Exploring Mambukal’s 7 falls

Mambukal Resort in the neighboring municipality of Murcia is probably the most popular day trip destination for those who live in Bacolod.  It’s actually quite old, dating back to 1927, when it first opened its gates to the public.  Originally designed by Kokichi Paul Ishiwata – a Christian Japanese – the resort is now ran by the provincial government.  Because it’s located in at the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon, the area is dotted by hot sulfur springs and waterfalls.

I wanted to start the day right so I woke up early.  I’ve been told that Mambukal Resort is at least a couple of hours away from Bacolod, so if I wanted to spend as much time there, I had to leave the city as early as possible.  This was easier said than done because the previous night, I sort of got lost looking for the famous Manokan Country to have authentic Chicken Inasal for dinner (I missed it by 2 entire city blocks, so I had to backtrack.)  As a result, I slept rather late.

THE ROAD TO MURCIA

Sugarcane everywhere.

After a hasty breakfast at Saltimboca Inn, I asked for directions going to the place where the buses heading for Mambukal passed by.  After some 30 minutes, I boarded a small bus and was on my way there.  It took a while to exit the city limits though, because it was a Monday and there was a huge traffic.  But once we did, then it was smooth driving all the way to Murcia.

If there was any doubt in my mind that Negros Occidental is the sugar capital of the Philippines, this part of the trip erased it.  As the bus drove by the provincial road, there were vast fields of sugarcane as far as the eyes can see whichever side of the bus you looked out to.  It’s possible to take a short nap during the trip and still wake up later looking at sugarcane.

Eventually, we passed by small towns as we neared the resort.

MAMBUKAL RESORT

It wasn’t hard to get to the resort because the area beside the gate of the resort is the actual terminal of the Mambukal-bound buses.  So upon alighting, it’s just a few steps away from the gate where one can pay the entrance fee.

Immediately upon stepping in the resort premises, i was approached by uniformed men who were offering to guide me towards the famous 7 Falls.  As I did not want to go hiking that early upon arriving, I just told them I’ll look for them later when I’m ready.  But actually, I do not intend to hire a guide at all.  I’ve read from the reviews that the path to the 7 falls is well-marked and quite easy to follow so I decided to just go at it on my own later.

The first thing I did was go to the tourist area to ask for a map.  Although I’m pretty good at finding my way in new places, it usually involves asking a lot of people for directions.  I figure I’d minimize bothering other people by simply having a map with me, which is free anyway.

The first spot I went to is the one nearest to the resort entrance – the butterfly farm.  Now, if this had been 3 years back, the prospect of seeing lots of butterflies up close would have thrilled me.  But these past years, I’ve actually been to a number of butterfly farms in various places of the Philippines, so it’s just not as exciting anymore.  After snapping a few photos, I then left to explore further.

Walking further, I came upon a big man-made lake where, according to the map, kayaking is done.  By that time the sun was already very high up so no one was doing any kayaking.  The landscaping was good and I really loved how flowers and plants grew wild along certain parts of the shore surrounding the lake.

HOT SPRINGS

I noticed in my wanderings that there were quite a number of conspicuous signs warning people not to go to certain areas because of “boiling mud”.  Naturally, I got curious and got as near as I could in those areas designated by the signs.  True enough, even without stepping on actual boiling mud, I could feel a distinct rise in temperature the nearer I got to them.

Mambukal is, after all, located at the very foothills of Mt. Kanlaon – an active volcano.  It would be natural to find such areas of very high temperature in the surroundings.

Following some signs further, I came upon a hot spring with a concrete barrier surrounding it.  Perhaps in the distant past, this was a natural spring.  But in an effort to discourage people from taking a dip in the boiling water (and thereby being cooked alive), the mouth of the spring was artificially raised and clearer signs were installed that would leave no doubt as to what would happen if one insists on taking a dip.

Steam rising from the surface.

Steam bubbles rising to the surface. The hot spring was constantly boiling.

Like most volcanic hot springs, there was a faint smell of sulfur wafting through the air.  The water is very clear and one can see steam bubbles rise from the bottom of the spring to the surface, as well as the convection currents on the water itself.  It made for some pretty pictures and, looking back, I spent far too much time here than I intended.

Mambukal Boiling Hot Spring from Liquid Druid on Vimeo.

THE 6 FALLS

When I finally decided to start the trek towards the 7 falls of Mambukal, I consciously avoided anyone whom I thought would offer to guide me.  I quickly got to the start of the trail and walked fast for some 5 meters before slowing down to a more leisurely pace.  So for the first 20 minutes or so of the hike, I was pretty much alone.

The paths were well-marked and even paved in some areas.  There were no detours or other paths that branched off so there was absolutely no chance of getting lost if you kept on walking on the path.

The elevated canopy walk.

The next time I saw other people was when I got near the first falls.  Noticeable also were the children roaming around the area.  They did not look like tourists.  I would later find out that they lived near the resort and were permitted to go in and out of the park.  They also offered to guide people.  With my bright red dry-fit shirt, I became a particular target of theirs as they followed me around to offer their services.  I initially tried to ignore them, but later on I got impatient and pointedly told them to keep their distance as they began to annoy me.  That had an effect on them as they stopped pestering me….but they still followed me around.

Honestly, the falls weren’t that impressive.  I kept on hoping that each fall would be a bit prettier than the next, but they simply looked a bit dull to me.  I was more impressed with the way they were able to create a path that passed by the falls.  There were some parts that were steep and carved out of solid rock.

A deep pool near the 6th falls is a favorite of local children.

(A distraction: As I was following the path somewhere between the 3rd and 4th falls, I rounded a corner and found myself face-to-face with a long and slender lizard about a yard long.  The fact that it was on higher ground – my stomach level – made it very unsettling.  What happened was that we both surprised each other – I gasped while frozen on the spot, while it scampered away towards the forest.  Now, as I’m writing this more than a year later, I realize that the encounter occurred so fast and that I could not even remember the color of the lizard.  I could not remember anything beyond it being a yard long and that it was a lizard.)

THE SEVENTH FALLS

The trail ended on the 6th falls, which puzzled me because I’ve been told that there were 7 falls.  It turns out that  the 7th falls is located at an area that is outside the jurisdiction of the resort.  Since I was eager to explore it (hoping that it would still perhaps be prettier than the first 6 ones), I finally (and grudgingly) accepted the offer of the kids who were trailing me and asked them to lead me to the seventh.

The kids spoke Ilonggo, which I didn’t understand, but they did understand Tagalog (even if they did not speak it), so we got by, by means of common words, subtle intonations and hand gestures.  I actually just needed 1 guide but I was in no talking mood, and I was afraid that a solitary guide would continually try to initiate conversation, so I had 2 of his buddies tag along.

The way to the seventh falls passed through both public and privately owned land.  The private land owners tolerated the tourists passing through because it was an opportunity for them to make money by selling food, refreshments and other stuff.  I brought drinks and snacks with me, so I didn’t need to buy from the stores along the way.  I asked the kids if they wanted to have some refreshments but they refused.  They probably traverse the trail on a daily basis so it’s not much of an effort on their part.

It was an easy trail going to the seventh falls because the terrain was more or less even, with inclines being very gradual, and with an even number of upward and downward slopes.  Passed by a few streams too.

When we finally reached the falls, it was a bit of a disappointment because it was just as underwhelming as the previous 6 ones.  In fact, it was probably the smallest of all 7 falls.  The only advantage with this however was that It was safe for people to take a dip here because the pool at the base of the falls wasn’t that deep.  I was tempted to go for a swim, but I didn’t really have extra clothes, so I just hung out there, taking pictures and relaxing.

[Okay, I was supposed to insert here a video clip I took of the falls.  But I discovered, to my horror, that I’ve actually deleted it by mistake.  Oh well, you didn’t really miss much.]

On the way back to the resort, the kids offered to take me through a different route that would bypass entirely the steep path through the first 6 falls.  I didn’t mind the steep route, but I wanted to see something different so I accepted the kids’ offer and went with them.  This was actually a bit dangerous because it was possible that they were bringing me somewhere where I might be robbed.  But I decided to take a gamble and trust them.  And I was not disappointed.  Here’s a photo of them.

L-R: Johnril, Ariel and Nonoy.

We used a well-trod mountain path that passed by houses and farms along the way.  Occasionally, local children (who were probably friends of my guides) smiled and greeted me.  Before long, we were back at the resort, albeit entering a different gate.  I gave the kids P50 each, for a total of P150.  This was still a bargain, considering that the “official” resort guides normally were given P200 for the same thing.

The vast plains of Murcia.

BATS

I came back from the seven falls trek around an hour after lunchtime.  I was then understandably a bit hungry, but on the way to the food court, I passed by the bat sanctuary.  At first, I was expecting the bat sanctuary to be a view deck where is at an elevated platform from where one can observe bats flying.  In Mambukal however, the “Bat Sanctuary” sign is right alongside the road and one needs only to look up the towering trees to see the hundreds of bats that are hanging under the branches of the tree.  Every few seconds, a bat or group of bats would fly from one branch to another.  And occasionally, a whole swarm would just take to the air and transfer to another tree.

Even with a 55-250 mm telephoto lens, it was impossible to take a close photo of each bat because they were so high up.  But even from such a vantage point, I could discern at least 2 kinds of bats, the smaller ones and the bigger ones.  “Small” is probably relative because I can tell that the smaller bats are still around 10 times bigger than the bats that we encounter in the city.

The bats are such a sight that you’d scarcely notice the minutes ticking by.  In my case, it was ultimately my grumbling stomach which caused me to finally leave the bat sanctuary and have late lunch at the food court.

A WARNING

I did not know it then, but I ate bad food when I had lunch in the Mambukal food court.  I ordered inihaw na pusit from one of the concessionaires, which tasted unimpressive, but was otherwise okay.  Later on, in the evening, I was excreting my guts out like crazy.

Deadly bacteria-laced stuffed squid.

Suffice to say, I do not recommend dining at the Mambukal Food Court.  If possible, bring your own food, if only to avoid a really bad case of food poisoning.  More on this at the end of this entry.

THE BATH HOUSE

On my way to the exit, I came upon a small building with neoclassical design.  Upon closer inspection, I found out that it’s actually the oldest building within the premises of the resort.  It’s a bathhouse designed by Paul Ishiwata himself, and it was recently restored to its original appearance after years of disrepair.

Through some feat of early 20th century engineering, warm water from the hot springs is transported to the baths through pipes, thereby enabling resort-goers the comfort of taking a dip in the same water of the hot springs but within the comfort of clean, tiled pools.

MISERABLE NIGHT

It was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when I finally exited the resort.  There was one Bacolod-bound bus that was waiting for passengers, and at that time, there was only 1 passenger on board so far.  I knew then that It would be a long while before the bus would leave, so I made peace with the thought that it will certainly be evening already when I arrive at Bacolod.  It took 30 or 40 minutes before the bus finally left, with just a very few passengers.  On the way though, the driver was able to pick up a lot of people, so that by the time we were exiting Murcia, the bus was already full of people.

To make a long story short, I arrived at Bacolod early evening and as a treat for myself, I had a slice of cake at Calea before returning to my room.  By this time I was already feeling a bit sick, but I was still well enough to take a shower, put on a fresh set of clothes and go on a food trip for the night.  I chose a bar and grill called “Kubo sa Lawn” at the outskirts of the city to have a few drinks and my fix of high-cholesterol food.

By the time I arrived there, my tummy was already feeling very uneasy, but I thought I was just hungry, so I ordered food right away, and I also had a few bottles of beer to cap the night.  While it did satisfy my hunger, my tummy just felt worse so I left the restaurant and boarded a taxi in a state of intoxication and extreme discomfort.

And then, as I alluded to earlier, I just excreted all my guts out.  No other way to describe it.  I’ve only had food poisoning once before and I can tell you that this one was much worse.  Spent almost all evening in the toilet.  Needless to say, this ailment could not have come at a worse time.  It cast a shadow on the rest of my vacation, and only really disappeared towards the end.

Anyway, here’s a totally unrelated picture.

Next: Don Salvador Benedicto.