WHEN PEOPLE ask me what my town boasts, I would speak of its being the capital town of Sarangani Province where the magnificent provincial capitol building stands proud as the White House of the South and then I would slowly run out of words. But not anymore as I have recently discovered Alabel’s hidden gem.
Together with a group of mountaineers from the neighborhood, we all got ready to behold the beauty that most of my townspeople have never known to exist.
The Journey Begins
We rode motorcycles from the Poblacion to Sitio Sofan. That is the farthest place a motorcycle can go. Beyond that point, you would have to continue the journey on foot.
A motorcycle ride to Sofan is the definition of peril and to be a motorcycle driver to Sofan is probably one of the deadliest jobs on earth. For how can a motorcycle, designed to carry just one passenger, bring four to five people to their destination through a very difficult road? Worse, you have to endure that for an hour or two for an income of only around Php 200 per trip.
The habal-habal, a modified Honda TMX 155, carries a passenger in front of the driver, directly above the gas tank, and three or four passengers behind. In most cases, the passengers carry with them heavy baggage. On a level road, it would be fine, but when the road starts to incline upwards after passing by Barangay Bagacay, you couldn’t help but hold your breath.
After reaching the highest part of the road, the land seemed to warp downward like an infinite slope. I realized that riding downward is twice as nerve-wracking as the opposite. I just closed my eyes and prayed hard that the driver will never lose control of the handlebar.
When we reached the level roads of Famorcan and Star Apple, I thought my agony has ended. I realized that it was only a glimpse of how perilous the road to Sofan really is.
We had to unload the motorcycle to be able to cross the knee-deep river. We encountered other motorcycles carrying farm products to be delivered to the town. It wouldn’t encourage the farmers to produce more with a road this difficult.
There is another option if the motorcycle ride appears too deadly for you. If you chance upon a large truck, locally called a weapon, crossing the river wouldn’t be a problem. The problem, however, would be how to keep you balance on top of mixed goods the truck is usually loaded with. I wrote about it three years ago in a different journey to Kiangkos.
Trekking from Sofan
After about two hours of motorcycle ride, we started trekking from Sofan. In three hours, I expected, we would be at our destination.
The sun was already high up the sky when we started walking. The road was just easy at first but I found it hard to catch my breath when we started to walk uphill.
Along the way, we saw crevices that spill out water gracefully towards the river. We stopped by to feel the cool water and posed for some photographs.
We passed by several villages that looked almost the same because of the materials the houses were made of and the way the huts were scattered around the clearing.
We never failed to greet everyone we met and they all returned our greetings with welcoming smiles.
Sidetracked to Malbato and Pinagturan
There was one person we followed: Batman, our guide. Macky and I reached the point where the river forked. Macky was itching to follow the smaller stream, but I told him to wait for Batman. It took them about five minutes to catch up with us and Batman signaled that we follow the smaller stream.
About a hundred meters from the entrance, we saw a beautiful cascading waterfall. On the right side, a spring sprays its water down the cliff.
I enjoyed looking at how beautifully the water cascades through a series of rock formation. On the other hand, I was wondering if it was a dead end. How would we be able to to reach Atnayan from there?
Macky successfully hurdled the waterfall and we followed suit. Jay-R luckily brought ropes. It had been helpful in hurdling the obstacles. Our female companions bravely faced the challenged.
It was only the first. A few steps beyond the first waterfall, three more cascading waterfalls followed. It seemed like an endless hurdling of waterfalls. I started to wonder if we were following the right track.
I suddenly rained around high noon. I felt worried. I have fears of floods since my childhood days. I was consciously looking at the water. I noticed that it was turning brown. Our companions who are experienced rescuers, Jun2x and Batman decided that we deviate from the river and go uphill on the right side, but it was impossible to escape the narrow creek because the cliffs were too steep. Mardy tried to climb up one side to no avail. Even with ropes, it was still very difficult. We were hopeless.
A few moments later, a terrifying sound sent chills down our spine. It sounded like a large volume of water was rushing down the cliff, carrying huge boulders that came colliding with the solid sides of the cliff.