OR maybe not anymore?
SURIGAO DEL SUR, Philippines—Far away in the Northeastern coast of Mindanao is a 300-kilometer stretch of picturesque coastal roads, pristine beaches, quaint villages and historic towns; a place where time is of no essence and you move in your own sweet pace. The province is called Surigao Del Sur.
Dubbed by locals as the Shangri-La by the Pacific, the province is a land of enchantment, cloaked in fascinating history and rich in natural attractions still practically uncorrupted by the advent of commercialization and mass tourism.
A few years back, professional photographers Rhon Ng and travel writer Jojie Alcantara whisked me off on a three-day rough and bumpy road trip adventure in a pickup jam-packed with all their gear. Not serious about photography, I did not understand yet why they had so much baggage which Rhon guarded with his life.
I came with a backpack containing my change of clothes and personal belongings for three days, and my photography gear—a Sony point and shoot and my overworked laptop. Only later did I realize what photo opportunities I missed on that trip.
The adventure took us from one end of the province to the other, sampling the paradise it has to offer to locals and tourists, an experience that would beckon you to come again and again. One of the most unforgettable stops we had was at the famous Enchanted River of Hinatuan, and I was to know why it was named so.
The Enchanted River of Hinatuan is about an hour’s ride from Bislig City in Surigao del Sur. We drove the rough and narrow trail, navigating a few twists and turns before stopping near a rocky mountain wall where the blue waters of the enchanted river flows in the crevice below. The place was deserted, and there was something about the eerie silence and that blue darkness that is quite hard to reckon with, something bigger and strange that I could not put a word to it.
The lagoon beckoned temptingly, issuing a silent but irresistible invitation as though challenging anyone to explore the secrets of its undiscovered depths.
The mystery and beauty of the Enchanted River of Hinatuan has been featured in TV programs, YouTube and stories and photos published in websites all over the world. Divers have gone on expeditions to uncover the mystery in its depths but no one succeeded. Strong currents no one has ever experienced before, sand or pebbles block the passages whenever somebody tries to dive, making people believe that enkantos are really guarding the river. Over the past years, expeditions have been made by divers to search for undiscovered tunnels and passages.
Our guide told us a group of divers once tried to reach the bottom but they were forced to surface after exhausting three oxygen tanks each, reaching only 150 feet down. He also told us that no one would dare swim in the river alone when it gets dark because sightings of enchanted beings had been reported to show up before locals or strangers.
Stories had it that three people were seen to have walked into the river and disappeared into waters, and at certain times, huge multi-colored fish surface but one has yet caught a single fish no matter what method they used. Whether or not they believe the river to be enchanted, they are unwilling to take chances.
Rhon was unable to resist the temptation and took a swim, jumping from a rocky ledge and into the blue waters.
Mystical no more?
A year or so ago, I learned the air of mystery in the river could be forever gone forever with the advent of commercialism. The place has become one of the top tourist destinations. There is already a 30 pesos entrance free per person, and restrooms have been installed where you can change if you want to swim. Life jackets are rented out, and fish feeding has become a popular activity. Recent online photos showed cottages and ramps erected near the river bank. Gone was the feeling of enchantment that engulfed me when I first stepped on the riverbank over five years ago.
Check one this expedition on YouTube to get an idea of how Enchanted Underwater Cave looks like. I’m not sure if the spirits and enkantos believed to be guarding the river still wants to stay with the everyday activities and the influx of tourists to the place.
From Davao: From Davao Ecoland Terminal, take a bus bound for Mangagoy (Bislig) and transfer to a bus, jeep or habal-habal going to Hinatuan.
From Butuan : From Langihan Terminal, take a bus bound for Mangagoy (Bislig)
Buses ply the routes of Tandag-Butuan, Tandag-Davao and Tandag-Surigao City regularly. Vans for hire are also available.