THE visit to the capital city of Tawi-Tawi was bound to happen. Fate led to it. It was thirty years ago when I was told to put Bongao on my bucket list, and early this year, I wrote about Bud Bongao, one of the city’s destination, as a must see spot. Not long after, I was flown to the “well-kept tourism gem in the country’s last frontier” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and made my way up the sacred mountain. Two items in my bucket list ticked off.
Bud Bongao literally translates to “Mountain of Bongao” (“bud” or bood” is Sinama word for “mountain”) and is composed of six limestone peaks: Bongao at 230 meters above sea level, Simunil ast 328, Tambisan at 317, Tinondakan at 309, Pajar at 260, and it’s tallest is Sibutu at 342 meters above sea level. Each peak functions as a viewpoint of the islands they were named after.
The mountain may not hold the rank as the province’s highest (it ranks second to Mount Sibangkat found in the Languyan municipality), but the 250-hectare Bud Bongao is a “bastion of ecological wonders and a landmark of history and culture”, which makes it a very important landmark in the region.
Bud Bongao, as a “bastion of ecological wonders”, is a treasure trove of biodiversity and considered Sulu Archipelago’s last remaining moist forest. The mountain is host to threatened species of flora, such as the Pugad Lawin, Pitogo, Dungon, Dao, Spreading Club Moss, to name a few, and fauna, such as the Red Dragonfly, Orange Albatross, Tawi-Tawi Forest Rat, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Red Bellied Pita and a few more. The mountain’s rich wildlife made Bud Bongao a model site under the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project.
As a “landmark of history and culture”, it is a sacred mountain and a pilgrimage site of believers Islam. They scale the mountain to its apex and pray in the burial shrines (“tampat”). It is said that two direct followers of the Arab merchant Sheik Karim-ul Makdum, who introduced Islam in the Philippines in Simunol Island in 1380, is buried under the Tampat rocks.
Bud Bongao is breathtaking as well it is “breath taking”. Scaling the mountain to its peak is a challenge even if the municipal government has made it easier for visitors by paving the flight of steps of the forest park and turn it into an eco-tourism destination. It takes 1,890 steps to reach the top (it’s Elephant Mountain in Taipei all over again for me), a feat that can leave you “breath-less”. But thanks to the pit sops and view decks, I was able to take a breather.
The “breathtaking” part comes upon reaching the top. The panoramic view of Bongao, the shoreline, the Celebes sea and the neighboring islands will take you breath away. You will nod and say, “It's worth the climb.”
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