By Carmencita A. Carillo and Maya M. Padillo

COMPOSTELA VALLEY — The ride down the smooth, winding road leading to this province from its southeastern side is quite dull, with hardly any scenic views to enjoy. But wait until you get in.

Discovering more than gold in Compostela Valley
Aerial view of Compostela Valley

The trip gets a bit more exciting when you reach the Compostela Valley (ComVal) welcome sign atop a small hill, a perfect spot for a souvenir shot. Then come a string eco-tourism spots that are still mostly untouched by mainstream tourism.

ComVal — the only province in the Davao Region that does not have Davao in its name — is best known as a mining haven with 10 out of the 11 municipalities hosting mining sites with small- and large-scale operations.

It is home to Mt. Diwalwal, also known as Mt. Diwata, an area considered to have among the richest gold deposits in the Philippines.

Discovering more than gold in Compostela Valley
Compostela Valley’s eco-tourism sites, like Mahayahay Cave, Lake Leonard and Bongloy Cave, remain mostly untouched by mainstream tourists. — DoT website

The province boasts of having the biggest ring in the country — a piece of jewelry that cannot be worn by any normal human being as the finger would have to have a circumference of five inches. The two-toned ring is made of 1.18 kilograms of gold and 308 grams of silver. Valued at P1.5 million, the Solidarity Ring — symbolizing the unity of the people of ComVal — is on public exhibit at the lobby of the Provincial Capitol building in Barangay Cabidianan, about four kilometers from the town center of Nabunturan.

But there is more than gold and silver in ComVal. It is also home to waterfalls, including the Awao Falls in Monkayo, the Tagbibinta and Marangig Falls in Maragusan (which is a favorite jump-off point for trekkers to Mt. Candalaga), Tanja Falls in New Bataan, Batinag Falls in Nabunturan, and the sulfuric waterfalls in Maco.

At the foothills of Mt. Candalaga, you might chance upon the Rafflesia mira, a parasitic plant endemic to the area, which is a sight to behold but is notorious for its foul smell.

Discovering more than gold in Compostela Valley
The “ComVal” marker is a perfect spot for a souvenir shot. — Carmencita A. Carillo

There are also stretches of beach on the eastern side of the province — an upscale resort is being developed by Torre Lorenzo Development Corp. (TLDC) in Kopiat Island.

Visitors can opt to do some spelunking at the Mahayahay Cave and visit the Mansaka Village in Maragusan, which showcases the indigenous culture of ComVal’s first settlers.

Unfortunately, the province does not have much on offer for a foodie adventure, but don’t miss out on the tasty bibingka (rice cake) sold in small stalls along the highway.

Discovering more than gold in Compostela Valley
Small-scale miners panning for gold. — AFP

A visit to some of the small mining sites is also possible, and there’s the shared service facility (SSF) for gold jewelry-making set up by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) last year.

“Right now, though we have organized them (jewelry-makers), they do their own jewelry then sell it individually. One bracelet they are selling [can have] a price range of P1,000 to P2,000,” said Lucky Siegfred M. Balleque, head of DTI’s Compostela Valley office.

He said the goal is to eventually train enough artisans to produce in volume and set up a consolidator that will market the products.

Discovering more than gold in Compostela Valley
The Solidarity Ring is made from 1.18 kilograms of gold and 308 grams of silver. — Carmencita A. Carillo

But it is ComVal’s eco-tourism sites that give a visitor an experience worth more than gold.