Have you ever fallen in love at first sight with a location, only to return and find your dream place has turned into a nightmare?
Such is a place I frequently visited in the municipality of Manolo Fortich, in Bukidnon, for the last 15 years. I first spotted it while in search of extraordinary scenery for my book Mindanao, A Portrait. My cousin Iso and Bobby Montalvan, residents of Bukidnon, brought me there. I was an instant captive.
This marvelous place is the Grand Canyon of Bukidnon, not found in any Department of Tourism brochure. Let me thus invite you to envision the paradise that took my breath away:
Entering a private property, you see this vast expanse of sloping grasslands leading towards a cliff where stood a shack that ignited my 1970s imagination with visions of that age’s iconic TV show, Little House on the Prairie.
Bukidnon being cowboys and horses country, I embellished my dream with thoughts of being a cattle rancher. The shack was replaced by my retirement home-cum-inn, where tourists would stay and envy me for owning one of the most beautiful spots on this beautiful planet.
Three sides of the perfect paradise overlooked the ravines, and approaching the edge was a series of cliffs formed by erosion over millions of years. When you step out of the vehicle, you witness the majesty of our grand canyon. It’s small compared to other canyons on earth, but the scenery dumbfounds you nonetheless into awe at the formations of cliffs, ravines, and a running river. Bukidnon has a network of canyons, two of which are the Mangima Canyon and the Manolo Fortich Canyon, formed at the confluence of the Mangima River and the great Tagoloan River.
Bukidnon, in fact, has beautiful gorges where its great rivers run through the Pulangi, Cagayan, and Tagoloan Rivers. During my first discovery of its natural resources in this province, I rappelled down the old bridge over the Pulangi River for my TV show, Margie On Mindanao.
Henceforth, I returned on several occasions, camping out in my two-room tent, complete with a portable toilet. We trekked, bathed in the river, and rode horses across fields and forests. The visits remain among my most cherished adventures.
It has been eight years since I last visited Bukidnon. On my recent trip, I stayed in Manolo Fortich, deciding it was time to bare my secret place and my plans for it to my daughters and granddaughters, whatever they might think of my dream.
My little house on the prairie was now an abandoned country hut
I ended up crestfallen when we arrived in my private Eden. Drastically altered, the place was no longer what I remembered. Somehow the local government changed the road system. We passed through a sitio that I have not seen before. I saw trees instead of grass. As we arrived at the gate, flies were swarming all over us, origin unknown. We could only surmise the source to be a vast commercial poultry business just outside the gate. It was surprising that flies were allowed to disturb human beings, oblivious to the Department of Agriculture.
But the mother of all horrors was the sight of a series of Eiffel Towers, where high tension electric wires were attached, erected across the property and on the side of the canyon as far as the eyes could see. Most heartbreaking was my little house on the prairie, now an abandoned country hut.
Like all significant losses, the pain creeps in after the initial shock.
I sadly acknowledge that no part of this breathtaking spot on earth was mine to turn into my reality, for as long as the government’s and landowner’s definition of progress runs counter to the preservation of nature’s paradise.
We took a couple of photos then turned around, never to return to this once-upon-a time Shangri-La where a prairie anchored my dreams.