Trekking in T’boli country

For some people, T’boli means t’nalak, that sacred cloth woven by the T’boli people. T’boli is also a first class municipality where Mount Mélébingóy, formerly known as Parker Volcano, is located. Its neighboring town, Lake Sebu, is where you will find the eponymous lake. Both municipalities are home to the T’bolis and other indigenous people such as Tirurays, Ubos, and Manobos. Hiligaynon is widely spoken with a sprinkling of Cebuano, Bicolano, and Ilocano. The T’bolis also have their own language. Both municipalities are located in South Cotabato.

The Adventure Begins

After an overnight stay at Crown Jewel Hotel, our group of travellers were whisked off to the T’boli Tourism Office where we learned that the T’boli town has earned many awards, most notably the “Best Tourism-Oriented LGU (Municipality).” We were off to Lake Holon, a volcanic crater of Mt. Parker, on a hiking adventure.

Gono Bong or big house in T’boli.

Transport options to the jump-off point were motorcycle (habal-habal) and van. Our group opted for the more adventurous habal-habal. Our habal driver careened through paved and bumpy roads with ease with two passengers in tow. When we reached an uphill portion, our driver stopped and gathered some rocks as a counterweight and put them in front of the motorcycle. One of us got off to walk uphill while the other remained on the bike. The other driver had another idea—put one passenger in front of the driver. The poor passenger had to hang on tightly like a rider on a mechanized bull!

Habal-habal ride

After the pelvic busting motorcycle ride, we finally arrived at Barangay Salacafe, Sitio Kule, for an orientation at the Gono Bong (big house in T’boli). Gono Bong is a receiving area for hikers and a place for accommodation as well. We ate banana donuts for snacks and bought trekking sticks. We were about to embark on a 7.2-kilometer hard trek. There were five rest stations. The first two were easy and the last three, difficult. Some day hikers opt to reach only up to the fourth station where there is a view deck and head back on the same day to Salacafe. In the meantime, the other hikers on board a van are dropped off at a barangay before Salacafe and start hiking in an easier but longer nine km. route.

The Hike to Holon

Lake Holon

As in any other climb, the first hour is always the hardest. It is at this stage when you have second thoughts. After the first station, your body gets accustomed to the pain and discomfort. While trekking, we encountered tribal horsemen with loads of abaca and corn. Also on the trail were porters who carried some of the hikers’ gears. The trail was clean with hardly any garbage. Except for a few hikers who played music while on the trail, the rainforest was an abode of peace and quiet. Along the way we saw carnivorous pitcher plants. It drizzled a little bit which made the trail slippery. It was only at Station Four where the View Deck was located where the hikers converged to have their signature pose taken. By the time we reached the last station, it was almost sunset, the golden hour for photography. We rode a banca quietly to the campsite where there were already campers who arrived ahead of us. 

Slippery trail
Rainforest hike

Lake Holon is a crater lake of Mt. Parker, a stratovolcano which last erupted in 1641 causing the formation of a crater lake. Holon is a T’boli word which means deep water. It is a sacred place for the T’bolis. It was declared the cleanest inland body of water in the Philippines in 2003 and 2004. There was a curfew at the campsite which was fortunately followed by the campers. Some had a deep massage that made them sleep soundly. It was well worth the hard ride and the hard trek. We were Holonized!

Horseback ride

Thanks to the Tourism Promotions Board, Jodhell de la Cruz, Regie Teodillo, and Andrea Deita of F and J Travel and Tours for organizing the hike.

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JP Ordoña (Manilakad) leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila. Manilakad (Jing Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888 and Viber (George Ordona) at 0960-6975930.