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| Travel Essay | Kanlaob: Beyond Kawasan

“If you can’t swim, find a trail,” advised Myand, who is aware of my river obsession. Perhaps he could see the lustful look on my face while looking at the rather strong rapids of Kanlaob. And perhaps he could also see the will to test its stubbornness with my very own body, with my very own stubbornness.

With the torrents in front of us, my rather rusty frog stroke had no use. Kanlaob is no swimming pool.

So while he scouted for a safer trail by the river, Shimi—another EWIT member—and I confronted Kanlaob at the onslaught.

Often, Kawasan is the exit point from a long traverse from Cebu’s highest, Osmeña Peak. Whereas others see the highest fall, the lagoon and then the natural jacuzzi on the left meet the trekker’s eyes first. The lagoon becomes the place of uncontrollable guffaws, of teasings and matchmakings, of lovers made and broken. It bears witness of the connection forged through walking.

Although the sound of the rapids insists that the river flows, the lagoon makes it appear that it does not. That it stays.

The order of experience is reverse: every tourist’s entrance is every trekker’s exit. From the lagoon, we trailed by the river’s descent on our right. Its sound is not of resisting but of going down, of falling, of touching things fleetingly.

It reminds me of downstreaming, which is an act of limblessness, the act of not thinking rationally. It is the act of manifesting gravity, of foolishly hoping that it makes the right fall. When I think of first love, I think of a river falling delirious.

Seeing the river from the entrance was a different narrative. It means seeing the river breathe out and the sea breathe in. The cascades nearing the sea are shy, slower. But as we advanced to the first fall, they became louder, faster.

Standing in front of the first fall means witnessing the act of falling, whereas downstreaming means experiencing the fall itself. The fall has the loudness and crowd that the lagoon contents not to have.

When we reached the lagoon, Myand searched for the trail to Kanlaob. Kawasan thrives from its waters. It is the river that originates from Alegria and travels to Badian.

On the right of the lagoon was a wide passage. Shimi and I followed Myand. Where we stood was the end of Kawasan and the start of Kanlaob. But really, it is a long traveling river of which we imposed names.

River trekking requires elaborate waterproofing. Myand used a tube-like bag suitable for river-trekking. Shimi put his belongings inside a container, while I amateurishly enclosed my things in two huge plastic bags.

In contrast to the lagoon’s deepness, the waters in the entrance to Kanlaob only brushed our ankles. As we walked through, the passage got cramped. The river got louder. And the madder the torrent got, the more perturbed I became.

Unlike mountain trekking—where the mind can wander anywhere it desires—river trekking, especially in a narrow one, asks one to be alert. Upstreaming needs not only the body but also the mind to be present. It is one of those moments where the mind and body work together.

With the waters hastening downward, the hands have to grip the rock as firm as possible, the body has to resist the gravity of the rushing water and push upward. It is a story of resistance.

“Okay ra ka, te?” asked Myand upon seeing me pushing a nerve on my left ankle. We rested for a few minutes in a shallow part. Not even half-through, I felt pain on my left calf that ran through my ankle.

“Cramps?” he answered his own question. The rapids were too forceful for the body to take. Too much resisting can make the muscles contract involuntarily. Perhaps this was the reason Myand looked for an alternative route. Or perhaps, if the three of us insisted on upstreaming at the outset, nobody could assist if any calamities fell on us. He always has the rationality of a seasoned outdoorsman.

As we moved forward, the cliff got narrower. Natural bulwarks fence the river and a tapestry of leaves canopied above us and the color of the water changed. It did not have the blueness of Kawasan anymore but the emeraldness of the ocean.

“Ikay una, sir Shims!” Myand urged him to lead. Shimi eyed the emerald waters with the thoughts of monstrous mantaga, a mythical octopus that lurks in the river’s depths.

With my throbbing ankle, I hesitated. The color of the waters conveyed the deepness.

It is uneasiness and excitement that consume me when I confront the rapids, but it is the silence of the deep river that I find intimidating and disturbing. Silence can kill.

But there was no other option left but to swim this gorge and see what lay ahead. Unable to reach the riverbed with my feet, I swam with might. But my left leg acted up at the last straw. Shimi extended his hand. I gripped it. We stood on a small protruding part of the cliff. It could only accommodate our feet. We looked up and regretted not bringing a rope. It would have been possible if we had one. Myand tested the creeper that had a diameter of an inch. The way it looked, it could not support any of our body.

“Di gyod siya pwede, te,” Myand concluded. Shimi and I conceded.

We jumped into the river; the rapids drowned three human voices. Mine was the most excited. The mantaga’s the most silent.


Take a bus bound south at the South Bus Terminal. The bus fare is around 120. Get off in Matutinao, Badian. Trek to Kawasan’s lagoon. Ropes might be needed. Neither Kawasan nor Kanlaob is a popular river trekking destination yet. It is highly advisable to bring a seasoned guide.

 Published on Sun.Star Cebu | October 04, 2012 

For more pictures: Kanlaob River: Beyond Kawasan

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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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  1. Pakpak! Lingawa tan-awon uy. 😀

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