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IMG_1480When I decided to spend holy week in Iligan City, some of my colleagues started to question my decision to do so. I never had my first out-of-my-comfort-zone very long solo travel in Mindanao. However, I will not know if I never try. So I did despite frowns I receive, despite advices purely unsolicited and despite receiving so many likes of “sigurado-ka-ba?” interrogatives (are your sure?).

The concern is that Iligan City is in Northern Mindanao, a place thought of as red to security warnings. However, I’ve been reading couple of blogs and some of solo travel in that place and all of them just enjoyed their entire adventure appeasing that my decision concerns nothing but my interest to explore the place, meet the locals and be a proof that not the entire Mindanao is a red flag to travelers.

(Please bear with the quality of the photos. I’m still learning the proper way of taking good shots.)

At 11:30PM of Holy Wednesday, I commuted a 7-hour trip going to Cagayan de Oro via Rural Transit Bus from Davao City Ecoland Terminal (Fare: PHP600.00). I arrived in Agora Terminal at around six o’clock in the morning of Maundy Thursday. That was my first step in the City of Golden Friendship – so never hesitate to ask for directions and other stuff as the locals are friendly enough to accommodate your inquiries. After a smiling lola helped me out for my next stop, I rode a multicab going to Bulua Terminal for 15 minutes (Fare: PHP12.00). From Bulua Terminal, I travelled another two hours going to Iligan City via the Super Five Bus that travels every 30 minutes or less regardless of number of passengers (Fare: PHP115.00).

While on my way, there are different industrial companies I passed by including a construction cement factory, Minola Oil, San Miguel Agribusiness, gasoline depots etc. which gave me an impression that when these big companies trusted their businesses in this place, the place must have positively shown factors to the formula and that includes better security. From that time, I know the place I was visiting was far way different from most of people thought of towards Mindanao.

IMG_1483In less than ten hours, I had my first step forward to the City of Majestic Waterfalls that houses 23 waterfalls in all. A manong guard noticed that I was alone with my big orange backpack and immediately asked me if I am going to the famous Maria Cristina Falls and I said yes with a grin. He confirmed the direction I got from a friend, Joe who already visited the falls alone, and so I rode the jeep going to the Market and old Gaisano Mall (Don’t be confused because there’s a Gaisano Mall you’ll pass by first before reaching the old one) (Fare: PHP7.00). From there, I rode another jeepney with “Buruun” signboard going to Agus VI (Fare: PHP12.00). The landmark my friend gave me was right after a red-colored bridge that got me confused because I perceived it as orange. :)

The city is just like Davao – Very clean, feels safe, no high-rise buildings, widened concrete roads, laid-back, relax, humid, etc. And I’ve learned from a local that just like Davao (again), it’s a lone district by not being part of a provincial government although geographically, it is part of Lanao del Norte which means that the city is a productive progressive LGU that can stand alone economically and politically. No wonder why the late President Diosdado Macapagal and his daughter, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and their family stayed for a while in this truly majestic city. (Their ancestral house is open for public, supervised by a very accommodating Tatay Virgilio Varquez). PS: PGMA’s painting of herself is a must-see!

Immediately after drop off in Agus VI, a habal-habal driver (Jeffrey Sasil, Contact Number: 09061079565) approached me to offer tour to the three famous waterfalls plus sidetrips for PHP500.00 only (includes going back to bus terminal to CDO). He knows the city so well to make your adventure sulit! Most of the infos and stories I got (including some of those mentioned above) were from him.

Finally, after a much-fulfilling land-trip travel, I reached the famous second-highest waterfalls in the Philippines, the beautiful Maria Cristina Falls.

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It is housed by the National Power Corporation (NPC) Nature Park in a vast land area with entrance fee of PHP 35.00 for non-students. Maria Cristina Falls has been the source of electricity to majority of city’s industries and local men.

While watching the water fall down from the Agus River, I remember how funny it was when I told my classmates in second grade that the post-card they hold wasn’t Maria Cristina Falls but a big fish fell down from a huge rock. I can still remember how the post-card really looks like in my mind. Anyway, I just can’t have a wider cleaner view of the falls because of the NPC infrastructure put up in front of the falls so it really is a great effort for some photographers to have a distinct shot for this ever beautiful falls.

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After that, I just quickly visited the ancestral house of PGMA and then I headed to the majestic Tinago Falls. The way to this falls was quite challenging mainly due to the 365 big big steps down. It was truly like a hiding place, as the name of the falls was coined from. However, this majestic falls is truly worth the effort and time. The clear blue cold 65-feet deep water is simply refreshing and kayak is a must-try! There is a fee of PHP25.00 for the life vest and additional PHP75.00 for the table. The guide is optional with no fix fee but for a lone traveler, they’ll be a good help especially when taking your photos and taking care of your belongings while enjoying the experience in the falls. (My guides were Benjan and Raymark, 19 and 14 years old.)

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My next stop was Mimbalut Falls which is just near Tinago. What I love about this falls are the stone formation just perfect for photography. It’s just kind of difficult to set up in the area especially when you don’t pay the entrance fee of PHP50.00. :) Though it’s still legal to not pay because there is a way on the left side going to the falls. (Thanks to my driver for letting me know!)

Do not forget to have a lunch in Gloria’s lechon! Their pork lechon is simply sinful! Before I end my trip in Iligan City, we quickly passed by the city hall on top of a hill.

The next day, Good Friday, I spent the morning doing my stations of the cross in Malasag CDO. It’s going uphill until you reach the small chapel on top. The locals always visit the place to have their own station of the cross on lent season. Just ask the habal driver to drop you off of the place, in case you wanted to visit (Fare: PHP50.00)

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On the afternoon, one of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Miraculous Shrine of Divine Mercy in El Salvador City. It is where the miracle of the dancing sun happened last April 7, 2013, the date declared by Pope John Paull II as the feast of Divine Mercy. It is said to be the new century of time of Fatima when the dancing sun also appeared. The place is filled with devotees regardless of time of the day. I thought by sunset time, there’ll be lesser people yet it turned out the opposite. In fact, the people were putting blankets in the meadow to spend the rest of the night in front of the Divine Mercy statue. The place feels really like a holy one. I spent almost 7 hours just strolling around the place and never get bored, just perfect for the pilgrims to meditate this lenten season. For more info on the miracle of the Divine Mercy Hills, click here for the link of the video and be blessed.

To get there, from Bulua Terminal CDO (the same terminal I rode the bus going to Iligan City), ride a jeepney going to El Salvador City. Just tell the driver that you are going to the Divine Mercy Shrine (Fare: PHP20.00).

Now that I’m back in Davao, all I can feel is gratefulness that I never doubted myself in visiting the place. It truly is an amazing experience to step in a strange place and know for a fact that you survive living in there even for a shorter period. Sometimes, we just have to get out of our comfort zone to experience more to life than leisure. Aside from the beautiful scenics I encounter, what truly makes a travel worth is by engaging oneself to its people because they embody the life on it. They are the mirror of what’s deep inside the city in terms of culture, lifestyle, etc. I’ve learned so many things about Iligan and El Salvador City, as I mentioned and enumerated previously. Therefore, I personally say that these two cities are absolutely a livable city. Forget about the security concerns that most of people will tell you because in the first place and for all we know, they’ve never been to these majestic places.

PS: I realized about writing on a separate post about Mindanao from a ManileΓ±o perspective as I experienced living in this region for almost two years already.

– The guy with an orange backpack.

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