Overnight in Maguindanao (Part 2)

It was nearing the end of my weeklong birthday trip. After traveling to Palawan and South Cotabato, I made a final stop to Cotabato city to visit some friends (Part 1 of post here). 

Geographically located in Maguindanao, this busy city has the amenities to accommodate travelers that makes it a good jump-off when visiting tourist spots in the province. Around the city, there are simple hotels & inns, restaurants, malls and other business establishments.  

While catching up over a huge platter of grilled hito and seafood gambas at Babo Katips (good Filipino restaurant in Cotabato city!),  my friend Jeff convinced me to hike Mt. Minandar. Living in Cotabato city, he had gone up the mountain once and kept saying how nice of an easy climb it was. Though he couldn't join me as he'd be working, he kindly arranged for a motorbike driver to pick me up from my hotel the next day.  Gah, for a nature lover, the mountains are the ultimate seductress! 

(Note : Jeff is with Yellow Boat of HOPE Foundation, an organization that helps children get to school by providing yellow boats, other modes of transportation and structures. Their beneficiaries are children who have to commute over bodies of water or travel on vast lands on foot due to lack of transportation just to get to school. If you want to help, please head on to their site for details.) 
Mt. Minandar in  Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao

At 5:00 AM, sir Tam picked me up on his motorbike. With lesser cars on the road, we got to crossing SPDA in less than 30 minutes (This is the intersection that leads to Mt. Minandar's jump-off at Barangay Kusiong. If commuting, you need to get here and take a tricycle or what they call a payong. Fare is 150 Pesos).

As it was still very dark, we had breakfast at an eatery a few blocks from the main road. I enjoyed a serving of pastil (a fave!) and brewed coffee. Brewed coffee! This my friends is one of the reasons I love Maguindanao. Unlike other provinces in the country, a strong cup of brewed coffee is not hard to find! 
Brewed native coffee and pastil, an awesome pre hike breakfast!
Mt. Minandar in Brgy. Kusiong is home to the Tiduray people. Located within the municipality of Datu Opin Sinsuat, it's one of the most peaceful places in Maguindanao. 

After signing on a log book and paying the registration fee (25 Pesos), my assigned guide and I made our way up. (Guides are not hard to secure, there's no need to contact them in advance unless you're in a super huge group. Fee is 150 Pesos but feel free to add a tip). The trail starts on a farm, passing several yards then to a huge grassland. Thankfully, it was early and we didn't have to worry about the sun. The trail was narrow but clear of foliage. 
View of Moro gulf from Mt. Minandar
In less than 2 hours, we arrived at the summit where the view was even more beautiful. From our vantage, we could see Moro gulf, nearby islands and the grand Mosque, which is so massive, it's recognizable even from a distance.  The wind that made sightseeing more enjoyable also brought in some dark clouds but I didn't mind. The breeze was refreshing! :)

If this inspires you to climb Mt. Minandar, just remember to conserve what Mother Nature has to offer. Reduce your impact, leave no trace (Loyola Mountaineers). 

Going down was easier, taking less than an hour. By 9:00 AM, we were back the jump-off. We again stopped at an eatery where I had another serving of pastil and coffee. Hehe! It's just so good! Pastil is like adobo flakes over rice!  The chicken meat which is marinated in soy sauce, then sauteed is so flavorful. 

My flight back to Manila wasn't until late in the evening so I still had some time for a side trip to the Grand Mosque, one of the must-sees in Maguindanao. 

Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah or commonly known as the Grand Mosque, was named after the sultan of Brunei who helped fund its construction. The grandiose structure is 5000 sqm big and is situated along the banks of Tamontaka river, away from houses and other establishments. The area is pretty quiet, a fitting atmosphere for a place of worship.  

Before going in, I had to rent a hijab (20 Pesos) to cover my head. The lady at the rental helped me put it on, along with the malong I brought. 

It was a Tuesday and the mosque had very few visitors so I was able to go around and quietly marvel at its design. A few minutes later, we returned to the city center.

Lunch was at Moro Cafe which turned out to be a nice surprise. Located inside the ARMM compound (where the regional government offices are), it offers good coffee, comfort food, albeit a limited selection, and an ambiance conducive for casual meet-ups or doing some remote work (not sure if they have wifi though). Budget for food/coffee is 100-200 Pesos.

Lunch at Moro cafe. The triangle ones are called samosa(s). These are deep fried or baked dough with fillings of minced chicken or beef. The other two pastas are lasagna and carbonara, both done Pinoy style - very cheesy and milky and has this sweet after taste. 
After catching up with friends from DOT ARMM and Jeff, I got on a 5 hour van ride to Davao where I took an evening flight back to Manila. (NOTE : Cotabato city also an airport which has flights to & from Manila but at the time of booking, it was so much more expensive, even if I add in the costs on traveling to Davao.)

This hike is part of my week long birthday trip. Hope you can also take the time to read my other posts on this. :) 
Leg 1 : El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours | Walking Around El Nido Town (to follow)

NOTE : Mt. Minandar, the Grand Mosque and Blue Lagoon are all located within the municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat (DOS). For more info, please get in touch with DOS Tourism : 
Datu Odin Sinsuat (DOS) Tourism Facebook Page
DOS Tourism Office contact : Datuhabib Salazar
Mobile Number : +63 0905-617-1725

If you need a motorbike (with driver) to go around Cotabato City, please contact : 

Tam (Jeffrey) Hingco - +63-975-638-3302 (rates are negotiable). 

Expenses :
Guide Fee (Mt. Minandar) - 150 Pesos (please feel free to give more if you're spending more than 5 hours in the mountain with your guide).
Registration Fee - 25 Pesos
- Rates above may change. Please contact DOS Tourism on details provided above for updated rates.
- there are no entrance fees to be paid to get inside the Grand Mosque. Instead, you can offer a monetary donation at a drop box near the entrance. 

Resources :
The following blogs helped me get around Cotabato City and Maguindanao. Please visit their blogs for additional helpful info : 
Lakwatsero | Cotabato City Travel Guide
My Mindanao | Mt. Minandar, Maguindanao's Newest Attraction

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