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It was a sunny beautiful morning of February 19, the start of the year in Chinese calendar, when I, Cy, Jen, Henry and Vince decided to had a road trip up to Bukidnon’s Mutuan Peak in Maramag. It was eight in the morning when we traverse the BuDa Road (Bukidnon-Davao Road) to have our first stop at the Seagull Mountain Resort and have the ‘Suman’ (Sticky Rice) and native hot choco for our breakfast, just perfect for the foggy weather which I believed is at around 15 to 20 degree celsius. (But, no suman is available by that time). It was 9:00 in the morning, then. After having a little mobile signal, wazed calculated another an hour drive to Maramag Mutuan Peak — so we decided to go on.

It was all our first time to traverse the road to Bukidnon. Usually, I only reached up to Seagull so we really have no idea what’s on towards the road. Because of that, we made fun of the place of Mamasapano as resemblance to where we currently are. And you know what’s next after that. Regardless, I drove and we all witnessed the beautiful mountainous sceneries of Bukidnon. (Apologies for very few shots here because I was the one driving and maybe, was the one who truly appreciate most the nature in the group). I was personally in awe after passing by portion of Mindanao that is truly rich and raw. At around 11, we saw a DPWH-sponsored overview structure in Quezon, in which we had the chance to see on top the wider scenic of Bukidnon as in the picture below.

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We thought that we were near Maramag and so we kept on looking for a place, a meadow with mountain ranges on the background, to have our lunch. But it took us another 45 minutes before we had our lunch and not in any place we thought we should have been but in a spring resort named ‘RR Family Spring Resort’. We never had the chance to see Mutuan Peak due to our miscalculations in travel time. Instead, at 1:30 in the afternoon, we just stayed in the spring resort and had our happy time. Overall, we travelled at least 150 kilometers from Davao City with travel period of at least three hours scraping the stopovers.

Thinking that it will only take us another three hours to go back to Davao City, we left the resort at around 3:30 in the afternoon drunk and ‘crazy’. Though a little sober, I drove at 80-120kph to ensure that we’ll be back before twilight because at the peak of Buda Road is zero visibility. Plus, number of accidents have been recorded in the past few months where recently was a heavy-loaded truck sweep off of the lane cliff hanging. (PS: I was actually more excited to see the sunset on the road).

The five of us were really having a good time traveling back, traversing the same path we earlier passed by. I did overspeed while my friends record a video of our ‘Good Life by One Republic’. On the hype of that, I was trying to overtake the truck in front of me when, with no signaling at all on their side, the truck leaned on to its right where I was fast approaching at 120kph. All of a sudden all of us where awoke from somberness. We were safe, shocked but still manage to calm down. At that moment, I know my friends were already in their normal state of mind. So do I.

We thought that we could continue the ‘good life’ we were on that ride until I started to notice the goldenness of the sceneries we were passing by at around 4:15 in the afternoon. It was truly like a paradise. It was very peaceful and very few people are in there. I kept on telling my friends that we should have stayed there for lunch. There are meadows with clear views of down below valleys and plains. The rays of the slowly setting sun shed the whole place into a golden haven. If not only because of constraint on our time, we could have approved a one last stopover. The roads are concrete yet we are the only vehicle present at that very moment. Only us.

We now wonder, ‘have we ever been in this place?’ In my thought, the place is far way better and more beautiful than any road trips I ever had. Yet, how come we were on that place if we’ll just cross the same road we passed by from Davao to Bukidnon? We started to doubt ourselves.

At 4:45 in the afternoon in a seemingly remote town of Kibawe, we asked a local if we were on the right way to Davao City. There is good and bad news in her answer. The good news is she confirmed that we are towards Davao City, however, traversing the Bukidnon-Cotabato Road, thus the bad news. It was a bad news for all of us because it was North Cotabato where we all thought the MILF, BIFF and other Bangsamoro anti-government groups established their territory. It was a bad news because most of our phones were drained. It was a bad news because mobile signal was weak in the area. And it was ultimately a bad news because the sun was already setting.

If we go back to Bukidnon, we will travel over a dark place on top of the mountain, most likely a zero visibility due to thick fogs. Otherwise, we go on and take the chances of hitting the town of Kabacan before twilight. Finally with an hour left before six in the evening, our plan was the later to avoid being trapped at night in the mountainous area. I remembered driving at 100 to 140kph to made our goal. For a moment, nobody was talking. I was making myself calm because I was the one driving and should not show nervousness to my colleagues so there’s no mutual feelings. I tried to escape what’s deep inside by enjoying the awesome paradise we just lost at. There, I realized how truly beautiful Mindanao is. I might not have photographs with me but I can clearly imagine what my eyes perceived throughout that journey.

The light from the sun has been dimming when we reached a beautiful bridge over a river, connecting the town of Carmen to Kabacan. There’s nothing to feel than be amazed with how beautiful the rays of the sun painted the bridge and the wide river and how the fire sky reflected in the clear water. It was totally an unforgettable experience to pass by that bridge at that very moment. I then learned later that night that the river we just passed by was Rio Grande, the second largest River in the Philippines next to Cagayan River of Luzon.

Few minutes before six in the evening, we reached Kabacan and have ourselves a quick pee break and to pee out as well the tension we all felt. But it isn’t over yet. We have to reach Kidapawan City the earliest possible time passing by the town of Matalam because we actually don’t know how the city is at night. Some of us have been there but not experience a life at night. Later, we reached the towns of Makilala, Bansalan and Digos. Only after hitting Digos City when I totally told myself that we were way safer now. Thirty minutes pass eight when we finally, safely and peacefully reached Davao City. That was more or less a five-hour drive of more than 250 kilometers – it’s actually an additional of 100 kilometers over the original route, plus breath-taking suspense. Below is the map of our long and winding road trip with blue lines as our en route to Bukidnon and the red where we lost our way.

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Indeed, it was a very long day for the five of us. It entailed a roller coaster feeling of happiness, enjoyment, craziness, excitement, shock, tense, nervousness, fright and all others in between. After all, we all have the badge like a Guinness record of traveling Davao-Bukidnon-Cotabato in all same day.

After that day, we’d like to think that it was God’s way of shifting our route to a ‘safer’ one knowing what great risk it could have been driving in Buda road following simultaneous tragedies. On the other hand, it was a way for us to see the beauty unfolds in North Cotabato. It’s actually unfair as well to not appreciate that paradise only because it has a name Cotabato. Just like how we appreciate it before we realized we were lost to a place we thought was a zone of danger. After that journey, it made me changed my perspective about the place. While it’s true that there are anti-government present in the said province, we cannot underrate the fact that it houses a paradise.

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