The municipality of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur is located north of the city of Bislig. Like most of the province, it is a coastal municipality but with large areas of forest cover and mountainous terrain. The only reason why we intended to go here was the Hinatuan Enchanted River. It is, quite frankly, the only thing that Hinatuan is known for as far as I can tell. But as we later found out, Hinatuan had other things to offer.
You might not know it but the Hinatuan Enchanted River is the subject of a minor but heated debate among photography enthusiasts. The main issue is whether the river is indeed as blue as it looks in all its photographs that are currently circulating in the Internet. (Try making a Google Image search.) Since the river is far and inaccessible from pretty much everyone, a lot of those who haven’t gone to it have huge doubts about the blueness of the water as seen in the photos and suspect that some photo-editing was used to make it look as such.
GOING TO HINATUAN
Well, the only way to find out for sure was to go to the place and see it for myself, and that’s what I did. It’s a good thing that Gwen included this spot in the itinerary as it’s already along the way. The previous day, we actually passed by Hinatuan on the way to Bislig when we were coming from Butuan. This day, we were going in the opposite direction and so we were somewhat already familiar with the route. The National Road stretching from Bislig to Hinatuan was in very good condition and we made it to the latter in good time. But the road that goes to the actual area of the river was really bad. In many ways, it was worse than the one going to the Tinuy-an Falls.
Now, we already learned our lesson with that mishap on the way to Tinuy-an Falls, so instead of renting motorcycles, we rented an SUV from Mangagoy that took us to the place. Yes, it easily cost us 4 or 5 times as much as if we again rented motorcycles. But an SUV’s advantages far outweigh the steep price. Aside from the fact that it is a lot safer, it also takes you there much faster, thereby saving precious time. Also, I earlier mentioned the bad state of the road going to the river. It’s actually covered with crushed chalk-like rock in lieu of gravel, and this sends up huge clouds of dust. Not a problem if you’re in a vehicle that has air conditioning, like an SUV.
So believe me, an SUV is the best way to get to Hinatuan from Bislig. Just be ready to haggle with the drivers at the Mangagoy terminal in Bislig so that you won’t get overcharged. (On that point, I’d say Bislig is the worst place in the country I’ve been to as far as transportation convenience is concerned. )
THE HINATUAN ENCHANTED RIVER
So in less than an hour’s time after we left Bislig, we arrived at the place. Sorry to say, but we didn’t find it enchanting at all due to the fact that it was a weekend and there were a lot of people visiting. I wouldn’t say that the place was overcrowded but there certainly was a dearth of open space and the river itself was full of people taking a dip. At any rate, it was hard to take nice photos of the river because a lot of people were swimming in the middle of it.
But one thing that did not disappoint us was the color of the water. We confirmed what travelers who came before us have always proclaimed – this is the bluest water you will ever see in your lifetime. I can confidently say that the pictures circulating in the Internet aren’t photo-edited, because I’ve seen the real thing with my own eyes. As for the pictures here, I actually adjusted my camera’s settings to emphasize the green and thereby, even weakening the blue, but the latter hue still predominated.
The 5 of us didn’t take a dip anymore and were just content in taking photos of the river in different angles, trying our best to make a good-enough shot despite the multitude of people who always found a way to stray into the frame of the shot.
Except for its cleanliness and clarity, for the most part, the Hinatuan Enchanted River is just like a typical minor river in the tropics, but abruptly comes to a point where the water depth increases dramatically. This is where the river is at its bluest. It looks like it encounters a dead end, but it actually continues underground. When you’re close to it, the water is clear enough up to about 10 to 15 feet below the surface (it’s reportedly around 200 feet deep) and you would be able to see fishes keeping a safe distance away from the people floating at the surface.
At the shallower part of the river, a narrow stilted walkway made of wood and bamboo was constructed on one side that enables people to walk along a certain length of the river until a point where boat operators are stationed to take people out to the sea to some of Hinatuan’s other attractions. Since we had nothing else to do, we decided to rent a boat and do just that.
SIBADAN FISH CAGE
One thing that became apparent to us once we rode the boat is that what we know as the Hinatuan Enchanted River is actually an estuary because it was already very near the sea (less than half a kilometer, by my estimation.) Our destination was the Sibadan Fish Cage. As the the name suggests, it’s a structure built in the middle of the sea where fish are farmed and where people can visit, look around, swim with the fishes and even stay overnight for a fee (they have a karaoke machine!)
The structure is actually nicely built and looks new. It has electricity (connected to the mainland by above-water power lines) and they even sell snacks and bottled water. It’s built on uneven ground. The deeper parts are where the fish cages are, while a walkway was constructed on the shallower parts where people can take a dip in the sea.
At the time we were there, there were absolutely no waves, and this was already a kilometer from the nearest shore. Now, since the shore faces the Pacific Ocean, I know for a fact that there should be large waves (such as the ones that batter the Biri Island rock formations.) The explanation was that this was a generally low area and only gets deep much further from the shore, so it acts as a buffer. The waves begin to get strong in those deeper parts. We were told that the weather in this part of Mindanao is very mild and that they have never experienced a storm in living memory. I guess this makes it very ideal conditions for fish farming.
Overall, it really isn’t all that impressive, but I will remember this place for a long time because this is where I saw a live pawikan (sea turtle) for the very first time. Yes, the fish cages apparently also have a few sea turtles. I’m not sure I agree with confining them in fish cages because it’s generally such a sad thing to do to animals. (And it’s quite pointless to farm them for food because they need to go to land to lay eggs.) The only consolation is that the fish cage where the turtles are is quite deep and they have lots of room to swim around in.
One thing I really didn’t expect was the fact that the pawikan seemingly had personalities. The one pictured above, in particular, loved the camera and was very comfortable with people. When another pawikan was placed beside it for picture taking, it absolutely went nuts and wouldn’t stop until the other one was placed back in the water. It’s as if it wanted to be the only one in the photos.
SIDE TRIP TO AN ISLAND
After we had our fill of shooting the turtles and fishes, we decided to return to the Enchanted River, but not before passing by an island hoping to take some nice photos. We never got the name of the island. The boatman kept on referring to “White Island” but I refused to believe that I once again was encountering a cliche name, so I’d rather that it remain nameless for now.
The island did have white sand, and it would have looked nice had it been low tide and the skies were clearer. As it was that day, the tide was up and so the white sand lining the island’s beach was reduced to a narrow strip. In addition, the entire day the skies were overcast and so there wasn’t even the benefit of blue skies in the background. There were also a lot of vendors selling all kinds of stuff and it seemed to me that boatmen offer to do this side trip just to bring potential customers to their vendor-friends in the island.
We were told that there was a cave in the other side of the island, but we didn’t want to explore it anymore because we rented the boat for only a limited number amount of time and that we wanted to get back to Bislig while there was still daylight.
We just took a few pictures and went our way.
BACK TO THE ENCHANTED RIVER
It was close to 4pm when we got back to the Enchanted River. We expected it to be just as crowded as we left it, but were quite surprised to find that the crowds have considerably lessened. It was still a mystery to us at the time but I later learned that a daily feeding of the fish was done at around the time that we left. This was also probably the reason why we the water was less clear when we returned. Taking advantage of the much fewer people in the water, we once again took pictures of the surroundings before looking for our driver.
We stayed for an hour more due to the fact that there was something wrong with the SUV and our driver was desperately trying to fix it. I immediately thought of the worst case scenario, and it didn’t look good. We saw no street lights on the way here and it would be a very dire situation if we were still here after sundown. Fortunately, another driver got curious and decided to help our driver in fixing the SUV. We then breathed a sigh of relief as we finally left and I personally prayed that we don’t get stalled before we reach the National Road.
A HOSPITAL STOP
Our agreement with the driver is that he’s supposed to bring us back to the terminal where we originally boarded, but we changed the plan and decided to drop by at the Andres Soriano Memorial Hospital in Mangagoy to have Kring, Gwen and Cha seen by a doctor. The worry was that there might have been unseen injuries from that morning’s mishap. By a strange coincidence, our driver received a call regarding a relative’s medical emergency that he had to assist in, so he could not wait for us to finish the hospital visit and had to leave after dropping us off. He just gave us enough money for a tricycle to bring us back to the terminal. The good news is that the doctors didn’t believe our 3 friends had serious injuries and just prescribed some painkillers.
After this, we hailed a tricycle going back to our lodging house in Espiritu St. We intended to have dinner at the same place we visited the night before (Dan’s Grill and Restaurant) but for some reason, it was closed. We jokingly suspected that they might have heard us say that we will return, so they decided to close. We just then proceeded to another restaurant – a Chinese-themed one – where it seemed that we were the only customers. After having a sumptuous meal, we walked back to our lodging house, washed up, and retired early. We would be returning to Butuan early the next day.
(Next: the ancient and modern city of Butuan.)
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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