IN 1983 a Mandaya gold prospector stumbled on a big find in Mt. Diwata, Monkayo in the northeast of the then Davao province and what is Compostela Valley today.
The find led to the discovery of one of the biggest gold deposits in the country and in Asia, spurred a mad rush from all over the country of adventurers, fortune-hunters, prospectors, and ordinary folk who dream of cashing in on the wealth of the mountain, to the mineral-rich highland.
The gold rush gave Mt. Diwata a new name, Mt. Diwalwal, literally describing the tongue’s uncontrollable hanging condition as a result of the extraneous efforts of the panting miner negotiating the steep hills and canyons and braving strong river current while hunting for potential gold fields.
The gold rush gradually petered out more than two decades later.
The treasure is still there, deep within the bosom of Mt. Diwalwal and the other mountains and plains of Compostela Valley.
The treasure of the valley is not all gold, though.
It is also its untapped wilderness from the coastal towns of Maco, Mabini and Pantukan to the towering misted mountains of Maragusan and New Bataan.
It is forests and strange wildlife, rushing rivers and placid lakes, thundering waterfalls, labyrinthine caves, and sulfuric springs.
It is the elusive rafflesia mira, the spitting banakon cobra, the enchanted mountain lake of Kandalaga and the myth-shrouded island of Lunod, the endangered monkey-eating eagle, the durian, a ride on board the land-based skylab, and a tunnel exploration.
It is rich culture, customs, and traditions.
Comval’s corridor charms
It is advisable to take off from Nabunturan in the early morning hours to savour the adventure along the Mawab-Maragusan-New Bataan-Compostela-Montevista-Monkayo-Nabunturan eco-corridor.
This is in fact the second tourist corridor, an eco-adventure journey to the heart of Compostela Valley.
Species of pre-historic giant ferns compete with ancients forests. A tropical green wall drapes the hill slopes on one side of the winding old well-traversed roads, and trails and steep ravines on the other, plunging hundreds of metres into snaking rivers below.
The first stop is the Mainit hot spring. A large cottage offers rest before the visitor takes a dip into the therapeutic steaming warm water fed by tiny rivulets oozing out from the earth’s crust high above rocky ledges.
At several points along Maco’s Panoraon-New Leyte narrow dirt road carved on the hillsides, mining tunnel adits dot the slopes.
The undulating road ends at Lake Leonard, a small lake formed from the crater of an ancient volcano and below the mining village of New Leyte. Rare butterflies can be found around it. Bulrushes grow profusely from the banks of the lake whose waters host schools of healthy tilapia and other freshwater denizens. A concrete open building on a short promontory serves as a resting place.
The trip along the dirt road to Maragusan traverses the highlands and offers a view of the lush forest walls, dizzying mountain crevices, sheer drops into rushing rivers, and exotic flora.
Maragusan is Compostela Valley’s well-kept secret, nestled on the valley of the province’s highest mountains.
From Maragusan to New Bataan natural wonders never cease.
The Mt. Tagub-Mt. Manurigao-Mt. Kandalaga range is an unexplored pristine world of nature.
From the mountain range 30 waterfalls cascade, some of the best in Davao region, falling from scores of metres to almost a kilometer below and from one ledge to scores of ledges.
The most well-known are Kandalaga’s Tagbibinta, Marangig, and Py’alitan falls, New Bataan’s Malumagpak, Compostela’s Kumaykay, and Monkayo’s Magdagandang.
The three peaks are sites of national, regional, and local annual mountain climbs and nature watch during the Holy Week and October.
Visit Maragusan between September and October to join the annual Rafflesia Watch, the watch for the blossoming of the species of the world’s biggest flower.
The municipality sits 2,099 feet above sea level. Because of its geographical location, its veritable wall of mountains, and lush forests, Maragusan feeds the headwaters of six major rivers of eastern and southeastern Mindanao – the mighty Agusan that flows hundreds of kilometers downstream into Butuan Bay, the Caraga and Lupon rivers of next door Davao Oriental, the Masara and Hijo rivers of Maco and Davao del Norte, Manat river of Nabunturan, and Kingking river of Pantukan.
As a result of these vast natural bounties, Maragusan became the home of the Mansaka tribe, the second major ethnic population of the rich valley.
A three-day hike will take you to the mountains of Bahi. You will find a community of the Mansaka whose rich culture, customs, and traditions have remained intact and undiluted by the pressures of modern influences. The fastness hosts the one-hectare enchanted mountain Lake of Kampalili where the visitor is cautioned from making loud sound at its approach to avoid disturbing the spirits that dwell there in peace and silence.
Another Mansaka tribe, as well as a community of Manguangans, continues to keep their cultural heritages in the mountains of Manurigao in New Bataan.
Accomodations are not a problem in Maragusan or New Bataan. Inland resorts provide cold and hot springs for swimming or bathing and cottages surrounded by forests.
A skylab is a single motorcycles with added contraptions not unlike the wings of an airplane. It has a roof above to protect the passenger from the rain or the sun and can carry up to ten passengers. It is also not unlike a flying seesaw where passengers are treated to an exhilarating ride as the motorcycle careens up and down rocky roads and climbs slopes, allowing you a view of the chasm below and the vista beyond.
Skylabs are the means of transportation to villages inaccessible by four-wheel drives. They are normal modes in Montevista and Monkayo where villages are tucked in upland nooks and dirt roads wind on the sides of mountains.
It is not a ride for the uninitiated. The faint-hearted may settle for a trisikad ride in Compostela and absorb the sights, smells, and sounds of an urbanized community.
The skylab may also take you to a rough ride to Mt. Diwalwal via Monkayo, some 20 kilometres from the poblacion. A moderate type of skylab sans the seesaw features, the humble habal-habal, is also available. It may be the best means of transport to negotiate the uphill and abrupt downhill, winding and twisting narrow dirt road to the gold-rich and jewelry centre village formerly dubbed the “wild, wild west”.
The hills of Diwalwal are pockmarked with tunnels that go all the way to and crisscross the bowels of the earth for that fleck of gold. Houses and hovels, makeshift shelters and concrete buildings sit precariously, side by side, on small ledges carved from the hillsides.
Tunnel tours are available, one of the unique tourism offers of Compostela Valley. For precaution, a guide will brief the visitors on what to wear and how to go about the tunnel tour.
The visitor is advised to complete the tour before sundown. Night descends fast here so he or she must leave the village as early as four o’clock in the afternoon for the two-hour ride back to poblacion and onward to Nabunturan.
You may refresh yourself in any of the lodging houses like ComVal Hotel just along the national highway in the capital town or proceed to Toyozu Hot Spring Resort for a wellness and overnight rest.
If you prefer to take your rest in Tagum City, take the P30 bus ride or proceed with your car. But stop at Bibingka City in New Sibonga, some six to seven kilometers from town. Or stop at the highway fruit stands of Mawab along the national highway to taste the province’s delectable products. Then, off to Tagum City.
The corridor offers spelunking trips to some of the hundreds of caves of Compostela Valley. The ideal ones are the Mahayahay cave of Mawab near the border with Davao del Norte, the San Vicente cave of Nabunturan, and the Kumbilan-Casoon cave of Mo kayo.
The resort corridor
The most convenient route to Compostela Valley’s shoreline municipalities is via Tagum City.
First stop is Maco, some 17 kilometers away. The other two towns of the resort corridor are Mabini and Pantukan. The shoreline from Maco to Pantukan is dotted with excellent beach resorts.
For example Mabini has the Omandac Beach Resort, Manaklay Beach Park & Resort, Beach View Resort, Manaklay Beach, Sentro Beach, Jark/Casilac Beach, Mampising CARP Beneficiaries Coop. Inc. (MCBCI), White Beach Resort, Tortuga Valley Plantations, Inc. (TVPI), Batiano Beach, Ybals Beach Resort, Mangrove Cafè, and Tagnanan Beach.
Off the coasts are Kopiat Island and the mythical island of Lunod or St. Anthony Island.
Lush mangrove forests cover almost the whole island’s 17-hectare Lunod island. It is a 15-minute motorized banca ride from the coast.
Pantukan has Lawigan Beach Resorts 1,2, & 3, Arrow Mines View & Paraiso Beach Resort, Matiao Beach Resort, Bislig Beach Resort, Magnaga Waters, Gloria Beach, Salvosa Falls, Lahi Hot Spring, Arancon Beach, Cocobarn Beach, Pajo Beach, Rey Uy Beach Resort, Lanipao Hill Complex (convention facility), and Via Veritas Et Vita Seminar House.
Laak, special tourist corridor
Laak is the largest municipality of Compostela Valley. Due to its almost isolated location, it is targeted to be a special tourist corridor.
It has the most number of rivers at nine and one magnificent lake, Lake Buhi. Plans are afoot to tap the municipality’s vast forest resources. The plans include the setting up of a tree park and wildlife sancturary and to become a centre for scientific research and studies.
But that is in the future. For now, Laak is open to any visitor for backpack walks along native trails through its forests and mountains.
How to get to Compostela Valley
From Butuan City or Surigao City, take any of the air-condition or non-air-condition 24-hour bus ride. The fare is PhP1.00 per kilometer. After a less than 300-kilometre comfortable ride, you will arrive at the sprawling bus terminal of Nabunturan, the capital of Compostela Valley.
The usual access though is from Davao City, 90 kilometres away from Nabunturan or at least a two-hour ride by bus and less than that by car. You may stop in Tagum City, 30 kilometres from Nabunturan for refreshment or overnight lodging. It is only a 30-45-minute ride to the valley.
All trips to any destination begin in the capital town. From there different buses, single motorcycles, and passenger jeepneys will take you to any destination in the province at pre-arranged fare rates.