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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lake Holon is lovelier the second time around

I had a year end climb in Lake Holon last December 28-29, 2016 as I led a group of trekkers and friends from The Royal Mandaya Hotel. We trekked via the easy trail of Salacafe and although it was my second time hiking this area I was still amazed by the charm of this destination considered by many as “paradise”.

My last climb in Lake Holon was year 2009 when I joined the group of South Cotabato mountaineers in an organized climb conducted by Gaudy’s World. After seven years the lake remains very enchanting and has been very successful in maintaining itself as an epitome of serenity. After seven years nothing has really changed except that a lot of people now are flocking to the lake as it has slowly but surely becoming a prime ecotourism destination not only in the municipality of Tboli but the entire Socsargen region. Its charisma has radiated to the rest of the world.

The trek to Lake Holon is teamed up with an equally interesting immersion of the Tboli tribe in Salacafe and sitio Nabol. There I witnessed how this group of people lived and co-existed with the times. Farming is their source of income while others considered tourism as alternative like selling snack items along the trail, selling souvenirs, tour guiding and portering.

I was told by my friend Rodel Hilado, the Tourism Officer of Tboli, that they have been receiving bulk of tourists who would like to experience the glory of Lake Holon on a daily basis. Every day is almost a full booking day because visitors would always reach the maximum. Which also made the tourism industry in Tboli alive. My salute to the Tourism Office of Tboli for crafting an inclusive tourism mechanism from tourist registration to arranging transportation and assigning guides and porters. The community in Salacafe also carefully takes part in the implementation of tourism program by giving pre-climb orientation to visitors either in Salacafe Trail or at the other side in Kuli Trail.

The one thing I like about climbing Lake Holon is the abundance of organic tilapia now being offered to tourists for consumption. Local guides would do most of the cooking upon request, but my group chose to have it roasted and paksiwed. Organic tilapia for me has the most palatable taste as compared to other commercially-grown tilapia in nearby localities like Lake Sebu. There are standby tilapia hunters in the lake offering fresh catches of tilapia at a very affordable prize ranging from 50 pesos to 100 pesos. I therefore suggest to trekkers who opted for an overnight stay not to bring much food items like canned goods, instead, consider tilapia-dining another experience in Lake Holon.

Lately, the LGU of Tboli declared temporary closure (from January 7 to March 10, 2017) of Lake Holon for trekking and camping activities in order for the lake to take a breather. The closure also allows the LGU and other authorities to conduct training and refresher course on frontline servicing, rehabilitation of the facilities and to conduct biodiversity assessment of the area. In this context, I commend the LGU of Tboli particularly Mayor Dibu Tuan for always considering environmental conservation in the midst of tourism.

P.S. For two consecutive climbs I took the Salacafe Trail because I considered the physical condition of my trekking mates being all first timers not only in the place but also first timers in the thing called mountain climbing. For two consecutive climbs I missed the Kuli Trail view deck, the one that offers clear 360 degrees view of Lake Holon. Nonetheless, my latest climb allowed me to meet new friends and that is all that matters for me. This photo here below is a souvenir of an instant friend from Surallah, a 12-year old girl who is half-Filipina and half-British.

I will be keeping my fingers crossed, I will be back to Lake Holon soon, maybe not a climb anymore but a trail run via Salacafe-Kuli route. For all those friends who inquired of a 2017 trek, we will just wait for the reopening of the lake on March this year.

Lastly, I would like to thank Mam Elvie and the rest of the group from The Royal Mandaya Hotel for giving me another opportunity to enjoy Lake Holon. Recognition is also due to Miss Margaux of Tboli Tourism Office, Rodel Hilado for the accommodation of your staff in your office.