Lakbay Mindanao
(Travel Destination)

Zamboanga City

Davao City

Cagayan de Oro City

Mount Apo

Three major cities in the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines have become major travel spots in recent years -- Zamboanga City, Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro City.  These urban centers provide unique forms of southern hospitality in Mindanao for every traveler.  Mt. Apo is also an important travel spot especially for mountain climbers and nature lovers.


Zamboanga City

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Zamboanga City is situated at the southwestern tip of Mindanao. The capital of Zamboanga del Sur province has been called the "City of Flowers," though nowadays it is more popularly known as the "City of Sotanghon." Sotanghon is a kind of noodles and is fairly representative of what is to be found in the city's main attraction--its barter market. 

Kumpits (long deep covered motorboats) carry cargo between Zamboanga and the ports of Borneo, and these cargoes stock the barter market located at the beginning of the wharf.  Not so long ago, kumpits made their way clandestinely rather than openly, for smuggling had for centuries been a way of life in this part of the world.  All efforts to eradicate smuggling failed, so the Philippine government pragmatically decided to legalize the trade.  The result is the barter market which sells food, toiletries, batik, and other goods from Borneo.   From the wharf the open-air market continues in a number of long sheds where, tucked between a fruit stall and a meat stall, one can discover Chinese porcelain, Moro brass, and tribal weaving.

The offices of the Department of Tourism are located in the Lantaka Hotel facing the sea.  On the hotel's terrace, one might try dining on curacha, Zamboanga's culinary specialty.  It is a kind of half-crab, half-lobster.  At the hotel's seawall, a dozen or so vintas are moored.  Aboard them are Badjaos (sea gypsies) and Samals--mostly children. 

The vintas are showcases for brush and brain corals, cowrie and cone, conch and clam, tambuli and turban shells.  Small mounds of red, white, and black coral necklaces and black coral bracelets occupy the space between large turtle shells.  Also aboard the vintas are bundles of pandanus mats that display geometric patterns in mauve, purple, violet, green, and yellow.  It is easy to see why Badjao women have earned the reputation of being the finest mat weavers in the archipelago.

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Department of Tourism Philippines, 1976

Tiny dugout canoes putter around the vintas.  Toss a coin, and immediately three or four children jump into the sea to retrieve it.  What will happen to the three-month old baby that his siblings have abandoned? Not much; for if he falls overboard, he will swim.  It is said of the Badjao that, as soon as he is born, a child is thrown into the water and, if he cannot swim, is considered unworthy and left to drown.


Just past the Lantaka Hotel is Fort Pilar, its one-meter thick, coral walls overgrown with green moss.  A bronze plaque at the eastern gate tells not only its dramatic story but also much of the history of Mindanao.  Built in 1635, abandoned in 1663, rebuilt in 1718, it has been a bastion through the centuries against Muslim, Dutch, British, and Portuguese attacks.  With the occupation by the Americans in 1898, it became Pettit Barracks.  Built into the eastern wall is the open-air shrine of the patron saint of Zamboanga, the Lady of Del Pilar.  Here, the faithful light their candles and make their vows.


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Bookmark Inc., 1997

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Bookmark Inc., 1997

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Bookmark Inc., 1997

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, the largest city in Mindanao and the third largest in the Philippines, is situated at the head of Davao Gulf in the southeast quadrant of the island.  At the airport, a gaily painted statue in tribal attire, holding a durian, welcomes visitors.  Davaoenos say the figure is that of a Manobo native who is the true aborigine of Davao.  A settlement of Manobos can be visited in Calinan, fifty minutes by car from Davao.

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         Philippine Airlines 1980

At the Insular Hotel, midway between the airport and the shopping centers, one can relax over a glass of fresh tuba (palm wine) in the immaculately-kept, mini-Versailles lawn. Sixteen mananguetes (men who tap palm trees for tuba) make this the largest tuba producing area in Davao.  The tapping of trees for tuba is said to prevent coconuts from ripening and falling on hotel guests' heads.

Davao's new harbor, where there is a factory for extracting oil from copra, is about eight kilometers further up the gulf.  Several small restaurants in this area serve kilawin (raw fish eaten with vinegar and soy sauce), for which Davao has earned the monicker "Little Japan".


The rare and endangered Philippine eagle (pithecophaga jeffreyi), native to the forests of the Philippines, makes its home at the Philippine Eagle Nature Center in Calinan.  Spread over a vast forest reserve which is also home to a wide variety of indigenous plants and birds, this nature conservancy is responsible for the propagation of the species.  Guests are treated to a 30-minute film show which traces the breeding, incubation, and hatching of Pag-asa (meaning "hope")--the first Philippine eagle born and bred in captivity.

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The Field Museum, 1998

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Philippine Convention & Visitors Corporation, 1992

Davao's year-round fair climate is conducive to the propagation of orchids.  The pride of Davao, the walingwaling (vanda sanderiana) is endemic to the region.   Its mother plant was discovered by a German scientist upon the slopes of Mount Apo.   Today the walingwaling and other hybrids are cultivated in the many orchid farms scattered across the countryside.  From April to September, the slopes of these farms are carpeted in exotic, fragile blooms.

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Frequently in fine weather, majestic
Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines, can be seen to the south of Davao.  It is a gigantic verdant cap stretching to a height of 2,909 meters and covering 76,000 hectares.  Justly called
the "grandfather of Philippine mountains", Apo is a dormant volcano. With no recorded eruptions, its jagged crater walls nevertheless are mute testimony to ancient activity. 

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Philippine Convention & Visitors Corporation, 1992

April and early May are the best times to climb Apo.  Allot four days for the trek which is tiring rather than trying, delightful rather than difficult, and which can be accomplished readily by the reasonably fit, aged seven or seventy.  The first portion of the climb is gentle and through open country where industrious Manobos farm corn, coffee, and camote (sweet potato).  You may well be invited to join them for a cup of coffee in their simple nipa (palm) huts.  On this part of the climb you might have the wondrous good fortune to spot a haribon (monkey-eating eagle), one of the rarest and largest eagles in the world.  After about four hours you reach Agko Blue Lake.  Parts of this shallow steaming lake are icy cold; other parts are boiling hot.  A giant log cabin by the lake with sleeping accommodation for 200 makes this a convenient spot at which to spend the first night. The altitude here is 1200 meters. 

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  The Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook, 1998


The Field Museum, 1998

The second day's hike through countryside, where orchids abound and moss-covered jungle trees hide giant pitcher plants, takes you along a trail that crosses and recrosses -- nine times in all -- the swift, milky white Marbel River.  At some points the ten-meter-wide river must be forded; at others there are inchoate bridges.  The altitude is now 1800 meters and the climb is much steeper, but a refreshing break awaits you when you reach the hot springs at 2100 meters.  Just beyond the springs are twin waterfalls, each about four meters wide, whose waters plummet down a vertical drop of about 17 meters.  In the late afternoon, after walking through a fairyland of brown and green ferns, you stumble upon a lush flat lawn covered with a carpet of thick soft Bermuda grass.  The lawn outlines the irregular contours of shallow Lake Venado whose waters reflect the peak of Apo.  The lake derives its name from the fanciful resemblance of its shape to that of a deer or, others claim, from being the watering place for herds of the horned ruminant.  The altitude is 2400 meters.  It is an ideal place to pitch camp before making the final assault on the peak early the next morning.

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The Field Museum, 1998

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The Field Museum, 1998


The trail from Lake Venado to the summit is rocky in parts and much steeper than earlier, but no more than three hours is necessary to traverse it.  The jagged contours of the peak come into view
as you emerge from a moss-covered

From the peak you can look a couple hundred meters down into a large oval crater whose sulphurous vents spew yellow fumes.  Also from the peak the panoramic view across several provinces beyond Davao City to the Pacific Ocean
is immensely breathtaking.  Don't forget
to take a souvenir sulfur rock with you,
the symbol of having conquered Mount Apo.  It is time to descend and freshen
up in the tranquil waters of Lake
Venado, alongside which the third and last night of the trek may be spent.

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Insight Guides: Philippines



A sprawling city bisected by the Cagayan River, Cagayan de Oro sits in the middle of Mindanao's north coast and is the staging point for a trip to the Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, a theme park 12 kilometers away.

Here one finds a microcosm of all ethnic cultures in northern Mindanao.  Agricultural tools, ethnic instruments, and ornaments of the Manobo, Matigsalog, Subanon, Talaandig, and Higaonon tribes are on display in tribal huts.  The flora-and-fauna exhibit features an orchidarium, a butterfly garden, an aviary, and a deer habitat.  Try to catch a demonstration on ancient tribal crafts as well as cultural shows on native songs, dances, and rituals.  There are also ample backpacking, bird-watching, and camping trips to join.

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   Filipinas Publishing Inc., 1998

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From Malasag an exciting half-day excursion can be arranged to visit the Huluga Caves where archaeological material which may date from the late Neolithic (ca. 2500 B.C.) has been unearthed.  The portals to three tiny caves can be reached by climbing 25 meters up a partially buried old tree on the east bank of the Cagayan River.   To get there, look for a guide and cable boat operator in Barrio Balulang and cross a tributary of the Cagayan River.  The river is 100 meters wide, the current swift, and the cable boat crossing not for the timid.  Alternatively, at high tide it may be possible to reach the caves by renting a pumpboat at the bridge in downtown Gaston Park; however, the voyage is against the current.

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                     Insight Guides: Philippines

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Camp Philips, some 30 kilometers to the east of Cagayan de Oro City, is headquarters of Del Monte's Philippine Packing Corporation.  Here may be the world's largest pineapple plantation, covering some 9000 hectares.  It is said that an old airstrip within the estate was where General Douglas MacArthur took off for Australia after being whisked off Corregidor during World War II, and that the Americans considered carrying out their 1944 landing on Macajalar Bay, before eventually picking typhoon-prone Leyte.  The Americans lucked out.  Leyte was hit by a typhoon five days after the landing.


For sheer adventure the Canopy Walk in Claveria, a two-hour jeepney ride from Cagayan de Oro, offers the thrill of tight-rope traversing high above the lush rain forest. 



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Filipinas Publishing Inc., 1998