Leytescapes : Babatngon Con Brio

During one warm April afternoon, in our one-of-a-kind shared office (where a bunch of people from Philippines Communitere are working to create Tacloban Youth Hub) me and my colleagues suddenly felt the need for a dose of nature and water to clear our minds. We pondered for a while and then a Eureka moment came and it was to have a quick motorbike trip to Babatngon (hooray for humans with travel machines!).

Babatngon? The name of the town sounds complicated, more like a tongue twister. I lived in Ormoc City for 16 years but I have never really ventured away from my hometown (as a self-confessed introvert, it is a daily ordeal to force myself out of my room so go figure).

There are only a handful of places in Leyte that rings a bell such as Palo, Biliran, Kananga, Palompon, Bato, Maasin and Tacloban, the rest seems alien to me each time someone asks about it (imagine my face with question marks for eyes).

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Lush greens always please my eyes.
Rice Fields
Vast rice fields, showing why Eastern Visayas is one of the top agricultural hub in the country.

In the northern part of the island of Leyte, along the shore of Carigara Bay lies Babatngon, a small plain enclaved by an arc of mountain ranges, in the northern mouth of the San Juanico Strait.

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A lot of places remain to be discovered.
Horizon
Nature therapy never fails.
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The sun shining bright over us.
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Roads we good for most part of the trip.

It was a refreshing trip away from Tacloban City, the roads were wide although not all were in good shape (some were literally dirt roads).

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Lush stretch of mangroves.

What I enjoyed the most (apart from not having to drive) was the endless horizon of greens alternating from rice fields to forests along with the sight of children heading home from school.

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Countless waterways, if only they can come up with more eco tours.
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Children on their way home after classes.
Having clear blue sky is enough reason to go out.
The weather was on our side that day.

After about 30 minutes of drive, we finally reached the town proper. We had to ask the locals where the waterfall was located. It was apparently next to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources site.

Babatngon Falls on a weekday.
Babatngon Falls on a weekday.

The perks of going on trips on a weekday is you avoid the crowd and you have the entire place to yourself (almost). There was an entrance fee once you reach the area. They charged P10 and if you want to use the pool, you will have to pay an additional P10. Quite a cheap deal and the water was refreshingly cold. The downside of Babatngon Falls were the trash some of the visitors left in the area and it needs a bit of sprucing up.

We spent a couple of minutes and decided to go around the town proper.

I wouldn't mind studying with this background.
I wouldn’t mind going to school daily with this scenery.

I was quite impressed by the recycled bottles that they used as decors in the campus. I remember how my highschool classmates and I would hangout after class. We simply just sat on grass and talk for hours (no mobile zombies then), sometimes we would organise a pick-up game of volleyball or Japanese game.

Children playing football.
Children playing football.
Goal keeping!
Goal keeping!
Part of the fun is the chase.
Part of the fun is the chase.
This pretty little girl was trying to bully me.
This pretty little girl was trying to bully me, she went near me and smiled then said, “Maraksot ka”.
Little girl walking home.
One of the most scenic school that I have seen in Leyte.

We left the campus and bought

This boy reminded me of my old pastime.
This boy reminded me of my old pastime which involve sitting idly and just watching the sea.
Out to fish
Out to fish
Babatngon's fishing community.
Babatngon’s fishing community.

After seeing the waterfront, we realised that it was 30 minutes past 5’o clock. It was a pleasant quick getaway, I wish I had more time to explore the historic places around Babatngon.

Leytescapes: Beguiling Biliran

Nothing but nature
Nothing but nature

I wanted to stay at home that day but it did not take that long to convince me to go on spontaneous adventure. Our destination, one of the less traveled islands in the Philippines.  A historic island paradise nestled less than a kilometer away from the northern coast of Leyte. Half asleep, my friends and I left Tacloban around 9’o clock in the morning. We passed through several farmlands under the sweltering heat of the sun. We were lucky that most of the roads were already paved after several typhoons. Two hours later, we reached Biliran Bridge, completed around 1975. It is about 150 meters long and its central span, held in place by an arched steel structure, hovers above a short and narrow channel of water measuring about 40 meters wide at low tide.

Hello Biliran!
Hello Biliran!

We finally reached Biliran! We could not help but stop to see Biliran Strait, one of the passages where the Japanese had their checkpoints during World War II.

A view worth taking a minute for.
A view worth taking a minute for.

According to historical accounts, Biliran was site of the first large-scale shipyard, built during the 17th century where the Spaniards built galleons  support the trade between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico. Several boatmen passed by as I peered into the clear sea. It was so inviting that I wanted to jump from the bridge.

Bangkeros passing underneath the bridge.
Bangkeros passing underneath the bridge.

Biliran’s economy is largely based on fishing. Most of its towns, especially Naval and Biliran, have excellent seaports. As we made our way to Naval, Biliran’s capital, I could not help but feel a certain nostalgia for my hometown Ormoc, Naval reminded me of the quaint aura that Ormoc exuded before malls started sprouting up. Realising that our other friends are still far we decided to stop at the first gasoline station we saw. We loaded up on fuel and washed our face covered with sweat and dust. It was already 12 noon and I could hear my stomach complaining, we stopped at the port to grab some barbecue and puso a.k.a hanging rice ( I could not help but eat with my barehands).

GETTING LOST

After a hearty lunch, we decided to head to one of the coasts to search for white sand. Little did we know that our friends signed up for a habal-habal challenge.

The challenging dirt road that turned my friend into a certified habal-habal driver!
The challenging dirt road that turned my foreign friends into a certified habal-habal driver!

After safely driving through dirt roads and getting chased by hyperactive dogs, we found ourselves in a secluded cove. Our sore butts begged for some rest time and bored me decided to climb a coconut tree and get some coconuts for me and my friends.

First time opening a buko using a small knife and the edge of a rock.
First time opening a buko using a small knife and the edge of a rock.

While I was channelling my inner monkey, the rest went for a dip. I looked like the squirrel from Ice Age trying to open the buko, so I took a break and joined them.

When you see it!
When you see it!

I found little shrimps while swimming around. I remembered when my mother used to buy live shrimps and I would play with them before my mom cooked them (sad I know) but I couldn’t really be totally depressed because she cooks them well (I just pray for the shrimps’ souls and thank them for giving their lives to nourish and make us happy).

IYUSAN RICE TERRACES AND BAGONGBONG WATERFALLS

After we had our buko juice, we decided to go to the waterfall at Brgy. Caucab in the town of Almeria (named after Almeria in Spain). We drove through a long winding paved road. The view over the Iyusan Rice Terraces made it one-of-a-kind. Imagine a smaller version of Sagada terraces but with better roads.

Iyusan Rice Terraces
Iyusan Rice Terraces

 Kalabaw (Water Buffalo) enjoying a dip.

Kalabaw (Water Buffalo) enjoying a dip.

Path to Bagongbong Falls
Path to Bagongbong Falls

We reached the end of the paved road and made our way down the dirt trail, the locals told us it would take about 30mins. but unable to contain our excitement, we made it down half the time. We dismissed the narrow muddy and rocky trail and walked liked a boss. As the sound of the waters got stronger, we walked faster. We marvelled at the 30-foot high cathedral-like falls covered by forests.

A hidden surprise between the cliffs.
Bagongbong Falls

After settling in for a bit, I started feeling my leg muscles complaining. A reminder to get back in shape. While the rest went it for a dip, I felt the asian compulsion and took a selfie (normally takes me more than 10 tries before I get a decent one).

Selfie time
Selfie time
Sunlight beaming over us.

Surreal moment as I looked up.

I wanted to take a better photo but we were on a rush so this was the best one from a moving vehicle.
I wanted to take a better photo but we were on a rush so this was the best one from a moving vehicle.

We enjoyed the moment and we barely noticed the minutes flew swiftly. Realising that it was almost sunset, we rushed back to the motorbikes to try to catch the sun before it says goodbye on that day. We wanted to catch the sunset over Agta beach but we figured we did not have enough time so we went into one of the nearby barangay.

Little girl playing by the shore.
Little girl playing by the shore.
Kid showing me his winning post
Kid showing me his winning post
We were on the wrong side but it was still a sight to behold.
We were on the wrong side but it was still a sight to behold.

Sunset by the shore with a cold drink on hand, it was almost perfect if not for the crazy kids trying to wrestle each other and kicking sand at our backs. Nonetheless, it was one of the best sunset moments that I experienced this year. I can only imagine how it looked like from the right side.

Night time came and we got separated from the rest of our friends, we went back to Naval to find a place to stay. The town did not have a lot to offer when it comes to accomodations, we found a backpackers place that charged P600 for a fan room. It was not bad until we woke up to a bunch of people talking loudly right outside the door. I dozed off quite quickly after the trekking and the bumpy ride to the beach.

Magtanim ay di biro.(Planting rice is no joke)
Magtanim ay di biro.(Planting rice is no joke)

We woke up next morning and went for some bread and head to Agta beach where the rest of our friends ended up. They decided to sleep on the shore with their sleeping bags. I missed the fun part that night. As they grabbed some breakfast, we thought of where to go next. One of the guys wanted to go kayaking to the nearby islands but the woman told us it was low tide and they do not rent out. I do not get the point but we couldn’t really spend time debating so we resolved to find Busai Waterfalls.

More of the road
More of the road

We drove for 30 minutes trying to figure out where Ungale 2 (dos) was. I asked more than a dozen of people for directions (luckily Biliran speaks Visayan).

BUSAI WATERFALLS

In search for the other waterfalls
In search for the other waterfalls

We followed a path right through different barangay and as we ended up on a dead-end of a dirt road. On the left side was a barely noticeable trail where we had to walk over boulders and metal pipes (Busai Waterfalls is a water source for nearby dwellers of Kawayan). My slippers gave up on me so I walked on barefoot for 15 mins. (like a local). We crossed streams (you need to have a lot of leg power) to reach the mouth of Ungale River. Hidden among the thick foliage and slightly obscure from all angles was the tranquil Busai Waterfalls.

Busai Waterfalls
Busai Waterfalls

I was a bit disappointed seeing that it was not as grand as Bagongbong but I realised Busai had its own uniqueness because it is quite tricky to find there were not a lot of visitors. If you are coming from Naval, you would need to travel the Biliran Circumferential Road via bus bound for Tucdao, Kawayan. From the main road of Tucdao, you can hire or rent motorcycles for Php 25. Visitors may also ask the locals to guide them to the falls ( we had a little girl who volunteered to take us to the falls).

Cascading waters
Cascading waters

I had a serene dip in the cold waters. I saw a bunch of local guys climbing on top of the cliff and jumping into the middle. They are crazy I thought to myself, I got scared as hell for their safety and they started doing it like their lives did not mean anything. The water slowly glides over the mossy bedrock and you can see a bunch of frogs leaping from rocks to rocks. As we took our time to take in everything, we thought of pushing ourselves further and going for another waterfalls at Brgy. Cabibihan, Caibiran.

TINAGO WATERFALLS

From Naval, it would take around 30-45mins. Ironically, Tinago (which means Hidden in Visaya) was the least hidden among all the waterfalls. From the highway, you will find a loop trail that is 10 minutes away from the falls.

Tinago Waterfalls
Tinago Waterfalls

Unlike the first two waterfalls, you cannot enter Tinago free. Adults have to pay P10 and P5 for children (expensive! not…) Tinago Waterfalls is a perfect hideaway for bigger groups being the grandest among the Biliran Waterfalls. The battery in my camera gave up at this point (thus the sole photo of Tinago, click here for more photos). Frustrated by the inability to take photos (first world problems), I just took a dip into a seemingly natural jacuzzi and tried real rock climbing. I took my moment as I know it would be another 3 hours motorbike ride back to reality.

Truely underrated.
Purely underrated.

Biliran is not getting the reputation it should have. For one of the smallest province in the country, it has a lot to offer. I found out later that we missed 4 other waterfalls, not to mention we did not even make it to one of the 4 islands, the rich history Biliran has from Moro invasions to aiding the Americans during World War II and the dormant volcanoes and hidden springs. For all this reasons, I will definitely go back!

Iyusan Rice Terraces
Iyusan Rice Terraces

TRAVEL TIPS:

  1. Bring drinking water (saves the planet as it lessens water bottles floating in the ocean) and food ( lots of them specially bananas) as some parts of Biliran do not have sari-sari stores for more than 5 kilometers.
  2. Rent a motorbike for a day if you do not want to wait for buses as commuting around the island is not that easy and would take a lot of your time.
  3. Bring your powerbanks, there are a lot of things to take photos of. ( This is more of a note for myself.)
  4. Do not forget your sunscreen or cover up with long sleeve shirts and pants as driving around the island can take a toll on your skin.
  5. Bring cash as there are only a few cash machines and that time when we were there none working.
  6. Most of the stores in Naval close by 8p.m. so it is best that you stock up earlier.
  7. Wear comfortable trekking shoes as trails can get slippery (Do not imitate me, I’m a local).
  8. Do not bring a friend who likes to complain a lot (general travel tip, you would not want to ruin awesome moments just because of a negatron, maybe you need to start thinking about your friendship…).
  9. Make sure you or your friend have habal-habal driving skills as the roads of Biliran will test you from time to time.