TRAVEL: Detour-ism: Salarong by the Pulangi

I saw her from the distance – about 15 meters. Her dark brown skin camouflaged in the soil. She humbly worked her way in the mud. There were singing, talking, cooking, and lots of swimming nearby – but the female Salarong (Philippine deer) just stayed there, unmoved.

I am at the south eastern side of the 3.6-hectare Waig Crystal Spring Resort in Maramag, Bukidnon. I came to swim. But on the way back from the rest room, I had this unexpected encounter. I took the deer for a goat. I saw the body first, then the horn.

The wind blew the green leaves of Stick Tabilis in the river bank of Pulangi. The movement broke her cover.

Philippine Deer in Waig

Philippine Deer in Waig

Soon, our eyes locked. I could imagine National Geographic predator-prey shows on cable television.

But her pair of gentle eyes, which looked like a “Good morning” greeting, no doubt made me the predator.

The Salarongs used to roam Bukidnon’s hinterlands but things have changed. These days one can find them rarely in Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park and other protected areas.

I was curious. I walked nearer. In my arms is my nine-month old son with his wandering eyes. I should have checked if she could harm us, even with a cyclone fence in between.

Silence prolonged the moment. I stood still.  The Salarong could have thought about how we looked – if our eyes were as gentle as hers.

After some clicks with my point and shoot camera, she stepped back and belled softly. I begged her to stay. I mean no harm. I will not post these photos on Facebook, I promised.

The sound got Bobi’s attention. He giggled in excitement. Every four legged creature amazes this boy; cars and dogs included.

He stared as the Salarong belled again at the direction of three other deers under the shade.

Bobi and I spent the next 15 minutes in that spot. My face was a foot away from the fence, six feet away from the herd. Certainly, we have encroached into their privacy.

But they did not walk out. The extrovert among them moved closer. Perhaps, curiosity is mutual.

Cecil Acosta, whose family owns the resort, said it started when someone brought a stock from Dominorog, Talakag town, where a portion of Mt. Kitanglad range is located. Now they keep about 20 Salarongs in that fenced area, previously tracks for off-road vehicle exhibitions.
The owners market ‘Waig’ as a place with a blend of rain forest touch and modernity.

Wanderlust brought us here.

We were explorers of the pack who only had a shoe-string budget for gas and food.  But we couldn’t settle for less.

Before the two-hour ride on a passenger multi-cab from Malaybalay, we were not sure about this destination. A friend said the resort had much publicity already. Another friend referred us to another resort. Choosing wasn’t easy as Maramag is home to at least five spring resorts.

The encounter spiced my interest on the life and fate of the Salarong.

Of course it did not stop me from enjoying ‘Waig’ like any inland resort goer would.

The amenities offer a different locale. Despite some minor complaint about busted showers and some random odor in some parts of the resort, our overall feedback was generous.

Slides, slides, slides| Walter Balane

Slides, slides, slides

The structures looked organized with the yellow-dominated slide structure in the middle of four swimming pools as the centrepiece. Facing the 20 cottages of different sizes and prices is an artificial falls, a must-go spot for those with camera and who frequent the social network with “I was there” caption.  A cable car service hovers above the pools. Nearby is a zipline. Further are horses for ride.  I heard they also had function rooms and a resto bar but for backpackers like us it didn’t sink in. The kitchen for roast food was good. The canteen, too, had a lot including packed ice; soy sauce and vinegar for “sawsawan.”

I finished four laps in the six feet deep pool with water as deep as four feet. My nieces liked best the kiddie pool, the only one of the five in the resort where they play puddle with Bobi and his mom. But Kay and Cy also climbed a hundred steps of spiral staircase to reach the slides.

Spiral stairs to the slides| Walter Balane

Spiral stairs to the slides

Aside from swimming, diving, picture-taking, and yes watching those who swim, dive, and take pictures, there were also those who were brave enough to sing and risk the rest with rain.

“I’ve been lying here and wide awake, the sun has come for the moon to take, I never thought that we could end like this, wish you were here!” belts a teenager in the cottage next to us as if Cueshe’s “24 Hours” is his incantation to get lost into the rainforest.

Waig 02This was also my cue to escape through an old path behind a defunct hall. I found my way at the river bank. Brown water flowed calmly, bathing the big rocks in the river, beneath lush green forest.

In this hidden spot I found time to listen to the chirping birds and water flowing. I thought of the luxury of being able to frolic in the spring resort with fresh water from the landscape’s watershed.

I know this is already a bonus.

I remember the herd of Salarong in the other side of the resort. Their ancestors wandered in the younger Bukidnon; now they are in fenced territory, surviving in a measured habitat, having to deal with resort-goers like me.

Before this became a resort, the whole area must have been the habitat for Salarongs, wild boars, and other now endangered animals.

The men who built the National Power Corporation channel, adjacent to the resort, can attest.

Manuel Calis, then a worker of the Korean firm who constructed the dam in the mid-80s could still remember that they have to put up culverts to protect the springs the channel would hit.

In those times, there were plenty of Salarong in the area and it was casual to hunt it for food.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Salarong as “vulnerable.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Salarong as “vulnerable.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Salarong as “vulnerable.”

Population of the animal declined by about 30 percent in the last 24 years, the group said. They blamed “over-exploitation,” and “destruction of habitat” for the loss.

Logging truck drivers in Bukidnon also tell stories of the deer’s delicious meat: that explains why it was a hunter’s prize.

But when I looked at the Salarong on the other side of the fence that morning, I saw a creature that held a valid claim to be in her habitat. I did not see a meal. As a sign of respect of co-existence, I considered our meeting a courtesy call. I don’t know if it was a toy in Bobi’s mind.

We returned to the cottage with more awareness of how forests are important not only to humans but to other creatures, too.

I shared about the encounter to family who rushed to the spot only to catch a glimpse of our hosts.

This wild life encounter was not in the brochure I surfed about this popular spring resort for a little celebration on my wife’s birthday.

After hours of swimming, strolls, and rides in ‘Waig’ (Ilocano for stream in the forest), I realized this unusual detour in the excursion is the most unforgettable. (Text and photos by Walter I. Balane)

Waig Quick Facts

·         The resort, opened in 2001, uses water from a spring locally known as “Crystal Spring 2.” So far the owners have spent about P10 million to develop the resort.

·         The Maramag Water District also sources water from the same spring to supply a nearby barangay.

·         This is not the same “spring resort” that people from Bukidnon’s southern towns enjoyed in the 80s to the 90s. That swimming area, known as “Crystal Spring 1” now belonged to nearby Crystal Sugar Milling Company.

·         Visitors enter the resort on the side of the National Power Corporation channel, a man-made river leading to the power plant, where they use water to produce electricity to supply part of Mindanao’s power demand.
·         At the back of the resort is the original Pulangi River; nearby  there is a rubber plantation and a pineapple plantation

Waig in quick rates

 

Cable Car Ride: P20

Cable Car Ride: P20

A song in the videoke: P2.50
Ice for drinks: P5
Pouch of vinegar for ‘sinuglaw’: P10
Cable Car Ride: P20
Fare for motorcycle from Maramag Highway: P30
Entrance Fee: P40
Cali Shandy: P45
‘Pinanggga’ Suka Pasalubong from Malaybalay: P50
Horse-back Riding: P50
Red Horse Beer Jumbo: P90
Cheapest cottage (round bench): P100
Native chicken soup for three: P159
Fare from Cagayan de Oro via aircon bus: P240
Zipline Rate: P200
Fare from Davao via aircon bus: P300
Most Affordable Room for two: P600
Room for 10: P4,500

Note: This piece was written on assignment for MindaNews. A similar version was also printed in the Our Mindanao news magazine.