The waters of Caraga
The weather is the most unique feature of Caraga, the grouping of four provinces in northeastern Mindanao. There is no dry or wet season here, and you can't tell when there'll be a sudden rainfall. In Agusan del Sur, for example, a day isn't complete without a downpour or drizzle; so predictable is the rainfall that local claim that their climate is either wet or very wet. Caraga is also where two popular water attractions in the Philippines, Siargao, the so-called surfing capital of the country, and the Agusan marsh, known for its rich biodiversity, are found.
Travel south from the Surigao capitol and you'll come upon the Iron Mountain. It lies close to the Surigao del Norte-Surigao del Sur boundary and is nearly a thousand meters high and covered with pine trees, ironwood (magkono) and poyospos trees, whose flowers smell like the sweetest perfume. The view from the mountain affords a vista of some islands in the Pacific side of the province.
Surigao del Sur has numerous islets lined up close to its coastline, much like Pangasinan's Hundred Islands. Among them is Turtle Island in the municipality of Barobo, which has an outline akin to a turtle. A number of the islands, too, have features similar to Bohol's Chocolate Hills, like the Britannia Islets in San Agustin town. Twenty-for of these semi-spherical mounds are found there but only 11 are surrounded by water and powdery white sands.
Up north in Surigao del Norte is an unusual coast. The Filipinos' common conception of an enticing beach is blue sea and white sand. In Barangay Mabua, about a few kilometers away from the Surigao City proper is a kilometer-long tranquil beach line with round stones.
One of the most spectacular sights in Caraga can be found at the top of a small mountain beside a town named Jabonga in Agusan del Norte province. It's most famous body of water is Lake Mainit, the fourth largest lake in the country. It is surrounded by the gorgeous peaks of Hibok-Hibok volcano and the serene Butuan Bay. To one side is the lake's outlet, Kalinawan River.
Is it any surprise then that the town festivals would revolve around water? The Kaliguan festival is celebrated in Cagwait town every June in honor of St. John the Baptist; here, visitors get an unwelcome drenching at the shore of its U-shaped beach. The only way out the of the ritual is if you willingly jump into the beach's water first.
In Prosperidad, the provincial capital of Agusan del Sur, is the Gibong River. The river is bounded on two sides by two small mountains, and in some parts jagged walls covered by an overgrowth of plants and trees. It is thought that Gibong could have been an underground river whose cave ceiling collapsed millions of years before. In fact, at one part of the river remains partly submerged entrance to an underwater cave.
A short boat ride down the river leads to Binaba Falls, a 200-foot waterfall which cascades down a small mountain slope. Its source is three underground creeks, one of which has now sadly been blocked by the construction of concrete stairs which were thought to help tourism in the area. What is left is a moist, almost barren, slope where cool waters used to run down.
In the nearby municipality of San Francisco is also a source of local lore that has its basis in healing waters. Here rests the uncorrupted remains of Datu Anawa Kalipay, a “baylan” (mystic healer). It is said that when he was still alive, he datu used his special powers when he performed his rituals in the cave that bears his name. The cave is described to be generally wet and includes a water-sealed chamber, an underground creek and strange rock formations. It is said to be especially potent during Holy Week.
Located near the southernmost part of Surigao del Sur, at the end of a rocky and bumpy road is a town named Bislig, and the widest waterfalls in Mindanao, Tinuy-an Falls. Local residents call it the Niagara Falls of the Philippines. It's actually four waterfalls, the longest being 45 feet high; it is said to be the only place where you can actually predict the appearance of a rainbow (Tinuy-an's appears at around 9:00 to 11:00 AM).
Even the most plain-looking terrain can offer a few surprises, like the road in Barangay Makiangkiang in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. It is rocky, tedious and quite similar to any other dirt road in the Philippine provinces...until the road opens up to rows of anthuriums, a variety of cutflowers, white wildflowers and assorted orchids on endless beds of fine grass. A small waterfall accentuate the loveliness of the place. It was totally untended and unknown, but today, not unappreciated.
(First published in Men's Zone Weekend Warriors on September 2004)