Holiday Hikers and the Fifteen Guardians: Lake Holon, T’boli, South Cotabato

The Philippines is a rich melting pot of different cultures, from the Ivatan society in Batanes to the Tausug tribes in Sulu. With its archipelagic landscape and historical migration, it is inevitable that diverse cultures with equally diverse languages have emerged.

The T’boli people belong to one of these ethnolinguistic indigenous groups in the country. Also known as the Tiboli or Tagabili, the T’boli tribe mainly settle in southwestern Mindanao, particularly in South Cotabato. This 2016, our group’s tradition to climb slash hike every December took us to this archival municipality with one thing in mind: witness the so-called majesty of a newly-discovered tourist attraction that is Lake Holon. The 1641 eruption of Mt. Parker caused the formation of the crater lake.

How to get there

All four of us met at the Bulaong terminal in General Santos and boarded a bus bound for Koronadal City, which to this day is still popularly called by its old name Marbel. Upon reaching Marbel terminal, few steps right to it is the van terminal going to T’boli which should take about 45 minutes to an hour. We arrived at the tourism office at almost 12 noon and registered our names. Every hiker is encouraged to book their trips in advance as the lake can only cater up to 150 people. We were told that a little more than a hundred have gone up there so we knew already what to expect. After taking lunch, we rode a “habal-habal” to take us to Sitio Kule trail in what I consider the most excruciating motorcycle ride my butt has ever laid on.

I thought it was going to be just a normal ride on rough roads typical of rural areas in this side of the region but nobody told me about the rocky surfaces, uphill terrain, and curved segments along a 21-kilometer unpaved road. Challenging as it is, the welcoming rain added to the already slippery mud that we actually had to dismount twice and let the motorcycle transcend. There was this downhill spiraling narrow track which is the only way going to Sitio Kule. In an ordinary day, this would be pretty easy to tread by any experienced driver but during a moderate downpour, it turns into a sticky soil veneer that spells disaster if one is not careful descending. I closed my eyes and started praying and when I opened them, I was greeted by the sight of a simple community in the middle of the mountains.

Sitio Kule Trail

Sitio Kule is the nearest community in the lake and one of two trails going to Holon. Also known as the Hunter Trail, it serves as the jumpoff in reaching the view deck where one can see the panoramic view of the 304-hectare lake. After a brief orientation and chants of tribal prayer, we set out at 2PM in the company of a lively and cheerful tourist guide named Elvie, who happens to be the younger sister of the local who conducted the orientation. This is her 20th gig and she was determined to provide us with her best customer service.

Children of the Corn

The other trail, Sitio Nabol, would be our exit point. It’s a fairly easy trail ideal for beginners but it lacks the full-scale view deck in Kule. As usual, we were greeted by rain during hike. My superstitious mother used to tell me that going to places like this for the first time and being rained on means that the spirits of the forest are welcoming and blessing one’s arrival. And as an optimist, I’d like to think that the guardians were showering us with bliss.

View Deck

At 3:30 PM, an hour and a half since we started trekking, we have reached the view deck of the hunter trail. Do you know that, according to T’boli folklore, there are 15 guardians surrounding Lake Holon and this enormous land structure is one of them? Yes. So we were basically standing in the head of Bulol Ubang Hagang. More of the guardians later on.

Now, the problem was, since it’s been raining like crazy for the last 45 minutes, the caldera was filled with fogs and we stood there, disappointed and heart-broken at the sight of nothing. Amidst the rain, we decided to wait and acclimatized ourselves. Forty minutes later, the breathtaking lake revealed itself to us. I wish I have the words to describe what I felt but you just got to be there and soak up the ambience of this water basin.

Sitio Kule Viewdeck

Crater Lake

We only had 10 minutes to snap a shot of the lake before it got reclaimed by fogs and truly, it is a majestic and overwhelming view. Descent took exactly an hour and at the foot of the mountain were fisherfolks waiting for us to ride a canoe towards the main campsite. We could see the colorful tents from a distance and orange-clad people swimming nearby. Full. Crowded. Two words that best described the happening in front of me. It’s okay. It’s that time of the year where tourists flock to every known destination in the province.

It was almost 6PM so we searched for an area to pitch our tent. After changing to dry clothes, we started preparing dinner, all along entertained by our tour guide’s bubbly nature. Dinner’s done, she had this silly idea of sharing stories with each other which ended into a discussion of the fifteen guardians of the lake. As per the stories, the lake’s T’boli name is “EL TBUL” and Bulol Mele Bingoy, one of the guardians, is the local name of Mt. Parker. It was only called as such when an American pilot, General Frank Parker, spotted the mountain and claimed to have “discovered” it.

Maughan, on the other hand is believed to be the first local to discover the lake but it was changed to Holon, the name of another American who was with Parker when he crashed. It would have been nice if our ancestors stuck to the local names and averted the idea of immortalizing these American names. But I would stick to Holon to avoid confusion and ambiguity.

In the morning, we prepared breakfast and swiftly broke camp. A canoe has been chartered for us to paddle through the lake. Aside from boating, swimming is another fun activity, just make sure to wear a life vest for safety. At first glance, we thought it would only take a few minutes to get to the other side because it looked so near but we were mesmerized by the lake’s remoteness. Some researchers claim their inability to measure the approximate depth of its water. That said, we have no idea how deep this water runs through.

Going Home

After more than an hour of boating, we went back to the campsite and assembled for descent. The first 30 minutes ascend is the only serious trail in Sitio Nabol exit; upon reaching the view deck, dirt roads are wider, even horses are used to transport exhausted hikers. At the receiving area, we bade farewell to Elvie and rode a habal-habal back to T’boli tourism office.

I really enjoyed this jaunt. Not too much hiking and exhaustion, it’s my ideal kind of weary. Here’s hoping that the local government do everything in their power to shelter and preserve this marvelous crater lake for the next generation.

Pointing to Mt. Parker
Farewell Holon
Sitio Nabol Viewdeck
Mt. Parker backdrop

The Fifteen Guardians of Lake Holon

This list came from a personal research that’s been carried out with scrupulous attention to detail. None of this has been published in the internet so I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post this. I only find this amusing and worth-sharing to further expand people’s awareness of the lake’s mythology. My gratitude to Elvie for her good humor.

King Kmokul and his son Tud Bulol. Bulol means “mountain” and the following are his guardians. You see those patch of lands surrounding the lake? Yes. Those are the keepers and overseers of Holon.

  1. Bulol Kolon – the kindest and most generous among the guardians. He also serves as a priest in the kingdom of Tud Bulol.
  2. Bulol Bulow – the largest and bravest keeper
  3. Bulol Fit – one that captures wrongdoers in the lake
  4. Bulol Motu Kmohu – the most generous father to his child
  5. Bulol Mele Bingoy – the right hand and protector of Tud Bulol. Also known as Mt. Parker
  6. Bulol Koyu Mnung – one of the keepers with powers
  7. Bulol Motu Lub – the guardian with a long horn
  8. Bulol Asam Blek – the pet animal of Tud Bulol
  9. Bulol Kulu Bongu – the guardian with long hair who carries a beater/stick
  10. Bulol Mogul Slagi – the guardian that sends out signals and alerts in the kingdom of Tud Bulol
  11. Bulol Kyasal – guardian that takes care of Tud Bulol’s kingdom and estate.
  12. Bulol Hulo Kebu – the guardian who is fond of the color red. He is attracted to red-haired women and his body turns crimson when enraged. If you have red hair and finds yourself shrouded in a cloud of fog alone, Hulo Kebu may have been smitten with you.
  13. Bulol Ubang Hagang – the viewing deck (hunter trail) and the meeting place of all the guardians
  14. Bulol Sala Blyaan – the guardian where Tud Bulol’s grandchildren are sheltered and made into tiny birds
  15. Kotong Busaw – known as the slaughterhouse, Kotong busaw is the cook of Tud Bulol
The Fifteen Guardians



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