Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kibalabag, Malaybalay City: Where the Water Falls (Part 1 of 2)

At 7 AM, the sun was already up and shining as our Chinese New Year adventure kickstarted with a habal-habal motorcycle ride from Malaybalay City proper.  Our destination is the highland barangay of Kibalabag, about twenty kilometers away and second to the last barangay in the northeastern side of Malaybalay. Less than a kilometer from the habal-habal terminal, the concrete-paved road gave way to compact dirt as we entered Sitio Kimambong which is along the road going to Brngy. Can-ayan.

We made a left turn before reaching Can-ayan proper then traversed the uphill route after passing a river. I am very much familiar with this road up to the Big Rock, a boulder sitting at the roadside, since this is our favorite long run route during weekends. From the Big Rock, Kibalabag proper is still 10 kilometers plus away, passing through rolling terrains with a sweeping view of verdant mountains and hills. This spectacular scenery somehow took my mind away from feeling scared of the motorcycle’s speedy descent on some steep portions of the road.  

After about 40 minutes, we finally arrived at Barangay Kibalabag. We disembarked in front of a Christian Church which is only a few steps away from the Barangay Hall. Owing to the place’s high elevation, I felt the cold air sinking on my skin. After meeting our guide Darwin, I and and my hiking buddies Tupe and Dax were asked to register our names in a log book. As we are going only for a day hike and wanted to pack light, we left our extra shirts at Darwin’s house. Only the necessary items were brought along—food, water, cellphone, camera and dry bag just in case it will rain.  At 8 AM, the hike to our first destination, Katihan Falls, commenced.

While walking through the wide unpaved road, I was amazed at how abundant with flowing water Kibalabag is. We crossed no less than 5 rivers traversing the road before and after the barangay proper. No wonder it became the source of Malaybalay City’s potable drinking water.

After 25 minutes, we swerved right from the main road and walked through a narrow trail that goes uphill. The steep ascent started to make me sweat. Since  it was only four days ago when I finished running a 5OK ultramarathon in Davao City, I could still feel some sore muscles in my legs. Still the eagerness to discover the hidden wonders of Kibalabag made me push through with the climb. From time to time, I would look behind me and get refreshed with the stunning view of the mountains. 

The long ascent was followed by a short and steep downhill along a forested trail. This part is a bit difficult as we have to hold on to some tree branches to prevent ourselves from sliding down. Thankfully, it was only a short portion of the route and in a few minutes we were already at the river side.

The upward river trek was the hardest part of this hike. There are plenty of large boulders and sliding or falling down is not a very remote possibility. Rain also started to drizzle and it made the rocks more slippery. I decided to remove my slippers and go barefoot as it made me more stable and secured in my steps.

Beautiful small cascades can be seen along the way and it provided respite from the exhausting trek while the sparkling clear and ice-cold water continuously cooled off the soles of our feet. 

Finally, after thirty minutes of river trekking, we came face-to-face with the multi-tiered Katihan Falls. I was in awe seeing its tall and slender drop flowing down to a basin suitable enough for swimming.  For the longest time we marveled at its beauty, amazed and mesmerized by the sound of its cascades.    

That Katihan Falls is tucked inside a dense forest and getting there involved a not-so-easy river trek make it still unpopular to most tourists. In fact, despite being home to at least three waterfalls, Barangay Kibalabag is not among the tourist attractions usually promoted in Malaybalay.  Darwin informed us that, so far, only local folks and persistent hikers have reached this place. I preferred it that way though, as it will make the place retain its natural setting and prevent it from being over-developed.   

Tempting as it seem to take a dip in the ice-cold natural pool of Katihan Falls, we have to forego it as we still have two other waterfalls to explore. So after eating our snacks and getting our fill of the Katihan's beauty, we backtracked and made our way back to the main road.

Travel Tips:

1. Kibalabag is a barangay of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Malaybalay can be reached by bus from Cagayan de Oro City (2-3 hours), Davao City (6 hours) and General Santos City (9-10 hours).

(Image from Wikipedia)

2. Barangay Kibalabag is about 20 kilometers away from Malaybalay City proper. The fastest way to get there is by habal-habal motorcycle. Habal-habal terminal is at corner San Isidro-Moreno Streets, across Arbee’s Bakeshop and RJ Appliance (same terminal with motorcycles going to Brngy. Can-ayan).

3. One way fare is 200 pesos per motorcycle, good for 2 persons (or 100 pesos/person). If you travel solo, you still need to pay 200 pesos or wait for another passenger to share the fare. 

4. From Kibalabag proper, the hike to Katihan Falls is about 1:30-2 hours. Bring enough food and water (clean water sources are abundant here though) for the trek. Also include in your budget the food for your guide. 

5. As of this writing, there are still no established guide fees in Kibalabag. We paid 300 pesos to Darwin for the 3-falls trek which lasted from 8 AM to 2 PM.

6. You may contact Darwin at 09068622055 if you want to hire him as your guide. 

7. There are sari-sari stores in the barrio but there are no accommodations if you want to stay overnight. If you are friendly enough, you may ask to stay in one of the local homes.  Just be courteous and respectful of their customs and traditions.

8. Abaca-made products are being sold as an alternative source of livelihood for the locals. Support the community by buying some for yourself or as pasalubong. 

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