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

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