Fairly recently proclaimed as an independent province from Leyte in 1992, Biliran Island is one of those quiet and unassuming islands in the Philippines. But if you think Biliran is just your typical rural town, you are definitely missing out a lot! That’s because hidden within its nooks are magnificent mountains, deep canyons, mysterious caves, lofty forests, towering waterfalls, and more! Biliran is a world-class adventure destination!
And who better to guide you around the island’s adventure spots than professional caver, canyoneer, and adventurer Joni Abesamis of Trexplore the Adventures. We had the privilege of being invited for his first-ever Biliran Island Extreme Trek. For 5 days, we’re going to climb the foreboding Mt. Tres Marias, ford the canyons of the mighty Sampao River, cross a rough sea to Sambawan Island, and discover waterfalls in Biliran Island.
Our first adventure involves climbing all three peaks of the mighty Tres Marias mountain range in the middle of the island. We met our climb-mates for this adventure—outdoors enthusiast Daryl Comagon, adventurer Baba Ras, Junji of Wandering Feet PH, and James of Asa Na Sad si James. When all climbers were accounted for, we put our gear on a flatbed truck, hauled ourselves up, and rode to our home base—the first stop for this grand adventure.
Our home base is actually Joni’s wife’s Raine’s childhood home. This is also where Joni keeps his gear for clients who want to experience outdoor adventures in Biliran.
The family warmly welcomed us with a delicious home-cooked meal. After dinner, we prepared our packs and packed meals, and later, a thorough briefing on the upcoming extreme adventure. The nice thing about having a home base is that we can leave the stuff we don’t need. What a boon; we don’t want to be lugging extra travel clothes up in the mountains!
After a good night’s sleep, we were energized and excited for an adventure of a lifetime! Our adrenaline was pumping hard as we packed ourselves and our gear in the same flatbed truck. We rode for almost an hour deep into the lush highlands of Biliran. Just look at the stunning scenery of farms and mountains. No wonder people here are always happy. The breathtaking scenery, fresh air, peace and quiet, and simple lifestyle melt your stress away.
At around 8 AM, we finally reached our jump-off point at Sitio Palayan in Barangay Caucab for registration and acquisition of our guides and porters. But more than the usual pre-climb stuff, we did something very special for the villagers living here.
Visiting lovely rural places is not just for our enjoyment or for the promotion of tourism. We also make sure that every time we visit a place, we do something noble for the locals.
We gave locals sacks of pre-loved but still high-quality and used clothes. They were quite happy with the gesture; these villagers do not enjoy a lot of monetary benefits, unlike city folks. Giving comfortable clothes to cover their backs may not be much, but this gesture of kindness means a lot to them.
The villagers here are called Mamanwas, one of the oldest and extant tribes in the Philippines. Physically, they have a striking resemblance to Aetas and Negritos. Mamanwa tribes reside in Southern Leyte, Surigao del Norte and Sur, Panaoan Island, and, of course, Biliran. Their dialect is an interesting mix of Surigaonon and Cebuano.
The Mamanwa’s history and culture revolve around farming and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle despite the slow creep of advancement. As such, they proudly keep a lot of their practices and traditions. In fact, before we set off to Tres Marias, our guide performed a tribal dance for good luck and safe travels.
With our “mission” done, it was time to start our adventure. We started walking on a wide, muddy dirt trail that led to Tres Marias. At times, running water cuts across the trail. As thus, we had to jump and skip (yeah, that childhood game) to avoid getting our feet wet. We still have three days to go, and walking in wet shoes is not fun at all.
Check out the terraces; for now, they’re overgrown with shrubs. During planting season, crops will take the place of those grass and shrubs.
After an hour, we finally caught sight of the tree line, which meant that we have arrived at the base of the Tres Marias range. The terrain continued at a consistent level, so our pace was comfortably fast.
We rested for a little while just as we entered the treeline. From our trekking and climbing experiences, we learned that the first hour of climbing is really punishing as your body struggles to adjust to the added weight on your shoulders, trek pace, and terrain inclines. A 5 to 10-minute rest after 45 minutes to 1 hour of trekking helps your body adapt to its new environs and conditions.
While resting, I chanced upon a man-made concrete canal, which is part of the village’s irrigation system. Water from fast-flowing mountain springs is channeled through a network of canals that lead to farms beyond the forest. The life-giving liquid then nourishes crops.
Without these canals, making the land arable here would be very difficult.
After a short rest, we went deeper into the lush forest. In the same manner, as in almost all our mountain treks, a beautiful sense of calm and tranquility filled our soul as, once again, we became attuned to Mother Nature.
A few hours into the trek, we stopped by this nice river to recuperate from a harrowing experience. You see, the tail end of our team unknowingly disturbed a bees’ nest and had to run quickly down the trail. A few got some bee stings, so we had to apply first-aid treatment.
This river, like many others, most likely leads to a network of irrigation canals far behind us.
(Photo credit: Junji of Wandering Feet PH)
With first-aid cream applied, we continued along the way. This time, we need to be extra careful as loose, soft loam gave way to wet rocks and moss-covered logs. Many parts of the trail were therefore slippery. Good thing that we were walking on a rolling terrain, which meant there were no sharp ascents or descents.
By 12 noon, we arrived at our designated lunch area, a part of a hidden river that has dried up. There were still some small pools filled with water, so we can wash our utensils. Amidst the stillness of the forest, we ate our packed lunch while sharing stories of the trail.
After lunch and a short break, we started walking on an auxiliary trail that leads to Peak 1. During the first half-hour, the ground seemed level, and we thought that the assault would be relatively easy.
But then, the ground suddenly shifted to a sharp incline, which means that it is the start of a long, hard climb. As we climbed higher, the trail became rapidly steeper. It’s as if the mountain itself is testing us, checking if we have the strength and willpower to reach one of its sacred peaks.
Each step brought us closer to the summit. As we climbed higher along a knife-edge trail, a heavy, ethereal mist started to envelop the slope. With strange moss-covered trees that seem to hug us, climbing Peak 1 was like walking in some sort of Gothic fairyland.
There were some areas of the slope where the trail actually hugs the side of the mountain. If not for the thick trees that grow along the slope, these sections would have been extremely dangerous. It would be a thousand-meter long slide down if we slip.
Nearly two hours of climbing got us to 1442 MASL, which is the primary goal of today! We reached the first peak of the Tres Marias peak wet, tired, and happy! Too bad that the day was cloudy, so we can’t actually see what’s below us. Yet, the elation of reaching what our guides referred to as the most difficult peak of the range gave us an undeniable sense of accomplishment.
And such an accomplishment is best shared with like-minded folks such as our awesome team!
That’s Team Sweetie, precariously balancing on a thick tree branch that hangs over the abyss. It was strong enough to support our weight, but we still get the hibbie-jibbies as the tree shook with every move we make.
As you can see in the photo below, the Tres Maris range is home to an endless variety of flora, some of which are incredibly rare or endemic. We hope it remains so in the coming generations.
(Photo credit: Junji of Wandering Feet PH)
Pretty soon, it was time to go down and rendezvous with our porters who are waiting for us at our lunch area. It took us nearly an hour to descend from the peak and arrive at the river.
After a quick rest, we continued our trek on the main trail, which was actually a relief. Our legs got a bit of respite after that long, hard climb.
At 5 PM, we arrived at our campsite, a large clearing surrounded by a literal wall of trees, which shielded us from the brunt of a strong easterly wind. With a small rushing stream just ten yards away from the clearing, it was a perfect site to pitch our tents.
Our first victory deserves a delicious dinner! Each one of us contributed to our makeshift table in the middle of the forest. Bon appetit, and congratulations for a successful first day!
For those who are interested in experiencing adventures in Biliran, Leyte, and Samar, get in touch with Joni Abesamis of Trexplore the Adventures using the following details:
- Contact Person: Joni Abesamis Bonifacio
- Phone Number: (055) 543-8550
- Cellphone number: 0919-294-3865 / 0927-675-0062
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.trexplore.ph