“What is life but one great adventure.”
Oh, brother! The only Evel Knievel-ish thing I would risk doing is, perhaps, crossing the busy Colon Street at the rush hour when the lights are green. But, two weeks ago I made an exemption. I finally confronted two of my worst fears: swimming and falling.
It is one thing to talk about pushing the self to its limits, about breaking out of our comfort zones. Doing it, however, is another. The question, perhaps, is: Is it really possible to discover better versions of our loser selves?
Alright. Before I tell the story of that existence-affirming experience two weeks ago in Badian, know these not-so-flattering tidbits about me.
- I am a landlubber and a hopeless dead weight in the water.
- I am overweight at 78 kilograms in a 5-foot-and-5-inch build of a typical brown man.
- I am deprived of any athletic prowess despite the persistent motivation from one persistent football coach that fell into deaf ears and stubborn two left legs.
- I also have this unhealthy penchant for defying the laws of nature as set by the terms 1, 2 and 3.
The point is if I could do this, there is no reason you can’t.
Allow me to indulge your patience and dilly-dally a little more to emphasize the importance of the following:
- Fun should never be at the expense of safety. Don’t get cocky. Put your safety above anything else. And, just in case, you cannot do it for yourself. Do it for those whom you love and those who love you.
- Don’t be unreasonably stingy. Hire a trusted travel agency to look after you while you make the most out of the experience. A few extra pesos should not hold you back from living life to its fullest.
- Being scared is rational. You are scared because you are wise. Make sure that you are in good hands. Get hold of a well-trained and reliable guide to watch your back.
- Enjoy the experience. Live it. Let go of the worries and have the best time of your life.
Book your adventure now. Let Island Trek Tours take care of everything for you while you live in the moment.
I’ve always been afraid of heights. And, I haven’t known how to swim despite the fact that I grew up in a coastal village and the sea was literally our playground. Having said that, jumping off waterfalls one after the other should then be the last thing I would be doing – that is if I were screwed tight in the head.
Six months before, some friends at work invited me to go canyoneering in Badian. I had been in the mountaineering scene for a few months then and it was only logical that I would try something extreme — to “up” my game, so they said. I usually responded with a forced smile and the vaguest of replies trying to avoid a definite YES without exposing the chicken that I was. That was a ploy I mastered so well that they soon dropped the topic.
However, as fate would have it, just few weeks ago, I received an invitation from a high school friend, Edgar, who owns Island Trek Tours, to go and court death either by falling or drowning – or, if I was especially unfortunate, by both. As I was wont to do, I tried to think of any possible reason to say NO to an old pal – but I couldn’t find any without blowing my cover of a tattooed macho man. So, I found myself committing to something I had avoided like the plague before.
As the D’Day came nearer, I got cold feet and tried to back out. A storm was brewing in Luzon so I asked Edgar if we could suspend the trip until the storm passed. I was not above harnessing the forces of nature just to save my sorry ass. That didn’t work. My friend assured me that the storm was far from Cebu and he could guarantee our safety. After all, that is the principle that his business is built upon – safety. He told me, however, that if it rained hard, he would cancel the trip. And, that put me at ease – that and the apparent lack of choice.
And, the day came!
Pick up was at five o’clock in the morning in Ayala. At half an hour before five, we were already at the meeting place. I tried appearing calm and composed – but the jitters were there as they had been since that fateful day two weeks before. There were two of us — the girlfriend and I. I was clandestinely observing the skies silently praying God would allow it to rain that day. But, the eastern sky was clear albeit dark. Timid sun rays were showing themselves through the slits of the absconding darkness of dawn. I knew it was going to be a sunny day. I let a sigh escape me. This is it, I thought. The day has come. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts – who was I fooling?
A big blue pick-up stopped by; our ride came. Two smiling faces, Edgar and Betsabe’s – two high school mates from down South, peered from the mirrored window of the car. I took one final glance at the skies hoping not to see that proverbial silver lining – I hoped it would rain.
We would be on the road for two and a half hours on our way to Badian. The sky cleared and I was glad to see that I was able to take my mind off the macabre thoughts that had haunted me for days. Seeing two old friends happily married for more than three years now had that comforting effect. We chatted about high school, old friends and old memories. We talked about what happened after graduation and about the extra pounds we seemed to be gaining through the years. We asked after some people we knew and missed. For a brief moment, I forgot the scary canyon of Badian waiting for us two hours and a half away.
After that long trip down memory lane, we arrived in Badian. The town had just roused hesitantly from sleep when we got there, but the curious feeling of gaiety was in the air. I had been to the town several times already but the town that used to be rather sleepy – which was charming in its own right – was quite festive very early in the morning. It was the weekend, so a good number of tourists were already there trying to book the canyoneering experience for the day. The smell of the hot cup of coffee and the lively but nervous chatters among the guests gathering in Albert’s house for the orientation were surprisingly reassuring. Albert was the head guide for our canyoneering escapade. Edgar and Island Trek Tours trusted – and still do – Albert’s familiarity with the canyons of Badian. He was one of the men who established the trail for the canyoneering. Albert explained to us how safety should be ensured during the adventure. He told us to trust our guides and rest assured that we’re in good hands. He taught us how to strap the life vest properly. He also provided us with helmets to protect our heads; trekking shoes were also available. Each guide had their dry bags with them so we could also bring our valuables to the canyoneering.
Take that leap of faith!
The canyoneering route used to stretch from Alergria to Badian but due to some differences between the two neighboring towns, the trail was cut in two with Badian getting the longer part. The new route in Badian started in Sulsugan – a barangay just 20 minutes away from Matutinao, where Albert’s home was. The road to Sulsugan was relatively smooth despite the fact that it was newly paved and construction was still going on. We registered ourselves at a booth near the barangay hall and signed a waiver. One curious thing, however, was how seemingly organized the facilitation of the canyoneering despite the issue with Alegria being a shocker to everyone. The willing cooperation among the people of Badian in supporting the town’s tourism campaign was admirable. I just hope things will be ironed out soon.
From the registration area, we went for another thirty-minute trek to the jump-off point. The trek was quite challenging under the blistering noonday sun. Umbrellas were available for use without any additional charge and that was awesome for a cheapskate like me. We just had to return it at the end of the trek – and that’s before we jump off our first falls, of course. It’s advisable to keep our hands free all throughout the adventure to make sure our reflexes were not impeded by anything. Along the way, we saw some small stores tended by locals selling buko, lanzones, and many other things. We rested for a few minutes before we proceeded to the last stretch of the trek.
We took a rather steep descent as we came nearer to the jump-off point. We could hear the brusque rustling of the river below. We were trying to be very careful not to take a wrong step for the pathway was a bit slippery. Steps were freshly carved on the earth to make foothold firmer and more stable. Wooden rails were also installed by the dirt path for support. There were at least thirty people who were with us that day but they had their own guide to look after them. Knowing that our safety was really placed above anything else, I felt less scared – but I was still scared shit alright.
The beginning point of the canyoneering was marked by an imposing structure of stalactites looming over the strong current of the Matutinao River. The queue was long and we had to wait for our turn to jump – not that I was especially eager to take my first jump, but watching those ahead of us jumping – and screaming – one after the other, made me feel the rush of the excitement. One tip: if you think it would take you some time to muster the courage to jump, do yourself a favor and examine your life priorities at the end of the queue; otherwise, you would piss off a lot of adrenaline-intoxicated junkies.
My turn came. The guide kindly showed us how to do it. I pictured out how the jump would go. I took a step and leaped into the blue-green water. I plunged into a steep dive and the God-given vest around me pushed me up into the surface. Thank God for life vests. I forgot one thing though: I did not cover my nose during the jump and the sudden surge of water invading the hairy crevices of my nose did hurt like hell. Other than that, I had the greatest time. The girlfriend jumped next. Look at the photo below. That said it all.
As we went further down the river, the current was even stronger – which made swimming easier but trickier. We had to take control of where the current carried us to; otherwise, we’d bounce head first against the hard walls of the canyon. Canyoneering during strong rainy days is strictly not allowed for the current may gain fatal strength due to the added volume of water, said the guide. Again, safety is above anything else.
The interesting rock formations along the river were made for great activities in bouldering, wall climbing and some minor spelunking – plus, there was always swimming, er, especially swimming. Somehow, that day made me forget I didn’t know how to swim. Our life vests and helmets were our best friends that day.
There were at least five falls to jump off in the entire course. Some were tall and powerful and these were the ones that made me doubt my existence for a while. Others were not really that big but still scary nonetheless. Some jumps were required – meaning there was no way we could get out of them and jumping was a must; others weren’t. There was one drop where we were asked to simply lie down and be carried away by the current to at least a five-foot fall. We were instructed to never attempt to stand up to avoid injury. We just had to trust we wouldn’t be falling flat and hard against the floor of water below. And that piece of derring-do was a must.
We came to a big canyon – well, at least, big enough to hold several barbecue stalls on it. There, the party seemed to converge atop that one big cliff overlooking the blue-green water some thirty feet below. And, as if the height wasn’t enough to make your knees crumble, the clearance for the jump (I am referring to the distance between the cliff we were standing on and the cliff of the opposite canyon) was not more than fifteen feet – I am guessing here, but the point is it was so narrow that I was not sure one could make the jump without bouncing off the rough walls of the canyons. The good thing was it was optional. So, I gladly took the best option there was and lived another day. I couldn’t take chances any more. I already risked my life more than I could imagine. But, many took the jump. I couldn’t watch it. I feared for their lives. Surprisingly – and thankfully, if I might add, everyone made it in one piece. Maybe, next time, I would take up the challenge. Hopefully, that next time wouldn’t be too soon. After that thirty-foot vertical drop, the remaining part of the course was relatively easy. It was right in my alley as it was a trek on solid ground. We were entering the vicinity of the Kawasan Falls.
The Kawasan Falls is made up of three big falls – all awe-inspiring. I’ve been to the place for at least five times already and I have never been disappointed. However, if it is solitude that you are after, then don’t go there during the weekend. The place will be overrun by tourists and their black bikinis and washboard abs. It is not that it is bad but you will meet a lot of things there but solitude. And, you don’t need the extra dose of self-pity really. You’re flabby self is more than fine. You can always call it dadbod.
We went straight down to the first falls. Lunch was waiting for us there. Typical for any Filipino restaurant, the usual menu consisted of fish, seafood, pork and chicken. Refreshments were available too. I heard tuba might even be served upon request. Tuba is fermented palm juice mixed with some tan barks creating the reddish wine.
Let us give credit when it’s due!
The success of the eco-tourism drive of Badian can be credited to the unending support of its townspeople. I have seen the same commendable campaigns in towns like Aloguinsan (you can check on my post about Bojo River and Hermit’s Cove) and the apparent rehabilitation program of the Osmeña Peak in Dalaguete.
Good stewardship is what they call it. We are said to be the caretakers of the place we live in. We till the land and live off it. It is only just that we give something back. While eco-tourism provides food on our tables, it also means preserving the earth. Tourism and Livelihood. Ecological Awareness. The key is maintaining balance between both. The taste of fame and popularity can be intoxicating but it should not be at the expense of that which provides us food. Never bite off the hand that feeds us.
I am thanking my good friend, Edgar Mirambel, his wife, Betsabe, and Island Trek Tours for the wonderful experience. Each tour package is well-thought with giving your clients what their money’s worth as the driving principle. Until next time! Keep up the work!