(Gingoog–Claveria–Villanueva Road)

Since travel restrictions were lifted, tourists and motorists have been flocking to ogle, gawk, ooh and ahh at the scenic sights and attractions of the Gingoog-Claveria-Villanueva Road in Misamis Oriental.

Listed as National Route 955 (N955) in the Philippine Highway Network, the 71 kilometer (44 mile) two-and-four lane secondary highway links the Misamis Oriental municipalities of Gingoog and Claveria to the component city of Gingoog.

Although opened to traffic in 2014, it was only recently completed and lops off an hour from the average travel time of 2 hours and 30 minutes between the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog.

Travelers from Cagayan de Oro take a left turn at the Villanueva, Misamis Oriental Public Market, then the road rises to nearly 1,200 meters above sea level (masl) around the 48 kilometer mark, although travelers get to enjoy the scenery the magnificent vistas of the Mt. Balatukan Range Natural Park starting around 20 kilometers up its almost constant rise. However, the last 20 kilometers is all downhill till the turn off at Gingoog City.

A fine mist drifts through Camp Zion, at Panampawan, Claveria Misamis Oriental (journalingmom.com)

With elevations as high as 1,200 masl, the pervading climate is often colder than similar places like Marawi and Tagaytay. The weather can change from clear blue skies to fog driven cool winds in the blink of an eye, making it an attractive weekend getaway for residents fleeing the oppressive summer heat of the urban lowlands.

Following are some of the salient attractions travelers and tourists along the route can enjoy:

Some 8 kilometers from Claveria proper on the left side along a bend of Route 955 (coming from Villanueva) is the famed Ostrich Tree near the boundary of Barangays Luna and Lanise which has delighted thousands with its unique resemblance to its namesake.

The unique Ostrich Tree at the boundary of Barangays Luna & Lanise along Route 955, Claveria, Misamis Oriental (Copyright-to-Project-LUPAD)

 Retired forester Carlos Policarpio Bagonoc identifies it as a blackboard tree or devil’s tree (Alstonia scholaris ) known locally as a Dita tree.

Former forester Raoul T. Geollegue notes the vegetative grown at its “neck area’ is actually a fern and not a part of the main tree.

“It could be any tree species with a growth of ferns around its neck, so it’s not exclusive to any tree species,” Geollegue said.

The Claveria View Deck at Barangay Lanise, Claveria, Misamis Oriental (Viajero Series)

Further on in Barangay Lanise is the Claveria View Deck, a 2-storey viewing deck with a panoramic view of the Balatukan Mountain Range Natural Park and Misamis Oriental’s hinterland areas. Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, it is a popular stopover for motorists with its various amenities.

The beautiful Baantawan Lake in Mt. Balatukan Range Natural Park (MBRNP)

The Mt. Balatukan Range Natural Park is one of the 94 Protected Areas in the Philippines covering Gingoog City and the municipalities of Claveria, Medina and Balingasag in Misamis Oriental. It is listed as 103rd Key Biodiversity Area, 91st Important Bird Area and is ranks 121st among the Conservation Priority Areas of the Philippines. The endemic flora and fauna within its 11,000 hectare protected area include 48 flora, 17 bird, 5 mammal, 4 reptiles, 6 insect and 3 fish species.

A magnificent view of Mt Balatukan from the Claveria View Deck (MBRNP)

Mount Balatukan is a massive compound stratovolcano which is the highest point in the province of Misamis Oriental. The volcano has no historical eruptions but displays fumarolic activity. The 2,450-metre (8,040 ft) mountain is topped by a triangular shaped caldera 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) long and 10.6 kilometers (6.6 mi) at its widest. The Balatukan River emanates from and drains the huge crater. It is one of the 17 major rivers that irrigate the natural park’s surrounding areas which also hosts the mystical Bantaawan Lake.

The stone marker of Doalnara,a Korean based religious community whose members adhere to the naturalist philosophy of its leader. (James Judith)

The Doalnara Restoration Society-Philippines maintains a 1,500 hectare organic farm in  Barangay Aposkahoy which is mainly devoted to the production of yacon for export to South Korea. Established 28 years ago, it is one of the organic farms managed by the South Korean-based Doalnara Restoration Society in eight countries worldwide which exports agricultural products to South Korea.

The Cebu Pacific Flight 387 Shrine situated a few kilometers from the slopes of the Mt. Lumot that borders Gingoog City and Claveria, is a memorial to the 99 passengers and five flight crew of Cebu Pacific Flight 398 who perished on Feb. 2, 1998 in one of the worst air disasters in the Philippines.

The 20-foot memorial shrine erected about 20 years ago, is located within the complex being developed by the Misamis Oriental provincial government as a tourism complex with coffee shops, fruit stands, camping areas, flower gardens, a koi pond, and other amenities to promote food and historical and cultural tourism in the province.

However, serious trekkers wanting to visit the actual crash site would have to walk some distance as related by Gingoog-based blogger Journaling Mom: The crash site is a 5-hour walk via Camp Haribon. Usually campers sleep through the night at Camp Neil Perez since, it has the space to accommodate tents. From there, it’s another 2 hrs. to reach the crash site.

MOFDEO Boundary Marker (MOFDEO)

Approaching Sitio Civoleg, Barangay Lunotan, Gingoog City, is MOFDEO Boundary Marker built by the Misamis Oriental 1st District Engineering Office (MOFDEO) under its Gender and Development (GAD) Program. The landmark is equipped with gender responsive comfort rooms for male and female, a gazebo, an aesthetic landscape, and a parking space for stopovers.

Christ the King Shrine along Route N955 at Gingoog City (Project LUPAD)

Not the least and among the newest is the Christ the King Shrine at Barangay Samay, Gingoog City, reputedly the first and tallest in Asia at 75 feet. Following the recent completion of the statue will be a “Tulay-Kalinaw” (Peace Bridge) which will serve as an elevated pathway leading to the 75-foot image.

CTK Leisure Park adjacent to Christ the King Shrine in Gingoog City (CDODev.com)

Meanwhile, construction works on the upcoming CTK Leisure Park adjacent to the shrine continues which aims to establish the complex as a major faith tourism destination with an array of amenities including a Retreat House, Function Hall, View Deck, Gallery of Famous Saints, Souvenir and Coffee Shops, among many others.

There’s a plethora of restaurants, coffee shops and other similar establishments for all budgets that motorists can take a break at and enjoy local specialties like the local coffee and kakanin that have mushroomed along the highway following the increasing influx of tourists.

Fog can sometimes limit visibility along Route N955 so it’s best to drive defensively or even better, take a break at one of the many rest stops along the road. (James Judith)

So if you’re a local from Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog, Villanueva, Claveria or other nearby towns entertaining guests from out-of-town, or  just wanting to take the family on a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life, consider taking a day trip along Route N955.

To paraphrase that popular American travelogue song, “If you ever plan to motor east, travel our way, take the highway that is best. Take a ride on Route N955!”

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