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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Placid Lake

Lake Danao, Mt. Cabalian, Southern Leyte

Placid Lake
by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com
YANIPZ (pinay_mangatkatay) on cebu tambayan 1&2
published for THE FREEMAN lifestyle section last October 27, 2004 visit www.thefreeman.com

For 17 hours, my soul sister Marites and I, together with one of our close friends, Billy Jack, had Lake Danao to ourselves - serene waters held by a caldera formed after a volcanic activity decades back. The lake is nestled a few feet below the summit of Mt. Cabalian in barangay Anahawan, San Juan town, Southern Leyte. The locals call this mountain Kantaytok. The lake’s tranquil water was momentarily ruffled by playing carps and other freshwater fish varieties. Lake Danao (stress on the first syllable) is a placid lake.

Aboard a slow boat that charged us only P220 each for upper deck accommodations, we were mapping out things to do in our overnight campout up there on Mt. Cabalian - over 2,400 feet high. The slow marine vessel took us sailing for 13 hours from Cebu down to the tip of southern Leyte, maneuvering back up the eastern side of the province facing the Philippine Deep.

During the sea trip, we’ve been treated to sights of awesome immaculate seabirds hunting for fish, sometimes taking flight above us as if teasing us with the powerful flapping of their wings. Verdant coconut groves dominate the mountainside of Pana-on island, a teardrop-shaped mass of land connected to mainland Leyte by Wawa bridge in Liloan, a town named after the eddies formed by the movement of surface currents and undercurrents.

It was my second time to see Pana-on. The first time was when The Freeman Foundation launched a relief drive for the landslide victims of the towns of San Francisco, Liloan and San Ricardo early this year. From afar, there were still memories of devastation marked by destroyed seawalls, torn-down jetty, and the big white cross in memory of those buried beneath boulders and mud.

For 13 hours, we waited for that chance to step on the small port of San Juan (Cabalian in the old days) enlivened by warm people.

Mt. Cabalian was visible from afar, though most of its peak was covered with rain clouds. It has a 30-degree slope vivid from afar, not drawing an established hump or jagged peaks or cuernos (thorns) or tiaras unlike most mountain summit formations.

The first time I glimpsed Mt. Cabalian was when I was on my way to deliver the relief goods to San Ricardo aboard a navy boat with Southern Leyte’s governor Rosette Yñiguez-Lerias (she was concerned to find me perched near the vessel’s prow).

“Mahulog ka ‘day kon maigo kas dagkong balud dinha,” she warned me.

“Mobalhin ra ko Madam kon mabusog na kog tinan-aw aning Mt. Cabalian,” I answered back. After oogling the mountain’s ridges and peak, I swore to the heavens, “Balikon jud tika ba! Katkaton jud tika!”

After six months, my companions and I set foot in San Juan for the trek. We were told by locals to look for eskina PNOC, about a kilometer away to the right from the port, past a condemned bridge. The Philippine National Oil Corporation had an exploration there years back for geothermal energy sources, but closed the project site as research continued. Pipes reportedly failed to withstand the earth’s heat so that PNOC folded up temporarily to conduct further studies on stronger materials, this we learned from one Lea Alfaro, a resident.

We walked our way three kilometers up when we started feeling the effects of high altitude, our ears felt as though they were clogged up with air giving us this zing in our brains. From over a thousand feet of gradual assault, we feasted on the sight of beautiful Sogod Bay, in the interior portion of the Wawa bridge. Southern Leyte is one vast land with beautiful mountain peaks that seem to wear crowns. If only this country isn’t bound by the shackles of a rotten system, most Leyteño coconut farmers could have been among the wealthiest people in the Philippines - into the mass production of tons of virgin coconut oil not only for the country’s use but also for the international market, as well. Not to mention the harnessing of car oil that’s alternative to the barrels of fuel we have been importing all these years. These would have also breathed life to many other industries.
From Porferio “Puto” Sibonga, a native of the place, we learned that after a 6-kilometer uphill walk, we are still two kilometers away from the lake. He said the PNOC people made a signage pointing to the direction up, past the forest line. One thing nice about Leyteños is their willingness to be of service to strangers. I had experienced this kind of hospitality in Maasin City when we were unloading the relief goods for the landslide victims early this year. I think the best adjective would be “matinud-anon”. Worried that the sign might not be there at all, which might make us first-timers get lost, Puto then volunteered to be our guide. On our way, he shared his happy memories in Cebu while working as a waiter for the Magellan International Hotel before it was reduced to ashes in the late 80s.

Puto showed us the way to the bosom of the forest. It was a 2-kilometer assault, of winding paths that seemed to lead us to eternity. Each stopover, I call leg, was an opportunity to appreciate the white anthuriums that flooded our path, a chance to get excited at the chattering of chimps which he estimated to have weighed about 5 kilograms each. Sights of moss-covered tree trunks, lovely birds hovering from time to time above us, the smell of forest litter, and the brush with the fog all excited us. Time just stood still before us and the life we left behind was frozen.

As we took a few downhill steps into the middle of nowhere, the mist engulfed us. A few more steps and there we began to realize – water!

We were shouting and praising at the site of the lake partly covered with the afternoon curtain of mist, its banks sprinkled with groves of amamangpang (a variety of ferns).
The lake took an elongated shape on the face of the earth. We arrived at about 2 pm, but didn’t pitch our tent immediately. Ugly site of scattered trash – plastic water bottles, cans of sardines, candy wrappers, empty liquor bottles, and smelly fish entrails with partying maggots were left there by, Puto believed, locals who go up there to fish and picnic. Marites and I were on to a cleanup first while Billy Jack pitched the two tents we brought along. Puto then left us, wishing us the best of memories in that idyll with Lake Danao.

At sundown, flying foxes with wingspans of five feet long, set flight away from their dwelling places to hunt for food. We were clapping at the site of the giant fruit bats hovering above us, about two hundred of them—beautiful animals. After a sumptuous dinner of Halcon Steak, we hit the sack deciding to catch the moon rising at 10pm. Then, the strong winds came, carrying this droning sound like water in a whirlpool. We secured our dome tents to the ground with more skewer pegs, and just enjoyed the music created by the rustling of the trees. At 10 pm, the lake was bright with the presence of a lovely moon. Lake Danao painted with the silhouettes of the lush trees surrounding it. We were once again captive to such wondrous display of nature at her finest.
Then, we thanked each other for the company, exchanged bear hugs and planted tender “mwahs” on each other’s cheeks.

By 5 am, the lake was enveloped with the mist, the breeze created ripples on the water like air blown into a mug of steaming coffee. In between sips of hot chocolate and spoonfuls of cereal, we went gaga over those giant fruit bats flying low beneath the mist, taking on the angles of kamikazes.
Early in the morning, we three silly-goofies took turns in shouting our names that reverberated back to us in echoes.

Before thanking the lake for accepting us, we also took turns in freezing those moments in photographs, and then imbibing the lessons Lake Danao has for us – to live this borrowed life in borrowed time placidly, amid the crazy world’s noise and haste. (For comments, reactions, suggestions, and contributions crank up my addy: pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com. Climbing rules! To help our foundation for corporal works of mercy, please check www.thefreeman.com PUBLIC SERVICE section. The Freeman Foundation is the heart of the newspaper engaged in saving lives most especially the children. Thanks for your kind hearts.)