The Lumineers blared through my earphones as our bus cruised along the North Luzon Express Way. After a fun breakfast at Jollibee, we were now bound for our next stop.
“O, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind, girl, since the flood,” crooned Wesley Schultz as we sped by fields of grass.
I was lacking sleep and Nueva Ecija, whose treasures we’ll be exploring for two days, inched on the corners of my listless mind much like Ophelia does to the folk singer’s. This year’s installment of Lakbay Norte will take us across two provinces. And the underrated province of Nueva Ecija will be our gateway – the municipality of General Tinio, to be exact.
I took the front seat of the ‘torpedo’ boat. That’s what they call this long wooden motorized canoes without outriggers in Samar. Like the faluwas in Batanes, these boats are designed to navigate wild waters whereas if they have outriggers, it would easily snap from the force of the rapids. Judging by the boats, I could expect an exciting ride over at Ulot River. The Ulot River Torpedo Extreme Boat Adventure is one of the main attraction in Samar which is also a part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop attractions of numerous waterfalls, caves, springs and an eagle sanctuary.
Loboc is not the only river town in Bohol. The island province, home to the chocolate hills and the tiny primates, tarsiers, have four major rivers intersecting through the island. Up northwest is the Inabanga River, the largest on the island and Ipil River up north. Utilized for eco-tourism is Loboc River coming from the center of the island down to the southeastern coast and recently, the Abatan River flowing to the southwestern coast. Our adventure guide, Buzzy Budlong, found excellent paddling opportunities on the latter and set-up shop along with the town’s RiverLife tours to offer something different and new.
“Where are you girls going?” we asked curiously as three girls young girls, ages ranging from 10–12 were going down a trail almost unnoticeable from the dense vegetation just below the famed. “Down to check on our goats by the cave?” one said. A cave? I thought for a moment and probably she was referring to the Sagada Underground River Cave found deep into the valley. “Let’s follow them!” My newfound towering Russian companion excitedly suggested our group. In the many times I have visited Sagada, I don’t remember having visited the cave before so we just followed the young girl’s footsteps.
It was a relief that after travelling at least four hours from Bantayan Island, then a short 200 meter hike from the roadside, we were welcomed with Cebuano folk songs by the staffs of BAETAS (Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association). I may not fully understand the words but I could feel the collective liveliness from the group vocals to the energetic strums of the lone guitar. We were on the third day of our Oceana Philippines photo safari at Tañon Strait. We traveled southwest to the town of Aloguinsan to experience their Bojo River Cruise, the towns foremost attraction with activities revolving around the 1.4km river leading to Tañon Strait.
As if our unexpected night trek from Dila Falls in CEDAR Impasug-ong would quell our adventurous spirit that day, we are again lurched into the unknown adventure. Well not completely unknown but the degree of activity would challenge not only to our group in this trek but also the people who are attempting to organize the Atugan river Trek in Impasug-ong as an eco-tourism destination. Members of the Travel Mindanao team were willing guinea pigs in this exploration of trekking more than 8km of the Atugan river stretch.
Nevermind our wet clothes coming from our exploration and a quick dip at the Blue Water Cave by the banks of Pulangi River. We excitedly hiked back to Kiokong Eco tourism station and prepared ourselves for another plunge of adventure. This time, it is rappelling Pulangi Bridge. That’s 155 feet high descend into the washing machine like waters of Pulangi. I’ve done some rappelling before but this is a first for me from a bridge.