Friday, August 26, 2011

Rising City of the South Offers a Green Sanctuary (Kabankalan, Negros Occidental)

Published by AsianTraveler Magazine, 2007

It was late evening when we entered the gateway to Southern Negros. Greeting us was a beautifully lit public plaza pulsing with life.  Piped music floated out from the old city hall. While U2 sang Pride (in the Name of Love) in the background and the water fountain danced in a spray of water and colored lights, locals sat around on benches, reflecting on the day that just passed.

Kabankalan before me.

Up on the veranda of the old municipal hall still intact in its former glory, we stood watching the quiet revelry below. At the entrance of the seventy-four year old municipal hall, the monument of Jose Rizal stood guard, watching his denizens. We soaked in the quiet of the evening, preparing ourselves for the next day ahead. Kabankalan, the Rising City of the South, awaited us in the morning.

A roosting welcome

Soon as day broke, Kabankalan was awash with colors. The city’s clean smooth roads were bordered with yellow and orange trumpet like flowers swaying with the breeze in their graceful long stalks. The locals call them saging-saging because of their long banana-like stalks. Others call them Cannas or Bandera Espanola.  At the foot of these proud colourful flowers were Morning Glories, giving ode to the sun. These white funnel shaped flowers open in the mornings and die in the afternoons. The next morning, new flowers bloom to welcome a new day in Kabankalan City.

The Morning Glories welcomed our arrival at Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, a 91 kilometre ride from Bacolod. The beautiful landscaped roadside proved that the city had every right to be named the cleanest and greenest city in Western Visayas. Task Force Cleanser, a multi-sectoral group spearheaded by the first lady of Kabankalan, was formed to support the city’s Clean and Green Program. The program includes roadside beautification and park landscaping.  A massive reforestation program is also underway with the help of the Negros State College of Agriculture.

Moment of solitude captured by Lisa Cruz
We passed through several sugarcane plantations and verdant fields crowded with trees before we came upon stretches of land that are home to one of Kabankalan’s major industry, derby cock and game fowl breeding. Rows and rows of small huts housed roosters and fowls sold for cockfighting. Arranged uniformly and spaced equally away from each other on vast rolling hills, they stood like vigilant sentinels awaiting action. Occasionally, game fowls, resplendent in their tall combs and lustrous feathers, would step out from their sentries like proud soldiers. These stunning creatures are just some of Kabankalan’s pride.

Mist and Magic

Kabankalan’s reforestation and green program is evident everywhere else. The city prides itself for its caves, springs and waterfalls.  One such attraction is the Mag-Aso Falls. A 21 kilometre drive away from the city centre, the Mag-Aso falls is a natural attraction that is currently being developed by the city government to make it more tourist friendly. 

Wild white waters create a magical mist, thus the name Mag-Aso Falls.

In all my travels and intimate encounters with waterfalls, Kabankalan's Mag-Aso has got to be the friendliest waterfalls in the country.  I’m used to an hour of hiking up or down a mountain through rocky and muddy terrain.  Before the prize of a refreshing goal, I normally have to work for it, cutting through thick foliage and finding footholds on a steep crude path with nothing but roots and rocks to hold on to. It makes sense though, because after the arduous trek, the destination becomes even more magical.

At Mag-Aso Falls, the magic is in the effortless climb. Not only is it a short walk down, it’s also easy with rock hewn steps leading down to the waterfalls. Although the climb is a bit steep, even those who are not too keen on roughing it can walk down in their own pace safely while holding on to the iron railings on the sides. It’s about a 15 minute descent through the 50 steps, give or take, but those who are not up to the challenge of huffing and puffing their way back up can stay at the lookout points. There are several viewing decks on almost every bend where people can catch their breath or just take in the view in huts and benches. 

Beholding God's magnificence

Personally, I don’t see the reason why I should sit and experience Mag-Aso from afar, when a refreshing oasis awaited at the foot. Mag-Aso is named so for the mist the surge of water releases once it hits the pool and the rocks. You don’t have to dive in to be cooled off.

My favorite spot in Mag-Aso however is not the powerful 75 foot long waterfalls that cascades down the mountain side; what enchanted me the most was an aged monstrous tree that fell on its side and serves as a bridge over the waters. Covered with moss and inhabited by small plants in some areas, the tree’s crevices keep stories untold and secrets hundreds of years old. It probably laid witness to Kabankalan’s Christianization in the early 1600s back when the tree was a mere sapling. Tucked somewhere away from the falls, in a nook of trees and vegetation, it was the perfect spot to take in the sun, the cooling mist and the soothing sound of the rushing falls.  

A monstrous felled tree serves as a bridge over the cool water.

Mother’s embrace

Kabankalan is the place to reacquaint one’s self with nature. Balicaocao Highland Resort, a short ride from our accommodations at Justine’s Pension House, is one of the places wherein one can rest in Mother Nature’s hold. The resort sits high up on a hill, giving guests a breathtaking view of Kabankalan. Locals and tourists can come for a picnic or a dip at the resort pool. Others come at night for a few drinks while taking in the evening view of the city lights below, blinking like a hundred stars beckoning to experience the splendour of Kabankalan.

After a filling meal of buttered chicken and sour hot soup at the Asiatic Restaurant near the municipal hall, we drove to Balicaocao just to sit on the grass on a slope. We watched lazy carabaos munching on grass and surveyed the rows of sugarcane fields dotted with hacienda houses. Many of the ancestral homes had been ravaged by several wars and the punishment of time and the elements. As a yellow butterfly flitted by, I took in the fresh air and exhaled the poisons of the city life.

I savoured the quiet and allowed the spirit of the lazy view before me to embrace me, knowing that in a few years time, I might expect something much more different, a more cosmopolitan view perhaps because of the government’s aggressive campaign to promote a more robust trade and tourism.  All over town, signs of ongoing construction and infrastructure are evident. The building of the Kabankalan Domestic Airport is currently underway and is expected to be completed by 2010. A 40 kilometre concrete road network linking all barangays to the poblacion is also under construction. Steel and concrete bridges are growing over rivers, and resorts similar to Balicaocao are sprouting almost everywhere.

It’ll only be a matter of time before this secret green sanctuary, flourishing with vegetation and charming in its simplicity, will be overcome by tourists. Investors will come in droves and soon Kabankalan will be a bustling city of tourism and commerce, but that’s up ahead. As I look past the coconut trees and down at the quiet breathing city, I rest knowing that for now, I have known Kabankalan intimately.


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