Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Splash out your way at Laswitan Lagoon

After completing a tour off Bucas Grande Island last February 18, our group took a 2-hour drive through the town of Cortes in Surigao del Sur for a side trip in Laswitan Lagoon, a household name among Mindanao travelers. We used the easier route via Carasscal, Cantila, Lanuza and Cortes before we reached the city of Tandag where we stayed overnight in Shacene Hotel. Along the way we were able to witness how mining activity ruined the mountains of Claver. I thought of it then that despite being one of the most lucrative industries, mining operations of the country should be reviewed. In it I see the motives of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez as valid and at the peak of everything because the mountains where open mining are hosted are fast depleting.

Meanwhile, Laswitan lagoon is located in Cortes, 25 kilometers from Tandag downtown and some 30 minutes ride. It is one of Cortes’ only jewel and is now being visited by people from all walks of life. What makes it really exciting is the splash created when strong waves from the other side of the rock formation approach, making it an instant waterfalls and then suddenly fade away. You need to wait for another period before the cycle appears again which define patience as a virtue for visitors in the place.

Unlike any ocean destinations where one prays for a calm weather and small waves, your prayer when you go to Laswitan is the exact opposite. The focal point of interest in the lagoon is the big waves so that the visit is worth. Laswitan is a local term which means a place where waves from the ocean touch a solid formation.

The water that splashes through the rock formations accumulates into a natural rock pool and serves as spot for visitors to dip into while waiting for series of wave squirting. The beautiful cobblestones surrounding the place added another interesting scenery which could be scaled only when waves are smaller so as not to suffer injuries.

From a broader standpoint, Laswitan is a gray structure that serves as an eye course to the Pacific Ocean. For a photographer like me, there are a lot of reasons to visit Laswitan, even without waves, because the rockscape alone is enough to illustrate a place nowhere else on earth can be found.  

The locals of Cortes told me that Laswitan became a spot for tourists only in 2013. When it was featured in several national television programs more and more people are now interested in visiting the place, which allowed them to also prepare as a tourism community. The LGU is now starting to develop support mechanisms to make it more accessible like maintaining the road leading to Barangay Madrelino.

With Laswitan now a new craze in tourism, why don’t you just visit there and Laswit your way for an exciting Surigao staycation. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

A tropical experience in Bucas Grande Island

My colleagues in the office have been looking for new destinations where we could stay over the weekend as a post-valentine treat. After several attempts consulting google, we chanced upon an information of Bucas Grande Island, situated in the province of Surigao del Norte that has become very popular nowadays because of its prevailing tourism sites that are really worth-visiting. The internet information and several word-of-mouths we generated were tempting enough for us to go despite of the earthquake that hit the province a week before our scheduled trip.

We took a van from Sta. Cruz to Hayanggabon Port in Claver town on February 17 in the evening while the other group led by Cheryl travelled through their private vehicle. We arrived in Hayanggabon by 7:00 in the morning. The town of Claver is a first class municipality in Surigao del Norte and it is also the largest in terms of land area. Personally, I see Claver as having only two major sources of livelihood for its people, mining and tourism. A large part of the land area of Claver is a mining reservation because there are large deposit of nickel.

We chartered a boat from Hayanggabon to Bucas Grande and sailed for 45 minutes. After which, we settled to another registration area, the Tourism Center in Sohoton. It is a floating structure that accommodates needs of visitors. From here, we transferred to smaller boats which transported us to the Sohoton Cove.

The Sohoton cruise was way beyond an ordinary tour. After going through a small passage we all thought we were transported to a different world. It was a silent sanctuary only clattered by the serenity of the lagoon and surrounded by the green canopy that serves as armour of its enchantment. Our guides, perhaps one of the bests in the country, lured us to dive through Hakugan Cave and Magkukuob Cave. These caves led us again to an extremely different environment, this time to the underworld where the water is very cold and the cave formations are really beautiful. I suggest you do the dive when you get there, otherwise, you will miss a very memorable experience.

After series of diving and bathing, our boatmen took us out of the cove and returned us to our original big boats in the tourism center. We took our lunch there and afterwards we proceeded to another interesting site in the island, the Bulitas and Crystal Caves. Here, we entered into a huge cave with plenty of attractive chambers and stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is so big that all of us twenty persons entered altogether along with other visitors. Indeed, caving is another activity in Bucas Grande that everybody should do and enjoy.

Adjacent to Crystal cave is Tiktikan lagoon where we stayed for 30 minutes. My colleagues took time to dive (again) and bath, others paddled using a kayak boat while the rest just relaxed and enjoyed.

Our last destination before heading back to Hayanggabon was the jellyfish sanctuary. Our boatman might have known that this was the very destination I wanted to visit more than any other sites in the place. The best was saved for an epic ending then, because the sanctuary promises to be awesome. We did not have the better timing though because it was a breeding season of the stingless jellyfishes in the sanctuary. Nonetheless, we still were able to witness those wonderful creatures face to face.

With the number of tourists flocking to Bucas Grande Island every day, the challenge for authorities in Surigao del Norte should always be on the aspect of conservation and protection. I appreciate how they handled it now especially in regulating the erection of more structures like resorts. I do not want to see more investors being tempted to invest tourism-related establishments just because there is an opportunity brought by tourists from time to time. Much more than tourism is actually how to venture more in sustaining the natural state of the destination so that others, I am referring to those unborn population, would be able to enjoy the same.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Good things seen during my first Mt. Apo Patrolling in 2017

Several good things graced me when I conducted my first LAWIN Patrolling in Mt. Apo last January 7-8, 2017. Much as I do not want to be pre-emptive about it but certainly there are changes hemming in the mountain lately, including preliminary hint of biodiversity rebirth. Which to me should be more than a reason to be jubilant as the New Year unfolded few days ago.

The LAWIN (Landscape and Wildlife Indicator) Monitoring System is a tool introduced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with support from the BWISER-USAID in order to employ  mechanism in assessing the biodiversity and threats in protected areas, in our case the Mt. Apo Natural Park (MANP). The LAWIN implementation is now handled by the Local Governments and private sector, especially those with areas belonging to MANP. There will be series of Mt. Apo patrolling using the cybertracker computer software. With the limitation of the LGU’s manpower to handle patrolling we augmented volunteer personnel to do the job by training them on LAWIN and eventually accredit them to assist the LGU in biodiversity and threats patrolling. The output of which will be furnished to DENR and other concerned offices for their information, reference and future actions particularly in determining appropriate interventions to the findings. LAWIN is also crucial in identifying whether there are significant changes that will occur in the patrol areas in terms of the presence of indicator species and the community’s awareness and responses to the threats identified.

Our trail in Sibulan has developed a greener backdrop. The single track for climbers was covered with vegetation which had my group finding hard time locating the trails especially in Basakan to Tinikaran campsite 1. It is evident that the closure of Mt. Apo for trekking activity has paid off as it gave enough time for the mountain to reinvigorate its natural characteristics.

As we trekked further up the Big Rock E-camp the forest in Sibulan also becomes denser. With the heavy downpour sticking to us like a leech the whole climb because of a Low Pressure Area, I noticed that the trail became lightly unapproachable I had to deal with some trail detours. I also noted that the campsites are healthier now, no trashes left, perhaps the result of the simultaneous clean up drive conducted by PAMB Ecotourism Committee last July 2016. The water sources are full, especially in Tinikaran 2 which had not been used in the last 5 years or so. My team used Tinikaran 2 as an overnight stopover and although we only had 3 tents we still found it very hard to pitch them because of the vegetation filling up the flat surface of the campsite.

It is remarkable also that the fauna population in Sibulan is surging up. In the dead crater lake I saw presence of Apo Myna, while along the forested areas I heard numerous sounds of hornbills, cockatoo, sunbirds and perhaps woodpeckers (the one that sounds like knocking on a door?). And in a specific site near Camp 1 we saw tracks of deer and wild boar. In the evening of January 7 we heard a sound of a wild cat.

When I personally visited the areas affected by fire in the dead crater walls, there are plant species starting to sprout, although the black color as leftovers of the fire still prevails over the new ones. Over at the peak campsite, according to my buddy Ronie Torlao there are few trashes left. We have scheduled already with the porters to clear the trashes before the week ends so that the summit would really be free or garbage right on time. There are water sources available in the peak now, so as the entire dead Crater Lake.

Lastly, what I really missed about Mt. Apo is the Bagobo-Tagabawa community in Colan and Tumpis who are all like brothers and sisters to me. Their warm accommodation every single time I visit their place is a moment I always treasure. My recent climb enabled me to hear their sentiments about reopening Mt. Apo for mountaineering and trekking for economic reasons. The store owners, habal-habal drivers and porters – they were all in affirmation when I asked them if they are favourable to Mt. Apo’s reopening.

Whatever is the future of Mt. Apo mountaineering I leave it to the wisdom of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). For 9 months after the closure the community felt that the mountain had gave them so much in terms of livelihood. Environmental consideration is always on top of everything I supposed, and reopening Mt. Apo should always be associated with accountability and responsibility among us stakeholders, aside from all these economic contemplation.

I am deeply gratified to have been given support by the Ang Tribung Bagobo Woodlands Resort in Binaton, Digos City for providing logistical support during my first patrolling in 2017. To the Abajero family for being one with me in initiatives that underscore environmental conservation. Thank you also to the patrol team who accompanied me all the way to the summit in just two days. Special mention is due to volunteer patrollers Ronnie Torlao, Jose Abajero, Maricar Abajero, Caprick Dean and Tessa Abajero. And lastly, to the Office of the DENR Protected Area Superintendent for the usual support and cooperation.