Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trekking to Surigao del Sur’s Tinuy-an Falls

Having seen so many waterfalls in different parts of the country, including world-famous Magdapio (that’s Pagsanjan to you, which should have been named Cavinti since it’s found in that town, not in Pagsanjan, Laguna), mysterious Cambugahay in Siquijor, and slim yet stunning Katibawasan in Camiguin, nothing seemed so breathtaking to me anymore. Seen one, seen them all, I thought. 

That was until I found myself gazing (or was it gaping?) one blissful morning at the picture-perfect magnificence of one cascade hidden somewhere in one of Surigao del Sur’s lush rainforests—Tinuy-an Falls. Suddenly, I was at a loss for superlatives that would aptly describe the three-tiered cascading wonder found just about an hour away from the concrete jungle that is Bislig.

What’s so special about this beauty? For one, it’s often touted as the country’s Little Niagara Falls with an awe-inspiring drop of about 55 meters (180 feet) high. Anyone who’s been to or seen a pic of New York‘s famous falls would surely notice the striking resemblance. Also, Tinuy-an is considered the Philippines’ widest falls with a width of about 95 meters (312 feet).  With its three-tiered flow, it’s undoubtedly one of our most picturesque.

The visit to Bislig’s beautiful cascade came part of a marathon tour of two attractions, the other being the Enchanted River in the neighboring town of Hinatuan. Through a long-time friend, I learned about the adventure being organized by some Davao-based travel aficionados. Immediately, I decided to make myself available one weekend so I can join the escapade to Surigao, which was a homecoming of sorts for me having last visited the place a couple of decades ago.

Leaving Davao City in the wee hours of the morning, the bus carrying an eclectic bunch of nature trippers reached Mangagoy after a night of meandering through the highways of three provinces: Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur. Most of us were snoozing en route to our destination when we were evicted out of dreamland as the bus drove towards a long, potholed stretch that is the old PICOP road. Geez, this used to be a fine access road but it seemed like it had seen better days.

In Mangagoy, we took a quick breakfast and scurried to the secluded village of Borboanan in the outskirts of Bislig where the falls is found. The trek to Tinuy-an gave us a panoramic treat of the countryside, including some attractions that made me realize how blessed we are for possessing so much rustic, virginal beauty—a placid lake, a mighty river, a dense rainforest, verdant fields, and several quaint villages whose folks seemed star-struck upon seeing our vehicle pass by, as if it carried some pop icons they adored.

Minutes later, the bus came to a halt somewhere near a flowing river. This must be the place, I thought. Along with the others, I took my stuff and jumped off the bus.  Then I heard the thunderous roar of falling water and walked towards the source of the sound.  And there it was—the wonder that everyone came to see—gushing, flowing, roaring and beckoning us to explore her grandiose beauty.  Tongue-tied, I held my camera and took my first few shots of our little Niagara.

If there’s something I’d consider an icing on the cake to the tour, it’s none other than the cool and spectacular rainbow that came into our view while we were exploring Tinuy-an. I’ve never been that close to one before so the sight of it thrilled me no end, reminding me of some popular ditties about rainbows including that original rendition by Kermit the Frog. With lightning speed, I took out my camera and snapped at the spectacle before it vanished from our sight. made me wonder whether it was a sign of welcome from some unseen power guarding the falls, a goddess perhaps?

If there’s something I failed to accomplish during the tour, that would be reaching Tinuy-an’s peak. For what I first thought was just a walk in the park turned out to be one uphill struggle. Geez,  I was already having trouble breathing after making it to the initial flight of stairs leading to the falls so I thought I’d die if I went on to the next! With much regret, I had no choice but to go down, eating my heart out as I watched our younger companions eagerly scaling the steep stairway with so much ease. Damn, I need a cardio workout—pronto!

After browsing over what Arthur, our tour organizer, and his gang of photo enthusiasts had taken and uploaded in Facebook, I couldn’t help but drool and be envious of the others who’ve made it there. So, if there’s something I want to do upon seeing Tinuy-an again, that would be making it to the falls’ summit.  I can only wish that such closure would happen not in another decade for fear that I may no longer have the stamina to go there. As the cliché goes, the mind may be willing but the flesh might be too weak.

Here’s a sneak peek at the Philippines’ Little Niagara…:D

Monday, May 17, 2010

Entranced by Surigao del Sur's Enchanted River

In a little known rustic town in Surigao del Sur, shielded from the chaos of urban life and the harsh waves of the Pacific by a dense rainforest and a lush mountainside, lies a slice of paradise that swept me off my feet the moment I saw it—the Enchanted River of Hinatuan! 

I’d been to various towns in the province long before it became part of Caraga Region while working as a researcher. During those trips, I often heard some interesting stories about a deep and dazzling river with crystal clear waters somewhere in the southern tip of Surigao del Sur. Hearing those tall tales whetted my appetite to explore the place. Time and circumstance, however, prevented me from doing that at the time. 

So, when I got wind of a tour being organized by some adventure-hungry friends, I readily signed in for the expedition. I hadn’t been to Surigao in ages so anticipation to see it anew ran high, most specially that spectacular piece of wonder in Hinatuan that I’ve been yearning to explore. 

The tour itself was a hectic 18-hour affair (including the return trip) with the itinerary consisting of visits to two locales: the amazing Tinuy-an Falls in the city of Bislig and the spellbinding river in Hinatuan. So, together with about 40-plus wide-eyed travel aficionados and photography buffs from Davao and elsewhere, I was off to the southern part of Surigao in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.  

By 6 a.m., the bus carrying our entourage reached Mangagoy, the main commercial district in Bislig,  after a bumpy five-hour ride through the countryside. Still dazed and weakened by the lack of sleep, almost everyone on board was eager to grab a hot cup of coffee to perk us up for the much-awaited trek to Tinuy-an Falls where we later lingered for about four hours. 

After basking in the beauty of the falls, we headed for our next destination. Passing by Bislig’s coastal road, we were treated to a magnificent view of the Pacific’s waves hitting the city’s shores. As the bus meandered through the boulevard,  I noticed something different about the city.  Life there seemed to have taken on a slower beat with the closure of PICOP, one of the country’s largest paper mills. Gone was the upbeat spirit that used to pervade it during my previous visits.

As we are about to reach the city’s dilapidated wooden bridge, I overheard a chat between Arthur, our tour organizer, and a fellow tourist. “That bridge (referring to the new one being built adjacent to the old structure) holds the international record of being the ‘longest’ one,” Arthur said in jest. “It’s the ‘longest unfinished bridge’ in the world! Almost ten years in the makingand still counting,” he added. And why is that? “Only this city’s esteemed congressman knows the answer,” he quipped. 

Upon reaching Hinatuan, our bus drove straight into one of the town’s eateries to heed the call of our tummies. To everyone’s delight, lunch consisted of a sumptuous seafood fare—crabs, shrimps and grilled blue marlin. In minutes, the small tables were readily occupied by tired, hungry souls and the mouth-watering feast was gone in minutes. 

Sated, we then hopped into the vehicle again for the exciting journey to the river. On our way there, many thoughts suddenly ran inside my head.  What’s so enchanting about Hinatuan’s river? How come people flock there? Are we going to fall into a spell once we see it? Hmmm... I couldn’t wait to find the answers.
After negotiating through a rugged dirt road leading to the spot, we got to our destination.  Initially, I expected to see a quiet, uninhabited river with no amenities whatsoever. To my surprise, there were picnic huts and tables all over the place, giving it the semblance of a sought-after tourist attraction.  I also thought that only a handful of frolickers would be around as it was a secluded place. To my chagrin, the river and its vicinity was full of tourists from all walks of life!  Almost every nook and cranny was teeming with people, young and old, singles and couples, parents and children.

Nonetheless, my dismay flew out of the window the moment I laid eyes on the blue, sparkling river (or is it a lagoon?) below the cliff from where I stood.  Geez, it was the most picturesque body of water I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I found myself tongue-tied while watching the water seamlessly progressing from emerald green to pale blue and finally to dark blue somewhere in the middle where a deep crevice seemed to have naturally formed. Quickly, I took out my camera and kept on snapping here and there, capturing the river’s best angles as much as I could.

According to the locals, the river’s depth, particularly the dark blue portion, is estimated to be around 24 meters (80 feet).  Gazing for minutes at the enchanting spectacle, I felt some invisible force beckoning me to dive into the deep blue waters.  Maybe that’s the enchantment this river is said to possess, I thought. 

As my diving skills aren’t up to par, I opted for a quick dip somewhere in the lagoon’s shallower waters on the right side. While swimming there, I noticed a signboard across the river which reminded everyone to get out of the water at noon time.

Intrigued, I later sought explanation from one of the caretakers who eagerly told me that various fishes come out and swim in the river at noon, waiting to be fed with bread crumbs and the like. How interesting, I told myself. Too bad we missed that feeding session. I also learned that the locals never harmed nor attempted to catch the fishes there for they believed that these are enchanted and that punishment from some unseen power awaits those who dared.

After wading for a few minutes in the river’s brackish waters, I got out to change clothes, took my camera again and snapped all over the place to my heart’s content. Roaming around, I couldn’t help but marvel at one of God’s most stunning creations in that part of the country.

It was almost 4 p.m. when Arthur decided that it’s time to leave. As I joined the others who were trooping back to the bus, I silently prayed for another chance to return and relive the enchantment that I experienced there. I also wished that the wonderful folks of Hinatuan would go to great lengths to protect their precious river so that it would continue to enchant more and more people for generations to come. 

Here's a video that captured the magic of the Enchanted River...:D