If you haven’t done something you’re afraid of doing, then you haven’t fully lived your life. You haven’t realized your potential. That’s why we always urge our readers to go adventuring even once in their lives. Adventures actually make you realize that you are more capable, resilient, or stronger than you think you are! One of the best adventures that you can try out that is not too easy nor too difficult is canyoning in Samar.
Our good friend Halourd as well as bloggers Lai of The Little Lai and Fathema of Little Pinay Explorer arrived in Catbalogan the night before and decided to join us in this adventure. Together with Kara of Traveling Up and Gly of Chasing Potatoes, we had an impromptu afternoon snack of barbecued mussels and a dinner of hot, spicy tinola before dozing off.
Everyone got out of bed early, and Kara and Gly waved goodbye as they went on their own sojourns. After enjoying a hot breakfast, we rode a tricycle to our jump-off point in Barangay Andres in Catbalogan City, Samar. We walked on the same farm trail that led to Central Cave where we had an amazing adventure a year ago. On the way, we met locals carrying farm produce and other personal equipment on jury-rigged backpacks (called buyot) made of rattan baskets. We grimaced at each step they make; without padding material and ergonomic features, it must be a pain hauling these giant buyots. Yet, they do this every day without complaints.
Walking on the giant water tubes that pump water to Catbalogan City was both fun and frustrating. Balancing on their curved surface shot slivers of pain through our feet.
The city enjoys a nigh limitless supply of fresh, potable water thanks to the powerful Bangon River. Hopefully, the locals will keep the river clean and protected for all time.
Midway on our trek, we had a short break just before Bangon Falls. At the time of our presence, the waterfalls was calm, like a sleeping baby. We can even see the underlying bedrock. But we have witnessed this waterfall wake up to a raging, dangerous monster when we first saw it last year. And that monster truly kills.
After an easy one-hour trek, we reached the Catbalogan City Water District, our jump-off point. We rested a bit before gearing up for the activity. We had a little bit of honor being the first users of some brand-new Conquer PFDs.
Joni briefed Lai, Fathema, and Halourd about the nuances, dangers, and safety protocols in canyoning. He also taught them how to rappel safely down a cliff.
Ready? Let’s go! The first challenge was getting to the first rappel staging area, which involved a balancing act on the only non-slippery feature of the water pump station. Trust us—those large pipes and that embankment are extremely slippery. But those didn’t seem to hamper Joni and his co-guide at all.
I volunteered to go down the 30-foot embankment first so I could take photos of the others from below.
One by one, the team carefully descended down the first canyon, the first waterfall, and the first stage of our river adventure. It was just the first rappel activity, but they were totally in high spirits, especially Lai and Fathema. Well, who wouldn’t? Done safely and properly, recreational rappelling is absolutely fun.
Once everyone was in the river, we started heading downstream back to our jump-off point. A lot of the canyoning adventure involved trekking down the mossy riverbed. Our trekking shoes could hardly grip the mossy carpets, so we walked on submerged areas where pebbles and mud made the surface easier to walk on.
Note the shallow and calm water, which was a far cry from the mighty flash flood we experienced last year. We were quite worried because it was drizzling that day, but Joni explained that in Bangon River, flash floods only happen when it has been raining heavily for several days. Thanks to lush forests and untouched mountain ranges that surround Catbalogan City, the large amounts of rainwater are absorbed or blocked before it funnels down the canyons in the river.
Some of the waterfalls that line up Bangon River are not really tall, ranging from 15 to 20 feet. However, their pools and beds are quite shallow. Jumping straight down from the top of these waterfalls can be dangerous. Thus, a rappel line needs to be set up for safety.
The canyon walls teem with life! Colonies of tiny freshwater snails cling tightly on the rock face. Are they edible?
You might wonder, how are canyons formed? Well, just like anything with Mother Nature, the formation of a canyon involves a natural carving process that often takes millions of years. Water or wind erosion cleaves out canyons. The sculptors are usually fast-flowing rivers, but in colder climes, water seeps through crevices between rocks and freeze underground. Eventually, the accumulation of frozen water pushes the rocks apart, causing huge slabs of rocks to break off the canyon walls.
Canyons usually form in areas that are rich in limestone due to the rock’s easily soluble nature. Since Samar is full of limestone karst formations, it is only natural that canyons, many of them undiscovered, cut across the landscape.
A canyon retains its shape because the rock strata, or the layer of rock below the surface, is harder and more resistant to erosion than the topsoil.
As we trekked downstream, we came across an old concrete bridge that spans across the river. The bridge may look rickety, but for locals, this is a vital structure. It allows them to cross the Bangon River without having to walk through a circuitous route to ford the waterway. The bridge also allows them to cross the river safely in the event of a flash flood.
There’s another cliff which we had to rappel down. Its smooth look can be deceiving, and abseiling down this one was particularly tricky due to the extremely slippery bedrock. It is important to look at where you’re stepping so you won’t slip and slam into the rock. Check out the small waterfall at the far end of the cliff.
That’s a nice view from above. It may not look high, but trust us: for inexperienced people, this might as well be a hundred feet high!
After a while, we arrived at another beautiful waterfall with an estimated height of about 20 to 25 feet. But Joni didn’t set up a line for us to rappel. Is there a trail in the woods so that we can go past it? No! Joni, with a mischievous smile, said we need to jump to the pool below.
Except for Halourd and me who are used to jumping from heights, trepidation and anxiety showed in everyone’s faces, particularly Sweetie who doesn’t like jumping from heights. In fact, the team had a lengthy discussion on who is going to jump first. And everyone had great hesitation when it was their turn to make the jump. Hahaha!
Well, there was no other way. Everyone HAD to jump! Eventually, everyone conquered their fear and successfully made the leap to oblivion. I’m proud of our team.
Further along the river was another cliff where we were required to jump. Silently, I was quite worried about jumping here even though it is shorter than the previous waterfall where we leapt off. That’s because there’s a sharp outcropping that jutted out prominently from the rock cliff. We had to take care and aim correctly so we wouldn’t hit the outcropping.
After another short jump and a trek, we arrived at the top of Bangon Falls where we had a light snack. This also an emergency exit point; if an accident happens or if someone wants out of the canyoning route, they can climb a short access trail which leads to the main farming trail.
It was close to lunchtime, no wonder why our tummies were grumbling angrily. We had a snack of sweet suman (steamed sticky rice with coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves), which sat comfortably in our tummy. However, this suman was extra special; there was an accompanying packet of thick, hot latik (carmelized coconut cream) which is poured on the suman before it is eaten. We must say that it was the best suman we’ve ever had!
After snacking, it was time to move on. And to do that, we jumped 40 feet off the calm Bangon Falls. Everyone seemed to have gotten used to jumping from the top of the waterfalls, and they seemed to like it! Wohooo! Go go go!
Is Halourd a superhero? Does he have superhuman powers? Telekinesis? In all photos we’ve taken, he seemed to be levitating off the waterfall! Eerie!
Superb work, team! We successfully made our jumps, and Joni was proud of us! For some of our team members, it was another lesson brought about by experience.
Everything that is worth doing looks frightening at first. But once you take that first step, you will then see the thrill, excitement, satisfaction, and joy that lay down beyond the confines of fear.
One more hurdle to overcome, and we’re finally going home! Yehey! One of the nicest things about this cliff is that the rock face is not slippery despite the appearance in the photo.
Despite the snack, everyone was excited to taste a hot, filling lunch at the Trexplore headquarters—a sumptuous feast of food that Rhine prepared for us. No wonder everyone was all smiles. No wonder why everyone rappelled so quickly.
It was good timing. As soon as we rappelled off the last waterfall, rain began to pour. We could actually feel the water’s flow becoming stronger. Fortunately, the exit trail lies just a few minutes away from the river.
We exited the river and met the local porters on the main farming trail where we took off our equipment. One of the best and noblest things about Trexplore is that Joni actually helps the locals by providing them supplementary income. For example, he pays locals for co-guideship and portage services. Habal-habal, tricycle, and van drivers earn from the clients (fare is usually included in Joni’s adventure packages).
Most importantly, Joni helps promote Samar in a significant way. Through his efforts, the region is beginning to be known as a major canyoning and caving destination in the country by Filipinos and foreigners alike.
Again, we would like to thank Joni for being an awesome guide and his team of locals for being excellent co-guides and porters. You all make this canyoning in Samar a safe and successful adventure for those who want to seek thrill. You have shown to the nation and to the world how beautiful this part of the country is.
Thank you too to our good friend Halourd and fellow blogger Lai and Fathema for being awesome co-adventurers.
We’re pretty sure that you have something that you want to do in your life. You may want to climb a dangerous mountain, explore a business endeavor, court that beautiful lady, raise a family, or so. But the survival instinct that is hardwired into the human brain prohibits you from doing so. Now, we’re challenging you. For once, turn a deaf ear towards your perceived limitations. Defy the little ghosts that say “no” to what you want to do. We assure you, you’ll be grateful that you took on that leap.
No one knows these places better than Joni Abesamis Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures. He is an extremely skilled and experienced canyoneering guide and cave master trained by top Italian and French speleologists. For trekking, canyoning, and caving guideship services, please get in touch with Joni using the following details:
- Mailing Address: Abesamis Store, Allen Avenue, Catbalogan City, Samar, Philippines 6700
- Cellphone Number: 0919-2943865 / 0927-6750062
- Landline: 063-055-2512301
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
- Website: Trexplore the Adventures
- Samar Canyoning Facebook Page: Samar Canyoning
- Trexplore Facebook Page: Trexplore the Adventures
In Catbalogan City, there are several inns and hotels where you can stay for the night. However, Sir Joni also has guest rooms right in his home.
Getting to Catbalogan, Samar
Take a direct flight from Manila, Cebu, or Davao to Tacloban. Once you arrive at Tacloban, ride a tricycle or taxi to the bus station. From there, you can ride a van or bus that will take you to Catbalogan. Do book with Joni in advance so that he can fetch you when you arrive in Catbalogan.
Take a flight from Manila or Cebu to Calbayog. After arriving at the airport, head off to the bus terminal. Ride a van or bus that will take you to Catbalogan.
From Cebu, ride a fast craft or a ferry to Ormoc. Across the port of Ormoc is a bus terminal. Ride a van or bus to Tacloban. Once you arrive at the Tacloban bus terminal, ride another bus or van to take you to Catbalogan.
For Option 1 and Option 3, we recommend you take a van rather than a bus for a faster and smoother ride. From Tacloban, you can reach Catbalogan in two hours. That’s the same length of time for a van ride from Ormoc to Tacloban. Buses take three hours per segment because they often stop along the way to pick up or disembark passengers.
- guideship service
- canyoning gear (PFD, harness, helmet, and hardware)
- food (breakfast and lunch)
- local porters
- photo documentation (bring your own USB or hard drive)
- canyoning certificate
* A minimum of two people are required to organize canyoning adventure. To confirm your booking, please pay 50% advanced payment. Advance payment is non-refundable and non-transferable. The organizer has the right to cancel the adventure during bad weather, bad security situations, and other unfortunate events to ensure the safety of the participants. Rates are subject to change without prior notice.
7:30 AM – breakfast at Trexplore house
8:00 AM – departure Catbalogan, ride motorcycle/tricycle to Barangay San Andres
8:30 AM – trek to Catbalogan Water Pumping Station
9:30 AM – arrive at Catbalogan water pumping station, gear up, orientation
10:00 AM – start canyoning adventure
12:00 PM – arrival at Bangon Falls, snack
12:30 PM – continue canyoning adventure
1:00 PM – finish canyoning adventure, trek to Barangay Andres
1:15 PM – arrival at Barangay Andres, ride motorcycle
1:30 PM – back at Trexplore house/lunch
Our Samar Caving/Canyoning Adventure Itinerary
Day 1 – Cebu to Ormoc to Tacloban to Catbalogan
Day 2 – Pinipisakan Falls / Sulpan Cave
Day 3 – Blanca Aurora River, going back to Catbalogan
Day 4 – Canyoning in Catbalogan, depart Catbalogan to Tacloban to Ormoc (overnight stay in Ormoc)
Day 5 – Depart Ormoc via fastcraft, head for Cebu
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 canyoning 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.