Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dashing into Davao River's Raging Rapids

Whitewater rafting, touted as one of Davao City's newest tourist attractions, caught my fancy when I first saw it on TV a couple of years ago. There was this ad hyping it that got me curious about this extremely interesting water sport.

The ironic part is this: river rafting (or any other water sport) isn't really my cup of tea. But being the part-time daredevil and occasional adrenaline junkie that I am, I told myself I'd give it a try whenever there's a chance to do so. And who wouldn't want to "settle the score" with the mighty river which almost claimed the life of a nine-year old boy playing near its estuary? Now, that would be a much-awaited "sweet revenge", right?

It wasn’t until a few weekends ago that that opportunity surfaced. In a fit of wanton abandon, coupled by a burning desire to get a much-needed rush of adrenaline all over my veins, I joined a bunch of coworkers who wanted to experience the exhilaration of shooting the rapids in Davao River. Originally, there were almost ten people who had committed to join the trek but for one reason or another, only six showed up on the appointed day. RiverOne Adventure, the operator which organized our tour, required at least five rafters in order to properly control the rubber boat. Luckily, our six-man team managed to meet this requirement.

Flushed with excitement, we assembled in RiverOne Adventure's headquarters near the Ateneo de Davao University. After choosing and fitting our gear, each of us signed a waiver releasing the tour operator from any liability in case of injury or death resulting from the trek. Geez, it was at that moment that I realized how risky the ride would be. Unperturbed, I signed the form and handed it over to one of the staff.

Minutes later, we were on our way to the sleepy village of Tamugan somewhere in the outskirts of the city, whose body of water happens to be one of Davao River’s main tributaries.  It was going to be the take-off point of our almost 13-kilometer ride of a lifetime. After a nearly two-hour road trip from the poblacion, we reached our destination. Hopping off the jeepney, I cast a wide-eyed gaze all over the place as it’s my first time to be there and catch a glimpse at Tamugan, the pristine yet polemical river which is being hyped as Davao’s only remaining potable surface water source.

There, the rafting crew briefed us about the basics of whitewater rafting. Jimmy, our navigator, showed us the ropes on wearing our helmets and life vests and using our paddles during the journey. He also taught us the different paddling strokes—forward, back, easy and hard paddle. He added that we would be encountering about 20-30 rapids of varying types while traversing the river. Since it rained hard the previous night, he said that we’d be dealing with lots of class 1 to 3 rapids along the way, which are just perfect for us neophytes in the rafting game.

After the briefing, we carried our rubber boat and brought it into the water. Our navigator then positioned us in the raft.  Henry and I were placed at the boat’s front end—we were supposed to be the lead paddlers. Two others, Jared and Mikai were seated after us, then the two women, Tintin and Aya. Our navigator positioned himself at the boat’s rear. As we wallowed in the shallow waters, Jimmy continued telling us many other things. He pointed out the possibilities of flipping over and capsizing.  

The cruising wasn’t all about clashing with whitewater. We also had our occasional breaks—"calms before the storms"—that enabled us to gather our wits and laugh our scares away. Everyone, I assumed, silently looked forward to those moments. During those lulls, our navigator seized the occasion of briefing us about the next kind of rapids that we’re going to be up against, asking us which path we wanted to take, that is, the route of the “chicken” or the “hero”? 

Most of the fellows opted for the “heroic” routes because of the excitement that went with them.  At some point, I wanted to suggest that we chicken out for a change but I always ended up keeping my thoughts to myself for I didn’t want to be a killjoy.  They all wanted to be heroes, so heroes we will be, come hell or high water!  With a sigh, I silently gave in to the general sentiment, hoping we made the right choices.

In one of our breaks, the navigator also gave us the chance to experience drifting. The swimmers among us didn’t pass up on that moment. Jumping into the murky waters, they allowed themselves to be carried away by the strong current, having the time of their lives as they let the water take them downstream.

Aya then took out her water-proof camera and started snapping at everybody—while drifting, of course. Numerous snaps, shrieks, sculling and swimming later, we were soon getting the hang of rafting. Jimmy called on the others and we started paddling our way towards the final leg of our journey.

After nearly two and a half hours, we finally reached the village of Lacson, our pull-out point, where our jeepney was waiting for us.  Still wet and dripping but flushed with victory of conquering the river,  I gathered my wits—or what’s left of it—and joined my colleagues as we talked about our adventure and posed for posterity’s sake. It was already lunch time when we finished snapping so we proceeded to heed the call of our tummies.

Days passed. Still euphoric over my triumph in the battle against the raging rapids, I learned later that I’ve traversed nearly 8% of Davao River’s 160-kilometer stretch. Not bad for someone whose life’s just began to get exciting and thrilling. For whatever it’s worth, the ride on the wild side of the mighty river is one hell of an adventure I’d probably cherish for a long time, something I’d carry with me to the grave. After all, not everyone gets the chance to exact his “sweet revenge”. Indeed, there can never be glory without guts.

To those who’ve tried braving the treacherous rapids of Davao River, you must be sharing this thought: that you’ve died and gone to heaven for nearly three unforgettable hours and came back more alive, more confident, more inspired. And to those who haven’t, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: I think you’re missing an important part of your journey in this world. Life’s so short, peeps, so why not give it a try? Just make sure you’ve got the doc’s nod to do it. 

So, what are you waiting for? Go, paddle your boat and enjoy the raging rapids…now! (pics courtesy of RiverOne Adventure & R.A. Caligdong)

Here's a short clip of my whitewater rafting experience:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sliding and Shooting at Camp Sabros

Camp Sabros got stuck in my consciousness after hearing the fascinating tales of a colleague who’s tried the zip lines of this scenic eco-adventure resort nestled near the foothills of Mt. Apo. Rising some 1,200 meters above sea level, the mountain haven boasts of having some of the country’s most exciting zip wires which treat “death sliders” to a thrill ride over a dazzling canopy of verdant conifers, trees, bushes and shrubs with the Philippines’ highest mountain looming at a distance.

Little did I know that it would also become the setting for what I consider my first “professional photoshoot”— alas, minus the professional fee!—of former officemates, a group of bubbly, wannabe cover girls (isn’t it too late, ladies? LOL!) who were craving to be snapped with the majestic mountain at the background. Although I wanted to see the place, I never expected it to happen so soon. But the eager beavers at my previous office found a way to fix everyone’s schedule so there we were during one weekend, having the time of our lives in the highlands of Kapatagan in Digos City.

The visit to Sabros presented opportunities for each one of us to realize what we had long wanted to do. On my part, it would enable me to accomplish at least four things: one, make up for some “broken promises” I made to the women; two, do my homework on nature photography; third, gaze anew at Apo’s grandeur (which I haven’t seen up close for about five years since climbing it in 2005); and lastly, try the resort’s zip lines, which, I got to see for the first time on a TV show (Sports Unlimited, if I’m not mistaken). So, I gave in to the “request” (or was it a “demand”?) for a late summer shoot in the uplands.

After picking up my models from all over Davao City, we went on with the trip to nearby Davao del Sur. I felt nostalgic as I caught a glimpse of the many familiar sights in the progressive town of Sta. Cruz which I haven’t seen in a long time. A few kilometers before reaching downtown Digos, we turned right and headed straight towards Kapatagan. As we trod the narrow zigzagging road that reminded me of Baguio, the journey treated us to charming vistas of the countryside, leaving everyone gushing over the magnificence of God’s creations in that part of the country.

Two hours down the road, we finally reached the outpost of the Mt. Apo Natural Park, which is adjacent to the jump-off point for visitors going to Sabros. Although cars may be brought up all the way to the mountain resort, we decided to leave and park our SUV at the vacant lot near the outpost for fear that we might get stuck in the muddy trail. Since it rained hard the night prior to our visit, the dirt road leading to the camp was almost impassable to four-wheel vehicles.

That left us with three options to get to our destination:  go on foot, ride any habal-habal plying the route, or hop on any of the horses.  Jay, our driver, and I opted to hike all the way to the camp. Mabel, Tess and Bing joined us while Cynthia and Pris rode the horses. Halfway through the trek, however, the three got on the first horse they could find when the going got toughest.

An overcast sky hovered above us as we continued treading towards the camp. The featureless white sky somewhat worried me because I wanted so much to take my subjects’ snaps with the rustic beauty of Kapatagan’s terrain—gently rolling knolls, pine tree-lined paths and verdant grasslands—and the formidable presence of Mt. Apo at the background.

I shot a glance at the mountain but couldn’t see a trace of it as thick clouds shrouded it. Maybe it’ll show up later, I thought. But if it doesn’t (and it didn’t!), then I’ll have to consider some options. At that point, I also became anxious over the glaring brightness overpowering the other elements in my frame. So, I started cracking my head for alternatives. I may have to narrow my focus on smaller scenes and close-up shots that wouldn’t depend on an overcast sky. I may have to block much of the light with trees and foliage. Or, I may have to leave the vanilla sky out of the frame entirely.

After some time, we chanced upon a few locals every now and then whom I bothered with the same question: “How far are we from Camp Sabros?” Their standard reply was: “It’s just around the corner”. But as we trod further, the trail seemed to get longer, the air colder, the terrain steeper. The whole stretch, I found out later, turned out to be over a kilometer away from the highway!
By the time I reached the entrance to the camp, I was already breathing heavily and sweating profusely. I haven’t hiked on rugged elevations for ages so it felt like my lungs would burst. Geez, that made me realize that lowlanders who  hardly leave their comfort zones—that includes me!—ought to re-examine their understanding of distances if they are to survive the mountains.  

It was past chow time when we arrived so everyone was eager to find a place to eat. The women immediately found us a table near the camp’s viewing deck, placing all the food they prepared. The hearty lunch turned out to be one of best meals I ever had with old friends, spiced up by occasional pauses for photo ops and humorous banter as we talked about anything under the sun.

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After eating, the models got ready for the shoot while I roamed around Camp Sabros in search for perfect backdrops. But I didn’t meander too far because every nook and cranny of the resort is a photographer’s delight. When my models came in, a golden blaze of sunlight began to fill the camp’s surroundings. 

It was the moment I’ve been waiting for.  I had to shoot fast before it’s gone. In minutes, my shutter started to work. Flushed with excitement, the wannabe cover girls displayed their picture-perfect poses. Like convent girls who’ve seen the outside world for the first time, they smiled, shrieked, snickered and shuffled to their hearts’ content as we went shooting around the camp. Hours later, they felt they had enough and called off the shoot. Except for Pris and Cynthia, the rest went back to our quiet corner at the viewing deck to rest.

Meanwhile, the three of us headed for the zip lines. When we got there, a fairly large crowd was already at the staging area for the 400-meter zip. I was amazed to see a diverse assemblage of people who’ve been infected by the zipping “virus”—men, women, parents, children, teens, adults, singles, couples, families—all wanting to experience what it feels to fly.

Like the zip lines in Lake Sebu, “zippers” were made to wear safety helmets and fastened to a harness that was hooked to a cable wire. They were also asked to fall into a lying position as they slid into the air. But unlike my Lake Sebu experience where I flew with a buddy, I went solo this time. While waiting for my turn, I felt giddy knowing that I was out on my own crossing the great divide. But I psyched myself up to just enjoy the trip through the wire. After all, I’ve done it before—at a much higher elevation at that. So before the crew released me into mid-air, I was already in a ready-for-take-off mode. 

Soon, I was flying over lush conifers, shrubs and vegetation. No word comes close to describing what I felt during those few seconds in mid-air. I wanted to shout but no sound came out of my mouth; I was tongued-tied with wonder as I gazed at the beauty all around me. Geez, Clark Kent must have felt that way when he learned he had the gift of flight.

While waiting for the jeep that would take me and the others to our return flight, I killed time taking snaps at the awesome foothills of Mt. Apo which appeared nearer from where I stood. Later, I joined a band of vivacious zippers, who came all the way from Cebu just to experience the flight of fancy at Sabros, as we headed for the staging area of the 380-meter zip where we had another great flying experience.

All told, the shooting and sliding at Sabros were among the most exciting and daring things I’ve done in years.  It was one weekend well spent to accomplish so many in one sitting. But there are two things I missed doing when I was there. One is riding aboard the cable lift (which I’ve tried once in Singapore) and trying out one of the camp’s more recent attractions—the treetop rappel. Hmmm…I think I know what I’m going to do the next time I visit that mountain haven in Kapatagan. :D