Chasing Waterfalls in the Philippines

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A truly young girl, barely in her teens had shyly approached us. Lorraine was the name. She was to bring us there. Last time we had a guide take us, I had objections. This time was different though, as, despite the misleading age of the girl, it was quite a hike away. It wasn’t the fact that it was far, but that where we were headed, Cataja Falls, was hidden away. So well hidden, that with clear descriptions we’d not be able to find it. On my shabby slippers I followed the young lady trotting away over the rocks. It wasn’t really a path, but it was obvious this wasn’t the first time someone tread over here. We had to pass through a few bushy trees whereafter we entered into the open. From here, we could already see the waterfall crashing down, though it was far in the distance. Truly massive. Water at large quantity ceaseless chugged down the mountain. It left a perpetual trail of cascading water trickling to the river we walked along. We had been told that we could reach way up, though it would require adding some hours on top of the initial agreed hike. My love and I agreed that a total of three hours – back and forth – would suffice.

After crossing the river, we began making our way through a muddy rice field. As is with nearly all rice fields, this one too had different layers, elevating – or lowering – per layer. For most of it, we shuffled on the more hardened edge of one layer, as a buffalo casually grazed some meters away with dirty water up to its heels. A hint of curiosity had the animal tilt its head in our direction as we tried to maintain balance. The edge tended to be more slippery and from time to time one of us – of course not the youngling, galloping far ahead – would nearly slip and seek support by stepping on the side that would avoid a tumble. As my flip flops kept getting caught in the mud, I decided to continue barefoot. There was a loud splosh with each step taken followed by a sucking sound as the mud-water tried to grasp my foot in a grip. We continued this treacherous walk for a few minutes, growing dirtier and muddier with the second, until we had crossed. From there, we jumped a fence before penetrating the jungle where we’d ascend in a meandering manner.

We went upstream of a cascading stream that would lead us to our goal. Zigzagging over the unsteady, slippery rocks that together formed the glistening waterbed and with that our path, we passed through the hour. It was certainly not an easy hike, but it was amusing to guess the way that was most stable and try to keep balance. I felt a contestant on Takeshi’s castle. Often, we prevailed, at times we failed. For now we’d laugh and tomorrow we count the cuts and bruises. The rougher the road and obstacles are, the more you cheer once you get there. It was also obvious here, when there was a clear rise in spirits each time the splashing of the fall became increasingly louder. Until eventually, we found the holy grail that was where the first part stops and would-be second part begins. She pointed up, where the climb became more steep and perilous. With a bit over an hour and a half passed and little faith in my footwear, we decided this would be enough. Relief had filled her face. From there, in the blink of a few seconds, I had graced myself with the cool water before starting our return down.

By the way she had jumped rock to rock and knew each and every point, it was obvious this was far from her first rodeo. Although it is hard to tell, she remembered by heart the spots we had to enter the jungle and where to rejoin the water and we were glad she was with us. Going here and getting out would be a hard task by oneself. Then Lorraine told us tales of how she and her siblings had done this long hike many times as a kid and now whenever a traveller, local or foreign, wishes to tread here, they would lead the way. So, in a way, we followed the footsteps into the childhood of these children. A childhood of hikes, splashing water and most likely falling in the mud and bruising up on the rocks.

That, as well as the fact that unlike your usual waterfall hunt, this had also included diverse land on its way, is why out of all I choose to write about this waterfall. After the hike with Doug, our stray friend, it had been most memorable. You could arguably crown Philippines land of the waterfalls with the copious amounts we encountered. On this trip, about every town had multiple to visit, hike to or jump off of. Countless, I would say. We had to skip some due to there being so many, and it is not possible to visit all over the duration of a couple of days. Waterfalls are amazing, as they are not a mere delight to look at, it is the struggle and hard work you have put in to get there. Sweating in the humid, hot jungle on an hours long hike while bruising up your legs and feet with the rocks passing until finally, you reach it. The stupidly simplistic falling of water that somehow seems so mesmerising. And upon reaching it, you get to take off you sweat-drenched clothing and take a well-earned dip in the ice-cold water to cool off. Heavenly!

How much effort would you be willing to put into visiting a waterfall? Oh, and may you meet Lorraine, tip better for fuck’s sake. Not asking for money, these people take you on an hours-long hike to be handed a handful of dimes and react shocked to receive anything above such.