Experience Northern Mindanao: A Nature, Cultural Immersion

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Experience Northern Mindanao: A Nature, Cultural Immersion

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Northern Mindanao is not only home to three of Southeast Asia’s most lush nature parks – Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Malindang, and Mt. Hibok-Hibok – but also to a vibrant culture and tradition that its indigenous groups have carefully preserved to this day.

These diverse offerings were highlighted in the three-day Philippine Experience Program (PEP): Northern Mindanao, a flagship Department of Tourism (DOT) initiative that brought in more than 100 local and foreign delegates to the region last week.

The trip put a spotlight on the provinces of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental and reintroduced them as destinations that are ready to welcome tourists.

With the significant improvement in safety and security in Bukidnon, the trip proved how local governments do well in ramping up efforts to further develop their tourism industry and attract more visitors.

“Bukidnon is peaceful, it’s a lot different from 10 years, 20 years ago,” Bukidnon Governor Rogelio Neil Roque said about tourist safety in the province, during an interview on the sidelines of the PEP.

“A lot has (changed), mahirap talaga before and tourism can be affected. Even ako, I’m an official before. During that time, it was my first term as congressman, I would not encourage for tourists to come. That’s years ago. But now, we encourage them to come (it was difficult before and even tourism was affected. It was my first term as congressman then, but I would not even encourage tourists to come during that time. That was years ago. Now, we encourage them to come),” he said.

 

Time with nature

Bukidnon, known for its cool climate and picturesque landscapes, makes for a perfect spot for tourists interested in “slow travel” or simply destinations that offer both relaxation and a standby option for adventure.

It has the famous Dahilayan Adventure/Forest Park located in Manolo Fortich that houses a myriad of activities, such as an 840-meter dual zipline, the longest in Asia, and the extreme pendulum swing Dropzone that features a 120-feet free-fall for extreme ride seekers.

Dahilayan also has the New Zealand-inspired luge, a part-toboggan part-go-cart ride, that visitors can rent and use at its own downhill track.

Even more interesting is the Razorback mountain coaster, similar to the alpine rides that are famous in Switzerland and Austria that no less than Peter Faistauer, the Austrian honorary consul to Davao who joined the PEP, praised as a good tourist-draw for the province.

About 15 minutes from Dahilayan, one can dine at the Farmhouse by Josef Restaurant in Kumaykay River Farm.

The place has been named the go-to destination for exquisite dining and serene gathering by the riverside, and it does not disappoint.

During the PEP, the farm offered barn-themed entertainment, with Bukidnon’s cowboys and cowgirls themselves serenading the visitors.

On top of its moniker as the pineapple capital of the Philippines, the province is also known as home to the country’s finest cowboys.

Less than two hours away from Manolo Fortich is the Communal Ranch in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, a publicly-owned ranch known for its breathtaking landscape and mountain backdrop.

Other than Kumaykay, visitors have the option of lounging at Ricardo’s by Cucina Higala, still in Barangay Dahilayan, about 30 minutes away from the adventure park, to try the unique Mindanaoan cuisine but with international influences.

Apart from good food, guests here are given the most scenic view of the Mt. Kitanglad Range at the comfort of the restaurant’s clean and homey interiors.

If renting a private vehicle or riding a habal-habal (modified motorcycle), a visit to Lake Apo would also be worth the challenge.

Lake Apo is a beautiful crater lake situated in Valencia, Bukidnon that is regarded as sacred by the indigenous Talaandig group of Bukidnon.

It boasts of a tranquil surrounding that makes for a good spot for hot coffee or local sikwate (hot chocolate), be it by the riverside or the newly opened Lake View Cafe inside the park.

It might be in the highlands but the province of Bukidnon hosts a number of fine lodgings, such as the Pinegrove in Dahilayan, the glamping at Taglucop Strawberry Hill, and the Kavanah Haven Resort in Kitaotao.

Kavanah is one of the newest properties in the province and has been gaining popularity for the retreat-like peace it offers to guests, the sea of clouds in the morning, and the majestic view of Arakan and Bukidnon mountain peaks.

 

Blessed by the Matigsalug

Throughout the trip, the delegates met a great number of indigenous groups who call Northern Mindanao their home, such as the Matigsalugs of Quezon and Kitaotao.

The Matigsalug is part of the seven hill tribes of Bukidnon (along with Bukidnon, Higaonon, Manobo, Talaandig, Tigwahanon, and Umayamnon) whose name was derived from the word “matig” or from, and “Salug,” meaning people living along the Salug River.

The indigenous group is a self-sustaining community that has preserved its traditional arts and customs, as seen in the way the Matigsalug children masterfully executed their tribal songs and dances.

The delegation was permitted to visit the village and was welcomed with the Matigsalug’s “panubad,” a ritual to call on their supreme God (Magbabaya) and deities to allow the visitors to enter the community.

Matigsalug member and Kitaotao Vice Mayor Mary Ann Angit said this was also her community’s way “to make sure that our guests are safe on their way home.”

“We are very selective of our guests because we are making sure that as we engage with tourism activities, we also see to it that our culture is preserved,” she said.

Malaysian Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Mohd Fareed Zakaria, one of the foreign delegates of PEP, was among those who got to fully immerse into the community’s culture and even joined them for the Kalusisi and the Bangkakaw dances.

Bangkakaw is a traditional dance of the Manobos that is performed by the river when catching fish.

“I’ve truly enjoyed myself. Frankly, this is, I think, my best days in the Philippines. And Northern Mindanao has proven to be a place where there’s a lot of treasures to be unveiled, so come to Northern Mindanao, experience the real Philippines,” the diplomat said.

“My favorite part, I would say, is the people. They are so warm, they are so friendly, everybody welcomes us with open arms. And I really felt the connection. I think this is something tourists should experience.”

At the staging of a mini-Kaamulan festival in Malaybalay City, some members of the Matigsalug from Quezon also performed the Bangkakaw dance.

Johanna Cabante, Quezon tourism officer, said visitors could experience this kind of immersion by reaching out to the local tourism office, which would then coordinate with the elders of the Matigsalug for permission to visit their village.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco hailed the preservation of Filipino culture in Bukidnon, which she described as “alive and well.”

“It fills me with great pride knowing that here in Bukidnon, the Filipino culture is alive and well and so fiercely protected by the communities here and the local government. This is what exactly the Philippine Experience seeks to highlight so that our tourists from all over the world and from all over the country will have a deep appreciation for the Filipino culture,” she said.

DOT 10 (Northern Mindanao) Director Marie Elaine Salvaña Unchuan said Bukidnon was chosen as the PEP: Northern Mindanao’s first leg because of the “unique and authentic experience” it could provide to visitors.

“Bukidnon is rich in culture and heritage and you’ve seen that these experiences are not common, especially with the tribal immersions, we can really witness the culture of Bukidnon,” she said.

Unchuan said the program also aims to promote respect for the indigenous groups among visiting tourists.

“Ang kailangan talaga na ang i-promote natin sa ating mga turista ay respeto sa mga tribes. Natutuwa naman sila at ina-allow tayo (na bumisita) pero importante na sila talaga ang pinapakinggan para sa tourism development ng kanilang tribe (What we need to promote is for tourists to respect the tribes. Anyway, the tribes are happy to welcome them and they have allowed us to interact with them. But it is important that their views are considered in the tourism development of their tribe),” she added.

 

Short stop in MisOr

Home to four more provinces – Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Camiguin, and Lanao del Norte – there is a lot more to see in Northern Mindanao.

In this edition of PEP, the guests had a short but valuable stop in Misamis Oriental’s Cagayan de Oro City for the Museo de Oro, the first folkloric museum in the country, and the Divine Mercy Shrine in El Salvador City.

Museo de Oro is located inside the Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan and features three exhibit rooms, The Ethnohistory of Northern Mindanao, The Ethnology of Mindanao, and Fr. Francisco Demetrio SJ Gallery.

Some of its most interesting pieces – and worthy reasons to visit it – are the sketches and illustrations by the late visual artist Nonoy Estarte colorfully depicting Mindanaoan folk epics, and the surviving dinner menu card of the September 1898 Malolos Banquet to celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Philippine Independence. (PNA)