That One Extraordinary Lake Holon Adventure

If one looks at my chat history, one would see that as early as 2013 I already asked my friend who lives in Polomolok about Lake Holon. Then I parked the idea at the back of my head because life happened. I had many things on my mind and I did activities that sounded less tedious than hiking. Ha! Fast forward to nine years later, my friend, Barbara, broached the idea of going to Lake Holon. It was still March then and we had three months to prepare our bodies for hiking. It did not take a lot of convincing for us. I told her that we should go while we still can. At a blink of an eye, we’ll be in our 50s and we may no longer be as adventurous. I think Barbara took my words to heart. Ha! Besides, this trip was also our revenge travel of sorts. For the past 11 years, Barbara and I have travelled to Naga, Sagada, Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Coron, Bataan, Dumaguete/Siquijor and Aurora. We would gone to more places but the pandemic had hampered our annual trip together.

To prepare for the trip, Barbara went hiking regularly while I slept, ate and watched k-drama. Oh, I did some 5-minute plank exercises. I have a planking app that guides me through the process. Planking is one of the few exercises I can pull off. I don’t know how a strong core and a wonderful abs (which I still do not have, btw) would help in hiking but, in my mind, as long as I exercise, I am good to go. Boy, was I wrong! But more on that later.

Our call time for the trip was 7PM at a fastfood chain. We left Butuan at around 830PM and arrived at T’Boli, South Cotabato at around 6AM. There were stopovers and bathroom breaks in between but I remained on my seat trying to avoid anything that would trigger my motion sickness. I think I was successful in achieving that. No vomiting from me!

Look at our happy faces at the grounds of the T’Boli municipal complex.

This is me waiting to be assigned to a habal-habal (motorcycle) that will bring us to the jump off point of our trek to Lake Holon. This is me being clueless of what lies ahead of us. Ha!

The motorcycle ride to Brgy. Salacafe took us around an hour. Barbara and I were at the back of a speeding motorcycle relinquishing our dear life to our driver. My one hand was on Barbara’s shoulder and the other hand carried the water bottle with my arm hugging a pillow. There were paved roads and there were dirt roads around the huge banana plantation of Sumifru where our motorcycle driver navigated like those in motocross races. Our butts would bounce up and down while our thighs tried to hold on to our seats. Imagine that rough ride for at least 30 minutes. I remember that it was difficult for me to unmount myself from the motorcycle. I had to slide down with my leg up like a gymnast that I was not. My thighs went numb for bit. I felt relieved that I was not alone in that predicament. Others remarked that they were prepared for the all hiking but they did not expect that grueling motorcycle ride. On hindsight, I should have done lunges and squats for my workout and not the planking. Ha!

This was us after an orientation . We got our walking poles, hat and we were ready to hike. It is easy to spot me in the photo. Find the girl who was still hyperaware that COVID still lurks around. Ha! I was the only one with mask on. I removed the mask while hiking. I wanted to breathe the fresh air.

After that memorable motorcycle ride, hiking may prove to be a walk in the park. After all, we took the Salacafe trail- the easier trail, they say. One can even ride a horse up to the viewdeck which was the last stop before starting a descent to the lake. We had a porter to carry our things.

Look at me all beaming and raring to go not knowing what happens a few hours later.

See those dark clouds? Yes, it rained. Our trail was not easy after all. Ha! When it started to rain, the porter asked me if I needed to get an umbrella from my bag. Good thing I remember I had a raincoat in that bag. Years ago, when I used to travel without checked in baggage and umbrellas were not allowed on our carry-ons, I packed a raincoat instead. I got this raincoat in Taiwan when it rained there. Glad that I was able to use it again four years after.

Just when I thought the rain stopped, it did not and it remained relentless. We were in for a crazy hike. I remember asking Barbara the night before we left if we still have a chance to shower before hiking. I was thinking I might need another set of clothes. Well, well, well. The rain took care of our shower time. Kat, ginusto mo ito. (Kat, you wanted this trip.)

The guide had to push me a little when I had a hard time in the slopes.

Look at the raging water. This was a tamer version. We encountered slopes looking like waterfalls.

We were all in this together. We had time to smile, rest and take photos.

The sun was up when we reached the viewdeck of the trail.

We looked like we had an effortless climb. Who would have thought I was struggling an hour earlier?

An hour of descent later, we reached lake.

Our guides set up our tents.

When we were all settled, it was time to swim! Lake Holon was declared as the cleanest inland body of water in the country in 2003 and 2004. Hopefully it was still as clean when we were there. There were fishes. We were able to dip our toes in the shallow water near the banks and let tiny fishes nib at our dead skin cells. A fish spa!

We hopped on a boat to the middle of the lake.

This is the view of campsite from the lake.

And we swam! Of course, I had a life jacket.

Cleanest lake, right? That was my bath for the day (No soap, though. Bad for the aquatic life). There are rest rooms and showers in the campsite you can use for a fee.

It was cold in the evening. I was wearing a heattech top under long-sleeved pajamas but it was still cold. My friends, Barbara and Merichel, and I huddled together in our tiny tent and slept though the cold night.

We woke up to this marvelous sight.

And I did not wake up like this. Hehe! I already changed clothes waiting for breakfast.

This is near the breakfast area with my tour mates!

This is my one last solo photo with the lake.

Off we leave the camp.

This time, we followed the more difficult trail- the Kule trail. The payoff was the 360 degree view of the lake that Barbara and I wanted to experience. With all the troubles we went through the day before because of the rain and the day after seemed to give us better weather, the Kule trail looked like a walk in the park.

The trail was narrow but it was not really dangerous. It was manageable. Had I been a lot fitter, I would say it was uneventful. But in the survival of the fittest, I am definitely the first to say goodbye. You know that I am the last person in the pack when the guide was just a few steps behind me making sure of the correct head count. A huge thanks to my friend, Barbara, for not leaving me behind.

And the pièce de résistance in this trail is this view of the lake.

Never mind if my eyes were closed. I was in the moment. Honestly, I was too tired to check the photos. As long as I have a proof I reached this place, I am okay.

By the way, Lake Holon was formed when Mt Melibengoy (also known as Mt Parker) erupted in the 1600s.

Shoutout to my friend, Barbara, who looks stunning, while I look disheveled.

There were 10 of us who followed the Kule trail.

This was taken at one of the stops. See the dark clouds? Rain finally caught up with us. We were almost at the Kule trail jump off point. We rested at an awning of house in a community.

There are stories that I do not have photos to show but they made an indelible mark in my memory. I do not have photos to show because I was hanging on to dear life. When my priority was survival, I focused on the task at hand- stay alive.

Remember that dark clouds in the last photo? It rained. And we still have a motocycle ride going back to the Salacafe jump off point. Rain + dirt road= muddy dirt road. Imagine 30 minutes on a dirt road and on a mountain slope. There was even a point where our fellow travelers had to get off the motorcycle because the ground was soft and the motorcycle had to go uphill. Only their drivers were left in the motorbike to maneuver the slope. The passengers just walked uphill and rode the motorcycle when it was already on a flat terrain. Our driver said it was okay for us just stay on the motorcycle. We saw how difficult it was for the drivers who went ahead of us so we said our prayers and just trusted our driver. I did not close my eyes because, as a passenger, I had to focus where we were going. If it would not go as planned, I would be able to figure out where to land. Thank you, God, we were safe. We arrived unscathed. Having survived that ride, the one-hour motorcycle ride along the dirt road of the banana plantation back to the municipal complex where our van for Butuan was waiting was no longer scary.

I have been through the most challenging ride of my life. Literally. I guess I am ready for any rollercoaster. Ha! Now I know why they say that the Kule trail is difficult. For me, it is the death-defying motorcycle ride that makes it difficult. The motorcycle ride strengthened my faith in God. I had to convince myself that these drivers have lived their lives in these rough terrain. The years of experience with their vehicles and their land made them experts in their domain. There is a part of me who wished that they will have better roads soon and a part of me who also wanted to leave nature alone. I hope we find the balance in enjoying nature, nurturing it and earning a living.

Looking back, I know I survived the hike to Lake Holon because the guides were great at motivating even those who were not physically fit (me!). They would tell us that we will get there one step at a time. When it rained, we did not see panic in their faces. They looked like they know what they were doing. We asked them questions along way. It eased our worries knowing they knew the route like the back of their hands. The locals would ply that route effortlessly. There were pitstops (stations) along the way to the lake and there were locals selling food to famished and parched hikers or just somebody like me who loves to eat. I was craving coke when we returned from the lake that I told Barbara I would buy one when I see one. True enough, I bought a small bottle for Php 35. It was quite expensive but it was worth every drop. It was my reward for myself for this little achievement.

Thank you, Lake Holon, for the memories! I hope more people will able to enjoy your majestic beauty.

P.S. We traveled to Lake Holon with Wanderags Tour. Thanks to Barbara for almost all of the photos.