Agusan del Norte

My Experience at Brigada Eskwela 2017

My family (Father’s side) are educators, born and raised in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte. Brigada Eskwela has been a joint effort of the government and community for 12 years running. I first heard about it in 2016 when I was on vacation in my hometown and promised I’d be back next year to help.

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A few weeks before the scheduled 2017 Brigada, I got a message from my cousin that it was slated for May 15-20 — a month earlier than last year AND the same weekend I was supposed to set off for Apo Reef and swim with the sharks.

But, a promise is a promise, I booked a ticket and flew home. The sharks can wait.

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A yummy Pinoy treat called Balikutsa

My childhood summers involved regular weekend beach trips, biking from afternoon ’til night with 10 of my cousins and friends, good food (lots of Lechon!), and chewing on balikutsa. I had totally forgotten about it, save for some cravings here and there, but truth be told I haven’t really eaten balikutsa (coconut toffee) since high school. Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten a stick in 20+ years!

What is Balikutsa?

It’s coconut toffee, basically. It’s a sweet snack/dessert that is always handmade with a recipe that is passed on from generation to generation. I first tasted this delicious snack in Cabadbaran City, my hometown in Agusan del Norte, where I used to spend my two months of summer vacation like clockwork. I understand (after doing some light research on Google) that other provinces have their own versions of this very addicting dessert.

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Here’s a quick background story: While in Cabadbaran City visiting my Dad, I woke up one day looking for Mart (Dad’s helper) and found him over the stove frantically cooking something. I was a little bit annoyed because he was ignoring me, until I went over to him and asked: “What are you doing ba?!” He said he’s cooking balikutsa for me. In true Kira fashion, I didn’t believe him (I am naturally dubious of poeple, haha) until I looked over his shoulder and saw the warm sticky toffee! He said he wanted to surprise us — and thank you, Cathy, for arranging all of this. Oh my god, I wanted to cry! Read More

Climbing Mt. Pongkay Prayer Mountain, Cabadbaran City

My cousin knocked on the door at 5:30 am and said, “Kira! Are you ready? It’s time to go!” I groaned, pried myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, and got dressed. I gave my Dad (who was still asleep) a peck on the cheek and I was out. My cousin Cathy and her husband Dodong said we should head out to Mt. Pongkay, the so-called Prayer Mountain, as the view up there was fantastic. Funny, I’ve spent my childhood in this city but have missed this supposed attraction that is loved by both locals and tourists.

But first, why am I in Mindanao?

Unbeknownst to many, my Dad’s side of the family is from Agusan del Norte, a second class province and deemed as the smallest in the Caraga Region. I grew up here, spending most of my summer vacations with my friends and cousins (we had a huge family back then), and I can fluently speak the dialect of Bisaya. I’ve had so many precious memories growing up here biking around the city, swimming in the local black sand beaches of Caasinan, going on road trips to Cagayan de Oro in my Dad’s pick up long before it became famous for whitewater rafting.

You could say, I’m back because I want to explore my hometown and share my discoveries with everyone. There are so many “hidden” and scenic spots in Mindanao that I hope to feature on the blog.

So, back to the Prayer Mountain. 


I was obviously not prepared for this, my outfit is screaming: “city girl alert!”

Located in Bgy. Kauswagan in Cabadbaran City, it is approximately 15-20 minutes away from our ancestral house. You can drive a car or a scooter, though the latter is ideal so you can enjoy the crisp morning air. The best view is driving through the highway with nothing but trees and talahib on the sides of the road.

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