WE WERE having dinner at Sans Rival in Dumaguete City where I saw Cookie Montenegro Lamata, who insisted we visit the twin lakes in San Jose, in the province of Negros Oriental. So, the following day, my family with Baby Iñigo trooped to this mountain respite and despite the narrow, almost one-way road which was rough and dumpy, the trip was another destination worth our energy (no pain, no gain di ba?) and worth writing about.

The Twin Lakes of Balisasayao are actually two crater lakes filled-in by rain water through the decades. They are Lake Balinsasayao and Lake Danao. The trip getting there was rugged as it is nestled at 918 meters above sea level on the Cuernos de Negros mountain range. As we got higher, we were treated to marvelous views of the neighboring islands of Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.

The crater lakes are very deep and the surrounding area totals 8,016 hectares which has become a protected area in November 21, 2000. It is now designated as the Balisasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park and its political jurisdiction covers three municipalities, San Jose, Sibulan and Valencia.

Balinsasayao was indeed worth the trip. Despite the rugged terrain on ascent (its approximately 45 minutes from the highway to get up) and the steep downhill trek to get to the lakes (not forgetting the struggle to get uphill on return) the sight before you is so calm and serene that it pushes you to stop, breathe in its beauty before you and praise, give glory and thank God that He has brought me here with my family, and for the marvelous marvel of his creation.

As we were reveling with the splendor before us, another group came, and with them was Congressman George Arnaiz. Meeting him for the first time, instantly Cong. George proved friendly, affable and gave us a more detailed information of the Twin Lakes. He is the representative for the Second District of Negros Oriental which covers Amlan, Mabinay, Pamplona, San Jose and Sibulan.

When he was governor, he made it his mission to clean and conserve the place. Initially, trees in the rainforest were being burned down by kaingin by residents who made this their livelihood. While it was a challenge to convince the locals to terminate their operations, nonetheless, after giving them a relocation site close to the area and introducing another form of means, the governor was able to accomplish his task.

He also pointed to us the trail to get to see the other lake. There was a shorter one along the bed of the lake however, if you have the time and the fitness, a longer route takes about an hour and a half traversing through trees and paths but seeing the varied flora and fauna of the forest.

Being a protected natural area, the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes is home to an expansive ecosystem and biodiversity. Categorized as a dipterocarp forest, it is belongs to the family of hardwood, tropical trees. Dipterocarps grow very tall and large, and they form a very large proportion of the rainforest canopy which make them a great source for timber, the very reason why many kaingeros profit from them. Rare trees and vines are also prevalent including the tallest of Philippine trees, the Almaciga.

The lake has a rich fish fauna and likewise the forests boast of a rich and rare bird life. For bird watchers, the Japanese Night Heron (Gorsachius goisagi) can be found here. Its worldwide population is estimated at less than 1,000. It was a delight hearing the birds sing and chirp in different tunes and tones in a delightful chorus.

If we came earlier, we could have availed of the boat or kayak ride. For the more adventurous mermaids and aquamen, you will love the still waters.

Congressman George, a conservationist, has many plans for the area to draw more tourists. Foremost, he is hoping that by next year, he can get the roads to be better and not an ordeal. I believe that is the best way to start. Some friends who are locals have not even visited the place but we did see some foreigners in motorcycles coming down as we were making our way to the mountain.

Visiting Balinsasayao Twin Lakes is a natural retreat that quells frenzied nerves from the busyness and dizziness of everyday living. A tranquility that can only be interrupted by the songs of the birds or by euphoric gasps of the wonders of nature.

Meeting Congressman George Arnaiz was an added bonus to the trip.