Brgy. Kawayan, Libagon, Southern Leyte
It was ten in the morning when we entered the palm forests of Brgy. Kawayan in Libagon, Southern Leyte. In the first twenty minutes of the trek, I thought to myself of how much better it would have been to spend my Sunday sitting lazily in my dorm room reading books or rerunning Star Wars movies and getting ready for Episode 8: The Last Jedi this coming Christmas.
It was the typical Philippine forest setting wherein you start out greeting locals going on their way doing laundry or having a nice picnic by the river, following the muddy or sun-dried mud trail trying to dodge the seldom fall of coconuts or keeping a good distance to see wild monkeys while avoiding trying to get hit by coconuts they’ve already snacked on, and then crossing ankle or knee-deep rivers and playing Tarzan by swinging on some sturdy but flexible branches.
The terrain was flat and our pace was moderate. There was no breath to catch in such relaxed paced and I was mostly just listening to Connor’s backpacking stories while randomly looking around rock walls for crevices and caves.
But it did not take long before I had to change opinions about how easy this seemed to be. The river started to become deeper and the canyons narrower. Little waterfalls were randomly flowing from the sides of the canyons and the water all reunite to the main flow of the river.
After half an hour, we had to scramble up a steep rock face to the right of a single-drop waterfall, with no body anchor whatsoever except for the somehow fixed blue-twined rope that the guides have woven into a net-like pattern. We worked our way through the ropes while hoping not to slip or accidentally let go. It wasn’t easy but it was doable as the climb only lasted for less than ten meters.
Continuing up the trek upstream, the surroundings became more scenic: big mossy boulders, lovely canyon patterns carved by the flowing water, and the reflection of sunlight blending in with the mist. I remember Tyler stopping a few times and calling out to me, “Drei, this is so cool!” Although on a less picturesque way, we passed by a decaying body of a wild boar washing up by the side of the river. Our guides said the boar died from a fall from a cliff and the body has been there for two weeks already. Strongly believing that this boar was killed from an accident and not through human hands, it is good to know that these animals continue to thrive in our forests.
We managed another little climb through the ropes that this time had two tires hanging from it for additional grips and foot holds. The next climb however was unlike the first two that somehow avoided waterfalls by having the ropes either to the left or right side of it. This climb began right underneath where the water drops. So climbing up not only needed ample upper body strength but also the focus on climbing up either blindly by closing your eyes, or with eyes wide open but having your eyeballs washed off by a strong steady stream of water. If only someone advised us to bring our diving masks!
So of course all that struggle was just to prepare us for the tallest waterfall. It could have easily been 20 meters in height but I would say it was twice as it took ages to reach the top! We watched our guides climb up first while we were having about ten minutes of contemplating and asking ourselves why we ever intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way. After a brief debate with Connor and a war with my inner self, it was decided that I will climb up first and he will go last to make sure everyone else were in between us. So I went and the first struggle was getting closer to the waterfall while fighting the current. I pulled myself into the drop while holding on to the blue-twined rope. The rope began at an overhang so the water wasn’t in the way yet. As I worked my way up, I was slowly in line with the drop of the water thereby making it harder to keep your eyes open to look for holds let alone ascend. I managed with a few tries at self-motivation while balancing in tires or ropes against the waterfalls, by thinking about all of my rock climbing attempts and that some boulder problems should be harder than this, while still constantly reminding myself that I wasn’t harnessed on a belay line and that one slip from the limbs would get me straight into the river at the bottom. The intensity of the moment however kept me preoccupied in making sure each hold was steadfast and that I step up high enough to make this whole climb quick. And then there I was at the top of the waterfall, giving a loud shout, “diver’s up!” and then hearing an echoing applaud in response. I was followed by Morgan, Ida, Tyler, and then Connor before we finally did the last part of the river trek, towards the Uwan-uwanan Gorge.
The final falls or the “gorge” as most people would refer to is a very picturesque single drop waterfalls with probably the most volume of water among the five main waterfalls we have passed by. The term “uwan” means rain in Bisaya as the strength of the water falling causes it to splatter making little fine raindrops and mist all over the place. The sun’s rays reflecting through these splashing waters forming little rainbows and glitters make the place even more magical.
After a few rounds at throwing ourselves right where the water drops – maybe just to know how much intensity our bodies can take or how much current we are capable of fighting – we finally decided to head back. This time we either climb down through the same ropes or jump wherever it was manageable. Everyone jumped from one of the less than ten meter waterfalls. Little-miss-afraid-of-heights of course stood at the edge of the cliff fully decided to climb down through the ropes not until our guide said “kaya ra lagi na nimu, adto lang layat sa lawomon dapita” (you can do it, just jump towards where the water is deep) and then left me all alone at the top of a waterfall still indecisive. Giving in to the pressure of being alone and knowing how much of a scaredy-cat I would look like if I didn’t jump, I took the leap. A wrong one. Landed with my back, neck, and thigh hitting the surface of the water. I was alive, but limping a little outside and inside about the poor decisions I make in life but never complaining because well, I put myself here in the first place!
On our way back, we were greeted by the same smell of decaying wild boar, local villagers doing laundry, and monkeys leaping from tree to tree and making strange noises. A strong motivation was the will to scavenge the local sari-sari stores for food as it was already past two when we finished the trek.
In review of the Uwan-uwanan Falls, my good friend Tyler wrote, “It was a fantastic day. No one from our group was hurt and our guides were extremely knowledgeable and kind. However, our positive experience should not take away from the fact that it is dangerous. Keep in mind that even though the guides wear flip-flops and scale the waterfalls with ease, trekking up Uwan-uwanan falls is a mentally and physically difficult task. I would recommend this activity with great care. I would not recommend this for children or for people with physical mobility issues.
The trip was exciting, fun, exhilarating, beautiful, but also wildly unsafe.”
Arrange your gorge trip with the guides’ association in Brgy. Kawayan through 0927-828-8699.