, though–of the hotel keeper in Iligan to be wary in asking directions from random people; instead, I should go directly to the Tourism Office at City Hall.

MSU-Marawi

It is as if I was transported to UP Diliman, waiting for the UP-Ikot jeep.

However, the “Armak” that I took was bound directly for Mindanao State University, which, in a way, was a good thing; because, from what I have read, some of Marawi’s prime spots are located here: the Aga Khan Museum, the King Faisal Mosque, and of course MSU Campus, with its stunning view of Lake Lanao or Meranau in the local dialect.

After chatting up a friendly campus police, who gave me some of the low-downs on Marawi City life–including what to tell the jeepney driver to get “maximum cooperation”: Ibaba mo ako kay Mayor sa City Hall–I headed for downtown. Well, the phrase worked wonders indeed, as the driver was not only very courteous but also greatly helpful in pointing me to the right direction: the city tourism office [looks like Mayor Fahad Salic is either well loved or  extremely feared].

The tourism officer was also very helpful, and overly “protective”. Upon learning that I was travelling alone, she insisted that I take a tricycle driven by someone she knows.

Around lunchtime and midway through the tour, a man approached me and introduced himself as “from the tourism office”. He told me that it is in my best interest to cut short the “tour” and head back to Iligan, as “a man taking photos of buildings” has caught the attention of “some” people.

Without asking further questions, I hurriedly left, taking the first available van to Iligan City. Whew!

With nothing else to do, I decided to segue to Balingoan Port in Cagayan de Oro, hoping to catch the last ferry to Camiguin Island.

Day 05: Camiguin Island via  Brgy. Kinoguitan.

Solo travel is indeed a wonderful and fulfilling venue to explore little known places in the Philippines and get to experience first-hand the vibrancy and diversity of the Filipino culture.

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