I was itching for Kidapawan durian. It was driving me kind of crazy. Since 2012, when I first heard about Kidapawan’s famous fruit festivals, the city near Mount Apo had been looping in my head like an unfinished verse of a too-catchy song. I knew the only way to get it out of my head was to go there and see for myself.
I wanted a road trip. The girls-only, stupid-pop-song-too-loud kind of freedom I remembered from high school summers cruising my small hometown.
The Kalivungan Festival was happening, it was durian season, and once I cajoled my friend Sahara into joining me, our Kidapawan durian road trip was on!
Renting a Car in Davao City
I’d stubbornly decided I wanted to rent a car. Outside of big cities, it’s rarely easy to do serious durian hunting by public transit. If you’re always taking taxis the costs can be the same or more than just renting a motorbike or even a car.
For our trip, I went to Diamond Rentals in Davao City. They set me up with a squeaky clean red car for only 1,000 pesos ($54 USD) per 24 hours. This was incredibly cheap compared to other companies, which wanted as much as 4,500 PHP to take the car outside of Davao City.
The downside? A single hairline scratch would cost me 5,000 PHP ($270 USD). The result was major anxiety as I crept out of the car lot, through Davao City’s traffic , and south down the highway to pick up my friend Sahara in Digos City.
Although I’m an American, it had been a long time since I’d driven on the right side of the road. I had to unscramble my brain at the same time as navigating weaving tricycles, snorting jeepnees, and rumbling lorries.
From my perspective, it looked like this:
Getting to Kidapawan
I took the AH26 highway along the coast, which was smooth cruising with some pretty amazing views over a turquoise ocean.
Then I entered the first construction zone.
I spent a tense hour creeping along the unpaved road, my heart jackhammering every time a pebble dinged against the side of my little red car. Was that the fateful hairline scratch?
When we stopped along the highway to eat marang, I checked the car for scratches.
At Digos City we turned north again, but inland around the backside of Mt. Apo. The road went up, and up, and up, and as we ascended into cooler air we passed stall after stall dangling marang, one of my most favorite fruits in the world.
Marang is a relative of jackfruit, in the Artocarpus family. The fruits can be as big as a soccer ball, covered in dense, velcro-like hairs that literally stick to your clothing.
You open marang by grasping either side of the fruit and pulling the hairs apart. This reveals shiny, slippery white beads of flesh arranged around a central core like a corn cob.
It’s juicy with a sugar-frosted vanilla sweetness.
If it weren’t absolute heresy to admit it on this site, I might say that I like marang more than durian.
But I won’t. Because heresy.
Where We Stayed in Kidapawan
We could have stayed in Kidapawan City, but with Kalivungan Festival many of the cheap backpacker places were full. Besides, we had a car. Why should we stay in the city when we had the power to roam further afield?
We decided to spend the night at Lake Agco Resort in the volcanic highlands of Mount Apo National Park. The resort is 21 km from Kidapawan City on a clean paved road, but in the dark it felt a long, long, long way from anything. It took us about 40 minutes to get there.
I was nervous by the time we checked into Lake Agco Resort, and I was glad I wasn’t alone. It felt remote. I didn’t see any other guests at the hotel. The place seemed almost abandoned, except for a guard at the gatehouse.
It was cold up there, and we shivered as we got ready for bed. We had a small bathroom with sink and toilet attached to our room, but no running water, so I ended up showering with a bucket in the public dressing room.
If I’d thought about it, I could have just jumped in the geothermally heated pool. But in the dark I didn’t realize that the fog was actually steam. I saw the pools in the morning.
Lake Agco Hotsprings in Kidapawan
We woke early to try and catch sunrise over Lake Agco. We walked across the gravel driveway to the entrance of the hot springs. In the morning light, hawkers were readying their souvenirs and tourist baubles. It cost 20 RM each to enter the hot springs.
The walk from the entrance to the first mud pool was about 1/4 mile, and then we were at the steamy rim of a body of water.
Through the thick clouds I couldn’t see at first how big Lake Agco was.
Mud pots gurgled and burped along the shoreline. I leaned over the sulfur smelling vents, hearing the suck of air and marveling at the hot wind on my face. You would never be allowed this close to active volcanic vents in the US, I thought. It was kind of exhilarating.
If we’d had more time or were in the mood, we could have wallowed in the hot, healing mud baths. As we returned to the resort, the first busload of day tourists arrived. Someone flipped on dance music at the pool, and the serene, slightly eery silence that had hung over the Lake Agco complex was broken.
It was durian time anyway. We got in our little red car and headed off the Kalivungan festival to see what Kidapawan durians we could find.
The Kalivungan Festival
We were lucky to catch the last day of the Kalivungan Festival. This festival celebrates the founding of the province of Cotabato. It was a good reminder that we weren’t in Davao anymore.
It was crazy crowded with families there to eat, hang out, and watch their children participate in the dances.
Drums hammered away on the field as the dancers shook their cardboard placards, dancing and weaving. I only saw them from the side, but I imagine from the front it looked much more impressive.
We watched one of the dances, then wound our way into the crowd to look for something D’eat.
It was crowded at the durian stalls too. There was a line of tarp covered bamboo tables, heaped high with durian, mangosteens and lanzones, along one corner of the festival grounds.
We could barely get into the queue for durian, and definitely couldn’t find a table to sit at. Then Mira Bilagtas shepherded us into the center of the durian stall and set us up with three chairs and some durian.
I didn’t want to sit anyway. There was too much to look at and photograph and taste.
She had two types of durian I’d never heard of, along with the Duyaya we’d tasted at the Belviz farms.
The Duyaya was selling like hotcakes. Looking around, I saw a Duyaya on most people’s tables. The massive, fleshy durian has an amazing color that’s immediately appealing, and if you have to share with a big group or piggish family members, it works out well.
But Sahara and I were after taste, not just full bellies, so we decided to add to our collection by experiencing the Umali.
Umali was one of the durians I was hoping to find in Kidapawan. It doesn’t originate in Kidapawan, but somehow over the years Umali has become one of the more commonly grown durians in Kidapawan.
It isn’t really grown closer to Davao, as far as I know. In fact, the only stalls I know selling Umali in Davao City are sourcing it from Kidapawan.
On the outside, Umali looked a lot like a small Monthong.
It had the green base with brown thorn that came to a curved tip, and locules that protruded lopsidedly, as if it hadn’t been pollinated well.
Inside, it still looked quite a bit like Monthong. The pods were huge, and fleshy, and firm.
But it didn’t taste like Monthong. It was denser than any Monthong I’ve ever had, and it lacked the fruity sweetness, almost like fruit loop frosting, that I’ve come to associate with Monthong.
Instead, it was just pure unsweetened cream, like biting into a block of chilled coconut milk. It reminded the most of D24, and I decided on the spot that Umali is one of my favorite Philippine durian varieties and a runner up for the Best of 2016.
The only other durian variety available was a mystery fruit called Cojuangco TD. This name seems to refer to the family who owns the farm in Malitas, rather than a durian variety.
We didn’t buy one, because it looked boringly like a Monthong and we’re just not into that.
Go to the Philippine Durian Varieties to see the inside.
The moment I turned the steering wheel and slowly maneuvered the car back into its spot in the Diamond Rental lot, I realized how anxious I’d been for the past 24 hours. That 5,000 peso fine for a hairline scratch was worrisome.
Miraculously, the car was unscathed. After the construction on the roads, which sent pebbles and dust rattling around the tires, I had sort of readied myself for the worst. I walked out feeling surprised and deeply lucky.
Despite the constant worry, I had a great time with Sahara. We had all the quintessential elements of a good road trip: a good friend, some tunes, only a vague sense of purpose (find durian, look around), and plenty of time to get to Kidapawan and back.
Best of all, I’ve now eaten Kidapawan durian.