What I’m about to tell you (and I know you’ve heard this cliché many times) is our unforgettable experience in Mt. Lantoy. This is not a horror story. If that’s what you’re here for, please close this site and go somewhere else. However, if you want to know why this place is making the rounds online, keep reading.
When I saw our group’s events calendar, I felt a tinge of excitement and anxiety upon seeing Mt. Lantoy first on the list. Yes, yes…if you’re a fan of the mountain mystery genre, you might have heard of the creepy and sinister stories revolving around Mt. Lantoy. From Maria Cacao and her golden ship to Mangao to the Agta Cave. Who wouldn’t buy that kind of story, right? Don’t get me wrong. I respect the legend cultivated around Maria Cacao and Mangao as it’s already part of our culture and tradition. And it even gets sweeter as the story is told from generation to generation.
But how did this mountain gain its notoriety? Some had bad experiences with the logistics of the climb and others claimed to have a close encounter with the supernatural kind. Whether it’s true or just fueled by their imaginations, we never know. So we set out on an intrepid quest of finding the truth…to visit the legendary mountain of Mt. Lantoy and see for ourselves.
How to Get There
Getting to Mt. Lantoy is very easy that I’m beginning to lose count of all the times I’ve been to Southbus terminal. Taking the Ceres Bus bound for Oslob, we left Cebu City around 9:30 am on Saturday and arrived at Argao 3 hours later. After grabbing breakfast and taking a chunk of their famous torta delicacy, we headed to the Tourism office for registration.
Here we logged our names and signed a waiver which they also collected. Aside from the usual chitchats about the tourism department’s effort on giving more value to the community, we also spent the next hour or more waiting for our tourist guides and habal-habal drivers. I asked myself why the paying guests are made to wait this long but oh well…it’s too early to speculate. We hung out at the Argao pier and ate popsicles out of boredom. When it seemed like there were no words from tourism, we thought about leaving and exploring the mountain ourselves, enlisting the help of our friend, Garmin. Luckily, our motorcycle rides arrived and off we went to the jump off at Barangay Usmad.
The Road to Mt. Lantoy
Lantoy, a bisaya word for “mountain” is located in the municipality of Argao, Cebu. Standing at a meek height of 593 MASL, you can’t really expect much except for the stories and rumors shrouding its turf.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Mt. Lantoy in Philippine mythology. It “is said to be the domain of Maria Cacao, a diwata who lives in a cave in the mountain. Outside her cave grow numerous cacao trees, which are said to be her plantation. After harvest time come rains that wash down the mountain, enabling Maria Cacao to float down to the towns below in her golden ship to sell her products.” Quite the story, eh? This is what makes the Filipino culture as colorful as the rainbow hues. Ok, back to Brgy. Usmad jump off.
We trekked the murky river and met our guides across. Trek started at 3PM on an unpaved but well-established dirt road. Half an hour later, we decided to enter the cave of Siay as we would no longer be passing the same way tomorrow.
I’m not sure if this was the cave mentioned in the Maria Cacao legend but it could be as the cave is situated in the mountain. And nope, I didn’t see a single tree of cacao. Our plan was to make a side trip to Bugasok Falls right after reaching the peak. Little is known about Siay. I tried searching online but nothing came up.
Looking at its desecrated state, this rock has been forsaken for a long time and will absolutely not make it to Argao’s top tourist destination list anytime soon. Nevertheless, our guide told us that it served as a guerilla hideout during the Japanese occupation.
There were no serious trails heading to the campsite so we haven’t done much climbing, only hiking. It’s your typical barrio environment where you can pass by an assortment of corn farms, coconut plantation, hogs raising and grazing animals of the ruminant kind.
We hiked along Sitio Cabalawan in Brgy. Tabayag before reaching the campsite after one and a half hours. Some houses can be seen near camp thus the feeling of isolation and cosmic energy that’s usually found in the mountains are already out of the way.
I did a quick skim through the trees, hoping to see shadows lurking in the dark corners of the forest. Nothing. I was listening intently to the tiniest noise but I could only hear mosquitoes buzzing. Conclusion: It’s not haunted.
That night, over a bottle of brandy and a pack of peanuts, we unanimously decided to spread the word that Mt. Lantoy is safe. Our guides were nothing short of proactive and entertaining. Tourism officers were helpful. Or so we thought.
Not Allowed Entry
Because we slept late at 12MN, we also woke up late when the sun shone through our tents. Cooking done and breakfast eaten, we prepared to climb the peak. While breaking camp, a man in his motorcycle suddenly approached us asking where we plan to tread afterwards. We told him our next stop is Bugasok Falls. He then said that they need a slip issued by the tourism office to make sure that our entry is valid. Also, he advised us to get another pair of guides at Php500 each to enter the waterfalls. We were blown away in frustration as we didn’t see this coming. We explained to him that the waiver we signed wasn’t given back to us and that we clearly informed the tourism guys of our itinerary to visit Bugasok falls. OMG, that was just completely unacceptable and stupid and horrible…I can go on with all the expletives in my vocabulary but I’ll stop here.
One of our guides asked him to contact their “call center” and verify with the tourism office if we can be permitted entry but he was stubborn and kept talking to a man at Brgy. Conalum where Bugasok is located. Unable to come to a decision, he was eventually referred to radio the call center and be patched through tourism office for verification. He could have saved his saliva if he only listened the first time. Turned out that this man is a barangay tanod and not a Councilor.
It was Sunday and nobody was at the tourism office. We could not reach them through their cell either due to bad reception. I was growing impatient of this stupid picture. I further explained to the tanod that we weren’t informed about getting a new set of guides because we expected them to be the same people. The additional Php1, 000 is a total rip off and I wasn’t going to spend that ridiculous amount for an ordinary looking falls; no big deal. He turned away but not before telling him that sooner or later, no one is going to visit this place anymore if they keep treating their visitors like piggy banks.
The distance from the camp to the peak and back was roughly 45 minutes to an hour. From afar, you can see Osmeña Peak, Mantalungon and Dalaguete.
The trail is pretty easy but you have to be careful of loose rocks on the edge.
Instead of taking a short but a bit challenging cut back to the main jump off, we decided to call for habal-habal at Barangay Catang as we no longer wanted to trek the river.
Since we had no alternative for Bugasok Falls, we just headed to Lawis Beach, took our lunch and bathed.
Another thing that appalled me are the trash surrounding the water source. Litters here and there from shampoo sachets and soap plastics to detergent powders and fabric conditioners. This only adds up to our impression of the Tourism’s failure in providing effective training to their tour guides. If people are paying a tourism fee and guide fee, the least thing they (tourism) can do is maintain the cleanliness and freshness of the campsite. My heart goes out to the guides. I only have a problem with the Tourism scheme.
Never Going Back
Believe me, it’s not an issue about money. It’s a question of integrity and calibration among the staff of the tourism office and the locals in charge of the area. They should improve – nay overhaul – their whole process and lay out a solid policy on guideship and fees. Transparency is the key. Set proper expectations. We could just easily pay the Php1, 000, maybe even throw out some tip for the guides if we only knew about it beforehand. But we felt deceived and cornered and that’s what we hate the most. We’ve already heard some negative feedback about this area that’s why we called the tourism office in advance and clarified all prices and procedures. Yet, they deliberately concealed the part about transitioning to new guides. Talk about spreading the good news and busting the myth. Ha! There should be a way to inform the visitors about such norms rather than having to discover it the difficult way.
See? I told you it’s an unforgettable experience.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the publisher and do not necessarily reflect the consensus of the group. As mentioned above, this criticism is intended for the tourism office and not the people of Argao. If you still don’t understand that, I will make fun of you.