Liguasan Marsh is not your regular tourist spot. It is a beautiful place shrouded with mystery and fear. Years of armed conflict between Muslims and Christians has effectively warded outsiders off. But my friends and I aren’t your regular tourists. We crave adventure, things that challenge our sensibilities (not that we have plenty of it). We only live once, so better make it one for the books, we always say.
Exploring Liguasan Marsh is therefore a perfect lazy Sunday activity for us. There’s nothing better than sitting in a narrow motorized canoe and admiring the beauty of the scenery, the marriage between nature and people as we pass by.
All the while praying we don’t tip over or get eaten alive by crocodiles.
The marsh is peaceful, lovely, and alive. It is a shame only a few people get to see it. We are blessed to be among the few to experience it.
Our plan was to explore the marsh going to Cotabato, but we had to scrap that because that area was a bit of a hotspot on the day we went. Nope, there was no fighting among Muslims and Christians; there was a raid on the den of suspected drug pushers two days before.
We were advised not to go that route because residents said that’s where some of the suspected pushers fled and we might come across them along the way. Although I think we are too dorky to look like it, they might suspect us as informants or worse, the police might mistake us for pushers.
We had to change route the last minute and go to Barangay Olandang in Midsayap, North Cotabato instead. It is still a part of the Liguasan Marsh but with more kangkong (water spinach), so navigating it is a bit tricky. By the way, tricky in my dictionary means exciting.
The stories I’ve read about the Liguasan Marsh are about the abundance of hidden oil and natural gas deposits and of armed skirmishes between the military and Moro fighters. They do not tell of the lives of the people inhabiting the area, or of the many different birds nesting there, or of the abundance of freshwater fish.
Scenes of mothers doing their laundry, children swimming, and men transporting wood greeted us as we went deeper into the marsh. We even saw a woman bathing in the buff and a man brushing his teeth using marsh water (at this point I lost it and did a rude thing and pointed at him). These scenes show nothing of the myth of lawlessness newspapers and tabloids focus on.
While we were awestruck by the scenes we saw, the people went about their business as if we were not there. They only paused when they saw us taking pictures. They were so friendly that they even smiled and waved at us while we were taking pictures. The shy ones just went about their business with a slight nod of acknowledgement to us.
Liguasan Marsh is a birdwatcher’s paradise. We saw several species of birds that we didn’t know the names of. There were black birds as big as chickens, which the locals call bugok. There were also small speckled white birds and bigger white birds that I assume were herons. We even saw a magnificent lone hawk hovering above us.
We just toured a small area of the Liguasan Marsh because the water was still low, but it was all I needed to fall in love with the place. I want to come back in August when the water level is expected to rise and we can navigate deeper.