You may not believe this, but you’re in for a wonderful surprise if you’re a proud Cebuano adventurer, outdoorsman, mountaineer, bushcrafter, or eco-warrior! Despite massive deforestation, Cebu has its own natural park or protected area! Yes, that’s right. A natural park or protected area is a location that receives legal protection due to its recognized ecological, natural, and/or cultural value. A protected area is crucial for ecological conservation and form the vanguard of any national or international conservation scheme.
The Central Cebu Protected Landscape (CCPL) is located behind the mountains that you see as you approach Cebu from the Mactan Channel. Spanning more than 29,000 hectares, it comprises a lot of sub-parks including the Mananga Watershed Forest Reserve, Kotkot-Lurusan Watershed Forest Reserve, the Sudlon National Park, and the Buhisan Watershed.
We’ve always wanted to visit one of Cebu’s largest but less-known natural treasures. So, last August 18, Sweetie and I responded to an invitation and joined a dayhike organized by the Enthusiast of Cebu Outdoors group. The hike started in Banawa and goes up to the eastern slopes of the Banawa mountains. The trail then descended to the Buhisan Watershed, which is part of the CCPL.
Sweetie and I met the group in Convergys Banawa at 7:00 AM. A short while after we arrived, Sir Niel briefed the group about the hike, Leave No Trace principles, safety, etc. Since there were more than 40 hikers during that day, the group was divided into two for better management.
As we hiked down the road, we witnessed beautiful, high-class residences of Cebu’s elite. Many first-class subdivisions like these have rapidly encroached the mountainsides of Cebu. The mountain’s topsoil is excavated and the trees are cut down to make way for roads and plots. Since there’s no more topsoil layer or trees that absorb rainwater, water flows down to the lowlands, which cause massive floods. The floods are exacerbated without the existence of an adequate drainage system in the city.
As the asphalt started to disappear under our feet, we couldn’t help but notice the clear disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Just a stone’s throw away from the subdivision, with a high fence that demarcates the properties, were shanties, huts, dilapidated structures, small farms, and unpaved roads. While the rich enjoy morning jogs and breakfasts in their lawns, the people on the other side of the fence began tending to their cattle, struggled with chores, and toiled so they can earn a few pesos to survive each day.
We encourage everybody to join hikes like these. These activities are not only fun but they are eye-openers, enabling you to see and experience the real world and not just the world you read, hear, or see through the radio, newspapers, TV, or the Internet.
After half an hour of trekking, we reached the Good Shepherd Mission in the Cebu highlands. Founded by the Good Shepherd Sisters when they came to Cebu in 1951, the mission is now a popular pilgrimage center where devotees and worshipers go to find solitude and spiritual guidance.
The Good Shepherd rotunda looks very mysterious surrounded by verdant mountains and greens. In fact, we imagined it to be Cebu’s very own stone circle similar to that of Goloring in Germany, Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and other ancient earthworks.
The Good Shepherd Mission is also a popular pilgrimage center. Life-sized reliefs depicting the Stations of the Cross line up the grassy field. During Holy Week, throngs of people endure the burning sun to pray and worship the Lord.
A lone, forlorn station watches over the city and the hills. The damaged but still standing statues symbolically represent the present situation of the Roman Catholic Church. Many Filipinos are now shifting to other religions or becoming agnostics/atheists due to changing times, realizations, influence of science, and many other reasons. However, Roman Catholicism is still the predominant religion in the country.
As we left the fields of the Good Shepherd mission, we came face-to-face with this verdant range. See that hill? Behind that is the edge of the Buhisan Watershed.
The hill, with its gentle inclination and somewhat rocky trail, was not difficult to climb. However, it was the sun’s merciless heat that pummeled hikers into submission. Even at a quarter past 8 AM, the sun was already blasting us with heat and radiation. Those hikers who brought umbrellas were lucky. Hehehe!
The view of Cebu City’s skyline was to die for! We always feel proud as Cebuanos whenever we see Cebu’s rapidly expanding modernity. From this vantage, we can really say that Cebu is truly blessed.
After around half an hour of climbing, we finally broke through the shrubs and saw the grassy summit. We made it despite the sun’s punishing heat. Or did we?
Sweetie enjoyed a power break after a hot climb, admiring the view of the city’s skyline. If you’re wondering what those things that she’s sitting on are, these are pre-fabricated concrete slabs that were piled right beside and below the summit. Soon, those slabs will form a part of a fence that forms the perimeter of another high-class subdivision in the mountains.
And with yet another excavation and deforestation, it won’t be difficult to understand why Labangon, Pardo, Talisay, and other barangays south of the metropolis will most likely experience massive flooding in the future.
Oh, it wasn’t the summit after all! There was a taller hill right behind the one we just scaled. And yes, behind that hill is the edge of the Buhisan Watershed. We fervently hope that giant real estate companies won’t encroach through the protected area to build subdivisions.
Reaching the summit of the ridge, we next trudged through the edge of the dome. We needed to be careful with our steps here since the edge of the trail, right next to a very steep slope, was covered with thick vegetation. Also, the rains from the previous days made the rocky-and-muddy trail quite slippery.
Like a mysterious lost land, the expansive tree-filled bowl of the Buhisan Watershed opened before us. This is one of Cebu’s last great areas where the forest comprises of first-generation trees. Rainwater runs through these slopes and ends up in the river-lake system below or under vast underground reservoirs.
We’ve been hiking for more than an hour. Rest stops such as these are definitely a welcome moment in every hike where everyone re-energizes, replenishes their tummies, and mingle with friends.
After a quarter of an hour, we descended down the trail that led through the watershed itself. As we navigated down the slippery slopes, we were simply mesmerized at just how massive—and delicate and important—this watershed is. An entire fragile ecosystem is housed here, an ecosystem that can easily be damaged beyond repair by human greed.
Since it was going to be a long trek out of the watershed, we first stopped at a water source to fill out bottles with fresh, clear, clean groundwater. Ground water beats any filtered or purified water; it contains mineral salts that are important for the body.
However, we were saddened by what we saw beside the water source. Piles of plastic wrappers littered the area. These were probably left by locals who get their water from this water source. But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a protected area?
It was a thick jungle in here. The growth was so thick that it sometimes obscured the trail. The Buhisan Watershed is home to hundreds of species of plants, some of which are not yet fully understood despite long and diligent botanical studies.
Not all is green in the protected area. In many places, the watershed showed splashes of colors. These are wild flowers that are abundant in the watershed. Aren’t they pretty?
At the bottom of the Buhisan Watershed, we found these tributaries which lead to the Buhisan River and lake. Oh yes, we did a little bit of river trekking—stream trekking to be exact.
While they may look small and peaceful, these streams may become raging monsters during a downpour. It is therefore not advisable to trek through the arteries of the Buhisan Watershed during heavy rains.
Don’t get your feet wet, Sweetie! Check out the thick greens! It’s simply amazing to know that despite Cebu’s massive expansion of steel, concrete, and glass, we still have magnificent, natural places like these. Here, we are embraced by Mother Nature.
Ancient Narra trees form the pillars of an ancient natural canopy that has protected this area from the sun’s heat and has sheltered innumerable fauna for hundreds, or perhaps, thousands of years.
But man only takes a few minutes to cut down one of these mighty trees. Along the way, we found evidence of senseless and illegal cutting in a government-protected land. Check out the cut; it is evident that it’s man-made because the cut is straight. Trees felled down by the wind have splintered, ragged cuts. DENR, please wake up!
Sir Niel explained that the tree will be left there to dry out. Once dry, the woodcutters will chop the log down. The wood will then be burned to make charcoal, firewood, and building materials. And remember, this illegal cutting, which damages the ecosystem, is done for a few hundred pesos!
At around 10 AM, we reached a dry riverbed surrounded by high-canopied trees. This was once a flowing river, but the extraction of gravel from the riverbed outside the protected area halted the flow. Only when it rains does the river come back to life. Sir Niel said that during heavy rains, the water can rise as high as your hips.
Another felled tree near the riverbank. Judging from the straight cuts, this once-mighty tree apparently fell victim to man’s chainsaws and axes. This is supposed to be illegal since the tree is in a protected area. We do hope concerned government agencies are doing their job and keeping a lookout for these environmental criminals.
Now, isn’t that a magical sight? It’s actually otherworldly, and it’s hard to believe that we have a Pandora-like place right here in Cebu! The water from the river flows to the Buhisan Reservoir, a part of which can be seen in the photo below.
To exit the Buhisan Watershed, we needed to circle around the reservoir. See those trees? Those are the homes of endangered and endemic birds such as the Black Shama, the Streak-breasted Bulbul, the Rufous-lored Kingfisher, and the Philippine Tube-nosed Bat.
Don’t be deceived by the grasslands and thick vegetation. Being near a large body of water, the trail that circles around the reservoir cuts through a wet, muddy marsh. Be prepared to get your feet wet!
Check out the ground to know how wet it is. It’s indeed a marshland in here! And obviously, it is a rich feeding ground for birds as a habitat for freshwater organisms. It is also in the Buhisan Watershed where the Cebu flowerpecker, which was thought to be extinct, was rediscovered by local ornithologists in 1992.
That’s the magnificent Buhisan Reservoir where the bulk of Cebu’s potable water comes from. The area water is kept in place for the century-old Buhisan Dam, one of the oldest functioning dams in the country. This lake, a reservoir of precious water, harbors a rich and delicate ecosystem.
One of the innumerable organisms that inhabit the Buhisan Reservoir is the kuhol, a type of freshwater snail. Their pink eggs are glued to the stalks of plants that line up the perimeter of the reservoir. Kuhol snails are edible, and they are roughly analogous to France’s escargots.
As we neared the exit, we saw this interesting tree house. This is probably an outpost or a lookout for the guards that patrol the protected area.
After a few hours of trekking, we finally exited the Buhisan Watershed and back into civilization.
It is really good to know that a lot of government agencies and private entities have become aware of environmental preservation and actually doing something about it. The Save the Buhisan Watershed Project is an important endeavor to protect one of Cebu’s natural treasures from those who seek Mother Nature’s destruction for the sake of money.
After a short break, we headed to Barangay Toong via a road that cuts through the DENR’s Buhisan Reforestation Area. Hiking on an asphalted road isn’t exactly comfortable, but at least, the shady trees made the tiring ordeal more tolerable.
We reached Barangay Toong at exactly 12 noon. We quickly replenished our energies with a hearty lunch. It was just unfortunate that we came a day too late; Barangay Toong just held its annual fiesta a day before we came. We could have tasted lechon! Hahaha!
After lunch, we headed out to the Kawa sinkhole via the Toong River. Since it is rainy season, the river reverberated with life with the water gushing merrily and noisily. When we last came here a few months ago during our Quiot to Jaclupan trek, this river was almost dry.
The Kawa sinkhole was also full of life, turning itself into a tiered waterfall. It was a welcome sight for hikers who have been under the sun the whole morning.
Definitely, no one can resist the cool waters of Kawa during a hot, humid day. Some daredevils even dived into the sinkhole itself!
After refreshing ourselves, we hiked up the mountain and followed a jungle-covered trail along rolling terrain that was quite easy to navigate. We exited the trail at Barangay Jaclupan where Sweetie and I treated ourselves with ice-cold Sparkle, the lifesaver of every climb.
Due to many days of heavy rainfall, the Mananga River came to life. The last time we were here, the river was bone-dry. We could imagine how beautiful and powerful this river was decades ago before the riverbed was quarried. If it was left in its pristine condition, Cebu may have its own river whose current is powerful enough for whitewater rafting.
We headed to Igotan Cave to refresh under its underground waterfall. What a relaxing, refreshing reward after long, hot hours of hiking. We took a rest before entering the cave.
Remember this dried-up waterfall? Heavy rains have given it life, and water poured down in heavy sheets. The smell of excrement was still there, though, and we felt quite grossed out when we saw young kids frolicking in there.
Despite the fact that the cave lights were off (the caretaker said that someone cut the electrical line), everyone had a lot of fun in the dark. For many, it was their first time in a cave much less bathing in a waterfall inside a cave. Just check out those smiles!
For Sweetie and I, our trip to the Buhisan Watershed was an eye-opener. We saw, with childlike wonder, how beautiful and magical this place is. We realized, with sudden understanding, how massive, important, and delicate this ecological lifeline is. We saw, with sadness and concern, how man secretly destroys Mother Nature’s gifts out of profit and greed.
But now that people have begun to understand the significance of environmental conservation, we have high hopes that the verdant Buhisan Watershed will receive adequate government protection. It will continue to be the home of rare and unique wildlife; life will find a way. All we need to do is just to step aside and put our trust in Mother Nature.
Special thanks to Rey Buaya for some of the photos.
7:00 AM – meet-up at Convergy’s Banawa
7:30 AM – ETD Convergy’s and ascent to the ridge
8:30 AM – ETA ridge summit, take photos
9:00 AM – ETA mango tree rest station, rest and rehydrate
9:30 AM – ETA Buhisan Watershed area
11:00 AM – ETA Barangay Toong, lunch
12:00 PM – ETD Baragay Toong, trek to Linaw and Kawa
1:30 PM – ETA Linaw and Kawa, swimming
2:00 PM – ETD Linaw and Kawa, going to Jaclupan
3:00 PM – ETA Jaclupan, head out to Igotan Cave
3:30 PM – ETA Igotan Cave, explore cave and bathe in the cave’s waterfall
4:30 PM – ETD Igotan Cave, ride a Jaclupan jeep bound for Tabunok, Talisay
5:00 PM – ETA Tabunok, Talisay, separate ways to Cebu
Estimated Budget per Person
P 7.50 – jeepney fare from Jones Avenue to Convergy’s Banawa
P 10 – jeepney fare from Jaclupan to Tabunok, Talisay
P 5 – Igotan Cave gate entrance fee (in case you don’t want to go inside the cave)
P 20 – cave entrance fee
Total Estimated Budget per Person: P50 (excluding lunch, snacks, extras, and fare to and from home)
2. The traverse from Convergy’s Banawa to Jaclupan is perfect for cash-strapped adventurers. As you can probably infer from the estimated budget above, this trek is pretty cheap. You’ll probably spend more on drinks and snacks than the actual essentials of the trip itself.
3. The trek to the southern ridge is moderately exposed. Thus, don’t forget to bring a wide-brimmed hat, scarf, or umbrella to protect yourself from the heat. Don’t hesitate to tell the guide to stop if you feel exhausted.
4. Wear arm guards and trekking pants to protect your skin from the sun and prickly plants. Also, a dry-fit shirt or rash guard will help keep you cool.
5. On your way and inside the Buhisan Watershed, make sure you’re in visual range of each other. There are many trails (or paths that seem like trails) that lead deeper into the protected area. If the gap between teams is considerable, the tail end of your group won’t be able to see the lead group due to the thick vegetation blocking your line of sight. Always be on the lookout for the people behind and in front of you to ensure safety.
6. Be prepared to get your feet wet as you go around the reservoir. You will be trekking right through a marshland.
7. Wear trekking shoes or sandals with an aggressive tread. You will need a lot of traction since you will be scrambling over loose soil and slippery rocks .
8. Bring salt tablets or ion-filled beverages such as Gatorade, coconut water, or fruit juice aside from water. The hot sun, multiple ascents, and exposed trails can make you sweat a lot. When you lose enough ions and salts via your sweat, cramps will occur. If cramps happen, rest for awhile, drink a lot of water or ionic drinks. This will replenish the ions in your system.
9. Bring energy-rich trail food such as nuts, crackers, bread, and bananas. Don’t underestimate the mountain.
10. Pack light but do bring the following:
- water (at least 2 liters)
- trekking attire
- trekking shoes or sandals with aggressive tread (terrain is rocky)
- umbrella, hat, or scarf (terrain is exposed and hot)
- packed lunch
- trail snack
- helmet (protection for caving)
- headlamp (for caving)
- rain gear (in case of bad weather)
- extra money for emergencies
11. Don’t forget to waterproof your belongings. You can do this easily by wrapping your stuff with plastic bags or zip-lock bags before putting them inside your pack.
12. Remember that you are in a protected area. So please mind your trash; do not leave any of your garbage behind.