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 Lake Danao, Mt. Cabalian, Southern Leyte

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PostSubject: Lake Danao, Mt. Cabalian, Southern Leyte   Wed Jun 11, 2008 7:33 am

Lake Danao, Mt. Cabalian, Southern Leyte

Placid lake

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros



For seventeen hours, my soul sister Marites and I together with one of our close friends, Billy Jack, had Lake Danao all 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 on 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 thirteen 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 had been treated to sights of awesome immaculate seabirds hunting for fish, sometimes taking their 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 one 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 still were the 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 thirteen hours, we waited for that chance to step on the small port of San Juan (Cabalian in the olden days) enlivened by warm people. Mt. Cabalian was visible from afar, though most of its peak was covered with rain cloud. 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 had a glimpse of 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 Yńiguez-Lerias, she was one of those who demonstrated concern finding 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 at the sight of 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 afoot 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 had closed the project site as research continues. 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 had 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 Leyteńo 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, side by side with the harnessing of car oil that's alternative to the barrels of fuel we have been importing all these years. These would also breathe life to many other industries.

From Porferio "Puto" Sibonga, a native of the place, we learned that after a six-kilometer uphill walk, we are still two kilometers away from the lake. He said the PNOC people made a signage pointing the direction up past the forest line. The one thing nice about Leyteńos is their willingness to be of service to strangers. I had been served of this kind of hospitality in Maasin City when we were unloading those relief goods for the landslide victims early this year. I think the best adjective would be "matinud-anon". Worried the sign might not be there at all which might make us first-timers end up lost up there, Puto then volunteered to be our guide. On our way, he shared happy memories in Cebu while working as waiter for Magellan International Hotel before the firm 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 called leg was an opportunity to appreciate the white anthuriums that had 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 of the fog all excited us. Time just stood still before us and the life we left has frozen behind us.

As we took a few downhill steps into the middle of nowhere, the mist had engulfed us. A few more steps and there we begin 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 hadn’t pitched 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 what Puto believed as local folks 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 and served as grub. Puto left us behind 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 moonrising 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 trees. At 10 pm, the lake was bright with the presence of one lovely moon. Lake Danao painted silhouettes of the lush trees surrounding it. We were once again captive to such wondrous display of nature at her finest moments. Then, we thanked each other for the company, exchanged bear hugs and planted tender mwahs on each other's cheeks.

At 5 am, the lake was enveloped with the mist, the breeze created ripples on top of 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 the prowess 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 moments in time within the four corners of 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.

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Lake Danao, Mt. Cabalian, Southern Leyte
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