Surigao del Sur in 12 hours

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FIVE destinations in 12 hours, our itinerary said. Our first stop, 143 kilometers away.

But at 6 a.m. and running on four hours of sleep, that hardly registered on my mind, as I followed my companions to the van, still hoping to get a bit of shut-eye on the way. A drive-thru, a few ‘good mornings’ and some chitchat later, I had my headphones and sunglasses on, glaringly unaware of the day ahead.

The sights we passed by, though, were hard to shut out. We drove on rolling terrain nestled in lush greenery, through a foggy area on highland, then along so many waterways and past a lake. Gas stations and pit stops were few and far between, much to my bladder’s discomfort, perhaps a small price to pay to experience such countryside charm.


That was my first encounter with Surigao del Sur, the coastal province stretching on the eastern side of Mindanao, facing the Pacific Ocean. While its northern counterpart, where Siargao Island is, is more popular because of its surfing hotspots, Sur has its own attractions as well, and that was where we were headed.

First was Bislig city, roughly four hours away from where we came from, Butuan city.

This is where Tinuy-an Falls is located, a natural attraction named after a local word that loosely translates to “a place that one has to seek for.” True enough, going to the falls we had to pass through a winding, unpaved road—a bumpy ride made bearable with what felt like an endless supply of chips and iced tea, and the light-hearted quips of my companions.

Upon reaching the entry point and parking lot, stationed with sari-sari stores selling swimming gear and barbecue tools, we could already hear the low hum of the waterfalls.

Then after just a few steps, there it was, majestic and grand even from afar. It is said to be one of the widest waterfalls in the Philippines reaching over 95 meters. It stands at 180 feet high, with water curtaining down three levels.

From the entrance, the short walk leading to the main falls was lined with cottages rented out to tourists. Then at the far end were steps, 90 to be precise, going up the topmost level, where there was a shallow area perfect for a swim and a view just as perfect for a shot.

We spent the greater part of our morning in Tinuy-an, and by lunch we were on our way to the Enchanted River in the town of Hinatuan, a river labeled as such because of claims it is protected by the enchantments of diwatas or spirit guardians.

Mystical or not, the river does live up to its name. A pool of clear, blue water, it is an enchanting sight, starting off with a sapphire hue in the middle then cascading out to different shades of blue and green as it spills to the ocean. It was developed as a tourist area four years ago, and surrounding the river are now cottages and cemented pathways.

But before going in for a dip, we made a side trip to Sibadan Fish Cage, a nearby floating restaurant accessible via boat from the mouth of the river. There we had a hearty lunch of all seafood—raw, steamed and grilled—and everyone’s favorite the curacha, a red frog crab commonly found in the waters of Sulu.

It was drizzling as the boatman paddled us back to the river, but that did not discourage us from going in for a swim. Full of excitement, we hurriedly changed into our suits and went. If there’s one thing I regret, however, it is that I should have brought goggles—the view beneath, seemingly infinite and with an occasional school of fish passing by, was amazing.

Fish feeding to music

As our itinerary pointed out, there are fish-feeding activities done in the river every noontime, followed by a fish presentation at 3 p.m. The latter actually took us by surprise, because while we were still swimming, the P.A. system started playing what oddly reminded me of a Gregorian chant, and upon the sound of it, droves of fish swam closer to us by the surface—much to our bewilderment.

We enjoyed the river immensely, that we almost overlooked how we were three hours behind schedule, late to our next stop, the Britania Group of Islets, located in the town of San Agustin. At that point, our guide said that we had to rush, as pump boats couldn’t be out at sea too late after dusk.

We arrived in Britania wharf at 5:30 and quickly crossed through Lianga Bay, passing by scattered islets and towering rock formations, towards Naked and Hagonoy, two of the most popular sites of the Britania Group.

The sun was just waiting to set as we docked in Hagonoy. It was getting darker and darker by the minute, but the scenery was beautiful nonetheless, the tranquility comforting, and I could only imagine how much more it would be during day time. The island is an open stretch of pure white sand, save for a lone hut and a few trees, while its neighbor, Naked Island, is a sandbar. The boatman was kind enough to let us swim for a while, and so we basked in its pristine waters and white sand, and took lots and lots of photos until it was too dark to take more.

The ride back to the wharf was quiet, the nostalgia sinking in, knowing our day had capped off. We missed two stops out of what was originally listed as five, though I suppose none of us minded. A road trip full of surprises, paranormal jokes and curacha—it was an unforgettable 12 hours that couldn’t have been better spent.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 10, 2014.


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