Before we proceed to tell you about our cool side trip to conclude our Surigao road trip, we feel the need to share to you a depressing episode in this adventure. We’ve all heard about how mankind rapes and destroys Mother Earth all in the name of his greed. In our journeys as adventurers, we have read, heard, and seen evidences and acts to satisfy such greed—-kaingin, illegal logging, dynamite fishing, poaching, harvesting of endangered species, excavations, etc.
Not everything in our sojourns is happy, but this one tops out every undesirable experience we have ever encountered. So we are warning you: if you are staunch environmental advocates and eco-warriors like us, this blog post is going to rip your heart out.
After almost two hours on the road, we finally arrived in Tandag City at 11:45 AM where we took a non-aircon bus to Surigao City. During our planning stage, we estimated we’ll arrive at 1:00 PM to catch the 2:00 PM bus, but we arrived earlier than usual. That was really good because it meant we just gained two hours of extra time. And in the world of traveling, gaining extra time is always a boon.
At exactly 12 noon, the bus commenced its five-hour northward trip to Surigao City. With an early departure and fast speed, we figured out we can still witness the sunset at our last stop for this backpacking adventure.
Along the way, we witnessed glorious scenes of sea, sky, and earth blending together in one harmonious waltz. Many times in our adventures, we are mesmerized and awestruck by the grandeur of Mother Nature, which defies any man-made wonder. We can just imagine the millions of years Mother Nature spent in shaping this lovely coast.
More than two hours into the trip, we arrived at the edge of Surigao del Sur’s surfing mecca, the municipality of Lanuza. The driver must have sensed that the passengers were hungry, so he stopped at Mang Ren’s Binkahan where we ordered delicious, filling bibingka (rice cakes) cooked in the unique Surigaonon way.
Sweetie enjoyed the bibingka. Compared to our very own Mandaue’s flaky bibingka, Surigao’s version is chewy. In addition, Mandaue’s bibingka is sweeter (at least in our opinion). However, that doesn’t mean that Surigao’s is inferior; it just tastes different, being more “dairy-like” than Mandaue’s.
Lanuza is recognized as an alternative, cheaper surfing destination to world-renowned Siargao. Big waves roll towards reef breaks or beach breaks such as the one in the photo below. According to the guide whom we contacted (sadly, we weren’t able to meet him due to time constraints), the best months to visit Lanuza for surfing is between November to March where large waves barrel toward the shore in consistent, constant motion. Surfing those waves is definitely on our bucket list of adventures, thus, Sweetie and I are planning to visit Lanuza sometime next year. Watch out for this exciting future adventure.
Three hours into the journey, we entered the municipality of Carrascal. As the bus started climbing a gentle slope at a mountainside, the concrete highway started to give way to a dusty, rocky, reddish, unpaved pathway. At first, we thought this was a typical ongoing road project to connect the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
After all, there are excavators, dump trucks, and other heavy equipment working on the road. Yes, the mountain may be damaged a little, but we would now have a highway to the north. With such infrastructure, industries and businesses could flourish, and the lives of locals would definitely improve.
As we moved farther up the mountain, we noticed huge chunks of land being excavated from the mountain. We’ve seen similar excavations when we pass by the Manipis Road or the Naga-Uling-Toledo highway whenever we go rock climbing in Cantabaco. But these ones in Carrascal were way bigger—and more dangerous—than our local excavations. For us, it looked more like excavating a quarry rather than building a highway.
For you to have an idea of how big these excavations are, check out the small house/building at the upper right of the photo below, in line with the sloping hill.
Road excavations can churn out dust. But not so much dust that it covers an entire forest’s canopy. Check out the picture below. That reddish tint is actually dust that covered the treetops of the forest below us. Also, check out the mountains in the distance; they’re being scalped!
We saw more huge excavations all around the mountain. As you can see, there’s a very real danger of landslides occurring since there are no landslide dams constructed below the slopes to stop, contain, or mitigate the rockfall.
As we arrived at the summit, we could see where we came from. As you can see, the dirt road cuts through the length of the mountain range. Beyond is the Carrascal Bay.
But that was nothing to what we were about to see next. When we got to the other side of the mountain, we were shocked and aghast beyond belief. The entire mountain was being excavated into a gigantic open-pit mine! There were almost no greens left! Yes, that photo below shows just a very tiny part of the massive excavation.
To give you an idea of just how vast this excavation is, check out the center of the photo. See those orange structures? Those are large buildings and gigantic dump trucks.
We took a closer look of the area via Google Earth. That bald mountain forms that small peninsula at the center right of the photo below. Also, at this vantage point, you can actually see how much environmental damage this open-pit mining has caused.
The excavation, mining, and quarrying of materials extend to the coast. Aside from the serious environmental damage that thick siltation has caused to the marine ecology below the Kinalablaban Bay, the massive excavations can weaken the rock face. And when that rock face gives way, it can displace a huge amount of water, creating a landslide-generated tsunami that could threaten nearby coastal settlements.
Check out the heavily silted water. Huge cargo ships are anchored near the shore, waiting for their turn to be loaded raw iron-rich soil for processing and refining.
More ships! Many of these ships come from foreign lands. Just imagine; they’re carrying millions of tons of soil and minerals taken from our own land!
Large dump trucks carry mineral-rich soil towards waiting barges stationed at the pier.
These barges are being loaded with mineral-rich soil. Once they’re filled up, they’re transferred to those huge cargo ships offshore.
Another screenshot from Google Earth shows just how unimaginably huge this mining operation is. All areas colored yellow brown are excavated. That is more than 500 square kilometers of forests, mountains, valleys, and rivers being destroyed. Around 5 or more municipalities in their entirety are being mined.
Why is there such a colossal mining operation here? Well, Surigao del Sur has substantial deposits of both non-metallic (e.g. coal, diatomite, feldspar, limestone, etc.) and metallic (e.g. copper, zinc, nickel, cobalt, gold, etc.) minerals. All these minerals are worth millions of dollars. The question is: who will benefit from those millions?
Scalped mountains, denuded forests, pollution, leveling of wildlife sanctuaries—it’s the rape of nature at its worst! But it’s not just Mother Nature that is affected. Check the lower center of the photo below: you can see the huts of a small fishing community. The mining operation cuts a swath through the community.
Thus, residents are constantly and dangerously exposed to pollutants and dust that can cause respiratory diseases. Not to mention the risk being injured or run over by trucks and heavy equipment.
This tranquil bay was once covered with verdant forests, which must have been very picturesque during its prime. We wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years or even months, these remaining patches of green will disappear as the mining operation devours these last traces of a once beautiful forest.
The mining operation kicks out perpetual, suffocating clouds of dust for miles around. Even when we exited the mine, thick layers of reddish dust still coated towns and villages as far as the northern end of Claver, the municipality that acts as a border between the two provinces. The dust and iron-ore residue can put citizens at risk with serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
It took us more than an hour to cross a small part of the open-pit mine you saw in the photos above. Then it took almost another hour to finally break out of the dust and re-witness the virgin beauty of Mother Nature as we entered Surigao del Norte.
After witnessing a mountain’s slow death, seeing the beautiful and still clean bay as we approached the town of Gigaquit felt like a rebirth.
An operation as massive as this couldn’t escape the eyes of the government. Surely, extensive studies regarding environmental sustainability has been officially and legally done by the government before giving the go-signal to the mining companies. Surely, mining companies have already researched on the effects of their activities to Mother Nature and the communities within their areas of operation. Surely, the operation is legal.
Also, remember that we are now a modern, technology-based, energy-hungry society. To survive, enjoy, and live in such a society, we need to harvest the gifts of the earth.
However, isn’t there any other way to make the extraction of natural resources more sustainable and pro-life? We are far from being experts in mining, but we don’t want to believe that there’s no way to extract our natural resources except to destroy a huge part of our land. We would like to believe that all the knowledge and technology that we have accumulated for hundreds of years can help us come to a win-win situation with Mother Nature.
Before ending this post, we would like to point out that the Caraga Region in Mindanao is endowed with thick forests, rich wildlife, beautiful geological features, and other natural wonders. Its municipalities, cities, towns, and villages are teeming with rich history, vibrant culture, and friendly people. It’s every adventurer’s paradise with caves, rock formations, mountains, surf spots, and many more. In fact, it is one of the most magnificent regions in the Philippines that we’ve ever visited.
So, why not focus on environmentally healthy, culturally enriching industries such as tourism, adventure travel, and culinary tours rather than destructive activities such as mining and illegal logging?