Last December, I realized one of my lifelong dreams which is to visit Agusan Marsh, one of the most ecologically significant wetlands in the Philippines. Why Agusan Marsh? Well, I’ve always been fascinated with rivers and swamplands. My interest was further piqued when they caught Lolong, the world’s largest crocodile ever caught and placed in captivity, there last 2011. (He was 6.17 meters long.)
This huge expanse of marsh in the heart of Mindanao covers an area the size of Metro Manila and contains nearly 15% of the nation’s fresh water resources. When I went there in the rainy season, it was a giant lake, still waters covered with hyacinths as far as the eyes can see. Staying in a village that literally floats on water and being cared for by the Manobo indigenous people for three days, in the heart of a giant lake measuring 20,000 hectares, was one of the most memorable trips I have ever had in my life. Although my main activities there were pretty basic, like riding the canoe to visit other floating villages, waiting for the next meal and reading e-books, it was the beauty of the place that made it such an enchanting experience. Oh, and with the cacophony of birds that I listened to every night, it becomes utterly magical!
I will never forget the moment I arrived via canoe at the floating village of Panlabuhan, with these thick hyacinth growths parting in front of me. For me, it encapsulates that incredible feeling of discovery, newness and strangeness that makes travel so addictive. It’s the same feeling I get in the midst of tropical rain forests, when the thick vines and trees and plants or fog or mist are obscuring what’s ahead of me and then finally they open up to reveal something enchanting.
The canoe rides were always pretty exciting, I really love passing by these thick water hyacinths, water lilies and lotus.
The stunningly beautiful Agusan Marsh
A note on the canoe ride:
Look at the flimsy-looking canoe I rode to go there. It was just me, my guide Ms. Maritess and the boatman.
This really is a huge river. Look at the man wearing white, paddling on the left side.
Houses on the banks of Agusan River.
Children playing by the riverbanks.
Some notes on going to Agusan Marsh:
I didn’t realize coming to Agusan Marsh in Mindanao would be a bit complicated. First, the five-hour bus ride from Davao, followed by an hour-long motorcycle to Loreto, and then finally transferring to a motorized canoe- with me carrying my heavy backpack, bag + plastic bags of food!
I also got stressed when I found out about the prices for my stay, especially knowing how cheap the fuel costs are for such a small boat with a single engine. In the end, I gave in simply because I knew this was a community effort and they probably need the money much more than I (I realized later on that I was right not to bargain. They did reduce my fees by a thousand- though I spent even more for tips for my three helpers, food and indigenous products/souvenirs).
Ms. Maritess, the tourism coordinator and a resident of the floating village of Panlabuhan herself, fetched me from Loreto. She was to be my personal guide for three days.
The Manobo people of Panlabuhan Village in Agusan Marsh did not share my love for water hyacinths. For me, these plants made me feel like I’m in the middle of a giant garden that floats on the water, they have such a vibrant green color that cheers me up so, and I really can’t imagine Agusan marsh without them. Maybe it would look tranquil yet also maybe desolate and gloomy?
However, the locals told me that when these plants get so thick, it spells trouble, as their heavy roots get tangled in the boat rudders. Likewise, the hyacinth infestation limit the areas where they could fish. In fact, at that time, getting rid of these hyacinths was a priority, an urgent problem that remains unresolved due to lack of funds and lack of inter-village coordination/unity. I hope by this time they have already fixed the problem.
How to Go There:
If you want to eat these freshwater fish, all you have to do is coordinate with Agusan Marsh tourism. You can visit there even just for a day.
You may contact them here: Municipal Information Office, Loreto, Agusan del Sur Facebook page
You can also contact the Manobo Tourism Officer of Agusan Marsh directly, her name is Ms. Maritess.