Saturday, June 1, 2019

Chasing Iligan City's Cascades

In many cities in the country, rapid urbanization, along with increased climate risks—floods, droughts, erosion, siltation, and salinity intrusion—are posing herculean challenges for water management. It’s heartwarming to know then that a few seem to be doing well in protecting the environment, having made eco-friendliness a top priority.  In these cities, some of nature’s best—lakes, rivers, waterfalls, springs—have been well-managed and protected despite the inroads of environmental degradation. Iligan belongs to this A-list.  

Tinago Falls

Known as the “City of Majestic Waterfalls”, the highly urbanized city in Northern Mindanao has kept its twenty-three (the known ones so far) captivating cascades and dozens of cold springs in a relatively impeccable state. Known for its pristine, cool and crystal clear waterfalls, the city draws huge throngs of tourists who flock to its numerous watering holes to bum, bathe, banter, binge, and what have you, especially during the summer months.

Iligan may be one of the thriving industrial hubs in the Philippines yet its natural endowments have been preserved for both locals and tourists to behold. Credit goes to the people and the local government who’ve gone to great lengths to make Iligan a clean, livable, and sustainable industrial enclave—a green city or eco-friendly zone, if you wish to call it—not necessarily 100% perfect in the strictest sense but pristine enough to be at par with some of the world’s greenest metropolises.

Chasing Iligan's cascades has always been in the back of my mind but for years it has remained on the back burner for one reason or another. This summer, however, I finally realized my dream of exploring the city’s awe-inspiring falls. Heeding Iligan's siren call, I hit the road one exciting weekend and went to the city for what turned out to be my last summer hurrah. Joining me were four young weekend warriors I fondly call the “wenkies” who’ve also been wanting to explore Iligan—Jio, Juneis, Roxanne, and Sherie. 

What’s in a Name?
Like the other cities with unique names that I’ve visited, that of Iligan also puzzled me. At some point, I even surmised that it originated from the Hiligaynon word, ilig, meaning “to flow” given the numerous bodies of water found all over its rugged landscape. I was mistaken. Goggle-ing it, I stumbled upon a number of interesting accounts explaining how its name came to be.

One account claimed that long before the Spanish colonizers reached these shores, the Higaonon tribes occupied what is now present-day Iligan. To keep it secured, they built an iligan, or ilijan (the indigenous term for “fortress of defense”) on the coastal plain to quell pirates and other savage tribes that wanted to invade the settlement.

Another one theorized that the name came from the seasonal surge and outflow of Iligan’s two major rivers, namely, Agus and Mandulog, which the locals call ilig. For the Cebuano-speaking migrants from the Visayas who have settled there for good, however, Iligan simply means "where good fortune gravitates". 

Of the three abovementioned accounts, I deem the first one to be the more plausible explanation on how the city came to be known as Iligan—a “fortress of defense” that’s worth visiting and exploring for it is where “good fortune” that helps sustain the whole of Mindanao flows!

The once small town’s “good fortune” is said to have begun in the 1950s when the National Power Corporation (NPC) started to put up its hydroelectric power plant, Agus IV, the country’s first underground hydroelectric power plant in Mindanao. Then came Agus VI and Agus VII. All three help supply the island’s power requirements up to the present time.

The coming in of several manufacturing companies and industrial plants have also bolstered the city’s fortunes, earning for Iligan the title, “Industrial Center of the South.” These firms produce steel, tinplate, galvanized iron, crude coconut oil, cement, fertilizer and flour that help fuel not only the island’s economy but the whole nation as well. Together with its neighbor Cagayan de Oro or CDO, Iligan is the other major player in the so-called Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Industrial Corridor, the fastest growing area in the northern part of the island.

A Quick Peek

The recent sojourn to Iligan wasn’t my first. I’ve laid eyes on it many moons ago on my way to the cities of Ozamiz and Oroquieta in Misamis Occidental. As the bus trod the narrow streets of the city, I caught quick glimpses of Iligan’s cityscape: old buildings juxtaposed with new ones, narrow streets teeming with people, numerous spring resorts overflowing with bathers, swimmers, and a whole lot more.

Maria Cristina Falls

The brief interlude in the city that time also enabled me to see for the first time the Macaraeg-Macapagal Ancestral House, which happens to be the residence of two former presidents of the republic, the late Diosdado Macapagal and his daughter, the controversial Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.   

That quick peek at Iligan instantly extinguished my misgivings about the place; it’s far from the strife-torn city I had imagined it to be, where people of different faiths engage in senseless carnage every day. As it turned out, Iligan is one of Mindanao’s showcases of the peaceful co-existence between Christians, Muslims and lumads

Having seen little of the city that time, I felt that a sojourn no matter how short should be forthcoming if only to satisfy my curiosity for Iligan. On my way home from Misamis Occidental, I intended to stay for one more day in the city to explore some of its waterfalls. The plan, however, didn’t materialize. Good thing, it finally came to fruition this summer. So it was with ineffable exhilaration that I found my way back to one of Northern Mindanao’s flourishing urban centers—after seven long years!

On this recent sortie to Iligan, a visit to some of its cascading beauties was on top of my itinerary. But with only a day to spare for the adventure, I managed to explore the three accessible ones, Maria Cristina, Tinago and Mimbalot Falls, which form part of the so-called “Tourism Triangle of Iligan”.

Majestic Falls

Arriving in Iligan a little past 9 AM from CDO, we immediately headed for our first destination: Maria Cristina Falls. The smooth drive to the famous falls offered me glimpses of the city’s rustic charm, which seemed incongruous given its industrial setting. Reaching the NPC complex, we pulled over and walked our way towards the popular waterfall.

When we finally got inside, my companions and I proceeded towards the view deck where visitors can gaze at the country’s second highest falls.  Water from Maria Cristina Falls comes from the mighty Agus River which drains to Iligan Bay.  From what I’ve gathered, it powers the Agus VI and VII. The falls, which is around 9.3 kilometers away southwest of the city center, is bordered by the villages of Maria Cristina, Ditucalan and Buru-un.

 Maria Cristina as seen from the view deck

Finally, in the blink of an eye, I saw it—the roaring maelstrom that’s been featured in almost every conceivable form of media I’ve known—books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, film, the Internet, social media sites, etc. For what seemed like eternity, I just stood there—stupefied, speechless, spellbound by a stunning beauty whose impeccably white drop of 98 meters (320 feet) make her the undisputed “Queen of Philippine Waterfalls”.

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Geez, this awesome cascade is the very definition of the word “majestic”! Suddenly, I realized that only one of the “Twin Falls” was “present”. The waterfall actually has two flows that are separated by a rock at the edge of the cascades, hence, the monicker. Even so, it still felt exhilarating to finally see the falls up close (but not as close as I wanted it to be!) and personal.

Brimming with excitement, I quickly held up my camera and started shooting at the cascading beauty. So did my three companions who were armed with phone cameras. Wasting no time, we took loads of selfies, duofies, and groupfies with the falls at the backdrop! Shooting the “queen” was definitely one of the most defining moments of our adventure to that part of Northern Mindanao!

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Hidden Falls 

After our awe-inspiring encounter with Maria Cristina Falls, we proceeded to the next leg of our trek: Tinago Falls. The breathtaking cascade, whose name means “hidden” in Filipino, is located in the boundary of the villages of Purakan (in the town of Linamon) and Ditucalan (in Iligan City). Since Tinago can also be accessed through the former, it is sometimes called Linamon Falls. To reach Tinago, we, however, passed through the well-paved interior road that connected the villages of Buru-un and Ditucalan.

The drive to Tinago was an exciting countryside tour that gave us glimpses of Iligan’s rustic sceneries. From the main road, we then drove through the inner road leading to the falls. Hidden in a forested area, the cascade nestles in a deep ravine about 13.8 kilometers away from the city.

We pulled over at a clearing where the registration and parking areas are located. There are a few stalls offering a variety of goods–swimwear, life jackets, shorts, homemade goodies, fruits, trinkets, souvenirs, mineral water, and the like. Tourists can also avail of the services of local guides who will show them the way and take care of their stuff while they swim in the lagoon. We hired two guides.

Old growth trees surrounding Tinago Falls

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Going down to the falls proved to be easy; going up, however, is the challenging part! In both instances, however, we had to negotiate through a 500-step(?) newly-built stairway that snaked its way to the falls! Earlier, our guides assured us that it’s way better than the old wood-and-stone staircase that visitors used to walk over before the local government replaced it with the new one made of concrete-and-iron.

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The trek to Tinago Falls proved to be the crowning glory of our weekend wandering in Iligan. Every pant, every ache, every drop of sweat going down and up to the falls was worth it all! Tinago had me at first sight; I was instantly enamored by its beauty the moment I laid eyes on it. I felt like staring at some scene from an old film I’ve seen somewhere as it turned from reel to real—all in living color!

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Tinago’s refreshing waters drop at an altitude of about 73 meters (240 feet) from the steep cliff into a cerulean blue natural pool that’s the perfect pleasure ground for divers, swimmers and bathers. Water is said to be coming from the outflow of Lake Lanao, flowing to Agus River that cuts into two channels before going to Iligan Bay. One channel goes to Maria Christina Falls while the other to Tinago Falls.

Mimbalot Falls

Basin Falls

Inspired by our personal triumphs at the two cascades, we went on with the visit to the last one in our itinerary: Mimbalot Falls, the 27-meter (90-feet) cascading beauty in the village of Buru-un.  Perhaps the least known among the three that we visited, Mimbalot is the most accessible, just about 500 meters away from the highway. If you come from Iligan, it lies only eleven km from the city proper and can be reached either through public or private vehicles.  

The charming cascade plummets into a path full of large boulders, forming little basins and smaller waterfalls. Swimmers would surely enjoy taking a dip in the numerous pool basins below the falls. Caveat: The rocks are quite slippery so revelers should take extra caution. Because it’s open to the public, visitors can expect to share some space with the locals who do their laundry and take a bath there.

Situated near the falls is the privately-owned Iligan Paradise Resort and Eco-Park where visitors can luxuriate in the numerous man-made swimming pools whose waters come from Mimbalot. It also has open-air cottages and picnic tables where bathers can gather to eat, chat, and rest. Honestly, I felt that the resort took away some of Mimbalot’s natural charms.

Even so, the resort also has other amenities for adventure junkies including a zipline and a cable car that treat riders to a spectacular view of the falls below them! I also heard that they offer kayaking, horseback riding, and other exciting activities. As we only had limited time to spare, we didn’t avail of the said amenities. Maybe next time.

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Mimbalot may not be as grand and magnificent as the others that I’ve seen but the cascade has a charisma of its own that beckons tourists to drop by for a refreshing break from the hurly-burly of urban life life. For me and the wenkies, it was well worth the trip to Buru-un even though we didn’t linger there. I guess that the selfies and groupfies are enough proofs that we enjoyed the encounter with the falls short as it was.  

Truly, the city is blessed to have been endowed by capricious nature with these enthralling water bodies whose charm and beauty lure many people during their wanderings in that part of the island. As rapid urbanization continues to spread all over Iligan, I can only wish that these three waterfalls as well as the city's other watery attractions would remain pristine for many more years to come and for many generations to enjoy. 🤩🤩🤩