For their wedding anniversary, freelance writer Andrea Alfelor Macaventa and husband Macky take a low-budget backpacking adventure in this idyllic Mindanao province
Touching down at the spanking new LaguIndingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro City was literally a breath of fresh air for us city-dwelling folks. Being October, the weather was at its best behavior, and the hordes of tourists expected during peak season have yet to descend on the city.
Getting a ride to CDO ’s Agora market and bus station was easy enough as we booked a car, along with 2 other travelers, through one of the many DOT-approved booths outside the airport gates. After fast-food coffee and a quick trip to the supermarket for a bottled water and some toiletries, we hopped on the next available bus to Bukidnon.
Taking up more than half of the land area of Northern Mindanao, Bukidnon, which means “mountain dweller,” boasts of beautiful mountain ranges and a rich cultural heritage. The province is home to seven indigenous tribes whose way of life has been constantly under threat from our modern way of living. For this trip, we wanted to stay away from sites that were either too pricey or too “touristy.” So no adventure parks or white-water rafting or ziplines or pineapple farms for us. This visit, we decided, was going to be about appreciating nature’s bounty by going on long walks—lots of it.
BOOK YOUR STAY AT THE PITCHER PLANT FARM
Brgy. Kalasungay, Malaybalay City
Located just outside Malaybalay’s city limits, the Pitcher Plant Farm is run by a German-Filipino couple and is the largest producer of carnivorous plants in the Philippines. It is also home to owner Volker Heinrich’s other passion which is renewable energy. His company, Highland Solar, is a distributor of solar panels, heaters, batteries and inverters.
Set within barrio-like surroundings with Mt. Kitanglad as backdrop, the rustic dwelling is a cozy, environment-friendly and low-energy guesthouse. Wooden furnishings are kept simple and solar heating is used for hot showers. There is no air conditioning—not that it’s necessary—as mountain air keeps the place cool all evening.
From the guesthouse, you can easily walk to the main road and catch a multi-cab to the city center or ask the owners who live next door for a ride for only P50. The Wi-Fi can be unreliable at times, but it’s not a big deal since you’re on vacation after all. Volker, the man of the house, is friendly and has a hand-drawn map of various places of interests in the area. Don’t forget to ask him about the go-to places for eating in Malaybalay.
COMMUNE WITH NATURE AT CEDAR (Center for Eco logical Development and Recreation )
CEDAR Project is an eco-tourism hub about an hour away from Bukidnon’s capital that features towering trees, treks and trails. A reforestation project of the local government unit in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is an expansive property covering over 300 hectares of both man-made and natural forest. It’s a good introduction to appreciating the forest, which is as close to its natural form as it can be.
Take a dip in the free-flowing pool, cross a hanging bridge at one of the trails and bask in nature’s bounty at any of the three major waterfalls where giant rocks and boulders are aplenty. We got as far as Dila and Gantungan waterfalls, spending about half an hour in the rushing waters all by ourselves.
GO FOR AN EDUCATIONAL TOUR AT HINELEBAN FOUNDATION’S FARM
Sankanan, Manolo Fortich
If you happen to be with your kids, Hineleban Foundation is the place to bring them to for some hands-on learning on reforestation, organic farming and coffee production. Founded by long-time Bukidnon resident and farmer John Perrine, the foundation is dedicated to reviving the forests of Mindanao, sustaining local food production and supporting the livelihood of the region’s indigenous people.
Last year, the foundation launched the “Sip and Reforest” campaign where they promoted Hineleban Coffee, which is made from 100% premium Arabica beans. The beans are grown in partnership with the seven tribal communities around Mt. Kitanglad. Each coffee purchase comes with a tree to be planted in Mindanao’s forests in your honor. The tree, which you can personally name, comes with its own GPS ID so you can easily locate it via Google Maps. What a lovely way to leave a mark in Bukidnon while you savor memories of your stay with each coffee cup!
SEEK SOLITUDE AT THE MONASTERY OF TRANSFIGURATION
San Jose, Malaybalay City
We opted to spend our last day in Bukidnon in the monastery grounds. After getting off the multi-cab we hailed at the city center, we walked up five or so kilometers of unpaved path to see the pyramid-like church designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin. The church, one of the more frequently visited sites in Bukidnon, sits atop a hill on sprawling space, surrounded by a well-maintained garden with rich green grass and shots of pink blooms. Inside, it was pure silence. It was the perfect place to commune with oneself and express our gratitude for a wonderful and much-blessed journey. And we had much to be thankful for. For our ninth wedding anniversary, my husband and I wanted to go on an experience-rich budget vacation that would leave the most minimal carbon footprint. What a wonderful surprise Bukidnon has given us—a week of walking, hiking and swimming in unpolluted waters. Away from city conveniences and the daily deadlines and errands, we also got around to doing things together, from boiling eggs to hand-washing our laundry in the bathroom sink. We came to know each other again, but now on a much, much deeper level. Indeed, Bukidnon was truly a blessing to our marriage, and our wish for our fellow couples out there is for them to also be able to carve out time in their busy schedule to just get away from it all and be together.