Research and stories show that in mountaineering, or any outdoor activity for that matter, most accidents happen on the way back to base camp. Having successfully been to the pinnacle of the adventure, one’s mindset becomes more relaxed. Having conquered the hardest part, going back home should be easy, right? Well, that relaxed state can spell disaster. That mindset was what we had to battle with during our return trip via the Blanca Aurora River.
Let us start with the most unflattering photo of us that we’ve ever seen. We drifted into a dreamless slumber after our exhausting adventure in Pinipisakan Falls and Sulpan Cave. Unknown to us, Sir Joni woke up early and took a photo of us while we were fast asleep!
Anyway, check out our home in the wilderness. We slept on makeshift hammocks made of old rice sacks supported by bamboo frames. A canvas roof protected us from the slight shower that drizzled during the night. Rudimentary? Yes! Comfortable? Absolutely yes!
We woke up at 6 AM. While the porters cooked our breakfast, we walked back to Pinipisakan Falls to once again admire its majestic beauty.
Seeing this natural wonder in a deeper perspective helps us learn valuable lessons. Like a waterfall, our life is in a constant motion with an uneven flow. At some point, we may experience a fall. At times, the pace may hasten or slacken. Our lives may head off to an unexpected tributary. But in the end, life continues to flow.
We ate a big breakfast; parted ways with the local porters; and donned our PFDs, wet suits, and helmets. After last-minute checks, our team entered the water and let the power of Blanca Aurora River carry us downstream. We will meet the porters back at the doroongan. But for us, to return to our docking area, we need to “ride the river.” And that was uber fun!
We have been to the top tier of Pinipisakan Falls and beyond in the darkness of Sulpan Cave. Now, it was time to check out what’s underneath that beautiful curtain. We carefully swam towards the back of the first tier. Wow! It was like looking at some permeable barrier between two very different realms.
One of the most fun yet potentially dangerous segment of our way back home was drifting downstream. We had to be careful in places where the water funnels between two rocks or canyons. That’s because the current in areas like these is quite strong.
Not only that, the foamy water concealed big rocks at the bottom! Getting hit by one of these rocks really hurt!
The Blanca Aurora River is full of fast rapids. Thus, we needed to scramble up these massive boulders at the side of the riverbank. Judging from their topsy-turvy positions, these boulders were probably the remains of a rockslide or landslide.
Because virtually no one comes here and the boulders are always saturated with moisture, green and healthy moss grows on these huge rocks. The moss makes the boulders—some of them the size of small huts—very slippery. Even our trekking shoes have a hard time gripping the rocks’ surface.
With our thick wet suits on, scrambling on boulders made us hot and sweaty. The presence of pools and knowing that we were going to swim in the water was, therefore, a bliss! Swimming in cool water was definitely welcome.
At times, we went under the rocks through short tunnels that barely fit our bodies.
And there were also lots of times when we climbed over those slimy boulders. What little footholds and handholds there were, we used them with gratitude.
Check out the thick growth of ferns. That is an evidence of a very healthy, untouched rainforest.
This is why we couldn’t simply float and swim in the length of the Blanca Aurora river to get to the doroongan. There are a lot of strong, treacherous rapids that line up its length. Joni said that it took a while for him to familiarize the lay of the river. He pointed out holes and cavities where the current is so strong that it can pin down a person, trapping him unless there is help available.
But despite the danger, the Blanca Aurora river is definitely stunning. The inherent danger that surrounds the place seems to be Mother Nature’s way to keep interlopers from defacing her treasures.
Navigating through the boulders was really tricky. There were lots of sharp edges, deep crevices, and slippery surface that we had to go through. Extra care is absolutely required here because the chance of an accident is definitely high. And you don’t want to have serious accident happening in the heart of a thick jungle in the middle of a boulder-filled river.
A full one third of the adventure involves boulder scrambling.
One of the best things about swimming in the Blanca Aurora River is jumping into the current’s path. It was like being shot out from the barrel of a cannon! Wheeeee!
Along the way, we saw cool rock formations that were carved through the natural process or erosion. This one is called The Arch.
It was a total relief as we exited the boulder field and floated two-thirds of the way down the aquamarine water of the Blanca Aurora River. The water shielded us from the hot sun, and the current carried us away without us doing any effort. However, it was not all smooth sailing. Huge rocks hidden beneath the surface scraped our butts, thighs, calves, and every inch of our lower limbs.
Nevertheless, we lazily floated all the way to the doroongan.
Well, not quite. At some point, we had to get to the shore because the river became too shallow to float on.
And of course, there were more rapids. By the way, rapids are formed when a current of a river or stream passes through a slope. Rocks under and jutting out of the water’s surface break the flow, forming the characteristic white color of bubbles and foam of rapids. Rapids are often categorized into classes, with 1 being the easiest to navigate and 5.9 being the most difficult.
Class 6 rapids are virtually un-navigable and pose a direct threat to life. Rescue in these rapids is almost impossible.
With our feet being wet for the most part of three days, our soles were extremely soft and painful. Every step on the rocky riverbank was painful. It was almost ironic—here we were suffering from soft, cold sores in the middle of one of the most beautiful and most pristine paradises we’ve ever seen.
Going home safely from this wild place truly meant exerting a lot of effort and willpower.
By the time we reached the doroongan over two hours later, we were totally drained of strength. All we could do was just crawl on the riverbed to reach the sandy bank. Although exhaustion dominated our physical bodies, our spirits were brimming with pride and joy. We made it!
After loading our equipment and ourselves in the dugout boats, we cruised along the river towards Blanca Aurora—and doing that balancing thing again. We sped along the river in just an hour because we were cruising downstream.
The moment the bow of our canoe touched the docking area, we shouted in jubilation. We just returned from one of the wildest places in the country!
Our habal-habal drivers loaded our gear to their motorcycles and asked us for a half-hour lunch break. We needed a break just as badly as they do, so we gladly obliged. After enjoying a light snack of tempura and fish balls, we walked to the nearby watering hole of Blanca Aurora Falls.
A popular recreational spot for locals at all seasons of the year, the Blanca Aurora Falls is fed by a tributary of the main river. The presence of small rowboats meant that it is apparently a waterway that acts as an “access road” to the main river.
All set! We jumped on board the habal-habals that will take us to San Jorge. From there, we waited for a bus that took us back to Catbalogan where a well-deserved reward awaited us.
The Gastronomic Aftermath
Oh, did we tell you that heavy sheets of rain overtook us when we reached Catbalogan? Oh yes, a heavy torrent completely drenched us—again—as we walked from the bus terminal back to our headquarters at Trexplore.
But the cold didn’t dampen our spirits. That’s because Rhine, Joni’s wife, prepared a piping hot and delectable seafood lunch for us—boiled, seasoned crabs and mussels—with a side dish of adobong kangkong (water cabbage sauteed in garlic, onion, pork bits, vinegar, and soy sauce). What a great finisher to our adventure!
Joni told us that dinner would be at around 7:30 PM, so we had time to check out one of Catbalogan’s specialties as recommended by Kara. We went to a humble stall to try out barbecued mussels. They’re absolutely delicious and ridiculously affordable at 5 pesos per stick!
Freshwater mussels are among the primary seafood products of Catbalogan and the nearby municipalities. They are grown in large quantities in mussel farms at riverbanks. Mussels are steamed, broiled, fried, barbecued, glazed, and more!
Later at night, Joni took the gang to a nearby simple food stall that offers one of the best and freshest fish tinolas that we’ve ever tasted. One of the most interesting things about this tinola is that fresh vegetables were added after the broth has been poured in the bowl. This method helps the vegetables retain their crispness. In other tinola cooking methods, the vegetables are cooked together with the soup, which makes them soft and gooey.
We would like to thank our co-guide Entoy and our local porters and boatmen. You guys are integral to our enjoyment and the success of this adventure!
Of course, our deep gratitude to Joni for guiding us to this most enchanting waterfalls and cave in this part of the country. You are definitely a primary contributor to the adventure tourism industry in Samar. We totally support your drive to help the local economy and proclaim to the world that Samar is truly a canyoning and caving capital of the Philippines!
Our Pinipisakan Falls and Sulpan Cave adventure is over, but the memory and the enchantment linger in our hearts. The mishmash of beauty, magic, mystery, and danger makes this place absolutely worthy of our utmost respect and protection. For the wild at heart, seeker of serenity, and learner of humility, this is definitely home.
- Click this link to read our adventure in Pinipisakan Falls as well as the contact details of our adventure outfitter.
- Click this link to read our adventure inside Sulpan Cave as well as the itineraries and budgets.
For instructions on how to get to Catbalogan, Samar as well as the contact details of Joni Bonifacio and Trexplore the Adventures, click our Pinipisakan Falls blog.
Although the threat of rebel infestation has deteriorated, security is still an issue here. Even the locals here don’t know if there are remnants of the NPA lurking around the area.
Thus, make sure to coordinate with Joni prior to your adventure so he can coordinate with the locals. Do not attempt to visit the area alone! Do not bring any valuables (e.g. money, jewelry) during your adventure.
Basic Safety Rules
Accidents inside a cave happen easily! But rescue is extremely difficult and sometimes, impossible. To mitigate untoward accidents, always follow these rules.
1. Enter at your own risk. Make sure you are aware of your own capabilities and limitations.
2. Give a close friend, loved one, or colleague your itinerary, which includes estimated schedules and emergency numbers.
3. Don’t forget to log in at the barangay hall or police station.
4. Never go caving without a skilled and experienced guide.
5. Never go caving alone. Do not separate from the group. If you need to stay longer in a particular place, always inform the group.
6. Watch your step and check if handholds are firm.
7. Never face dive in bodies of water inside a cave. Never swim unaided. Do not swim underwater to explore a tunnel.
8. Do not remove your personal safety equipment (e.g. helmet, PFDs, etc.) without the instruction of the guide.
9. Always use the safety gears and lines that the guide provides. They are there for a reason.
10. Always tell the guide if you have problems with your equipment or if you feel sick while in the middle of the adventure.
11. Your guide will bring safety equipment and emergency supplies. However, it wouldn’t hurt to bring your own such as an extra waterproof headlamp, flashlight, first-aid kit, personal medication, and more.
Caving is a high-impact activity. That means the presence of a person or even a small group can potentially affect its geographical processes and ecosystem very easily. Minimize your impact by following these rules.
1. Do not litter or smoke.
2. Answer the call of nature before or after caving. The chemicals in human waste are corrosive, and they do a lot of havoc inside a cave.
3. Do not disturb cave animals.
4. Do not touch flowstones, speleothems, and other rock formations. They are very delicate, and a single touch can irrevocably damage them.
5. Do not touch or disturb historical and archeological artifacts.
6. Avoid excessive noise such as loud laughter or screams. Respect the cave and respect other’s rights to enjoy solitude.
Pinipisakan Falls / Blanca Aurora River
1. Joni can also help book your accommodation, transportation, side trips, and other adventures around Samar and Biliran.
2. Always check the weather a few days before your canyoning activity. Never attempt to push on with your Pinipisakan Falls adventure if the weather is bad! Rains can generate flash floods and extremely strong water currents that are life-threatening.
3. For safety, limit the number of participants in your team. Ideally, there should be no more than 10 participants in your group.
4. Although first-timers and beginners are welcome and there’s the availability of guides to assist you, we strongly recommend that you undergo easier river trekking, canyoning, and caving adventures first to ensure safety, time-efficiency, and enjoyment.
5. Always wear the provided PFD (personal flotation device). Many parts of the river are deep. Thus, there is always a constant danger of drowning. Never underestimate the river even if you’re a strong swimmer and always be on the side of safety. Also, the water in the river is quite cold, which can make you more susceptible to leg cramps. That’s another reason why you should wear a life jacket.
6. Do not remove your helmet. You’ll be climbing boulders, swimming under rock outcroppings, and jumping from heights. You need something to protect your head.
7. Don’t make high dives no matter how tempting the water is without asking your guide’s permission.
8. It is strongly recommended that you know how to swim, even simple dog paddle or freestyle. If you don’t know how to swim, it is imperative that you wear a PFD.
9. Do not stray away from the group. Keep them and yourself in visual range.
10. Take time and effort to check your footing and your handholds. Many of the natural features that you’re going to use are very slippery and unstable. A wrong move can lead to injuries. Clip in to safety lines when available.
11. Do not hesitate to inform your guide of any injury, ailment, doubt, etc. so he can help you.
12. Do not disturb, handle, capture, or kill wildlife. Doing so violates Republic Act 9147 (Wildlife Protection and Protection Act).
13. Remember to practice the Leave No Trace principles. Do not throw your garbage anywhere to protect and preserve the pristine beauty of the canyon.
14. Pack light but do bring the following:
- Water (at 2 liters)
- Trekking shoes
- Cycling shorts, board shorts
- Snacks (stored in waterproof container)
- Extra dry clothes (you can leave them with your porter)
- Extra money for emergencies (stored in a waterproof container)
Your guide will provide the technical requirements such as ropes, harness, descenders, carabiners, and more.
15. Obviously, you need to waterproof everything. But since you’ll be jumping, swimming, and getting splashed around by strong curtains of water, you need much more than just the usual Ziplock sandwich bag or plastic bag. We recommend putting your gadgets, batteries, and money in two Ziplock bags or a top-quality dry bag.