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Monday, April 30, 2007

On the road: Bukidnon sidetrip, April 07

The flight our team booked for the HOPE Caravan mission was to arrive at 5pm Friday in Cagayan De Oro City. However, thinking that I might as well make the most of my 10-years-in-the-making trip back to Mindanao, I decided to take the first flight out of Manila that same day. I planned to make a side trip to visit my very good friend and med school classmate Lester who worked as a city health physician in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.

I arrived at 6:34 am in Cagayan De Oro City. I remember the exact time because just before the plane came to a complete stop, the lead flight attendant on that PAL trip thanked us for our business and proudly announced that we arrived six minutes ahead of our scheduled 6:40am arrival at CDO. (And it was something to be proud of: the supposed 5pm arrival of the Cebu Pacific flight of our bosses arrived at least half an hour late and our Cebu Pacific flight out of CDO the following day was delayed for at least an hour!)

Feeling like a host of the travel show Lonely Planet, I set out for my solo journey to Malaybalay City, with Lester’s instructions tucked safely in the inbox of my phone- which was dangerously close to being lowbatt.

From the airport, I took a cab to the Agora bus terminal. I thought the cost of the trip which Lester informed me about- P200- was a bit exorbitant but I soon realized that the bus terminal was about a good 10, 15 kilometers away. The initial glimpse of Cagayan De Oro City I got through that first cab ride gave me the impression of that is was really a booming city- big high-end real estate developments, seemingly newly-built roads and shortcuts, and a mall that, on bad days said my cabbie, delayed travel by as much as 50 minutes.

I arrived at the Agora station, a busy hub of buses going to various points of Mindanao. I quickly got into an air conditioned bus bound for Valencia, the city after Lester’s. The bus was just three-fourths full so I feared that it may take a while before it pulls out of the terminal. Luckily, they leave every half hour so despite the empty seats, we were on our way.

If our plan were to proceed as laid out, I was supposed to arrive in Malaybalay City by 10am, go on a tour of the city with Lester, have lunch from 12-1, then proceed to the last leg of our tour, then be in the bus back to CDO, in order for me to meet my bosses in time for their 5pm arrival.

Lester said that all I had to do in the bus was sleep. I did plan to sleep- considering that I left the house at 3am to make it to the 5:10am flight. But I didn’t get to sleep because I was so giddy with excitement that I didn’t want to miss a single millimeter of the view. As it turned out I initially sat on the wrong side of the bus; for the best view- sit anywhere in the column of seats behind the driver.

Through out the 88-kilometer, 2-hour trip from CDO to Malaybalay, I was treated with an almost uninterrupted view of rolling terrain (above, in Manolo Fortich town), meandering mountainside passes, and lush greenery occasionally bisected by small rivers and creeks (below, in Impasugong town). And of course vast expanse of land dedicated to pineapple and bananas (below).

I left CDO at around 7:30am and arrived in Malaybalay City terminal a little before 10. At first I got confused whether I was supposed to alight in Malaybalay or in Valencia. Good thing Lester was quick to respond to my query via SMS. In not more than 15 minutes after landing in the bus terminal in his turf, we were off. (Below, my first upclose encounter with a mosque in Mindanao.)
Malaybalay is the capital of Bukidnon. It’s a city which still feels like a small town or a small town that just happened to be called a city. Everything seems so accessible, within reach, compressed in a set dimension of space, and yet it didn’t seem the least bit stifling.

As doctors are wont to do, I wasn’t able to take off my hat as a physician nor as a public health professional. While Lester and I were updating ourselves about where this classmate is, who is doing what, our conversations were periodically dotted with discussions on the local health system in his city. In fact, if not for our trip to the Monastery of the Transfiguration, my time in Malaybalay would appear to be an official study trip for either UP or GK!

Among the highlights of my visit:

My peek into the Bethel Baptist Hospital, just within the poblacion district where I met Dr. Asuncion, a family and community medicine specialist and the hospital’s medical director, Lester’s erstwhile boss under whom he practiced for sometime before joining the city health department. The hospital is an oasis in the middle of what seemed to be an area in need of expert medical care. The staff seemed really competent and inspired to work for the patients who seek their advice and care.

My crash course of the Malaybalay health system- from visiting various health centers to reliving a part of the PGH experience through a short tour of their provincial hospital to the sneaking a quick look at their herbal medicine syrup laboratory (for sampalok-luya-kalamansi cough medication) to the very impressive Malaybalay Emergency Rescue Unit, the city’s version of the US’s 911, just the second of its kind in the whole of Mindanao.

Our drive through the GK villages in Malaybalay, with houses very much unlike those I have seen in Luzon and some parts of Mindanao (above and below)…

And a really high highlight, our drive to the Monastery of the Transfiguration, just ten minutes from the city proper. A divine complex tucked away from much of “civilization” with an amazing new chapel whose interiors will really bring out the pious among all of us and an even more amazing vista wrapped around it which made me feel and taste a little bit of heaven…

Snippets of joy still: meeting their city mayor, eating at a funky joint called Mindy’s, stopovers near the capitol grounds (below), catching a glimpse of their city health office, all the warm smiles and handshakes and invitations to comeback and stay longer…

This is my own Amazing Race: Malaybalay edition. One of the most unforgettable half-days of my life. Arguably comparable to any half-day city tour I have ever taken in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York or San Francisco. And I have had an excellent driver, Kuya Mulong (below) and an excellent tourist guide in the guise of a doctor, my friend Lester, who relocated there in Malaybalay soon after the August 2005 Philippine boards, to live in an area where he did not have family nor friends, serving as a physician for people he did not really have much initial connection with, a move that baffled me when I came to know about it.

Now I know why.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your helpful post!

Lincoln City, Oregon

Tuesday, May 06, 2008 4:04:00 AM  

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