Saturday, December 1, 2007

Carmen: The secrets out

An oasis just 42km's from Cebu City. Carmen has something special for nature lovers.

The quiet, unassuming town of Carmen, located some 42 kilometers north of Cebu City, is rich in history and a virgin nature protected by time and its people.

While Carmen is mostly known for its sinamay industry, a Sunday trek to the heart of its lush mountains and small barrios brought me to the soul of this old town, which was founded in 1870.

The roaring, carefree water of its Mangitngit Falls was a gracious, refreshing welcome after our hike from the barrio’s main road. Its cold water was like a balm that soothed my red, sun-kissed cheeks and arms.

Together with the officials of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Carmen local government, we drove through the trails into the private hacienda of M. Lhuillier, another Carmen wonder.

The hacienda was a hodgepodge of wildlife, flowers, trees and vegetables. It has a zoo and viewing park that has a deer house, fishpond, horse rodeo area, and a hut on a cliff that gives guests a four-window view of the surrounding mountains and seas.

It was a leisurely, idyllic drive while Moon River played over the car radio. Carmen town Mayor Virginio Villamor, an environmentalist, has hundreds of hectares of protected land where he has been planting trees since in the 1970s. No wonder Carmen is a refuge for those who can’t stand the heat and dust of the city.

Carmen is proud of its many caves. While I had no sweat getting into Hinagdanan Cave in Bohol a couple of years ago because its passage was made easy, Carmen’s Titip Cave literally made my knees shake and left minor bruises on my arms. Getting into the cave required body strength, flexibility and courage.

When the cave guide asked all of us to turn off our flashlights, there was total darkness. I held my breath in fear and thrill.

When we turned on our lights again, I was fascinated to see the crystal clear water of a subterranean pool and the cave’s stalactites and stalagmites that speak of its age and grandeur.

From my adventurous climb at the cave, we drove to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima nestled at the peak of natural rock in Corte (one of Carmen’s barangays) where a panoramic view of Lapu-lapu City awaits. It was a serene, chilly place to be. Pine trees are everywhere.

Carmen gets as cold as 15OC during its coolest months of November and December.

Before the sun set in, we ended our trip at St. Benedict’s Monastery, a place of worship in the mountain, some six kilometers from Carmen municipal building to behold the grand finale of our day -- bat watching.

Around one million wrinkled-lip and fruit bats (locally known as kabyaw) inhabiting the Kabyawan Cave come out in batches daily and paint the twilight sky with black dots. They showed up and looked like crushed Oreos spreading in the sky.

So breathtaking, that watchers would want to freeze them and have them stay, but they fly away to neighboring islands like Bohol and Negros and don’t return to their home cave until before sun up the following day.

A less than two-hour drive from Cebu City, Carmen (formerly called Bugho before the Spaniards came) is a third class municipality with close to 40,000 settlers in a land area of some 8,210 hectares.

The town’s local government has strong advocacies protecting the environment. Among its treasures are the Mangrove Pocket Forest, Villamor Tree Farm, turtle habitat at Cantumog River, a monkey sanctuary with an estimated 200 monkeys at Magtakup Cliffs, and Batong Diyut Fish Sanctuary, a 20-hectare marine protected area with sunken Japanese warships and colorful marine life.


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