This is Initao Forest, we call it “lasang” our local name for forest. Back in my youth we used to do everything here; spelunking, swimming, diving and camping. Today, it is officially called the Initao-Laguindingan Protected Landscape and Seascape (ILPLS), quite a long name to remember. But we still use the name “lasang” by convenience and custom to refer to the only forest we have in the vicinity.
Initao forest is accessible by sea, if you have a wicked sense of adventure, or by land, if you travel from Iligan City to Cagayan de Oro City and vice versa.
It does not need any landmark because the forest itself is its own landmark. Travelers who are obliged by the call of nature used the forested area as their comfort room, but that was a long time ago. Today, pay toilets are constructed for travelers comfort and we assume they are clean ones. So if you fail to find the area by its natural landmark, find a pay toilet among a forested area and that’s the place you are looking for.
It used to be free before but no more. They charge for the toilet and for any animate and inanimate object coming into the forest (humans, vehicles, tricycles, motorcycles and trailers). Recently they paved some of the old roads with concrete large enough for buses to enter and large enough that about a hundred of trees might have been cut.
Spelunking. There are four caves out of the thirty that are accessible by humans in Initao forest. These caves open on cracks on the ground rather than on the sides of the mountain. There are no mountains or slopes in the 1,350 plus hectare forest reserve.
Caves are most often hidden behind giant trees and massive ancient roots that twist and burrow obstinately and intricately into the earth and into the underground creating an almost scary scene of a horror film. Some caves have inner caves. Some caves end on another part of the forest. Some end at the mouth of the sea – offering both spelunkers and swimmers a 2-in-1 adventure package – spelunking and swimming in one.
Swimming. Unique as it is, Initao forest is cut with deep seacliffs that protect itself from the pounding waves of the deep blue sea. The waves can be wild but that is part of the thrill which we enjoyed a few years ago. Today the government placed a “No Swimming During Big Waves” sign.
Diving. Not only that swimming on big waves is prohibited, the perimeter of the forest is now fenced on all sides including the overhang of the cliff that we used as our diving board. For us, diving here was a thrilling adventure, jumping off from our natural diving board down 20 to 30 feet high, splashing into the deep waters and emerging in front of natural caves carved on the walls of the seacliff some of which have pools large enough for us to swim to.
Camping, Ghost Hunting and the Old Hospital. We used to camp overnight in the forest at the time when there was no authority guarding the reserve. The fun of the overnight camping revolves around the bonfire and ghost stories amid the eerie hollows of the winds, the nocturnes, and the waves. We listen and hunt for unique forest fauna: tarsiers, flying lemurs, birds, owls and even elements from the other side of the world. Once, we were in the mood for thrill and terror and challenged ourselves, slipping past our tents, crossing the highway where the other 50-hectare of the reserve was located, and into the old abandoned Initao Hospital that housed all the elements of the other world.
The hospital used to operate when I was younger but there were horrible tales about it that circulated around the region that scared off patients and hospital staff. So it was totally abandoned because who would, in his perfect state of mind would want to work in an isolated hospital in the middle of a big eerie forest?
Today the hospital is ripped apart and renovated into a zipline facility – something which we have not heard of before, in our time.
In the morning, we waited for sights of any sea creature or giant turtles that bask themselves under the sun or lay eggs on the rocky slopes of the cliff. If there is none we swim and dive.
Footpaths and ‘Wild’ Shows. For those who love walking and just enjoy the sight and the chorus of the birds and insects and the forest diversity, Initao forest offers the concretized walkways. But if you want the real thing, you take the century-old footpaths made by the men and women who knew better the best parts of the forest. In fact, these are the very same footpaths to take to find the caves. It is advisable to come with a partner because some areas are dark and eerie. There are snakes and lizards that prey against each other. We have witnessed one heated brawl between a snake and a lizard. They didn’t bother with us at all. The fight ended when the lizard escaped and jumped into the seacliff and into the waters, so did the snake. We didn’t know what happened afterwards.
Today there are facilities constructed in the area such as more comfort rooms, gazebos, benches, and garbage bins. One of the structures they left from 20 years ago is the pavilion the very place where we took shade from the heat and the elements a long time ago.
LASANG RULES AND REGULATIONS
Visitors are reminded to respect nature and other visitors by keeping quiet. Cooking is allowed in authorized areas only. Alcoholic drinks or intoxicated visitors are prohibited from entering the forest.Vandalism and littering is absolutely forbidden. Trash bins are provided in designated areas for proper disposal of thrash. Motorized vehicle and bikes are permitted only within designated areas. And so on.
LASANG FOOD AND DRINKS
There are still no convenience stores in the proximity of the forest so bring your food and drinks. There are designated picnic areas fronting the sea. There are however no sand beaches to behold but beautiful hanging cliffs and huge rocks softened by the elements. That is where you will be swimming.
We loved this playground even if there are no sand beaches (we have enough of them). We come here for the trees, the caves, and the beautiful hanging cliffs.