I have an obsession with rivers, living, rushing rivers. They burst with life. They are destined to flow, to be perpetually moving. They never know what stagnation feels like.
When I think of a living river, I think of Kawasan—my favorite among the many rivers I have trekked and been to.
Kawasan’s location is remarkable. Most living rivers I have known are in the bosoms of mountain ranges, cocooned in the great unknown; while Kawasan is the tail of the entire river system—a wilderness found at a walkable distance from the highway.
During my last traverse two years ago, we exited the river earlier than expected—creating a perfect timing for the sunset across the street. It occurred to me that just across the street is the strait—Tañon Strait—where the whole river empties itself. That time, it felt that I found out something extraordinary.
From the highway, it is the estuary where the river meets that faithfully accompanies the visitors to the first fall—the most accessible from the road.
Kawasan started as a respite from a tiring traverse from Osmeña Peak, Cebu’s highest summit, which I trailed several times with fellow climbers. Its lagoon—the end of Kawasan and the start of Kanlaob—is our culmination, our reward for enduring the heat.
“Finally,” one of the trekkers would say upon hearing the river’s boisterousness. It was a signal that the seven-hour sweaty, gruelling trek was about to end.
I have lain low in climbing Cebu’s mountains and aimed for the taller ones outside the province instead. Despite my absence, I often find myself visiting Kawasan, surprisingly with someone or a group. I have travelled solo, snorkelled a drop alone, sauntered city streets past midnight; but I have not been to any rivers alone. Just like staring at an empty page, I find the river the most intimidating place.
This river popularly known for its turquoise water and admirable falls evolves from a trekker’s respite to something grave: fear.
River-trekking Kawasan’s water source, Kanlaob, with two male trekkers sometime in 2011 had my heart thumping as strongly as the rapids. The river runs through a narrow gorge. Nothing can be seen by looking up but canopies of vibrant greens. Nothing can be heard but the deafening rush of the river. If it rained hard in the deep mountain ranges and flooded the river, it would be too late to look for an escape.
None of us had been to this part of the river system, and yet we mindfully upstreamed the gorge. We had the river as our guide, our savior. Or our nemesis.
As much as I see a river as life, my subconscious perceives it as death.
A week after summer, I visited it again with others to see how the almost unbearable summer treated it. Just a week of June rain, but it was as lively as ever.
Even in the rainy June, guests’ screams rivalled the rush of the rain-charged first fall. Ropes were strategically criss-crossed to make rafting navigable.
But the first fall was just too crowded for us. We trekked up to the second highest fall and rafted there instead—showering under the gravity of the fall and letting it massage our back.
A while later, four lads climbed up the trifling fall up to the neighboring one and readied themselves to jump from it. The second fall is around 20 meters high. Two of them jumped without any hesitation, completely abandoning their full weight to gravity, then to the water. But the last two’s running start was tentative. Doubt won them over in the end.
“Don’t tell me you want to try it?” the boyfriend asked me.
“Yes. But not now.”
We climbed the trifling fall on the left instead and jumped from there. But doing it countless times it lost its charm. I ached to jump from the fall, to feel the surrender of my own body. That is another charm of Kawasan—it makes me always see something to challenge myself with.
Despite the fear I feel towards the rushing river, it is undeniable I am drawn to it.
Because how can a river be so lively? Its water leaps, jumps, falls, somersaults, swirls, slips. It abandons itself to gravity, rushes forth, never looks back, is mindlessly mad. Kawasan is everything I cannot bring myself to be.
I often joke I would marry someone living near Kawasan or daydream that the semi-open thatched hut by the first bridge is my future library and writing corner. I surmise hearing the river’s unwavering, resonant voice every day is something to look up to, something that can prod me to wake up early, listen to its voice, find and strengthen my own, and write as effortlessly as the river’s flow.
But drought happens, I assume, even to the most living river there is. For them, it means less intensity, less madness, less water or even none. I wonder how Kawasan handles it. Seeing it at its drought-stricken moments is something unimaginable.
For me—someone whose very life depends on words—drought can be deadly. Staring at the silence of an empty page with a blinking cursor can be the most intimidating feeling.
Yes, drought happens. And when it does, it takes a trip to the most mesmerizing river in Cebu to replenish, to refill, to live once more.
Published on Manila Bulletin | June 30, 2013 | Finding Cebu
I recently started a column on Manila Bulletin entitled Finding Cebu. If there is something that you want to be featured—anything, anywhere Cebu—kindly email me at backpackingwithabook[at]gmail[dot]com