Thursday, January 19, 2017

Biliran: Waterfalls Here, There and Almost Everywhere

Bagongbong Falls
This return trip to Biliran wouldn't be complete without even a cursory visit to even just one or two of the province's main attractions -- its waterfalls.  And there are many (30 or so named with more still to be named, in an island of 500 sq kms.)  Even the first-time visitor would be hard-pressed not to notice the imposing presence of the mountains intersecting the middle of the island even looking out on the capital, Naval, located on the western part fronting Leyte across the Biliran Strait.  From north to south, there's 1066m Mt Panamo, 1282m Mt Tres Marias, 1106m Mt Guiausan,  1048m Mt Camalabagoan, 1300 Mt Biliran and 1772m Mt Lauan (a 974m mountain can also be found on Maripipi Island) -- no doubt feeding the many cascades found across the island.

In a strange way, Biliran reminds me of Adams in Ilocos Norte because of its many waterfalls within a small area, and of Camiguin due to the density of mountains within its confines.  Biliran though, has a charm all its own.

While I love shooting waterfalls, I still have my apprehensions getting my gear safely.  I lost my Nikon D200 many years back on a waterfalls mishap in Camiguin and up to now, I tend to be prudent when crossing streams, walking across slippery rocks, balancing on boulders.  Anyway, we divided our days getting to different waterfalls after an overnight on Sambawan/Sambauan Island, deciding to make the Agta area as our base instead of Naval.  There's really something special about waterfalls that make it worth visiting even after knee-jarring hikes.  The science says something about getting a dose of invigorating ions that balances things out.  Well, even if you don't know the science, you can feel it anyway.
Ulan Ulan Falls in Sampao
It was nice to revisit Bagongbong Falls in Brgy, Caucab in Almeria just a 25-30 minute tricycle ride from Agta, and some 30-40 minutes walk through the forest.  When I was here before, there were no concrete steps leading to the basin, just a nylon rope that broke when I attempted to hang for support on the slippery boulders and cliff walls.  Apart from that, the falls seem largely untouched, the main cascade gushing in between two large cliff walls like a cathedral with a huge cascading spout.

We went to town for lunch and proceeded to Ulan-Ulan Falls in Sampao on the same day.  It's some 40-50 minute walk from the point on the road when the tricycle cannot proceed further.  The recent spate of rains must have turbo-charged the falls as the spray reached us even as we descended from about 150-200 feet away.  I took my sweet time coming down, admiring the thick fern and tree cover and at the same time, wondering how on earth do I shoot amidst all the moisture spraying in our direction.  It was getting dark when we ascended, no sunrise to shoot (not that we would have the time to chase it anyway) as there was a low pressure area affecting the southern parts of the country.
Tinago Falls
The next day, we board the trusty tricycle of our guide, Ronald, to cross over the eastern side to Caibiran.  From almost sea level we rise a thousand meters to hurdle the path through the high elevation road in the middle of the island, glancing at the wonderful views of pasture lands draped in the fog, the tree canopy in Little Baguio, while Ronald expertly shifted and maneuvered his tricycle (for DIY travelers, it pays to get a tricycle with bigger engine displacement when headed to these parts).  From what I recalled in my previous trip here, I rode out on a motorcycle through the island interior roads.  

We visited the popular Tinago Falls, easily the most accessible an hence most visited of all the falls on the island.  Why?  You drive or ride up to the gate and descend a short flight of stairs and there you are, no hiking needed.  There was an ampitheater-type sitting area fronting the second catch basin and a small pagoda-like view deck right in front of the main basin -- I seem to recall that both were non-existent before.  Tinago is still nice though I felt they could've been contented with the pagoda and left the forest cover where the ampitheater now stands.  We headed out just when visitors were streaming in, some playing loud music, others going for selfies, still others preparing to picnic.
Mainit Hot Springs
Since we're in the vicinity anyway, we ventured to Mainit Hot Springs.  There is a planned geothermal plant we've passed on the way to Caibiran and the presence of an active volcano (Mt. Biliran) is the reason for this and the hot springs.  Some locals were cooking chicken eggs on the other side of the stream where cracks in the ground gurgled with boiling steam.  The place is a bit more ramshackled than when I visited before, a recent storm damaged the bridge while lack of maintenance was evidenced by trash on the tubs above the stream.   Considering that the site is included in the list of Biliran's tourist attractions, I wonder why it seemed neglected all these years.  I mean I'm fine with minimal new construction or infrastructure, just keep the place clean.
Kinaraja/Karaja Falls near Mainit
On the way out of the place, we espied a sign on the makeshift bridge crossing the stream -- Kinaraja Falls.  It's some 400 meters away, with a slippery narrow road that goes through a grove of coconut trees, the last 100 meters or so necessitating a walk through a stream and a forest trail of sorts.  It was a good find, with no one around on a Saturday afternoon.  We enjoyed this find so much that it was getting a bit late in the afternoon when we headed to Canaan Hill Farms and Honey Garden in Uson, some 35-40 minutes ride away.  By that time, the sky turned grey, threatening more rains.  We had snacks with Jeffrey Espinazo before touring the 7 hectare property.  I thought it would be nice to come back to take pictures when the weather's better as well as maybe camp out under the stars.  I just hope it wouldn't take another 9 years to do so. 

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