Backpacking Solo in South Cotabato

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“Here, take this, it can get really cold here.”

Maria Todi , a T’boli cultural worker, hands  me a woven abaca shawl as she realize I am starting to get shivers. Timid as I am, I hesitate but she insists.

“It’s Andi’s and she won’t be using it since she’s got a blanket,”  she says referring to her 10-year old daughter who is reassuringly smiling at me.

I wrap the shawl around my back. It feels warm, like the warmth of their welcome. My reserved self soon melts away, I just find myself being embraced by T’boli hospitality.

DSC_0847Maria Todi’s SLT (School of Living Tradition) which also serves as a homestay  still undergoing reconstruction as it had been destroyed by the heavy rains

I had been invited to dinner by Ms. Maria Todi earlier that night. Seated on a large woven bamboo mat while dining with this hospitable T’boli family, it was probably my most memorable moment in Lake Sebu.

She recounted to me how a travel blogger wanted so much to immerse in their culture he stayed with them for weeks. When the heavy rains last May destroyed the school and the homestay, he created a fund-raising campaign for its reconstruction.  It had been big help, funds came, Solar TV even donated a substantial amount.

DSC_0705 - CopyThe T’boli School

She told me of the values she instilled on her children and I could see it on their behavior.  We talked of T’boli culture, education, family values, and so on.  We shared a lot of stories and I somehow regret that I would be leaving the day after.

DSC_0666 Dogdog, one of Maria Todi’s nephews

I’ve scoured her name on the web when I was researching for that trip. Thus, I knew beforehand of the NGOs she founded to preserve and promote the T’boli culture and to uplift the education and livelihood of her people.

Conversing with Ate Mayang  over a cup of native coffee on that cold night, I silently admired this goodhearted and unassuming woman.

Thereafter, I had a great time laughing and playing with the kids – Andi, Tamtam, and Dogdog. They taught me a few T’boli words, play the t’nonggong, and a few magic tricks. They tried to teach me one of their native dances- a dance they would be teaching to Korean tourists the following week.

DSC_0860 - Copythe T’nonggong- a T’boli drum made from deer skin

Adventure awaited me on the morrow. I would wake up to a beautiful sunrise and get enchanted by the vastness and the stillness of the lake. I would sigh at the foggy mountains and feel the mist envelop me. I would be riding the exhilarating 600-feet high zipline  to marvel at the magnificence of the 7 waterfalls and the verdant canopy.  I would trek the 700-step stairs that would get me near to Falls#2 or “Hikong Bente”.  And when I get tired, I would scour the souvenir kiosks and chat with the friendly locals.


Then I would be going home to Leyte smitten by Lake Sebu not only by its beautiful sights but even more by its people and its culture.

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Falls #3 “Hikong B’lebed” coil or zigzag falls as shot from the zipline

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mesmerized by Hikong B’lebed (photo taken by standby photographers – you pay Php 100 for the soft copies)


Falls # 2 “Hikong Bente” or immeasurable falls as shot from the zipline. You can get to it by riding a habal-habal, taking the 700-step stairs, or riding the zipline. 

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Getting there:

1. From Gensan Airport, take the multicab. For Php 50, it’s the cheapest way you can get out of the airport. You can also opt for a taxi which has a flat rate of Php 300.  Downtown Gensan will be reached in about 20-30 minutes.

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2. Alight at the Bulaong Terminal where there are buses bound for Koronadal City, the administrative capital of South Cotabato. Koronadal is still more known to the locals with its old name Marbel, the buses you will likely find have Marbel labels. Fare for nonstop aircon bus is Php 85 and Php 65 for non-aircon. A bus leaves every 15 minutes. The ride is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Try to choose a seat on the right side (the rows opposite the driver) as you will be able to view the majestic Mt. Matutum from a distance on a clear day.

3. The bus will stop at the Marbel Terminal. There you will find buses bound for Surallah. Fare is Php 24, the ride is around 30 minutes. 

4.  When you reach the Surallah Rotunda, your attention will be stolen by its cultural landmark, a massive sculpture  masterpiece called “Strings of Life” and created by the acclaimed Mindanao artist Kublai Ponce Millan

  At the Surallah Integrated Terminal, take a jeep or a van bound for Lake Sebu. It would take you  around 30-45 minutes to reach the poblacion. Fare is Php 35.  Anticipate a winding and hilly ride with panoramic sceneries.

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5. If you’re going to stay at Maria Todi’s homestay, tell the driver to stop you at the T’boli School.   It’s located at Brgy. Lambanig, a few kilometers before you reach the poblacion. Maria’s homestay, located beside the T’boli school,  sits on top of a hill overlooking the lake. 

I wasn’t able to stay at the tribal hut since it was still under construction. Maria Todi booked me at a nearby lodge called Greenbox which charges Php 500 per night  (hearty) tilapia breakfast included.

As of this moment, the homestay can already accommodate guests. You may contact her at +639066345367.

Habal-habal/single motorcyles would be the means of getting around the town. They charge from Php 10- Php 20.

Zipline rate is Php 250 on weekdays and Php 300 on weekends . 

DSC_1181 - Copywith T’boli kids, Ria, Potpot, Andi, & Dogdog  when I went there again last October 29 

DSC_1183 - Copynewly reconstructed –  when I went back there after a week

*My 2-day stay at Lake Sebu, South Cotabato was a part of my 4-day solo backpacking trip to South Cotabato and Sarangani Province last October 19-22, 2012.


10 thoughts on “Backpacking Solo in South Cotabato

  1. Pingback: Naha’s Tug-of-War (part deux): The Festivities « The Sophomore Slump

  2. Hi I was searching over net everything about South Cotabato because I really wanted to learn their culture and will be travelling this September there. Its just there are few blogs about homestay and that’s the kind of accommodation I want to experience more of their culture. I’m just wondering if you can help me out? I know this post was years ago but still I find it more informative than others.

    • Hi Ellie!
      You may try calling or texting Maria Todi’s number which I posted on the blog. It’s been years ago so I’m not really sure if she still uses the same number. Let’s hope she does… I’m sure you’ll have a great time in Lake Sebu.

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