The last person you’d expect to love the outdoors is a person whose idea of an adventure is traveling without a hairdryer.
Written by Migs Borja-Yambao
Photography by Monique Buensalido
I am maarte; a fact that I admit freely and warn people about, especially if I am traveling with a large group. Let’s just say that my toiletry kit takes up about 40% of my luggage, with shoe options taking up another 20%, and I have yet to understand the concept of “packing light,” or whatever the kids call it these days. What can I say? I enjoy my creature comforts, as ridiculous and unreasonable as they may be.
So what am I doing in the middle of this river, wearing a life vest and a helmet, surrounded by trees and wildlife, out of breath, and drenched under the midday sun? Beats me! I’ve somehow managed to get myself on a five-hour trek through nature. I’ve been told that there’s going to be crevices I need to “slide” through, 40 foot cliffs I need to “jump off” from, and a 65 foot waterfall I need to “rappel” off of.
These people must be crazy. I must be crazy.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. A little backtracking is in order.
After a quick flight from Manila, I landed in Cagayan de Oro yesterday morning. It’s a city at the northern tip of Mindanao. This is my second time in the “City of Golden Friendship.” The first time I was here was many years ago when I was on my way to the island of Camiguin. I only stayed in CDO for a total of two hours then. This is the first time I’m actually going to be able to spend time in the city. All I have with me are my (almost) overweight suitcases and a trite appetite for whatever comes my way.
This trip came by way of an invitation from our friends over at Seda Hotel. I had already spent a little time at Seda’s BGC property in Metro Manila, so the invitation to stay in Seda CDO for an exploration and adventure weekend was something I couldn’t resist. Seda CDO, which is referred to as Seda Centrio, is an AyalaLand Hotel development that is most conveniently connected to Ayala’s Centrio Mall, CDO’s newest and most upscale lifestyle center.
Truth be told, Seda Hotel’s chic and progressive approach to hospitality is one of the biggest reasons I’m here right now. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Cagayan de Oro has so many new things to savor and discover, but I really am most excited about the fact that I get to experience it all while staying at a swanky hotel.
But anyway, I digress. The CDO weekend kicked off yesterday with the announcement that straight from the airport, we were all going to be shuttled to the Cagayan de Oro river, where the first leg of our adventure was to take place.
Upon landing in CDO, we were whisked off to our river destination via jeepney shuttles. White Water River Rafting was going to be the order of the day, and there was no way I could get out of it.
I was told that rafting down the Cagayan de Oro River is actually a pleasurable experience that can be as tame or as wild as you want. I was also told that taking large gulps of river water when your boat flips over is completely and totally optional. There are apparently different courses available, with varying degrees of difficulty. Thankfully, our group was given the easy, 14-rapid beginner’s course. I had never gone rafting before, and really had no idea what to expect.
Once we all got on the boats, we realized that river rafting required quite a bit of paddling. The river guides issue a series of commands that all of us on board had to follow. These instructions are essential, as the guides know the river best. If he says paddle, you paddle. If he says stop, then you stop. And when he says brace yourselves, you all had better clench up.
Midway through our beginner’s course, the boats were all steered by the guides to more shallow water, where and proceed up to a nearby grassy area. A few men were already there; men, who as soon as we were all gathered, started to whip up what was to become our picnic lunch. Three of our rubber boats soon made it up to where we were, and were each set on the grass upside down. Banana leaves were then laid on top of them, and one after the other, various food items were distributed onto the three boats. Inihaw na liempo, sugpo, roasted chicken, inihaw na hito, and puso (cooked rice wrapped in coconut leaves) all got laid out at the center of each boat, giving our picnic feast a military theme with the boodle fight setup: a twist that all of us hungry adventurers fully appreciated.
The picnic lunch comes with the rafting experience, as the guides are well aware of the fact that a few hours of paddling can turn even the best behaved and mildmannered individual into a ravenous and hungry beast.
River rafting concluded with a few more technical turns and bends down the river. We all finished it with smiles on our faces; feeling exhausted but ultimately exhilarated.
Our hosts had a few more things packed into the schedule for our first day in CDO. After a quick shower and a few moments of rest back at Seda, we were taken to Monster Kitchen, a culinary school right at the heart of Cagayan de Oro City.
We were given a quick and easy lesson on two of CDO’s most favourite dishes. Sinuglaw, which is an amalgam between sinugba and kinilaw; and Binaki, a local corn bread specialty. Monster Kitchen gave us a live demonstration on how quick and easy these dishes are to make. Sinugba is the bisaya term for inihaw, while kinilaw means to be served raw. The sinuglaw is an exquisite dish that has fresh cubes of tuna, cooked in a citrus infused local vinegar, laced with coconut milk, and is mixed together with chopped up pieces of grilled pork belly. Just amazing! And the Binaki was just as good, with softness like puto and a unique cheesy-corn taste.
Last night ended on a happy note at Thai Me Up, a Thai restaurant located at Centrio Mall. The food from Monster Kitchen served as a great appetizer, because apparently we all got hungry by the time we got back to the hotel. It is such a good thing that Seda Centrio is connected to a mall; it was that easy for us to go and grab a quick bite. The hotel is also found on the same street as “Divisoria,” the city’s popular weekend night market that locals flock to for second-hand items and other market goods. But it’s not just a place to shop. Divisoria has rows and rows of small stalls that sell grilled products, perfect for a casual inuman or a night cap. We tried a few sticks of grilled paa and isol, along with a pitcher of ice cold beer.
So now that we’ve all been brought up to speed, let’s go back to me in the middle of nature. I am now at Mapawa Nature Park, a vast nature reserve a few minutes away from the city. As an urbanite that relishes the city and concrete flooring, I had my reservations about joining today’s nature trek. I don’t do mud. And bugs. And who knows what else?
Well, apparently, I’m here to find out.
The Nature Park trek takes approximately five hours. The park sends each group out with enough guides that you will never really feellike you are alone or in any real danger (thank goodness). The guides take care of everything, including making sure that valuables don’t get wet or lost. They make sure that everything and everyone is safe. And they also take care of lunch. There are different attractions at different parts of the trail, such as natural water slides, various fresh water pools, an optional 40 foot jump, and a waterfall rappel. A packed lunch gets served between the jump and rappel, so don’t worry about bringing food along.
The guides have informed me that the motivation to jump will be strong. Apparently, the jump spot gives you a full and tempting view of lunch down below. “You will want to jump,” they say.
In hindsight, I have to say, the organizers of this weekend adventure in CDO were great. They packed our schedules with activities that are fun and educational; they were always two steps ahead; they housed us in a great hotel; and last but most importantly, they made sure that our group was composed of people who all had the same motivation: FOOD. Good food.
We’ve all displayed the same thing: a willingness to go through challenges and tests just to be rewarded with good, hearty food.
We are now about three hours into this forest, and I’m covered in mud. I’m tired, but I am once again surprised at how fun this all turned out to be. I can see the guides are busily discussing something, and I can sense that things are about to get a lot more interesting.
Perhaps the jump is coming up? Perhaps another climb?
I suddenly recall: “you will want to jump.” I think they might be right.
Let’s go! I’m hungry!