The Philippines is so rich not only with natural resources but also of people and culture. Because of the physical attribute of the country, there is no wonder that the Philippines houses hundreds of tribes, culture, and languages. The Philippines has been one of the favorite spots for people who love adventures and wanted to discover and experience different cultures, I am not an exception. The last time I felt so immersed in the culture and in the place I visited, was when we stayed in the mountains of Cordillera. The community was miles away from the cityscape I’m used to. The culture and the way of living are leagues away from the metro I grew up from. Well, that was months ago and since then, I’ve been longing to bask my soul once again to another life experience of immersing to a place unknown to myself.
Last December we visited the municipality of T’Boli of South Cotabato for our Lake Holon trek. Tboli culture is very obvious and rampant as the municipality has a high concentration of people from the Tboli tribe. Souvenir stores displaying and selling Tboli crafts, and people speaking tongues too foreign for my ear. Though the municipality has already kept up with the modernization, there are still Tbolis that managed to preserve their old Tboli culture. Most of these people reside on the slopes of the mountain and ridges of Mt. Melibengoy (Mt. Parker) where the crater is famously called Lake Holon.
The struggle to get there
Getting to the municipality of T’Boli and registering at their tourism office was a breeze. But getting from the municipality proper to the jump point for Lake Holon, it’s another story. Why? Well, aside from the very exhausting habal-habal (skylab) ride that takes around 1 ½ hours, the unpaved road will surely give you an exhilarating ride. But there is nothing to fret. Your eyes and soul will be filled with the calming view of the provincial landscapes, fruit plantations, and the colossal walls of the mountains.
Bouncing against the rocky roads, fighting through the muddy trails, and getting past the dizzying maze-like tracks will definitely bring out and test the adventure spirit in you. Probably my most extreme habal-habal ride experience happened at the latter part heading to Brgy. Kule. Imagine coursing through a meter-wide cliff road naturally paved with big rocks, boulders, and treacherous volcanic silts.
Make it more extreme and worse with a 45-degree steepness. For several times our motorcycle attempted to course through these risky sections of the road, and for several times we failed. We lost our balance and fell to the ground, and for several times, we just disembarked from the motorcycle and walked the steep road on foot. Luckily, we acquired no injuries.
A closed door that leads to a better one
First of all, our main agenda in going to T’Boli is to climb Mt. Melibengoy and see the grandiose crater lake, Lake Holon. But who knew that things aren’t going the way we planned it. We managed to arrive at the Kule trail jump-off ahead of our planned itinerary. From there we met our contacted guide. We were ready to set-off and start our trek to Mt. Melibengoy and see the elusive charm of Lake Holon. Our mind was already set and we have already planned everything out. But a sudden twist of fate came. It rained so hard.
The mountain and the village were engulfed with thick fog. A high risk of getting lost on the trail got high. So our guide discouraged us from continuing our trek. Instead, he suggested for us to take a homestay, which we eventually accepted. All our plans got smashed by that time.
Meet David Suanzon
Our guide, David Suanzon, welcomed us on what they call “Gono Bong” which translates to “Big House“. There we stayed and slept for one night before proceeding with our trek the following day. The house is made up of all natural materials.
Modeled from the traditional Tboli house, “Gono Bong” served as the receiving area for people planning to trek to Lake Holon via the Kule Trail. While the rain relentlessly poured down, we were left with nothing to do.
We gathered by the window looking at thick fog swallowing the mountains. Then came David, assisted by the locals, carrying a thermos with hot water, a container with their locally made coffee, and a set of bamboo cups with cooked sweet potatoes on the side. It was simple, but it made the atmosphere warmer.
It all started with a simple introduction that transcended to waves of laughter and deeper conversations. Just a simple crack of joke transitioned to stories of passion, dreams, and triumphs. It was by that chance we learned the stories behind the village of Kule, its past and the struggles they are facing. That moment I saw the visionary man behind the simple facade of David Suanzon. His passion and love for the mountains and his vision for the village and the Tboli culture. For countless of times, he selflessly sacrificed his life for the preservation of the mountains and the lake and in helping uplift the life of the Tboli people of Kule. His passion shook the person in me. It made me realize and ask myself the same questions I’ve been asking myself, How committed am I to my passion? Am I living a meaningful life?
Mysteries and Myths of Mt. Melibengoy and Lake Holon
As we went through with our conversation, we can’t help but touch the mystical tales of the mountains and the lake. Every culture is backed by spiritual aspect. The Tboli people of Kule believe in the aspect of spirit guardians or “tulus (spirit) fu(owner)nen” in their own tongue, which translates to “spirit that dwells“. They believe that a mighty king dwells within the middle of Lake Holon, his name is Tud Bulol. He is accompanied by the 15 guardians spirits represented by the 15 peaks surrounding the lake forming like a crown, thus naming Lake Holon as the crown jewel of the south. Lake Holon has always been a sacred place for the Tboli people. Hearing stories of mysteries and unexplainable events in the mountains and the lake made me realize few things. Tboli culture is so rich and colorful and the Tboli people are spiritual in nature.
The Village of Kule
As the rain started fading, we decided to roam around and meet the ever smiling people of the village. One thing I noticed during our stay was their incomparable hospitality. Every house we pass by, we were greeted with their welcome greeting complemented with their warm smiles. “H’yu k’mul (good afternoon)” was what we replied. Some houses even offered us to come by and have coffee with them. I can sense that they are happy being visited by people foreign from their land. Their life is simple as life should be.
They have their own crops and they are indeed a sustainable village. They preserve the real sense of community. Every person knows one another. They treat each other like brothers and sisters, family that is.
We dropped by on the house on one of David’s assisting guide. There we talked about the culture of the people and how’s their day to day life looks like. They have a simple picture of life. They tend to their crops and livestock on the day and go home before night.
We were then treated by their own cooking and ate together with them before returning back to where we stayed for our night rest before our trek to Lake Holon.
For the short span we stayed in that house, we earned a big learning on our side. Of course, we learned a few words of too. Here are some of them:
Gono (house), Kulon (rain), Kafe (coffee), Bong (big), Udi (small), Logi (male), Libun (female), Kno’on (beautiful), El (water), T’bul (spring), H’yu lafus (good morning), H’yu kamdao (good noon), H’yu k’mul (good afternoon), H’yu k’fu (good evening), Tei h’nanda moyu (you’re welcome), Kini (hot), Muket (harvest), Sila (corn) , M’lok (hunt), Ite / Sidok (ugly), Nifut’m oo (sorry), Klifut’m (forgot), Hepe (dry), Teimabu (witchland), Teibong nawa hokun (i love you), Teibong nawa hoo (i love you too)
As a city-dwelling person, we forgot how simple life really is. We get too drowned by the unnecessary needs projected in front of us. Spirituality and connection with our mother nature blurred out by the city smokes, the constant ticking of stock markets, and the white noise of technology. Technology that sucks us down the funnel from the real world to the artificial realm. Feeding our egos with fake praise and unreal emotions. When will we be able to wake up? When will our senses come back? Or are we heading towards the black hole leading to a monochromatic world run by corporate standards? Did curiosity come to our minds, even just for once? Curiosity for the culture our ancestors had. The culture that molded the society of our previous generations.
The people of Kule is blessed for not having devoured by the modern world. They still enjoy the real essence of life. Able to experience the spiritual connection and the care of mother nature’s arms.