December 26-27, 2010
COAL MOUNTAIN RESORT: Argao’s Humble Secret
Coal Mountain Resort… Does it ring a bell… any bell? At all?
The first time I heard of it, question marks fluttered around like fruit flies. Coal… Mountain… sounds like something straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie.
If you watch TV, you might’ve gotten a glimpse of it as it was featured on the one of the local networks here in Cebu not awhile back. You might’ve been exceedingly curious about it at some point.
Well, we found it. After 3 Hours of travel from Cebu City proper, all the way to the mountain barangay of Linut-od in Argao down south.
What’s in Argao? Where is Argao?…This previously sleepy town well-known for its fishing & farming industry (as well as abundant coal-mining) has been slowly evolving into one of the most promising tourist hubs south of the Cebu province. Bursting with history & natural resources, Argao is steadily attracting both local & foreign tourists to this day. As the country’s cultural heritage has been gradually disappearing, Argao remains one of the few places where ancestral Spanish & American influences can easily be recognized.
Notable people who hailed from Pueblo de Argao include former Press Secretary Cerge Remonde & Chief Justice Hilaro Davide, Jr.
Need help with your itinerary? Drop by a couple of these places while you’re out there:
1. Saint Michael Archangel Parish Church & Convent
2. Bantay Hari at Lawis, Looc
3. Ye Old Houses: i.e. “Balay Sa Tisa”, & a number of other heritage houses
4. “Balay sa Agta” Cave, Binalabag Cave
5 . Bugasok Falls
6. treks & boating along Argao River (Usmad River Trekking)
7. beaches in the Looc & Lawis area
8. Lantoy National Park – Mt. Lantoy
9. Riverstone Castle at Jomgao
10. Argao Museum
Oh, and the food! Chances are you are a huge… HUGE… fan of local chocolate famously referred to as tableya so I can guarantee you’ll be in for a sweetness overload! It’s the wonderful world of tableya out there. Before I forget, torta is also one of their famous delicacies. I wonder if they’ll start making tableya-flavoured tortas very soon. Mmm… nom nom nom.
I expected to tour the town proper but our goal for the trip was to explore the mountain resort hidden well inside the thick foliage of the municipality so let’s get to that.
Belle: I had no idea Argao was THIS BIG!!! *palm-to-forehead slap* (Close to 50 barangay divisions, I think.)
Linut-od is a mountain barangay of Argao known for a profusion of small-scale coal mining operations. Up to now, a good number of coal mines remain active there including one owned by the Coal Mountain Resort’s proprietor… with a massive worker count of 100++.
To quote a local who hitched a ride with us: “This mountain is so full of holes now. As long as there are carbon deposits, people start digging. We won’t be surprised if all the holes start interconnecting and we use them to get from one side to the other.”
How do we get there, dude!
It takes approximately 3 Hrs to get from Cebu City to Linut-od, Argao.
*1-1/2 Hrs: Cebu City to Argao town proper
*1-1/2 Hrs: Argao town proper to Coal Mountain Resort, Linut-od, Argao
That’s a guesstimation, mind you. Not counting the time you might get lost. MIGHT. We took a private vehicle up there so we definitely went off course. One careless wrong turn at a fork just because of one sloppy question & all is history. You are ERASED from the map. Foh-eva. I’m kidding.
As soon as you get to the Argao town proper, look for San Miguel St. near a Petron gasoline station. Turn right then just go straight3x up the mountains. One can spot Riverstone Castle along the way.
Traveler’s Tip #1: Never ask YES or NO questions when it comes to directions. That’s really lazy for both of you & you don’t get real answers. That’s how we ended up lost (going there and heading back) for hours looping around in dirt roads & stretches of green nothingness while panicking a great deal in the vehicle.
If you opt to make someone else do the tricky navigating, there are motorbikes that could take you there. The habal-habal driver offers his services & expertise for P100/head on daytime trips & P300/head at night. It’s a rough ride as the way is a mix of paved road & dirt road while streetlights are a rarity. The lush vegetation, scenic rice terraces & fresh air are definitely consolation enough though.
Traveler’s Tip # 2: You’ll know if you’re right on track if the route you’re on is mostly good paved road.
It drizzled momentarily & fog formed in a distance as we nervously laughed our way up there. 25 degrees & the hair on my nape already stood on end.
Coal Mountain Resort is popular among the locals as Dr. Stanley Caminero’s rest house. So if they give you blank look when you ask, that’s the alternative. It used to be a private retreat for the doctor’s family but they decided to convert it into a mountain resort & have been promoting it to vacationers ever since.
As soon as we spotted its gates, we heaved a sigh of relief. At first glance, it looked like a backpacker’s haven. Quaint, clean, rugged, picturesque… & very well hidden. If you want to rest somewhere far, far away from civilization then this is the place for you.
1. Nipa-Hut/Payag (2)
– can house a family of about 4 people (10 if you’re all standing up)
*1 mattress on the bottom floor & 1 mattress on the makeshift loft… pillows are provided for.
– Rest rooms are shared (public)
– no air-conditioning/electric fans but electricity is also provided for.
– equipped with lights, a television set & a DVD player
2. Cottages/Dens/Rooms (5)
*Good for 4-5: P1,200/day
*Good for about 12: P1,500/day
– beds & pillows, electricity: light, TV set, DVD player & wall fan
– Rest rooms are shared (public)
– They have a restaurant by the mountainside. Recommending hot soup on a chilly, dark night! They even have a small veranda for lazing around or dining by moonlight.
– cable TV on big screen, transistor radio available
1. Spring-water Pools (3)
*Day Rate: Unlimited – P50/head
Per Use – P25/head
1 Mango-shaped kiddie pool with a short slide; 5 feet
1 Heart-shaped pool with a diving ledge; 7 feet
1 odd-shaped geometric pool beside the grotto of Mama Mary; 3 feet
– this 3rd one was still under construction when we were there
2. Conference Area (2)
3. Zipline – we don’t know if this is functioning
4. Hanging Bridge
1. Demo Coal Mines (2)
– Trivia: one of them actually has rooms in the bottom of the pit where
people used to sleep. Weird. And scary.
2. Zoo Animals
– Macaque (?) monkeys: Maldita, Rosita, Buktot & Suprimo
– peacocks & horn billed birds
– snakes (i.e. pythons)
– turtles, fishes, monitor lizards & a Maral (Visayan Warty Pig)
I personally had a very pleasant experience out there despite my lack of suitable warm clothing. Even though it wasn’t a luxurious place, communing with nature was very rewarding. The caretakers there were very warm & Dr. Caminero himself was an incredibly gracious host. Just like one big happy family.
Cellular phone & internet signals are obviously low so don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re somewhat cut off from the world. Their transistor radio is a valuable means of communication out there & the doctor even has an ambulance for the townspeople in case of emergencies.
After spending the night, we headed back home & unfortunately got lost again. Not that you care, but we ended up somewhere in Alambujid & Cansuje. (You’d probably need this information too… just in case.)
Traveler’s Tip #3: All roads lead back the main highway but looping around in those dirt roads up in the mountains could send you into panic attack mode. Ask for directions properly & be aware of landmarks.
A head’s up to the local who we picked up along the way. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here writing comfortably from the city. I probably wouldn’t be alive! (Alive = not pooping beside a stream somewhere in the middle of nowhereland.)
To Be Continued… (on to Riverstone Castle!)