SIBUYAN – ISLAND OF WATER

by Daniel Leemon

The Journey to Sibuyan is not an easy one, involving early morning non-connecting boats and uncomfortable bone-rattling jeepney rides through the Romblon archipelago, but if you like hiking, rivers, and waterfalls, it’s a trip that’s so worth it…

SIBUYAN is a simple place, two or three humble little towns basking in anonymity with a laid back ambience, an island absolutely swamped in green, an overwhelming collage of verdant vegetation, layer upon layer of lush foliage and trees and effervescent rice fields shimmering in the sunlight and backed by the immense and towering Mount Guiting-Guiting, always looming in the background. And rivers. Lots and lots of rivers, turquoise green waters and trees which cascade down and overhang the river’s edge, beautiful, entrancing and tranquil.

Upon arrival, I have a choice of what to do first. Take on the beast that is Mount Guiting-Guiting, a formidable hike and climb, or go and explore the myriad of wonderful falls dotted around the island. I decide to start with the latter.

I start off on my whistle-stop tour with the wonderfully-named Dagubdub Falls, turning off the main road and riding my bike through a little community and past a couple of remote settlements until I run out of road and I’m surrounded by fields, at a loss of where to go next. A passing local takes pity and guides me through the feral fields until we reach the river and wade through, following a sort of path on the other side and finally reaching our destination, a circular pool of opaque turquoise fresh water fed by a small rapid at one end. We clamber up alongside the river’s edge on a path aided and abetted by a series of the most rudimentary ladders and bridges made from untreated branches until we reach the second level, another pool completely engulfed in jungle. I jump in and enjoy the nature.

Next up is Lambingan Falls, following a little path starting right off the main road, meandering through thick jungle and clinging onto the river’s shore until I reach a series of smaller pools, lots of different levels, one after the other, allowing you to climb from one to the other in a gentle but lung-opening endeavor. The mosquitoes are out in full force though, so I don’t linger.

Cantingas River offers something different. A wide and slow-gushing body of water which has been made into a fantastic man-made attraction by the addition of two fun features. Two platforms spaced about 100 meters apart are connected by zip-lines where you can strap yourself in and whizz along from one to the other, soaring above the water in a heart-stopping ride, such fun. Then you have the ‘diving boards’, three levels extending from the bottom platform and offering you the chance to leap off into the river from a great height, usually whilst letting out a gutteral roar. I’m goaded into attempting the first level, probably around 15 feet high, by a bunch of little river urchins, then ‘encouraged’ to go from the second level, this one around 8 feet higher. I jump, fall, it hurts a bit, so I retire and spend time watching the little blighters fearlessly jumping from the top platform, almost 30 feet high.

The next day I go for a couple of hikes, firstly entering the Mount Guiting- Guiting reservation and setting off with my genial guide, heading for the Gaong River and its falls. The journey takes me through thick jungle and imperceptible paths, my informative guide constantly pointing out the different endemic flora and fauna which has earned the island its tag of the ‘Galapagos of Romblon’, then wide open fields of fern with magnificent views of the imposing peaks of the mountain, along the river, the water flanked by an other-worldly landscape of smooth and rounded rocks stretching into the distance. This is a proper workout, though my guide casually flits form rock to rock like a mountain goat, barely breaking sweat, and we follow a path away from the stream, up a steep elevation, along the plateau, then back again when suddenly… the trees open up and we arrive at the river’s edge. Steep high walls hide the lush body of water, a series of small rapids forming two pools perfect for cooling off. The location is stunning, the water cool and fresh. It’s been hard work but rewarding.

Trekking to the Cataja Falls proves to be easier as the wide path goes through fields of grassland, then into a sparse forest, out the other side to become an easy trail hugging the river, reaching the series of multi-layered steep ledges, the water thundering and gushing and zigzagging through the black marble-like Dalipi rock.

So many waterfalls, all with their own unique charm.

Recommended Place to Stay:

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ISLE DREAMS – Olango Located on the beach at the south side of Sibuyan near a freshwater lagoon and perfectly placed as a base for the ‘tougher’ climb up the mountain, Sa Agoho Beach Resort is a lovely resort, beautiful individualistic cottages set right on the sand and constructed in a fantastic European-Philippine fusion, idyllic and tranquil. Also available as part of the Isle Dreams grouping is long-term accommodation of equally charming huts scattered around this little haven by the sea.

Recommended Place to Stay:

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SANCTUARY GARDENS – Magdiwang An enchanting set of huts and rooms in a stunning, beautifully designed resort, spectacular landscaping with the cottages ensconced amongst the vegetation on the multi-leveled hill, with great views, a serene and relaxing oasis. Also a monkey and bird sanctuary. Located at the foot of Mount Guiting-Guiting on the north side.

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