The previous night, we already packed our bags in preparation because the boat that would take us back to the Surigao del Norte mainland was scheduled to leave before dawn. We were quite nervous about being stranded in Bucas Grande as the wind speed at that time was really picking up and residents say that when the winds are too strong and the waves too difficult to navigate, the coast guard does not allow boats to leave even if there is no actual storm yet.
It was also at this time when we began to receive reports of the big storm that was set to rampage through the northern parts of Visayas and Luzon. Aside from Twitter, I also kept myself updated through an Accuweather app in BlackBerry. The radar image of the huge whirlpool-like pattern of the storm approaching the country from the east didn’t look very encouraging.
Fortunately, while the waves did seem bigger on the sea trip back to Surigao port, the boat we were riding on was large enough (bigger than a bus) to be relatively unaffected by the rough waters, …except when the splashes began enter on one side and the boat crew had to scramble to untie the tarps to prevent the passengers from getting drenched. The trip itself seemed shorter than when we were going the other way, but I guess that always applies to first time trips.
In a few hours, we were back to Surigao City port to catch a tricycle that would bring us to the bus station. We intended to take a bus going to Butuan, and from there, catch another bus or van going to Bislig City. We didn’t really have time to have breakfast somewhere so along the way to the bus station, we stopped by at Jollibee to buy packed breakfast.
BACK TO BUTUAN
If you’re not familiar with northeastern Mindanao geography (as I once was), you’d be puzzled as to why the best route going to the city of Bislig in Surigao del Sur is via Butuan in Agusan del Norte, instead of just going by the coastal route southwards from Surigao del Norte. There are a few reasons for this. But first, it helps if we look at the map of our route (click the image for a larger picture):
As you can see, the relative distance, between the Butuan route and the coastal route is just about the same, so from that perspective, it really does not matter which route one takes. But from an accessibility standpoint, Butuan has the edge. You see Bislig is so far south that there’s very little commerce running between it and Surigao City. As a result, too few buses, if ever ply the Surigao-Bislig route.
In contrast, Butuan, being equidistant between Surigao City and Bislig, has extensive commercial ties with both cities. Therefore, a lot of buses and other forms of public transportation from the 2 latter cities have made Butuan a transportation hub. It’s therefore become established practice for someone coming from Surigao City to stop by first at Butuan to catch a bus going to Bislig. (Rather than, say, waiting for a bus to be filled up in Surigao City before leaving for the very long coastal trip to Bislig – very time consuming.)
It was already mid-day when we reached Butuan. Same as what we did before, we stopped by a fastfood outlet – Dunkin Donuts this time – to buy packed lunch before looking for transportation going to Bislig.
ON TO BISLIG
In going to Bislig from Butuan, we used an inland road that cut through two provinces in eastern Mindanao – Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. This drive lasted the whole afternoon and was slowed down by the fact that the driver of the SUV we were riding on had a tendency to stop every now and then for the flimsiest reasons, so much so that the a bus that left Butuan much later caught up with us on one stopover.
It’s too bad that I could not really take satisfactory pictures of the road as the vehicle’s windows were tinted (and the fact that my primary lens’ autofocus is busted.) I do remember being impressed by the good condition of the road, as well as the very tall and massive forest trees in close proximity to civilization. In some instances, one would see such trees dotting rice fields.
At some point I got really hungry because the packed lunch I purchased in Dunkin Donuts was missing one entire sandwich, which was admittedly my fault too because I should have checked. By the time we reached Bislig, I was already hungry and tired from the whole day’s sea and land travel. Upon getting off the vehicle terminal in Bislig, we wasted no time in getting a tricycle that would take us to our intended lodging house – Shiela’s Pension House.
There was still a lot of daylight after we checked in so we decided to take a walk along Espiritu St. and visit the public market to buy supplies. While walking, I was tweeting my observations of the city, one of which was this:
There were no tall buildings and transportation was still dominated by vehicles smaller than a car. But it was indeed a very busy city – noisy, polluted, thickly populated and all. (And like all Philippine cities, their mayor’s face was posted everywhere.) It wasn’t a particularly tourist-y place to visit but it was quite safe and we weren’t pestered to buy anything by the street-side merchants.
On the way back, we decided to stop by a grill/restaurant to have early dinner as we intended to leave early the next day for Tinuy-an Falls. Since there was still a lot of daylight, we were initially hesitant to have dinner immediately. But later on, we realized that we came in just in the nick of time because the place got packed fairly quickly.
To make a long story short, I gorged on 2 days’ worth of food. I figured that since I got frustrated with Bucas Grande’s quality of food, I’m therefore entitled to eat a lot. And so I did. I must have eaten three times as much as what each of my companions ate. Once we were done, we also purchased take-out food for our lunch the next day.
The next morning, we waited by the pension house’s gate for our transportation going to Tinuy-an Falls. The previous day, we made arrangements with a tricycle driver to bring us to the falls. But this time, it would be via motorcycles, since a singular tricycle won’t have enough engine power to take the five of us through steep and winding rough roads on the way to the falls. At the appointed time, only 2 motorcycles showed up, which meant that one of them would have 3 occupants (4, including the driver).
Apparently, there was a misunderstanding the previous day and the price quoted for the 5 of us only included 2 motorcycles. When Gwen tried to reason that it should be 3, we were told that it would cost more. And so to keep costs down, we just decided to use the 2. The bigger one accommodated the 3 shorter girls, and Florence and I occupied the smaller one.
There were no problems whatsoever in the city proper, and the two motorcycles alternated in the lead on the way. Then as we left the city’s business district of Mangagoy, the view gradually changed and we passed through rice fields and a minor lake. I wish I could have taken pictures of this amazing rural scenery. But at some point, we reached a thickly forested area where the road was no longer paved and the steep paths were just strewn with gravel. (We later found out that we were already within Manobo ancestral domain.) This was where we lost sight of the other motorcycle carrying our 3 companions.
After waiting for 30 minutes at the entrance of the Tinuy-an falls, (where there was no cellphone signal), our driver finally saw the need to backtrack just to see what happened to the others, leaving myself and Florence at the Tinuy-an entrance. At that point , I was already sure that they had met an accident, but our low-EQ driver probably didn’t want to spend more gas and was delaying for as long as he could.
So after 10 more minutes, they finally arrived with scrapes and visibly distraught faces. What happened was that the motorcycle lost control and they skidded all the way to a ditch where they crashed. We were worried because Kring didn’t seem to have a recollection of what exactly happened and she did bump her head during the crash. But all of them could still walk so they toughed it out just so we could explore the falls.
I guess there’s a lesson to be learned here: Bislig isn’t very backpacker-friendly as far as transportation is concerned. If one bargains for a very cheap price, then one must be prepared to get the barest minimum of service. And as our group found out, we’d rather spend a bit more just to be a bit safer.
Tinuy-an Falls, the pride of Bislig, is reputedly the widest waterfalls in the Philippines. It has three levels, with the tallest and most picturesque portion being the middle level. The falls are fairly well-known in the region and attracts a steady stream of tourists. The city government has plans to build an extensive resort hotel in the vicinity, but for now, there are simple huts for rent where tourists can place their stuff while exploring the falls.
The presence of simple buildings, huts, balsas and bridges have certainly contributed to the fact that the surroundings are no longer pristine. But a skillful maneuvering of one’s camera angle would be enough to hide the signs of modernity and show the falls in all its timeless magnificence.
At one side of the middle level, there’s a stairway built on the slope of the mountain that leads one to the topmost level of the falls. The lower steps are concrete, and slowly transition to metal stairs at the upper parts when the slopes abruptly turn into an almost vertical cliff face. Once one reaches the topmost level, one has to be really careful as there aren’t really any guardrails. I’ve seen adults bringing their children in this level, but I would really advise against doing so because of all the nasty accidents that might occur if one leaves an unsupervised child here unattended for even just one moment.
The top level is not as majestic as the middle one but it does provide for nice photo angles as one can be as close as possible to the actual falls without being drenched by the spray. Some people were even able to go above the topmost level, but we didn’t risk it. After all, three of us just had a horrible motorcycle accident on the way here. We wanted to be on the safe side.
Once we’ve exhausted all possible poses, we went back to the middle level to use the free balsa to get near the falls. And since it’s free, the five of us monopolized the use of this to the chagrin of the other tourists who wanted to have their turn. We did both group and individual trips to the falls, as these photos show:
After we’ve had our fill of being drenched amid the thundering roar of the falls, and having really cool pics to show for it, we then retreated to our hut to have lunch and relax before making the trip back to Bislig town proper. Our three companions who were in he accident were understandably nervous about the trip back and we had to switch motorcycles as they didn’t trust the safety of the other driver anymore.
In a thankfully uneventful but edgy ride on the way back to Mangagoy, we made it there just about noontime to look for a ride to our next destination.
(Next, the “Enchanted River” in Hinatuan.)
= = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Surigao & Butuan series dated September 22-27, 2011:
1. The Ugly Side of Surigao del Norte
2. Preview: Surigao del Sur’s Twin Gems
3. The Surigao & Butuan Series (prologue)
4. Bucas Grande and Sohoton Cove
5. A few stops between Sohoton and Socorro
6. The Long Road to Bislig and Tinuy-an Falls
7. An Afternoon in Hinatuan
8. A Heritage Tour of Butuan