Friday, November 23, 2007

Down The River On A Gigantic Doughnut

[This piece was developed out with some ideas of Kit, my friend, for the SARANGGANI SPACE magazine]

Gloomy sky after a heavy rainfall. The air is cold and the soil is sticky along the banks of the Pangi River in New La Union, Maitum. The water slams against the boulders creating threatening splashes and quickening my heartbeat at the thought of careening down these rapids in an inflated inner tubing of a vehicle or salbabida. The contraption looks like a gigantic doughnut with flat rope webs converging in the middle of the hole.

Standing on high ground between two cottages and listening to the deafening current below, I contemplate the stunt I am going to attempt today. Being in a situation I have almost no control of will probably be the most outrageous thing I have ever done in my life. This is exactly why I decide to throw all caution to the wind because if I do not go water tubing now, I know I will regret it forever.

Behind me, a handful of residents mill about a sari-sari store and play billiards. I enter one of the cottages and sit down to partake in the edible fern salad, tinola or native chicken dish, dried fish, and durian laid out on the table. After lunch, I hurry to join the other vacationers back in the van and we speed off to where our guides are waiting.

The bumpy two-kilometer ride down a dirt road ends at an open area. I leave my cellphone and knapsack in the van and then follow the rest passing nipa huts and smiling residents already used to thrill-seekers like us. The narrow wet path has turned my feet soggy so I remove my slippers and continue walking barefoot towards the roaring river that gets louder with each step. We arrive at a sight better than I had been expecting: a river bordered by imposing cliffs overgrown with grass, vines, and trees. This is the Adventurer’s Point.

Waiting knee-deep in the river are our guides, each one holding a salbabida and discussing among themselves which one of us should go with which one of them. The bigger and stronger guides take my heavier companions. Because I am small, I get paired with a young man of about 17 years old. He hands me a bulky orange life vest and a red helmet, and inserts my slippers between the rubber ropes of his salbabida, beside his own slippers.

I step into the surprisingly cold river and am told to sit with my bottom firmly inside the hole and my legs hanging out. I should not lean forward but sit back and distribute my weight to steady the salbabida. I should not also push against the rocks because doing so might injure me.

Off I go towards Makbuluk Junction, anxiously covered in safety gears while my super-confident guide has not even a helmet on. He follows me from behind while holding my salbabida, and steers me along the river. Every time it seems as if I am going to capsize or crash, he pushes me over the rocks in the water and pulls me away from the boulders.

Each time we speed up, turn left or right, or drop down, I shriek, delighting in the twists along the way. The way down the river has become a bump car ride with water splashing all over me. I steady myself for the wet roller coaster ride as my tube rolls over mini waterfalls. I am now absolutely soaked and cannot stop shivering.

Up ahead is Baboy Pinga where a bamboo footbridge has been installed for friends to photograph the action below. I smile broadly for the camera despite tired arms and painful abs, the result of sitting in the same position. Our tubes pass under the bridge and are carried downstream to the next stop, Balite Drop, which is the second chance for friends to take our picture.

By now, the skin on my fingertips looks like the shriveled skin of raisins. With teeth chattering like crazy, I catch up with the rest at the last stop, Batong PiƱa, where a pineapple used to grow on top of a huge boulder. Our guides signal each other to group by the riverbank where we are given five minutes to stretch our legs and exchange small talk about who fell off their tubes and who suffered the most scrapes.

We then clamber unto our tubes again and let ourselves be carried by the current to the dam site where our journey finally ends. Exhausted, I drag myself to our cottage for a refreshing buko juice and maruyang kamote or fried sweet potato glazed with brown sugar. All these—lunch, merienda, the unforgettable thirty-minute water tubing adventure—only cost a reasonable 250 pesos per head.

With my head still spinning from the incredible experience, I lie down for a minute, hands clasped behind my head. I close my eyes and remember the feel of the ice-cold water around me, the awesome sight of the towering cliffs, and savor the rush and unpredictability of it all.

I cannot help but think that while this is vacation for me, my guide has probably gone down the river uncountable times. Judging from his face, it is work he enjoys tremendously. What started as a past time of a group of friends has now become a source of income—and an ingenious way to enjoy nature without taking anything away. Just pictures. Cool.

How to get to the water tubing site:

Take an air-conditioned van from Bulaong Terminal in General Santos
City to Maitum for P100. Then take a habalhabal ride to New La Union for P25.


Bam the Great said...

I suddenly found the urge to ride in a gigantic doughnut. :)

Anonymous said...

WOW! what a great advnture maam..
If you will ask me... I will not try it.. My GOD, so scary? at bka ma high blood ako...

hehe... sobrang layo naman sana mkapunta me doon just to leave the problematic past just for a day, dba?.....