Three scenic lakes, seven waterfalls, highest zipline in the country - these are just some of the attractions of what now is a popular travel destination in southern Philippines. The town is one of the highlights of the 12th Paradise tourism campaign to promote destinations around Region 12 in south central Mindanao.
The obvious attractions there are the 7 Falls (well, technically the first two of the 7 falls) and the 2-segment zip line that starts at Hikong Alu area.
The second falls, Hikong Bente, is a favorite among photographers. Even on dry season the waterfall is still amazing huge.
path to Hikong Bente
The entire area (the first two falls and the zip line) is now one big tourist trap, complete with souvenir stalls, "photo booths", and huge crowds on weekends and holidays.
A first time visitor would probably ride the zip line, take countless "selfies" with the waterfalls as background, and eat his/her fill of tilapia (you name the dish, they have it - all in tilapia) on the first day, and then wonder what more is there in Lake Sebu.
Well here are some of the things you may consider during your stay in Lake Sebu:
(1) visit the dreamweavers
Get into the T'boli culture a bit more see how the T'nalak (the tribe's sacred fabric) is made (or part of the process at least). The entire process is a tedious one and would take at least 3 months to complete. (see this post: T'nalak weaving process)
Lang Dulay's long house is in Sitio Toko Lefa’ in Brgy Lamdalag. She 90+ years old and is too frail to do the weaving herself. She has passed down the techniques and designs to several of students (mostly her granddaughters) who now continue their family's weaving traditions. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also visit Sitio Tablu (also in Lamdalag) and seek out other weavers like Hilda Ugay or Barbara Ofong
Dreamweavers at Klubi
Brgy Klubi - a bit far from the town and already high up in the mountains, is also home to several master dreamweavers like Yab Man and Subi Nalon.
(2) see how malong is woven
T'boli elder wearing malong
While the younger generation have traded this for jeans, many of the older women from Lake Sebu still use malong in their daily garb (and not just on festivals and special occasions).
Just a few meters from the Mission school in Sitio Tamagilon, Lorena (photo above) works on a loom beside her family's house. She's working on a "fandi nedol" - a malong of traditional pattern and colors preferred by most T'bolis. It takes her 1 week to arrange the threads on her loom and then another 2-3 days to do the actual weaving.
(3) seek out the master embroiderers
These richly patterned hand embroidered shirts are uniquely T'boli. A shirt/jacket with complex designs can take 2-3 to finish. Some of the patterns are unique to their embroiderers, just like the T'nalak.
One of these master embroiderers is Elma Segundo (above photo) from Sitio Proper in Brgy Lamlahak
(4) take a peek at brass casting
Brass ornaments like belts and bells are usual accessories in the T'boli traditional costume. But did you know that each piece is unique? Yes!
The mold is made from beewax and have to be made from scratch, for each piece, every single time. Bee’s wax is heated and combined with candle. This material will later be used to wrap the clay with the desired mold pattern (this process is called lemulid). The wax is then rolled into a thin strand. These strands will be used to make most, if not all, of the patterns
The wax mold is covered or wrapped in clay (process is called semofut) and is "baked" in open wood fire, hardening the clay and melting the wax inside, leaving a hallow part etched with intricate patterns of the pieces being made.
Copper (combined with zinc) is then melted to create brass (or old brass items are recycled as well) using a traditional furnace and then poured into the mold. Once everything has cooled down, the mold is broken to get the brass pieces.
You may visit Bundos Fara's workshop in Poblacion or the community in Sitio Lamkagang in Brgy T'konel for the traditional brass casting
(5) hike to traang-kini (t'daan kini)
Accessible by a habal-habal ride and a 30 minute hike, Traang-kini (or T'daan Kini in T'boli) is the perfect place for a quick dip if you fancy icy cold water. Unlike the 7 Falls which is supplied with something murky water from Lake Seloton, these series of small cascades have crystal clear water from several springs upstream.
(6) stay with a T'boli local
What could be more perfect than staying in an actual T'boli long house in Lake Sebu? The accommodation may be spartan but then you'll have a chance for unique cultural interactions.
Lake Sebu's School of Living Traditions (SLT), run by Maria Todi, offers homestay accommodation. Customized cultural interactions can be arranged. They also offer short lessons on traditional handicrafts like beadworks.
They also have T'nalak weaving there, so you'll have the chance to see part of the process.
Accommodation is limited and it important to book in advance. You may contact Maria at +63-935-456-9359. You may also arrange for your meal choices, for after a few meals of tilapia you are bound to look for alternatives :)
(7) stay a day or two in Lake Seloton
Lake Seloton is one of the 3 lakes in Lake Sebu. Its smaller than the main lake, but just as quaint. If you love sunrises, this is the place to be for the shore where the resorts are faces the east.
One the popular places to stay in Lake Seloton is the Sunrise Garden Lake Resort.
(8) wait for the sunset by the lake side
After a full day of activities, you may get lucky and be rewarded with an amazing fiery view of the western skies. The area in front of the Catholic Church and the town hall is a good place if you are keen on photographing sunset in Lake Sebu. There are small roads going down to the lake from the highway.
(9) wake up early!
The cold clime (Lake Sebu is more than 1000 meters above sea) would probably make it challenging to pry yourself off your bed, but as dawn breaks, an amazing mountain scenery unfolds. Even if you are staying in one of the resorts in Lake Sebu, you can easily hire a habal-habal to take you to Lake Seloton for the sunrise. Travel time is 15-20 minutes.
If you find Lake Seloton too inconvenient, you can simply take a leisurely stroll by the lake side and witness the wonder that only happens in the morning. Areas by the lake side turn pink as hundreds of these lotus flowers open up (they only bloom in the morning), while the fog from the surrounding mountains gradually lifts up.
The lake side stirs to life as the locals go about their morning chores. This is the perfect time to take a stroll by the lake side and watch the locals expertly paddle these long dugout canoes as they tend to the tilapia pens.
(10) hear that beautiful hegulong music
You wouldn't believe that such an enchanting music can come from a 2-string instrument until you actually hear it from a master. The songs are usually about nature and love.
I would have recommend taking the trip Tasiman in the nearby mountain to visit Ma Fil and hear a master of the two string guitar called hegulong play his enchanting music. But alas this great musician has journeyed to the next world fairly recently (Nov 2014). No one in Lake Sebu can play the hegulong like Ma Fil can.
But I hear one of his sons will continue his father's hegulong legacy. Big shoes to fill, but there is big hope that Ma Fil's songs will live on.
Feel free to share you own memorable Lake Sebu experience in the comment part below :)