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Canyoning in Biliran: Daring to Take the Challenge of the Mighty Sampao River (Part 1)

Canyoning in Biliran

Summer is here! We know you’re itching to spend it on something spectacular and exciting. So rather than simply head to the beach or the local pool, why not try to engage in an outrageous, crazy, and memorable extreme adventure that will both heat you up and cool you down? Summer 2016 is the perfect time for extreme adventures. Make yours an adrenaline-pumping one by canyoning in Biliran’s powerful Sampao River. We did it, and we’ll tell you outright that it is one of the best and wildest activities we ever did!

We got this chance of a lifetime when Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures, a Samar-based outdoor outfitter, invited us to try out his canyoning adventure in the rustic province of Biliran. A master caver and an avid outdoorsman, Sir Joni has a treasure chest of thrilling adventures that will give you an adrenaline overdose.

Of course, we couldn’t say no to such an exciting adventure. Together with canyoning guide, fellow adventurer, and good friend Halourd, we started our journey by boarding a Naval-bound ship at the port of Cebu on a warm Saturday night.

A rainy Sunday greeted us when we finally docked at the port of Naval, Biliran. Our friendly habal-habal drivers whom Sir Joni already contacted were waiting for us. We stopped by the public market to buy lechon manok for lunch and ingredients for our dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. We were going to stay in a room with a kitchen, so why not prepare sumptuous meals rather than buy pre-cooked ones?

After doing some last-minute shopping, we braved the pelting rain and endured a cold, wet 30-minute ride to Barangay Talahid.

Canyoning in Biliran

Sir Joni booked us a nice and affordable room right within Talahid Beach Resort, an inexpensive but totally gorgeous public beach resort! It’s totally awesome! It has been ages since we’ve visited and enjoyed swimming in a clean public beach like this.

Canyoning in Biliran

Our canyoning adventure was scheduled the next day, so we had the entire afternoon to ourselves. Sir Joni called us and asked if we wanted to do something while waiting for the morrow. Island hopping around the bay? Visiting other attractions around Biliran? Well, we would have wanted to do those, but these activities were not in our budget. Mental note: bring extra money next time.

We simply thanked him and opted for a nice stroll around Talahid Beach Resort and the adjacent Agta Beach Resort.

Canyoning in Biliran

Since Talahid is facing west, we had a chance to witness a lovely sunset. It was also an epiphany; witnessing a beautiful sunset means something great is coming. Is that a premonition to tomorrow’s canyoning adventure?

Canyoning in Biliran

Check out our cool and spacious room. It can accommodate six people and has its own bathroom and terrace. Oh, we did mention that there’s a kitchen there, right? We prepared our own tuna pasta, which was a perfect combo with the meat overload pizza that we ordered.

At 7PM, our guide Sir Vitale and assistant/porter Nelmie arrived for registration and signing of waivers. After inviting them for dinner, we had an adventure briefing, which is very important when undertaking extreme adventures such as this. Of course, we shared outdoor experiences over the remnants of the pizza.

Canyoning in Biliran

Excited for the day’s adventure, we woke up earlier than usual, prepared our stuff, and ate a heavy breakfast—we got to have a lot of energy for this activity. The day turned out to be really sunny, and we could already feel its gentle warmth at 6AM. The guides and the habal-habal drivers arrived right on time at 7AM.

On the way to Barangay Sampao in the municipality of Almeria where our canyoning adventure will begin, we witnessed beautiful landscapes of farmlands, coconut groves, and mountains. The morning air was refreshingly cool, prompting locals to enthusiastically start a busy Monday.

Canyoning in Biliran

Our porters rode a separate habal-habal that carries our gear. One thing that we found amazing about this habal-habal is that it was blasting music all the way to the jump-off. It turned out that the innovative driver hooked up a simple but relatively powerful sound system in his machine!

Canyoning in Biliran

After a 20-minute ride, we arrived in Barangay Sampao where we registered in a logbook, met our burly porters, and had a last-minute briefing. Then, we started the trek towards the mighty Sampao River.

Canyoning in Biliran

You got to work hard to enjoy good things, and that perfectly fits our situation here. To get to the starting point in the river, we need to hike up a steep mountain for almost two hours. Yes, we got to work out our stiff legs. Hahaha!

But that’s fine since we got to enjoy stunning views of Almeria and Talahid Bay. In fact, we consider the warm-up trek as an integral part of the canyoning adventure!

Canyoning in Biliran

The mountain trail follows a powerful, snaking irrigation canal that feeds fresh water from Sampao River to the lowlands. According to our guides, the canal was dredged because in its natural state, the flow is too weak to carry a sufficient amount of water to make the soil in the lowlands suited for farming.

Canyoning in Biliran

Look at that fresh flowing water. Yes, the irrigation system also contains natural waterfalls! No wonder why the crops in the farms in Almeria are impressively healthy; there’s an unending supply of mountain water that nourishes them.

Canyoning in Biliran

The two-hour trek is an exciting adventure in itself. We had to do balancing acts, ascend on steep trails made of loose soil, scramble over huge boulders, and cling on rock faces to avoid falling into the river rock bed below.

Canyoning in Biliran

Be careful because those moisture-laden rocks are slippery. One false move and into the river you go! This trail is also used by our porters as they follow guests along the river. They overlook the entire river section, to ensure that your team is safe.

In addition, the trail acts as an emergency exit. Any time there’s an emergency or if a guest decides he or she can’t handle the adventure anymore, guides and visitors can just exit the river and head to the trail.

Canyoning in Biliran

We also passed by our designated boulder-strewn lunch area preceded by a gushing 60-foot waterfall! Yes, we’re going down there sometime during our adventure!

Canyoning in Biliran

After successfully negotiating a harrowing “kiss the wall” section of the trail, we finally arrived at the starting point of the adventure, which also comprises a shallow lagoon where we can cool off. We paused for a few minutes to catch our breath, admire the scenery, and submit ourselves to the awe and power of Sampao River.

Canyoning in Biliran

Gear up! We were fitted with harnesses specifically designed for canyoning, cow’s tail lifelines, PFDs, and safety helmets. Each of us was equipped with an OKA descender, a variation of the more common figure-8 descender, that allows a more controlled descent. The spurs on its body also allow an easier and safer lock-off.

We also opted to wear neoprene wet suits because the water is incredibly chilly. The wet suit would help us retain body heat.

Canyoning in Biliran

Our expert guides Vitale and Joven showed us how to rappel using the OKA descender. The system may look complicated, but it’s actually easy to use.

Canyoning in Biliran

And then the extreme canyoning adventure began with a gleeful jump into a roiling basin!

Canyoning in Biliran

A natural water slide! How cool is that! The flowing water and the slick rock make it a perfect, no-injury slide that left us laughing with delight.

Canyoning in Biliran

No other people except us! In the depths of this forest and in the path of this rushing river, we found solitude and reconnected with Mother Nature. In just a few moments, our spirits, de-synchronized due to living a fast-paced life in the city, reestablished a peaceful harmony with the earth.

Canyoning in Biliran

Whoopee! That’s a long slide! Little did we know that there were longer slides than these!

Canyoning in Biliran

Half an hour into the river, the guides paused at a point where there is evidently a deep ravine. Check out those gorgeous but extremely slippery rocks.

Canyoning in Biliran

Well, it turned out there really is a deep ravine. The water at the bottom of the pool is quite shallow, which makes diving in it a definite no-no.

Look at those beautiful rock walls! Do you know that it took Mother Nature millions of years to carve this canyon into the landscape?

Canyoning in Biliran

Since diving in the shallow pool is unsafe, this part of the canyon necessitated a short rappel. Our guides promptly set up our first rappel of the day.

Canyoning in Biliran

To enable a quick and reliable setup, Sir Joni and his team had drilled expansion bolts with hangers on solid rock. All the guides needed to do was to simply clip a prepared anchor assembly to the hangers and secure them with locking carabiners.

The drilled-in hangers and the pre-assembled anchor system make setting up a rappel system surprisingly easy and fast. In fact, it took Vitale and Joven less than five minutes to set up the entire system, complete with safety checks.

Canyoning in Biliran

Jumper down! One by one, we slowly rappelled down the canyon. We had to do it slowly and carefully because the rocks are smooth and saturated with moisture. A slip can mean smashing our noses into the rock face. Our trekking sandals and boots, which were supposed to be designed for such surfaces, were of marginal help.

To ensure the team’s safety, one of our guides went down first. Then the rest of us followed. Finally, the lead guide went down to rendezvous with the rest of us.

Canyoning in Biliran

This part here is really slippery. We actually made the mistake of rappelling all the way to the water’s surface where we got caught in the waterfall and fresh water was spraying on our face! Hehehe! Supposedly, we should have let go of our brake hand and jumped a meter above the water’s surface.

Canyoning in Biliran

After exiting the waterfall, we entered a marvelous canyon that we thought could only exist in fantasy novels. Moss-covered rock walls, a verdant forest above us, and amazing rock formations all surrounded us in this remote sanctuary.

One more thing: the water is so cold that we were actually shivering even if we were dressed in a wet suit.

Canyoning in Biliran

Those huge boulders resemble pebbles from an aquarium only that they are a thousand times larger! That’s a totally gorgeous sculpture of Mother Nature, don’t you agree? Don’t you just want to come here and let go of civilization, technology, and stress?

Canyoning in Biliran

Oh, look! Another water slide! Weeeeee! We totally love it here!

Canyoning in Biliran

Sometime later, we came to another green ravine. Now, guests can opt to simply jump to the water 20 feet below the trail. Those who don’t feel up to the challenge can opt to rappel. Don’t worry, no one is going to ostracize you as long as you can get down.

Canyoning in Biliran

That’s a small but stunning waterfall that we passed along the way. Sitting below the flow would give you a totally relaxing back massage.

Canyoning in Biliran

Traversing the length of Sampao River required a lot of swimming, sliding, jumping, and trekking! What an adventure!

Canyoning in Biliran

We waded farther into the river and came to another ravine right in front of us. This one seemed to be quite deep and treacherous. We watched our guides in anticipation when we realized that our path skirts to the side of slanted canyon wall.

See that guy in blue without a life vest and helmet? He’s our trusty porter who, we learned later, has a slight fever. Poor guy! He left the adjacent trail and entered the river so he could provide us a longer rope for this rappel.

Canyoning in Biliran

The pathway was unbelievably wet and slick. For safety, the guides rigged a safety line that leads to the rappel station. It’s easy to use; we just need to attach the ends of the cow’s tail to the rated rope.

Canyoning in Biliran

One by one, we carefully made our way down. Check out the shiny, smooth, and moss-coated rock face; and we won’t have to tell you how slippery this part is. In fact, each of us encountered a couple of slips on the way down.

Canyoning in Biliran

Joven and Halourd pulled Sweetie to another belay station once she entered the water. The current is quite strong here because the flow leads immediately to a vastly taller waterfall.

Check out the edge of the ledge where Joven and Halourd are standing. It’s pretty obvious that it is the lip of a tall drop-off.

Canyoning in Biliran

Here’s another view of the 30-foot Trexplore waterfall (yes, they named this waterfall after their outfitter) from the belay station. Yes, it may not look tall; but believe us, that’s quite harrowing. The undercurrent here is relatively strong hence the need for a safety line towards the re-belay station.

Canyoning in Biliran

Once everyone was on the ledge, we set up another long rappel. This time, we went down the gaping abyss that shelters the powerful 60-foot Nomad Falls. Look at the photo below so you’ll have an idea of how high this waterfall is.

Canyoning in Biliran

That’s the view from above a ledge a quarter above Nomad Falls’ black-green pool. You can imagine just how slick the rock is. We developed impromptu innovative techniques to take advantage of the slipperiness; I used my trekking sandals as a skate.

Canyoning in Biliran

Uhmmm….what are you doing, Sweetie? Awkward her technique may be, but she wanted to be sure. It looks like a half slide and half-rappel move! hehe

Canyoning in Biliran

Some techniques are snappy, some are awkward. But that doesn’t matter because we all successfully made it to the target ledge. We think you can see from the photo below that we were having the time of our lives!

Canyoning in Biliran

The last hurdle to finally move on from Nomad Falls was to jump from this foliage-covered ledge to the black-green water below, which is around 25 feet below us. Uhmm…what’s the matter, Sweetie?

Canyoning in Biliran

We didn’t have any problem jumping from that height; it’s exhilarating. Sweetie, on the other hand, was holding on to dear life on that flimsy branch! We encouraged her and did countdowns, but she held on to that piece of plant. We’re sure it would be ripped off sooner or later. Hehehe!

Come on, Sweetie, you can do it! And yes, after a minute, she did jump and laughed at herself.

Canyoning in Biliran

Together again at the edge of the pool. Hey, where did the porter come from? Wow, we bet he’d have a great career as an illusionist or magician. Hehehe!

Canyoning in Biliran

That’s Nomad Falls, where we came from. Don’t you just want to simply slide off the waterfall? Surprisingly, someone did but not from our team! No, not even the guides themselves did that stunt.

According to our guides, a Chinese guest, who was actually a canyoning guide from Hong Kong, took the challenge. No doubt the experience would have been exhilarating!

Canyoning in Biliran

Check out our short teaser video of this part of our adventure. It is very obvious that “fun” is an understatement!

Someone called us–a familiar voice—as we got off the chilly pool. It was Nelmie, our driver, who was waiting for us at the lunch area. Hmm….did we say “lunch”? It’s about time! We reached this section of the river a few minutes past noon—right on schedule! But we couldn’t think about our itinerary as we were definitely famished after our high-octane morning adventure!

Canyoning in Biliran

Our picnic-style lunch, which is part of the package, was simple, traditional, and very filling! We had freshly roasted and steaming inasal na manok (roasted chicken) paired with delicious stewed mixed vegetables and rice!

Canyoning in Biliran

Let’s replenish our energy first, shall we? Yes, we had a great Filipino lunch in the middle of nowhere! Bon appétit! We’ll see you again in Part 2 of this extreme canyoning adventure!

Canyoning in Biliran


Itineraries, budgets, and tips for this amazing extreme adventure are posted in Part 2.

For Biliran tour and canyoning guideship services, please get in touch with Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures using the following details:

Rate*

  • P 3,000 per person – canyoning rate for 1 to 4 people
  • P 2,500 per person – canyoning rate for 5 to 10 people

*A downpayment of 50% is required to confirm your booking (reservation fee is non-refundable but transferable). Cancellation due to an unforeseen situation does not entitle you to a full refund. However, you have the option to reschedule your adventure at no added charges.

Rates are subject to change without prior notice.

Inclusions

  • whole day (6 to 7 hours) canyoning in Sampao River
  • 2 guides
  • porters
  • lunch
  • complete set of canyoning equipment (e.g. wet suit, harness, PFD, helmet, etc.)
  • transportation from your accommodation to Sampao River and back
  • photos (bring your own USB, SD, or other digital storage devices)
  • certificates

Considering the technical requirements needed for safety and for negotiating the ravines of Sampao River, the rate is actually a very good deal. You will be equipped with top-quality equipment from Europe. You will be under the care of trained canyoning guides.

This unique experience has more value than a mere few thousand pesos.

Notes

  • Anyone from 15 years old and above can do this adventure as long as they are reasonably healthy.
  • First timers are welcome as well.
  • For safety, the number of participants is limited to 10 per day.
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About Adrenaline Romance

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

22 comments on “Canyoning in Biliran: Daring to Take the Challenge of the Mighty Sampao River (Part 1)

  1. Awesome adventure with Joni! You really showed how different this is from the packaged canyoning tours targeting mass tourists in other areas. Though it was convenient, I did feel that there was an essence of adventure lacking with all the developments to the area. It’s like a theme park vs. the real deal that not a lot of people would be willing to try. But I would love to try this in the future 🙂

    • Hi Kara,

      We agree! This is real canyoning, not just canyon hiking. The experience is truly unique.

      Sampao River is a pristine, virgin river, so you can truly feel a sense of nature and adventure when you do your canyoning activity there. Say goodbye to a theme-park experience and hello to the real deal! 🙂

      Please do try canyoning in Biliran; we guarantee it’s really worth it. 🙂

  2. simply awesome! will this be open for public or private arrangements only? thanks!

    • Hi JMT,

      It is awesome indeed! In fact, we consider it as one of the best and most outrageous extreme activity that we ever did.

      Regarding your question, we’re not sure what you mean. Yes, the activity is already open to the public in the sense that everyone can try it.

      But since it’s a highly technical activity, only a skilled and trained outfitter is allowed to guide you. In this case, it would be Sir Joni Bonifacio’s team. They also developed the route and bolted the anchors. Do you want his contact details?

  3. […] Summer is here! We know you're itching to spend it on something spectacular and exciting. So rather than simply head to the beach or the local pool, why not try to engage in an outrageous, crazy, and memorable extreme adventure that will both heat you up and cool you down? Summer 2016 is the perfect…  […]

  4. You guys are living the dream. . I live vicariously through your articles. Cant wait for my family to go back to the PI and rediscover the islands..
    Keep on blazing trails and seek new adventures…Good luck and again, great post! Thanks.

    • Hi Hanz,

      Thank you very much for the compliment. As we always remind ourselves, we only live once. Life is too short to be spent in misery, indifference, and stress. That’s why we always make it a point to enjoy every minute of our lives, whether at home, at work, or in the outdoors. 🙂

      Please do try canyoning in Biliran when you visit the PI. It’s really an amazing experience. Never mind the apprehension; that’s all part of the experience.

      Also, please check out our other blog posts. You can filter them using the adventure tabs, categories at the side bar, or by province listed at the bottom of the home page. We have covered a lot of destinations and adventures for you. 🙂

  5. It all looks so amazing! Glad you had such an adventure. My only question is (since I have always wanted to avoid lakes/creeks/rivers in the interior landscape of tropical climates because of this) were there not any known “parasites” in these waters? (Perhaps not, if it is a river that flows sort of wildly). I am just genuinely curious. Cause I have never understood the difference between which sort of inland waters can contain horrible parasites, and whoch waters do definitely not contain such creatures. I have always been advised to stay away from any inland water in these sort of tropical climates. What advise did you receive regarding that? Wonderful photos, by the way!! 🙂

  6. Wow that looks incredible! I’d love to go there one day. Great photos by the way

  7. […] one comes close to Joni Abesamis Bonifacio of Trexplore when it comes to caving in Samar and canyoning in Biliran and Samar. He is an extremely skilled and certified cave master who is trained by professional […]

    • Hi Chisludovoice,

      Yes, it is. You don’t have to worry because the guides will teach you how to rappel safely. 🙂

      • Thanks po sa reply. Ilang hours po ung canyoning? And did you arrange the trip via https://trexplore.ph? How much po ung cost for canyoning + sambawan? Ksma na po dun ung van transfer to Naval? Salamat po.

      • Hi Chris,

        The answers to most of your questions are in the blog post. Please take time to read the blog post in its entirety because most of the details are already there.

        But for your convenience, we’ll just answer your questions one by one.

        1. Canyoning, as depicted in our blog takes the entire day.

        2. You can arrange it through the Trexplore website. However, it is best to get in touch with Joni through cellphone or email, just like anything else in the Philippines. Contact details are in the blog.

        3. Please check out our Sambawan blog post. The rate for the trip is there. Just add the rate for canyoning and the Sambawan tour. Alternatively, you can get in touch with Joni; he might have a package that involves both adventures.

        4. No, the cost of van transfer from and to Naval is not included. You can ask Joni for assistance if you want to include transfers.

        Hope this helps. Thank you. 🙂

  8. Amazing. I’m planning to visit Biri Island and Sambawan this May. This is a very good idea to add in my itinerary.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      Oh yes! This adventure was our main objective when we went to Biliran; our trip to Sambawan Island was the reward.

      Canyoning in Biliran is amazingly awesome (yes, that’s redundant)! This is actually the best canyoning experience we ever had.

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