Hinatuan Enchanted River

?? `   I left my heart at the Enchanted River, and now I am dying to go back…

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.

Getting There

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.

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Pujada: An island adrift in time

“Beware of quicksands..”Our guide warned but his voice faded into nothingness as we excitedly jumped from the patrol boat of the BFAR into the ankle-deep blue water and made footsteps in the unspoiled fine white sand.Wow! At last my long-time dream of coming to this island was fulfilled. Time seemed to stand still as we entered a totally-secluded territory.Here was an island totally unblemished by coarse tourism, adrift in the Pujada Bay, undiscovered yet by the mass market, and yet is accessible provided one gets in touch with the owners through the Mati Tourism Office.

Forgetting about time and quicksands, I ventured farther from the group with the enthusiasm of an amateur photographer, straining my hands from holding the battery cover with my palm while trying to aim and shoot.Ben’s digicam looked like it figured in an accident and just came from the hospital, wrapped with surgical tapes but it didn’t stop me from capturing the magnificent and unsullied view the island has to offer.To add to it, the eight batteries I took were all ‘low-bat’ that I had to turn off the camera for a second for every shoot I took, turn it on again before shooting the next picture.

Next in my wish list was to see the dolphins but no matter how hard our guide whistled, not one showed itself to us. We learned later that dolphins usually show up from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. It was already 3 p.m. We were too late.Pujada island is approximately 156 hectares only accessible by more than an hour’s boat ride from Mati wharf. We sailed past two smaller islands- Waniban and Oak island, an oblong-shaped sand bar connected to Pujada Island which disappears during high tide before docking at Pujada island.

The three islands boasts of one thing in common- fine white sand and pristine blue waters around it.Mati mayor’s wife Edith N. Rabat said plans are on the way to develop Pujada island, one of the municipality’s main attractions to entice more tourists to visit Mati.”We are just waiting for the go signal from the Angliongto family, the owner of the island before any development will take place to make it as one of the prime tourist spots not only in Mati but in Mindanao,” Rabat said.

Mati councilor Allan Andrade said the island is one of the 42 tourist attractions in the province of Davao Oriental, mostly natural attractions that include hot springs, islands, beaches, lakes and waterfalls.There’s nothing like an hour’s journey by sea giving that would give you a sense of leaving things behind than visiting this strip of paradise in Mati- and if you’re lucky, you might just get a chance to see the dolphins in their exhibition.*