I don't know why I had never been up here before. I thought that I'd seen all there was worth seeing around Dumaguete. How wrong I was. The island is rich in natural beauty; not yet discovered by and developed for visitors.
My family picked me up at 9:00 a.m.; armed with a bag of assorted junk food and a cooler of ice and drinks. We made a quick stop at the Swiss deli (a product of the surge in foreign residents in the city, a rival of Santi's!) to pick up sandwiches. We drove north along the coast to the town of Sibulan, before turning west to ascend the mountain.
The view became more impressive the higher we went. I could see Cebu in the distance across the sea. It was a clear day with a few tufts of clouds here and there. In some places, it was hard to tell where the sea ended and the sky began. It took my breath away.
We stopped briefly at this cute pink chapel on the hill. It was empty. There were five rows of pews on each side of the aisle that led to the altar made of rock. Behind the altar was a grotto with the statue of the Virgin Mary. The chapel was built on the spot where a group who was doing civic work for the villagers in the area had seen what, for them, could only be explained as a miracle. The sun began to spin in a whirl of color, almost blinding them, spinning and growing bigger as if coming closer, then receding again. The sun split in half momentarily before becoming whole again and continued to spin and dance. This went on for about 10 minutes; the group stood staring and praying. The story is painted on a wall next to the chapel.
We continued our way up the winding gravel road for another 20 minutes. We drove past the sign pointing to the first of the twin lakes, Lake Danao, the smaller of the two. We arrived at Lake Balinsasayao soon after. Until only recently, one had to hike up the mountain to get to the lakes. Depending on the hiker's stamina, the hike could last up to two days. No wonder I had never been up there before; no road then.
We parked the car at the side of the road near a sign; the only indication there was a lake hidden beyond the thick forest. We were 1,000 feet above sea level; air was balmy. As we trudged down the rocky steps, the lake slowly came into view. It looked like a painting!
The lake was much bigger and more beautiful than I had imagined. From where I was standing, the view reminded me of the Swiss countryside. I half expected to see a chalet nestled among the trees across the water. In fact, I have a picture which I took from the train to Interlaken that looks just like that one above, but with a Swiss chalet on the foreground – gorgeous!
There were only two other groups aside from the local bankeros, boatmen, so it was relatively quiet and secluded. There were kayaks, bancas, outrigger canoes, pedal boats and cottages for hire at reasonable prices. We hired a bankero who, with strong and seasoned arms, rowed us around the lake while we sat back and relaxed; peaceful with only the occasional sound of birds and whoosh-whoosh of the oar in the water.
My cousin's husband told us how he and his buddies hiked up this lake; how they set up camp on the shores on the other side where we saw the remnants of a camp fire. Some of them slept on their bancas, under the stars, lulled to sleep by the tiny ripples on the water. They had boat races in the nude, for the fun of it. Ah, the days before Brokeback Mountain.
By 5:00 p.m. the fog started to roll in; temperature plummeted. The water was different shades of green, like an emerald glinting in the sun. We saw a heron swoop down low near the water's surface, barely skimming it before soaring back over the treetops. The lake was surrounded by lush vegetation. When we were close enough to land, I saw giant ferns, the biggest I'd ever seen. About an hour later, we stopped for brunch on the other side. The water was cold. We were content to sit on the rocks with our pastrami sandwiches and apple streudels – and the view.