Hike across the forests of Balut Volcano in Sarangani, Davao Occidental
Like exotic fruits ripe for the picking, the town of Sarangani (not to be confused with nearby Sarangani province) hangs off the southern tip of mainland Davao Occidental, the country’s newest province created only last year. The municipality is composed of two big islands called Balut and Sarangani. Boarding the wooden-hulled ferry from General Santos City, the overnight journey to these remote islands can be an adventure in itself, traversing the capricious waters of Sarangani Strait, where the Pacific Ocean funnels into the Celebes Sea. Those who make it this far, however, will be handsomely rewarded once they reach the town center of Mabila, sitting on the edge of the 862-meter tall island volcano of Balut, populated by indigenous B’laan and Sangil people, the latter having emigrated from the Sangihe Archipelago of North Sulawesi, Indonesia since the 18th century. Due to its proximity to our southern neighbor, a small community of Indonesians also lives on the island.
Giant orb-weaver spiders build big webs across the rarely used trails
Balut Volcano rises 862 meters above Balut Island in Sarangani, Davao Occidental
Intrigued by its peak, I embarked on a seven-hour hike across Balut Volcano. Accompanied by two B’laan copra farmers, we blazed a challenging path between the villages of Gomtago and Lipol, trudging a narrow and slippery trail not often used by locals. Villagers greeted our ascent with curious stares, as I was told that I was the first tourist to traverse the mountain. As we walked up the southern slope, the weather was so clear that we could see all the way to the Indonesian islands of Marore! Past the coconut plantations, the path disappeared under an overgrowth of ferns and elephant grass. We ducked under massive spider webs that palm-sized orb-weavers knitted across the way, and even found basket-like sunbird nests hung from large fern fronds and filled with tiny chocolate-colored eggs.
You can see as far as the Marore Islands of North Sulawesi, Indonesia!
Beautiful pitcher plants litter a mountaintop at Balut Volcano
Halfway through our hike, we reached a grassy mountaintop thriving with pitcher plants – locally called sakong by the B’laan – strewn on the ground and over tree branches with their red-and-green vase-like insect traps. Marvin, one of the guides, told me that when he was a child, his mother often warned him against pouring out the water inside these pitchers as she believed that doing so will consequently bring torrential rain. Besides the abundant sakong, other interesting plants we found were ground orchids, wild pineapples and Medinilla pendula, a pink-flowered shrub found only in the Philippines. By noontime, we detoured into a steamy ravine. Balut has no well-formed crater, but volcanic activity centers on this deep gully flanked by bare sulfurous rock. Finally, the trail tumbled onto Sabang Hot Spring, a turquoise pool of boiling spring water draining onto a stone beach, where with the satisfaction of having pioneered a traverse trail, we were ferried back to Mabila by bangka.
A steamy ravine of sulfurous rock near the end of the trail
The hellish turquoise waters of Sabang Hot Springs
HOW TO GET THERE The islands of Sarangani town are located off the southern tip of Davao Occidental, but can only be conveniently accessed from Sarangani Bay. From Monday to Saturday, ferries depart from Lion’s Beach (Queen Tuna Park) or Puting Bato Wharf, Barangay Calumpang in General Santos City, reaching Mabila, the town center on Balut Island, in six to eight hours. The overnight trip costs PHP 320 or 360, depending on the vessel. Departure times are not fixed. Alternatively, bangkas (outrigger canoes) that can carry up to four passengers may be chartered to Mabila from Barangay Margus or Gumasa Beach in Glan, Sarangani Province, located one to two hours away from General Santos. Boat trips are PHP 1,300 from Margus in two hours, and PHP 2,500 from Gumasa in three hours. Monitor the weather closely, as the boat crossing to the islands may be rough. For chartered trips and ferry schedules, contact Tata Masin, port operations officer of Mabila Port at +63 9069012505. WHERE TO STAY JVL Inn & Cafeteria has the only air-conditioned rooms at Mabila Port, Balut Island, ranging from PHP 1,300 to 1,500. Electricity is available from 12:00 PM to 7:00 AM only. Tel. +63 9154253187. The guesthouse also manages Tuke Maklang Beach Resort on Sarangani Island, which has two generator-powered fan rooms for PHP 350 and 500 that can accommodate up to six people. Bring enough food and water for your entire stay.
Welcome to my website! I’m travel writer, photographer and online influencer Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap from the Philippines. Join me as I hike, dive, fly, eat and do pretty much anything in between across 7,641 islands and beyond. Need to reach me? Please write me an email.