My Summer Road Trip Around Mindanao
SERIOUSLY, A lot of people would think that it is insane to travel around Mindanao because of fears of getting kidnapped, ambushed and (insert some more gory, terrorizing words here) . Last week, I have just traveled across five regions in the island of Mindanao — via public transport — and disproved the general notion that Mindanao is a land of fear, but rather of vast economic and tourism potential.
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Day 1 - Road Trip Across the Dreaded Areas
GenSan to Pagadian
Together with teachers from Sarangani who were attending a seminar in Ozamis City, I took the GenSan-Pagadian route on a rented van. Daily, there are vans that carry passengers from GenSan to Pagadian. They have a terminal in Bulaong, across Petron gas station. The fare is P650.00.
The van passed by South Cotabato, Tacurong City, Cotabato City, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. I saw very few business establishments in the towns after Cotabato City. Although there are plenty of dwellings, you can hardly find stores along the roadsides as you would normally see in other towns. The vast fertile lands lay barren and underutilized, which makes me think that the highly debated issue of overpopulation is just a myth.
I was finally able to visit the dreaded municipalities of Parang, Matanog, and Barira in Maguindanao, which, I think, if run by progressive-minded leaders can be a productive agricultural area.
As we reached Lanao del Sur and as we were inching closer to Pagadian City, the landscape was changing. I saw farms and plantations by the roadside. Even the hilly portions were cultivated.
The land trip, including the stopovers, took six hours and a half. We left GenSan at around 4AM and reached Pagadian at around half past ten in the morning.
I have noticed that in Northern Mindanao, they have a common terminal for all buses boud for other provinces. They call these terminals Integrated Bus Terminals (IBT). It is very convenient for commuters like me.
Pagadian to Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay
From Pagadian, I took the bus for Zamboanga, which passes by Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. I had to attend a wedding there, which was to start at 2PM. The trip took about 4 hours. We were slowed down by the heavy downpour in the municipality of Naga. I arrived in Ipil at 3PM, but I was still able to attend the wedding at the church.
Zamboanga Sibugay is a mountainous province but the towns look very progressive. The Municipality of Buug, for example, has many business establishments. The crab capital, Kumalarang, also has a presentable public market. It is also good to note that most of the towns also have tertiary schools.
We stayed in a hotel sponsored by my co-teacher, Conchita Medelo. There are good hotels in Ipil, too, with rates and services comparable to local hotels. It makes me think, there must be plenty of tourists that keep the hotel industry there alive.
Day 2 – First Time in the Northern Mindanao Region
Ipil to Ozamis City
The following day, we went to Ozamis City with my co-teacher. To go to Ozamis City, we had to go back to Pagadian City IBT. The trip to Ozamis took a little more than 2 hours.
On the way to our destination, I have seen proofs of Mindanao being the country’s food basket. There are rice fields wherever I look. The wide plains of Misamis Occidental are very productive. We also passed by Tangub City, the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.
In Ozamis City, we visited La Salle University, where one of my co-teachers once taught.
Ozamis City to Dapitan City
I left my companions in Ozamis and traveled alone again via a bus to Dipolog. The trip took a little more than three hours as there were plenty of road repairs on my way to Dapitan.
All the towns we passed by have very good terminals. Most are clean and organized.
The influence of Dr. Jose Rizal‘s banishment in Dapitan can be seen as we approach the Shrine City as evidence by the names of the towns such as Calamba and Rizal.
With instructions from a friend, I stopped by Polo, a barangay in Dapitan and took a motor cab to Sunset Boulevard. The motor cab took me to Harohoy sa Baybabyon where I stayed for the night. I got an air-conditioned room with single bed with own bathroom with hot and cold shower for Php 600.00. You can book ahead through this number: 0920-377-4278.
I noticed however that they have a different style regarding reception. They don’t have a receptionist at all times. Once you check-in, they will give you a duplicate key, which you can take with you wherever you. You won’t need to leave it at the counter. When you go back to the hotel late, don’t expect to see receptionists at the counter as they are already sleeping soundly in their quarters. If that doesn’t sound weird enough to you, let me tell you that the hotel doesn’t have a guard, too. But Dapitan is very safe, according to a friend who showed me to the city.
I will tell you more about my Dapitan experience in my next post.
Day 3 – Dapitan’s Twin City, Dipolog
After experiencing Dapitan, I decided to visit its twin city, Dipolog. There are buses and vans to Dipolog. I took the Evergood bus. The distance from Dapitan to Dipolog is only 11 kilometers, the same distance from my hometown (Alabel) to General Santos City.
When I reached Dipolog, I looked for place to stay for the night. The tricylce driver recommended Ranillo’s Pension House. Tourists also recommend this place. The place is good and affordable. I got a single air-conditioned room with cable TV for only Php 450.00.
I have noticed that no tricycle driver ever refused to take me to the destinations I wanted to go. No driver ever arranged the price first before giving me a ride even if the destination was quite far and I was alone. I went to Lee Plaza, the city’s major commercial center, which was quite a distance from where I stayed.
I have also noticed that their tricycles are marked with a rest day, probably to control traffic. That’s one thing we could do in GenSan where the volume of tricycles cause traffic in several busy points in the city.
I spent the whole afternoon at the Dipolog Boulevard, the center of the city’s P’gsalabuk Festival. There were activities taking place along the boulevard such as sports tournament, art exhibit, food fair, among others. I visited the art exhibit and enjoyed the food offered at the food stalls.
Day 4 – Clarin, Misamis Oriental, the Suman Capital
I traveled back to Ozamis City again on the fourth day of my Mindanao Tour. I stayed at the La Salle University Hotel. The fully furnished executive room costs P1,200 a night. It has a receiving area, own bathroom with bath tub and hot and cold shower, cable TV, minibar, and elegant interiors.
Seven kilometers away from Ozamis City is the municipality of Clarin, which boasts of being the Suman Capital of the Philippines. At the House of Suman, you can choose from different kinds of suman and moron. My favorite is the suman with mangga, which I ate with a cup of hot chocolate.
Day 5 – Homeward Bound via Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon
On homestretch of my Mindanao Tour, we took the barge from Ozamis to Mukas in Iligan City. The fare for passengers is only Php 25.00 plus a terminal fee of Php 3.00 only. We crossed the water for less than 15 minutes.
In Iligan City, we passed by the Mindanao Steel Corporation, which, according to my co-teacher was the first steel manufacturer in the Southeast Asia. Steel manufacturers are very important for developing countries because steel is very much needed in building infrastructures. I wonder what went wrong that South Korea progressed way better than us.
Cement plants and other important industries can also be found in Iligan. The Maria Cristina Falls, which provides electricity to large portion of Mindanao is also there. Compared to other cities, I visited, Iligan City is more developed. We wanted to visit the hydroelectric power plant at the Maria Cristina Falls but we passed by the are way too early.
The next major city we passed by is Cagayan de Oro City, where the Nestlé Manufacturing plant is located. There’s a new mall being developed there by Ayala Land, the Ayala Centrium.
From CDO, we passed by the province of Bukidnon, which is a very lovely province. The mountainous province looks refreshing. There are various plantations like sugar, pineapple, and corn, on either side of the road but the mountains are still covered with thick vegetation.
I was already very sleepy but the beautiful sights of Bukidnon awakened my senses. If you haven’t known, the longest zipline in Asia can be found in Bukidnon.
Malaybalay is also a beautiful city. It’s major commercial center, however, is found right along the highway, which results to heavy traffic especially during rush hours. I wish the local government would provide a diversion road. Nonetheless, Malaybalay is a very lovely city for me.
The Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon is another notable sight to behold. CMU has very vast land area for its agriculture programs. The Carabao Farm for example, is an industry that could be further developed so that it could contribute to the province’s and even to Mindanao’s economy.
North Cotabato can also be considered a food basket. Rice fields span a large area in Mlang and Makilala. Not much of the province’s land has been converted into residential and industrial areas.
I realized that if only the government gives boosting the Mindanao agricultural potential a serious thought, I guess, there would be no need for the country to import basic commodities such as rice and sugar.
The trip home took us 15 hours of land travel. It was tiring but very enriching.
I went home filled with insights and hope and Mindanao — aptly called the Land of Promise – can indeed salvage the country’s economy. There is vast potential in Mindanao. I challenge our leaders to take a look around Mindanao and to work on changing the island from being a land of fear into a land of progress.
Major insights I gained from my Mindanao Road Trip:
- There is more to Mindanao than Terrorism. If not for the negative news that abound about Mindanao, I’m sure the island could have become very progressive. I have seen with my own two eyes what Mindanao has to offer.
- We don’t have a very efficient transportation within the island to facilitate development. The buses are good but they take a very long time and could be costly. Inter-city flights within Mindanao can be very helpful not only for tourist but for transporting goods. I am also looking forward to the Mindanao Railway Project. Efficient transportation will not only ensure stronger local tourism but also improve the local economy.
- We need to attract more investors. Well, first step would be to improve the peace and order situation. As of now, it is relatively peaceful in many of the conflicted areas in Mindanao. I don’t know the ultimate solution to the peace problems in Mindanao, but I am sure that for as long as many people remain poor and uneducated, there would not be peace.
I hope I could go on another tour like this next time and visit some more place that I have not visited yet. Now, I could say, I love Mindanao and I’d love to continue working for the betterment of my homeland.
Some of the photos I used in this post are not mine. In my excitement to travel, I left the camera at home. The Pagadian Terminal photo is from Rural Transit Group on Flickr. The Lee Plaza Dipolog photo is from Dipolognon.com. The House of Suman Photo is from Scratch e.Pad. The Ozamis Port photo is by Roro Fernandez on Flickr.