THE image is still very clear — me on the zip line flying high over 150-foot drop covered with verdant vegetation. This was at Camp Sabros in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, and it was years ago since the thrilling flight.

It was nice to be back at the foothills of the country’s highest peak, the Mt. Apo. No heady thrill rides this time but a cultural immersion with the residents of the land — the Bagobo Tagabawa (tagabawa means “residents of the foothills) at the Tibolo Cultural Village.

Sta. Cruz is a couple of hours drive from Davao and the high altitude of the locale is a very welcome escape from the summer heat. Here, the temperature is cool and made even cooler by the panorama—undulating hills carpeted in green set before the clear blue sky.

Welcoming us were the young lasses of the tribe garbed in their colorful handcrafted ensemble—handcrafted top and hand-woven dagmay wrap skirt, woven by the village weavers. I hope these lasses inherit the tradition and preserve the culture.

To warm us on the cool day was freshly brewed Bagobo coffee prepared with a combination of Robusta coffee with ground corn and sugar to sweeten. It was delicious!

“Enjoy the coffee while it’s hot. Hot drinks can easily get cold with the weather up here,” said Julius Paner, Sr. Municipal Tourism officer of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, our host for the trip.

It’s possible to “live” in the village for a night or two. A couple of bamboo houses are available for accommodation with the amenity of a modern bathroom. No air-conditioning needed on these parts. What you will be handed are warm blankets as nights can get pretty cold.

I’m pretty sure if you want to help out in the kitchen, the Bagobo women will let you.

But as our lunch was prepared, we preferred to stay on the sidelines and watch how systematic the “chef” cooked two meals simultaneously on a single source of flame. The chicken-filled bamboo stalk sat directly on the burning wood and above it, on the grill, was the pan of steaming water where the freshly harvested young chayote (sayote) leaves were to be blanched.

Lunch was served—hot steaming rice, fresh salad green salad, “ludang” (dried fish cooked with taro root and coconut milk) and the star of the dining table, the “nilulot na manok sa gata”.

“Nilutlot na manok sa gata” is native chicken steamed in a bamboo shoot with ginger, coconut milk, lemongrass and “tagiya”, an herb that gives the dish a curry scent and flavor. Cooking the dish inside a bamboo shoot gives the dish a woody and nutty flavor.

The cook broke the bamboo and poured its contents on serving plate lined with banana leaves. The scent of curry was caught across the room.

Nilutlot’s friends dug in.

I had two servings.

Yes, the Bagobo meal was that good, and the flavors will linger on the memory for days.

But before we left, we picked fresh vegetables from their garden. The price of the veggies we picked was a steal.

It’s your turn to visit.

For guided tours to the Mt. Apo Foothills Bagobo Cultural Village Adventure in Tibolo-Kapatagan, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, visit the Visit Davao Fun Sale website.

For Air Asia's #howifly program, this tour also features a tree seedling purchase/donation and/or tree planting as part of the efforts for the continued rehabilitation of Mt. Apo. (donation and purchase at pax cost).

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