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“Remind me again why we’re doing this” were the only words that I managed to let out in between gasps as I turned around to face my fellow travel bloggers. They were battling their own breathlessness.

“We have no idea,” they answered with synchronized laughter while trying to scale another sharp slope.

With all that I had been through during the trek, a reminder would help me reclaim the focus that has slipped somewhere along the trail, perhaps during the moments I lost balance, slid down, and scratched all my limbs. There was a teensy part of me that wanted to back out. The part, however, was not only cowardly  but also stupid for I had come a long way.

A long, long way.

We had spent almost four hours trekking under the fickle skies — sometimes threatening us with the looming rainclouds, other times frying us with the harshest sunlight. Not counting the full hour we were carried by a habal-habal on the bumpiest — no, bounciest — ride I had ever had a pleasure of surviving. The magnitude 8 trembling of my knees and the intensity 10 profanities I involuntarily cried would have been for nothing if I turned back. The only chicken this day was going to see was the one I had for breakfast that morning.

Tired but totally awed
Tired but totally awed
Little wounds and scratches
Little wounds and scratches
Blogger sandwich!
Blogger sandwich! Fellow bloggers on a habal-habal ride before the trek

But I still needed a reminder. Even just a glimpse of our destination? Pretty please?

It wasn’t like we had not been pampered by the mountain the past hours. It had, actually. Along the way, we spotted some of the tallest trees, the smallest nepenthes (pitcher plants), and the sexiest clouds that I laid eyes on. After all, we were there for a reason.

Lake Holon and the Allah Valley

Located in T’boli, South Cotabato, Mt. Melibingoy towers over the town with its highest peak at 1,750 meters. A dormant stratovolcano, it harbors a crater named Lake Holon, which was formed after an eruption on January 4, 1641. The mountain and the lake are also known as Mt. Parker and Lake Maughan, in honor of American surveyors whose plane crashed at the site. It has also nurtured wild, endemic flora and fauna.

Lake Holon feeds Allah River that flows across South Cotabato all the way to Maguindanao. It is a main source of food and livelihood in the Allay Valley, an area shared by South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Allah River meandering in between cliffs
Allah River meandering in between cliffs

Allah Valley has been battling floods since the 1990s. To create a solution, a group called Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA) was formed. They discovered that one of the problems was the environmental degradation in the highlands since many locals are forced to cut down and burn trees to earn a living. Funded by LGSP-LED, a collaborative program between the Philippines and Canada, they are formulating an eco-tourism program as a more sustainable alternative source of income for the people. AVLDA and LGSP-LED invited bloggers, myself included, to try their proposed tourism circuits to help them better the program with our feedback and spread the word about South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

A Path Rarely Trodden

It wasn’t my first time to trek, but it was my first trek to a not-so-popular destination. It shows on the trail itself. Thick moss blanketed many parts of the trail, which was also fringed with overgrown grass and flowering shrubs.

It was both frightening and encouraging. Frightening, because we knew we were going the narrow, slippery way. (Later, I would find myself accidentally stepping on a moss-covered rock and sliding three meters down, injuring my arms.) Encouraging, because the tougher the trail got, the more we realized we were in for a treat — the pristine, almost untouched kind. And we were right.

Lois of We Are Sole Sisters
Lois of We Are Sole Sisters
Mossy ground, sunny skies
Mossy ground, sunny skies
Pretty little things that caught my eye
Pretty little things that caught my eye
A man building a home and a small community along the trail to Lake Holon
A man building a home and a small community along the trail to Lake Holon

The Reclusive Calm of Lake Holon

A wound and 34 scratches later (yes, I counted), I finally reached the edge of the lake. As if all the fatigue vanished magically and with renewed energy, I ran to the banks and danced with the wind. The music: that distinctly amplified songs of the cicadas. The audience: the ghostly clouds kissing the peaks of Melibingoy and the tall grass that swayed lightly, which were reflected perfectly on the mirror-like surface of the lake. It was so clear and peaceful that a fly dipping a toe would send ripples across it and I would see it from where I stood.  No wonder, it has been awarded the Cleanest Inland Body of Water in the Philippines for two years.

Three traditional canoes were docked in one corner, as if waiting for us all this time. Climbing Mt. Melibingoy made breathing difficult, but Lake Holon completely took my breath away and ran with it.

Mirroring the skies
Canoe handle this? Mirroring the skies
Gay of Pinay Travel Junkie taking her turn to canoe, because she can. canoe.
Lois taking her turn to canoe, because she can. canoe.
Gay of Pinay Travel Junkie and Edgar of Eazy Traveler
Gay of Pinay Travel Junkie and Edgar of Eazy Traveler

Tired, who? None of us bothered to take a rest. We were but paper clips drawn mercilessly to the giant liquid magnet before us. We snapped away, pausing every now and then to admire silently, as if worshipping.

When the dark finally defeated the dwindling light, dinner was ready. The cold, cold wind fostered an atmosphere ideal for reflection. But with someone serving a glass of rum every two minutes, the only reflection that happened was the lights from my phone bouncing off of my oily face.

Undisturbed water
Undisturbed water
Cold, bright morning at Lake Holon
Cold, bright morning at Lake Holon. Photo by Gael Hilotin of Pinay Solo Backpacker

The next morning, I was one of the first to get up. Like reflex, marched to the edge of the lake and basked in the gentle sun. I sat on a boulder and thought about the arduous climb the day before and dreaded the hike back down. Why do we like trekking and climbing mountains for hours even in uncaring weather? Two locals — canoeing, catching fish — passed by, rippling the lake’s surface that shimmered gracefully with every wave. There is no better reminder than Lake Holon.

Posted: 2013 • 7 • 21

How to get to Lake Holon: From the town proper of T’boli, ride a habal-habal to Salacafe. Travel time is around 1 hour. From Salacafe, it’s a 3-4 hour trek over rugged terrain to Lake Holon.

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OLAN | The Travel Teller

Wow! One of the places I have long wanted to explore. Hopefully this year! :)

The Poor Traveler

Lapit ka lang dyan! :D


I am so glad that our first meet up was in this rare occasion that we have to discover the beauty of Mindanao. I was astonished that this trip will pave its way to negate the bad impression of the general public about Mindanao. Thank you for the company Yoshke..

The Poor Traveler

A-huh. Thanks, Dennis!

Trisha Velarmino

This is awesome! One of the things I missed in the Philippines. You have nice photos, btw.

The Poor Traveler

Thanks, Trisha!


The lake looks divine! Ang linis! Ang ganda! Inggit ako! :)

The Poor Traveler

Super linaw nung tubig. And super lamig din. Hahaha


it’s a privilege to have traveled with the legendary Yoshke! i miss you already!

The Poor Traveler

Gagi! Hey, won’t you get the photos you took using my cam?

Evelyn Reyno

People say it is not safe to travel to Mindanao. While it is true in some parts, South Cotabato and Davao are fairly safe to go. There are so many places still undiscovered by the media and it is there where I spend unforgettable picnics/hiking/vacation with the whole family. We can boast of a great outdoors experience starting from the sky over South Cotabato. I love to see the neat rows of pineapple plants and asparagus in General Santos and Polomolok from the sky.


Wow! That place, around the T’boli town, has about 11 lakes/falls. I have been to one… about a few minutes from Lake Sebu town. Its really worth the trip coming in from Gen. Santos City.

The Poor Traveler

I’ve only seen 3 (or 4?). I’m not sure; I’m confused. Damn zipline! Haha


I wanna be here soon!

Ernesto Ramos

Cotabato? Patay tayo jan!!

Pearl Amoin-Uy

Lake holon is part of south cotabato… far from cotabato… so, it is safe and peaceful ;)


hello! May i request for contact details like jump off or DENR or where to coordinate. also itinerary. Is this possible for dayhike? appreciate your response. Thanks!