River (mis)Adventures in Catmon!

tightrope acrobats are usually paper thin, not two hundred pounds. that's what was going through my head as I muttered "pekeng ina naman! what the feck have i gotten myself into?!?!?!"

i felt like a cast member in an indiana jones movie, a hanging bridge spanning a ravine with a dizzying drop to a riverbed below. i probably won't die if i fell down, slightly mangled but not really dead. you get the point.

then again, i blame myself really why i found myself hanging on for dear life as i wobbled across the hanging bridge. let me backtrack for a bit.

it was really part of the itinerary to visit the hot spring in catmon. i nearly had a fit when we got to this "spring" right beside the road and it looked like a cemented portion of a creek that trapped the flowing water before it goes out to rejoin the stream leading into the open sea. i can see my companion's face and the mental expletives that formed as they took on the view of the locals doing their laundry and half a dozen farm animals lining up for a dip in the "pool". i didn't travel all the way to catmon for this!

good thing we were able to hook up with a local previously and we had the good sense to ask for the name of the owner of the "hot spring" and it soon became obvious that this wasn't the spring we were looking for. lest you fall into the same situation, remember this: the spring is Esoy Hot Spring and the owner is Celso Bustamante.

let me digress for a while and let's talk about the "pinoy measure of distance". we pout our lips, pointing to a distance that's not that far and mutter "dyan lang". when we say "malapit lang" assume that's it is anywhere from a few meters to a few hundred... kilometers. but when we say 3 kilometers, or one kilometer we assume that is a specific distance from point A to B.

Apparently, in the outskirts of the city, it's not only the accent that changes but the notion of distance as well.

the resort staff said that the marker for the road leading up to the hot spring is three kilometers going towards town and that the hot spring itself is about a kilometer heading up to the mountain.

well, make it around 11 kilometers to town, and another 5 to the hot spring.

finally we were able to make it to the hot spring only to find out that it is only by reservation that you can enter the place. good thing we have our native cebuano who did the negotiation (and i suspect he promised our souls to the diwatas and engkantos of the place) to let us in.

entrance is Php 100 per LOCAL head, the caretaker had half a mind to charge us more as gerry looked like a spanish sardine and i could easily be mistaken for an arab (blame it on the facial hair). it didn't help that lea kept speaking in eynglish you know.

aside from shelling out the Php 100 per head, we had to cough up an additional Php 500 to use a table and nope, you can't go down to inspect the place. you just have to agree up front about the rates.

i can imagine why the caretaker dissuaded us from "checking out" the place, you have to go down a total of 165 steps carved on the side of the mountain and just imagine climbing the same route.

in fairness, the hot spring beckoned to us with the promise of soothing our tired muscles. the set up was pretty nice (yes, pretty AND nice). the owner created a dipping pool that formed the basin for the flowing water and created holes around the pool to allow the water to drop into the ravine and riverbed just beside the carved out platform.

we could have spent our day stewing in the hot dip if not for the fact that I saw lifejackets hanging by the sari sari store that piqued my interest. you certainly don't need the jackets inside the pool unless you're midgets, really short midgets.

that's how i found out that the owner can arrange for a river trek that leads all the way to a gorgeous cathedral domed waterfall.

and that's where i found myself muttering "pekeng duck naman!!!!" as i crossed the hanging bridge going to a platform where you can access the riverbed.

the next thought that came into my head was "aaaarrrrrrggggh! why did i leave my camera?!?!?" you see, nature has a way of making the most intricate painting look like a cheap print.

right below the property is a cave with stalactites that glistened with running water dripping on its surface. you swim inside and you head on to a spot where you have to dive and swim across a short short portion to emerge on the other side.

you then wade to shallower parts of the water to climb a natural pedestal where gushing spout of hot water form a natural "shower". never mind that it is sulphuric and has that slightly "rotten egg" aroma. imagine dr. wong sulphur soap.

from there, manong esoy guided us through the river bed with the dexterity of a mountain goat as we all stretched, hopped, tiptoed, waded, crawled, skidded, cursed, squealed like babies throughout the very short three hundred meters leading to the waterfall.

as lea mentioned, good thing she did her pilates the other day as it really prepared her for this trek. i thanked the yoga gods for giving me the flexibility and strength! it's not an easy trek, nor is it leisurely.

along the way you admire the view of the cliffs flanking the river bed and the green green vegetation that shade part of the way. there are portions where you feel you're on a frying pan as you scramble on top of huge boulders under the blistering heat of the sun. which reminds me, boulders triple our height disappear during the rainy season. yes, the waters get that high and manong esoy advised us that the trek is simply impossible during the rainy season.

natural eddies form in pool pockets powered by the strong flowing water, perfect for a natural jacuzzi and a short break from the trek.

the best part of the trek is the fact that manong esoy has literally memorized the trek and can guide you through very specific portions of the riverbed. you start to appreciate his help when he tells you the exact distance you have to swim before you can find a submerged foothold.

for me, the fact that he was always ahead meant that if there's an anaconda, 3D piranha, lacoste crocodile, mega leech and other river monsters, he'd be the first to go "ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee".

before we know it, we reach the open pool flanked by a naturally hollowed out dome-like structure from the two cliffs that frame a gorgeous waterfall. we can feel the mist hit our faces as we swam around the pool.

i floated on my back and loved the way the sunlight filtered through the leaves. it was a magical experience!

the trek back was faster and if the hanging bridge was scary going down, imagine pulling yourself up! i was still muttering pekeng duck all the way. we can't believe that we've already consumed two hours doing the trek and was longing to get back to the hot spring so we can soak our tired muscles.

exhilirating, balls-petrifying, but definitely worth it!

then reality hit us, we still have to walk up 160 steps carrying our stuff. i am pretty sure that the duck is the most abused bird during that part of the trip. pekeng duck pekeng duck!!!!

just in case you want to explore the same adventure, i've published the contact details:

Celso Bustamante
(032) 430 9250, (0921) 813 3296, (0923) 553 7427
Esoy Hot Springs, Catmon

just tell manong esoy you were endorsed by dennis, friends of AA from Lanao :) he'll remember that :)


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