Saturday, July 10, 2010

South Cotabato: Lake Sebu's Seven Falls, Zip Line and Lang Dulay

Lake Sebu, South Cotabato has several cultural and natural attractions which makes it a worthwhile destination for tourists who look for more than the usual destination. After making my way to Lake Sebu from the General Santos Airport, I spent the afternoon exploring the town's different points of interest.

First on the list are the Seven Waterfalls or Seven Falls which is a series of majestic cascades lined-up one after the other. The easiest to reach is the first falls (named Dongon Falls or Hikong Alu in the local language) which requires minimal walking. While the last two are the most difficult to access since it requires a long hike down to the valley floor to see them.

The Provincial Government of South Cotabato has made efforts to cement walking paths which is fine since it makes it easier to walk. But unfortunately, the designs of the infrastructure that accompanied the project, particularly the welcome arch and function halls beside the second falls, which obviously was not given much thought, make the falls area look like a cheap theme park. What do you expect of government engineers anyway? You may not realize it but the Philippines has some of the worst-designed government infrastructure in the world because we let our engineers design things and not architects.

It's quite unfortunate because each of the seven falls has a T'boli name that describes each waterfall. And if the provincial government had vision, they should have used T'boli-inspired designs for the welcome arch, function halls and huts which they built. When creating infrastructure for tourism attractions, local governments have to give it much thought and ensure that the designs blend with the environment they are built in or are representative of the local culture. Because if they do things haphazardly or without taste, they destroy the very attraction people come to visit.

That being said, the Seven Falls are still worth the visit since although there are now some structures in the area, the views are still free from obstructions. But it would have been better it they injected a lot of T'boli culture in the designs of tourism infrastructure.

Anyway, I'd like to stress that T'boli is a language and not a dialect. I hope people stop referring to our different languages here in the Philippines as dialects. As I mentioned, the seven falls have T'boli names which describe them. Also known as Dongon Falls, the T'boli name of the first falls is Hikong Alu which means passage falls. The second falls, being the highest, is called Hikong Bente or unmeasurable falls. The third one is Hikong B'lebel which means coil or zigzag falls. The fourth falls in Hikong Lowig which means booth. The fifth falls is Hikong K'fo-i which means short falls. While the seventh and last falls is Hikong Tonok which means soil.

From the first falls, you can walk down several hundred steps to the second falls. But the second option is flying over the the second, third, fourth and fifth falls and down to the foot of the second falls by zip-line. The zip-line costs Php250 and they usually do it in pairs. Although you can try requesting for a solo flight which is what I did. It's arguably the most picturesque zipline in the country.

As I mentioned, the end of the zip-line is the foot of the second falls, arguably the most photographed of all the seven falls. Since the rainy season had already started, the force of the falls was too strong. So I could only take photos from a distance. But despite being relatively far already, mist still hit me. In fact, the mist from the falls was forceful enough to reach me while I was on the zip-line.

Going back up is another story and I was told we climbed close to 700 steps to return to Dongon Falls. It usually rains in the afternoon and it started to drizzle as we neared the top. We were quite lucky that the downpour hit when I was trying to catch my breath at the top. So we had to wait it out at one of the stores before we proceeded to our next destination.

After it stopped raining, we proceeded to the house and weaving school of Lang Dulay, a t'nalak weaver and National Living Treasure. The NCCA notes, "There are a few of them left, the traditional weavers of the t'nalak or T'boli cloth. It is not hard to see why: weaving t'nalak is a tedious process that begins with stripping the stem of the abaca plant to get the fibers, to coaxing even finer fibers for the textile, then drying the threads and tying each strand by hand. Afterwards, there is the delicate task of setting the strands on the 'bed-tying' frame made of bamboo, with an eye towards deciding which strands should be tied to resist the dye. It is the bud or tying of the abaca fibers that defines the design."

Lang Dulay is currently in her nineties. They say she doesn't remember her exact age but previous interviews of her say that she started weaving t'nalak at the age of 12. I also got to interview her myself for posterity and purchased one of her t'nalak cloths for a souvenir which usually ranges from Php500 to Php1000 a yard depending on the design. Minimum length is usually four to eight yards since they don't like cutting the t'nalak.

From Lang Dulay's place, we stopped at the Santa Cruz Mission School to check out its charming architecture which is very much reflective of the local culture. I hope the local governments of Lake Sebu and South Cotabato use this as an example when they build tourism infrastructure. In fact, I mentioned that the school can host cultural performances in its quadrangle in the evening or during weekends which could be another tourism activity for Lake Sebu.

Before calling it a night, we stopped by a traditional brass casting artisan who made intricate T'boli designs such as bells, figures and boxes. They use the lost-wax casting method, creating the work in wax first then covering it with clay. Molten brass is then poured into the clay cast which melts and replaces the wax to form the finished product.

The next morning, I was up early since I wanted to be in General Santos before lunch. This time, I took public transportation. From the resort, I took a habal-habal to the bus terminal in Surallah. Along the way, we stopped for a photo at Lake Seloton, one of Lake Sebu's three lakes. From Surallah, I took a bus to Koronadal. Then I hopped on a bus to General Santos from there. Then it was off to Maitum, Sarangani for some white-water tubing!

Go Sarangani Travel
Partridge BLDG, 66 J. Catolico St. Gen. Santos City
(083) 552-8015 or 304-4398

Lake Sebu Tourism Office
Michael (0906) 3890328
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