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Travel stories: Mindanao, Philippines

Travelling to Mindanao, Philippines: Mindanao, The other side of a fascinating island

By Ronald de Jong

Although the island of Mindanao is often associated with violence, kidnappings by bandit groups and the ongoing war between separatists and the Philippine Government troops, it is also home to a very diverse group of people, valuing peace and harmony above anything else. Catholic settlements are largely spread within and alongside the Muslim communities. Many indigenous tribes are also settled here, including T'boli, Yakan. Moro, Tausug, Maranao, Samal and Badjao among others. The blending of Islamic and Christian cultures on the Mindanao island is fascinating. The cultural diversity of the region is the result of a large influx of migrants from the north over a long period of the region's history.

There is a wide variety of dialects, both local to Mindanao as well as those from the Visayas, like Cebuano and even from Luzon. The many tongues spoken in Mindanao is a testament of the diversity in cultures that thrive on this island. Mindanao is in many ways the artistic and cultural heart of the country and is considered a unique melting pot of religions, different cultures, customs and traditions that make a captivating contribution to the island's ethnic image and original charm. On this idyllic Island traditional art forms, music and dance are well preserved.

Mindanao is also one of Asia's favoured tourists destination and promises to be an endless hideaway of white sand beaches, islands, lagoons, mangrove swamps, mountains, valleys, ocean, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, rock formations, forests, springs and marshlands. The region of South Cotabato is a perfect base for all Mindanao explorations, an ideal place for those travellers who are courageous and adventurous enough to seek 'off the beaten track' eco-adventures.

There are many waterfalls found in the province which can undoubtedly be called true wonders of nature, like Saravia Falls in Koronadal, Lambusong Falls in Norala, Nongon Matimus Falls in Tantangan and Traankini Falls in Lake Sebu. One of the most popular is the Lonon Falls in Lake Sebu which is also known as the Seven Falls.

Lake Sebu is a beautiful inland sea that is located in the southern Tiruray Highlands at an altitude of almost 300m (984ft). The chance to delve into traditional lifestyles and culture, rather than modern attractions, is the highlight in this remote area. Lake Sebu is surrounded by rolling hills and forested mountains and is home to the T'boli, a highland tribe famous for their colourful costumes, complicated beadwork, woven work and brass ornaments.

The Province of South Cotabato celebrates the grandest festival in the area, the T'nalak Festival which coincide with the province Foundation Anniversary.. This event will showcase the province as a land of countless possibilities enhanced with the fusion of rich culture and progress. T'nalak, a unique yet colourful way of weaving the abaca cloth by the T'boli tribal communities in South Cotabato, has gone beyond mere cloth weaving or art itself. Residents of this resource-rich province have taken pride of the T'nalak as being a reflection of South Cotabato's varying regional and ethnic cultures.

Mindanao, a massive island at the foot of this magnificent archipelago is known as a diverse and inexpensive destination with low cost food, hotels and transportation. The attractions of this beautiful island are as many as they are diverse, offering something different and special to it's visitors. The beach resorts, garden resorts, traditional villages, canopy walks, mountain hikes, food festivals and trade fairs make it a unique combination of recreation and relaxation. This allows you to get in touch with a distinctive culture that is a mixture of Asian, Spanish and American influences with the familiar warmth of Filipino Culture.

This typhoon-free island is blessed with a mild and sub-tropical climate that has relatively generous amount of rainfall and gentle winds. Basically, there are three seasons namely the wet and rainy season in June till October. The cool but dry season, from November to February and the hot and dry season in March, April and May. The best time to make a trip to South Cotabato is from the middle of December to the middle of May. In March and April the weather is pleasantly warm.

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