Sohoton Caves National Park and Balantak Falls

Samar Travel Blog

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But, somehow it has always been sidelined.

My travel partner is not high on caves. Evil spirits lurk there and even the natives of the place are afraid of entering the caves. A prayer is always said before entering to appease the spirits. Etc etc etc.

I had reserved for a tour last year, but when the time came, there were torrential rains for days on end, and the cave system was flooded.

This time, the stars were perfectly aligned.

We started from the hotel at 6 AM or was it 5 AM. I am not so sure anymore. Next time I make a trip like this I will write about it asap on this blog. The buses going to Samar were in a certain portion of the New Bus Terminal of Tacloban.
It turns out there was an order to the general disarray: those going to Samar, this way, going to western Leyte, this way, to southern Leyte this way. We bought bottled water at one of the sari sari stalls in the station, and the girl behind the counter kept on talking to me in Waray even though I was asking questions in Tagalog. Finally I talked in English and the older lady probably her mother laughed and took care of me in Taglish. A bit confusing perhaps for foreigners but pleasantly so for myself.

The bus left after about an hour, just enough for me to slightly reach impatience with the way transport systems are run in the Philippines.  Past some parts of Tacloban, past the San Juanico Bridge which remains very very picturesque indeed; the longest bridge in this sometimes God-forsaken dear country.
A colleague at the university where I teach has once said aloud that this bridge comes from nowhere and leads to nowhere. Perhaps as member of the mestizo class with uppity affairs, the twin islands of Leyte and Samar holds no fascination.

But, I am an indio. Furthermore, geography has always entranced me. Perhaps it had something to do with my mother being a public school teacher in social studies that included geography. We always had books on social studies and from reading them I would dream of lands to visit, mountains to climb, seas to traverse, and perhaps caves to explore. No matter that I am afraid of the sea as I have never learned to swim even though I was a star boy scout, and I can return all my medals but I do not know where they are anymore.

After the long bridge the bus stopped for almost 30 minutes in a nondescript area beside the highway in the town of Sta.
Rita.

For what purpose I don't know. This is my biggest source of irritation, when I do not know what is happening. When I conduct meetings I always appraise everyone of what is going on. But, a special hell for me is waiting in airports for delayed flights, and I have no idea of what is happening when that minute comes and we are not told to board the plane yet. One asks the people behind the counter and the counter people stare back with hostility.

Finally we go slowly towards Basey. The bus took its own sweet time as if it has all day and perhaps rightfully so. Strangers can go to hell, right.

In Basey we drop by a gas station and I thought the terminal was there but T told me it is a tricycle ride away. We dropped by the gas station because he has to pee and there is a decent washroom there.
A sign says, to pee 5 pesos, other stuff to do 10 pesos but the man outside waived the fees for us. Thus, I peed as well as I cannot resist something offered free. Hahahaha.

Finally we were at the tourist center that is being run by the cooperative. What a great concept these people had. It systematized the whole set-up and they tried their best to run it professionally. I love it. I shows what can be done at the grassroots level and the result was orderly, neat, and trouble-free. No haggling.

I wish every tourist spot in the whole country had a functional system like this.

Arranging for everything took maybe 30 minutes, as there were several vans of people ahead of us.

Fees to be paid include those for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Not really big.
I forgot already how much the boat trip was; it included the fee for the boatman and the tour guides to the cave. I think it was 3500 pesos and was good for 8 people. No lunch. There were only two of us and at that point I wanted to have more leeway with decision-making. So I dished out the moolah. Heck, once in a lifetime I get to visit this cave system; I will scrimp on other things, hahahaha. While I was negotiating the fees, T bought our local fast food lunch

So we had the boat to ourselves. I was feeling so great. From the mouth of the Golden River (actually the Cadacan River; whoever though of the first moniker had wrong priorities, hahaha) we went upstream. It was to be a 1.5 hours trip.

After an hour the boat stalled. I was reminded of the boat stalling in the seas of Coron Island.
I was beginning to be irritable once more as the boatman did not know what to do. He paddled us near the bank where several men were. One of them got on the boat and tinkered with the motor, and it sputtered to life once more. One hour wasted.

I did call the boatman a moron. Hahahaha.

But, it wasn't fair. He should have checked the motor to make sure it was alright. And besides, if your wages depend on running the boat, by this time you should know how to troubleshoot that damn motor.  Right?

After all, the people who pay for that trip didn't get their money by winning the lottery. We work just as hard as you do, boy.

We reached the cave system and were introduced to our guide, a DENR employee who has been a guide through the caves for 20 years. Oh my goodness. He knew the cave.
Very well.

Even though I had to correct a bit of history trivia he was mouthing off...

Two lady tour guides came with us to assist in lighting for the photo taking. Stalactites and stalagmites are well preserved. We were warned not to touch the surfaces to prevent their being spoiled.

Explains also why we were issued hard hats with high-power electric lights. I love it. Very professional. Of course I bumped my head on a stalactite, the kind that would have left a bloodied gash. But the hard hat was extremely useful. lol

One's imagination can run wild with the fantastic shapes. Even body parts. Weird, hahaha. A man's body part, several stalactites resembles that. Just look at the photos. And the feeding station, hahahaha.

Some parts of the cave had running water. Very clear.


The tour took an hour. We really enjoyed it. I think the tour was done professionally. I gave a tip to the three guides and they were very happy with that.

We did not stay to eat lunch. We had that as the boat was going downstream, and we gave portions of it to the boatman. He was very patient with us and I felt sorry for calling him a moron earlier hahaha. I have to try the anger management seminars conducted by my psychiatrist friends. That is a standing offer, for free. lol.

We dropped by Baranggay Rawis, and negotiated for a habalhabal ride to Balantak Falls. A habalhabal is a motorcycle slightly configured to carry five, six, or seven. Necessity is the mother of invention and Filipinos lack so many things.

So, up the dirt roads we went for three kilometers. The Balantak Falls area has been also developed for tourists.
However at that time, about 1 PM there were only two of us. Goodness. I don't think something like this happens much.

The lady who lives there guided us to the probably 50- meter or so tall falls, maybe a 100 meter walk.

I had to take photos of T as he posed like a would-be model. This is the part I do not enjoy much, lol...

I would have wanted to bathe but we had leave after about an hour or so as it was threatening to rain heavily. We finished off the rest of our food, bade goodbye to the lady, and took the habalhabal again. On the way back it rained and we were a bit wet but it was nice to know that we were not going to be stranded in some remote baranggay wet with no place to stay.

It was sunny and hot in the town proper. After an hour of being roasted by the roadside while waiting for a van to Tacloban, we finally left Basey.  (Roasted. We were in the shade, in a waiting shed with tin roofing. Suddenly Tennessee Williams crossed my mind, and his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Was that the one with Stanley and Stella Kowalski, and the line, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."? No, I think the Kowalskis are from A Streetcar Named Desire.

What the heck. The van was another oven.

At least, one can doze off and dream of bathing in the clear waters of Balantak Falls.

Summary?

Another wonderful trip.

So long, Samar. I shall miss you, but hopefully, not for long.

And yes, I did give a tip for the boatman.


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Samar
photo by: snow82