Yay I finally did it! I finally went white water rafting! I've been wanting to do this for way too long. The last two times I was in Cagayan de Oro there was no time for any adventure; the first time we we were just passing through on our way to Camiguin island, and the second time was for work so no time there. But yes, finally, there I was feeling brave and snug in a blue lifevest, a yellow helmet strapped under my chin and yielding my oar (or "padol", god I love their accent ) like a knight yields his lance before a joust. Yeah! Bring it on!
So after a quick briefing on safety procedures from Jojo, our guide, the six of us secured our positions on the edges of the raft (see grey rubber strip on the boat below). Jojo and one of his crew positioned themselves behind us, bringing up the rear. Here we go! I felt tiny people doing somersaults and cartwheels inside me. Soon the circus had come to town in my tummy. I love the circus.
After a few minutes of easy rowing, we picked up the sound of gushing water, like that of a tall waterfall. As it grew louder, I could make out the patch of white water, a stark contrast from the jade green river water, as it glistened in the sun and foamed over big, menacing rocks. Those rocks had the power to capsize us. "Lock your feet!", Jojo shouted, and we obediently tucked our feet under those hotdog-looking things in the middle of the raft and braced ourselves, awaiting the next command. "Now hard padol! " and we began to paddle fast and hard. Or attempted to. The first splash of water shocked me out of my senses. It was freezing! My thought process went something like this:
"Omigod omigod, this is it!......Whheeee! ......ooohhh fun....hahahaha...heehee...gasp! what the?! it's cold !!...... aaaaaahhhhhh......oh wait, I gotta paddle...... shoot I keep bumping Michelle's oar.....wheeeeeeeee.....gulp!....think I swallowed water......ack big rock!......phew......I'm...aaaahhhhhhhhh.....I'm soaked!.......brrrrr.....ouch this strap is cutting into my thigh.......wheeee.....hahahahaha.....no one's rowing.....hey....omigod that was FUN!.....huff....huff...."
And that was pretty much how it went for the rest of the 19 rapids. Screams and fits of laughter. In between rapids, we conserved our energy and drifted with the current, enjoying the scenery on either side of us. The river serves as a boundary between Cagayan de Oro to our left and Bukidnon to our right - each side equally rich in natural beauty and wild life such as wild carabaos and wild goats (wild because if you touch them their owners will go wild, says our guide the frustrated comedian) and beautiful wild orchids - whose fragrance filled the air around us wherever they were present.
We travelled 16 kilometers downstream on the Cagayan river and traversed about 20 rapids in all, degrees of rough water ranging from category 2 to 4+, with 5 being the strongest. The entire experience lasted about three hours and included a stopover for packed lunch. Tupperwares of grilled fish, shrimp, pork chops, rice, water and Cokes were brought to us from the jeep that followed us to their shack on the riverbank and which would later pick us up at the disembarkation point.
Refueled and pumped up with renewed energy, we forged on to conquer more white water. We were getting good at this, even helping our guides steer the boat sometimes by actually using our oars. There was one particular hairy turn that he warned us about and for which he needed our help if we were to get through it in one piece. To avoid the huge boulder in the middle of the river, we had to quickly maneouver the raft to the left of the rock and under an overhanging cliff. We had to duck low to avoid getting our heads banged up and then immediately veer right so we don't slam into the wall in the process. It was tricky and the most challenging of all, but with cooperation and determination we emerged victorious.
After each rough patch, Jojo would shout "high five!", our cue to raise our paddles above us in a group high-five slap, and echo "high five!" as we did so. This was one of his instructions during the briefing and I wondered what it had to with rafting safety, even thinking it was a little cheesy but funny. Never did we high-five each other with such pride and sense of triumph after that last one. Even nearly knocking some teammates overboard in the process. Ok, I exaggerate, but it was such a great feeling! After that one, the rest kinda paled in comparison and I secretly wished they all elicited that same thrill and sense of danger that gets my adrenalin pumping.makeshift showers, the crew packed up the gear and mounted the raft back up on the roof of the jeep. We proceeded to Macahambus Cave, a very dark and small cave which you enter from the side of the road. It is a "thru" cave that leads to an exit above the river (below). The handsome little man in the photo above was our guide who assisted us in crawling through the tunnels without bumping our heads. According to the plaque at the mouth of the cave, it "served as the hide-out of Kagayanon soldiers and their families during the Battle of Macahambus Hill which marked the victory of the Filipinos against the Americans in the Phil-American war in this nation in 1900."
Macahambus Adventure Park . The kick-off point of the canopy walk is street level above the Macahambus Gorge, so there was no hiking involved (read here why this mattered to me). Once again the crew took great pains in making sure we were well-equipped with the safety gear: a harness and helmet. This canopy walk, though not really less thrilling, made me feel safer compared to my Kota Kinabalu experience because we were harnessed to a cable above us and the bridge felt less wobbly. There is something about walking amidst tree tops with nothing between thw wooden planks under you and the earth but 150 meters of air that is so amazing.
The highlight of my day was the zipline,(also known as flying fox or death slide, yipes), which I had never done before and the mere thought of which made me nauseous with excitement. Upon reaching the third platform, we ascended a tower to another platform where the zipline cable starts at a steeper slope. All the better to propel you at the speed of light to your death err... to the other side, my dear.
We let our friend Joey, who incidentally is the most fearful of heights among us, go first so he could take pictures of us as we land, because we're thoughtful and selfless like that. The poor guy had barely even recovered from the canopy walk and there he was, sweating bullets while his harness was being fastened to a pulley on the cable. The guide held him back, shouted "Go?!" and when this was echoed from the other end he gave Joey a light shove the way you would a kid on a swing, and let gravity do it's job. Joey's screams and nervous laughter did nothing to calm our nerves and 4 people later it was my turn.
I said a quick prayer to the heavens and pleaded, "please Lord let this cord stay strong and carry me through to safety", because I learned from The Secret that this is the proper way to think and not "Please Lord, don't let this cable snap so I don't plunge into the gorge and risk getting my limbs torn off and my neck snapped and spine crushed." On the second "go" I was off, zipping and flying through the jungle and it was awesome! It was freakin' awesome! Until I saw my landing pad.
There was no landing pad. Just a concrete slab by the stone shack where we started from and about three guys positioned to catch me. I felt no fear until this point. I'm gonna slam into that wall like a fly on a windshield, I was sure of it! To make things worse, it seemed I was picking up speed! Then I gripped the cord tight and screamed, my life was in their hands now. Aaahh! They caught me. Barely.
I will not attempt to describe the feeling of ziplining to any of you, I want you to experience it yourself. But if you want an idea, watch this video Joey took while he was zipping along and listen carefully as he is robbed of his masculinity. ;)Note: The entire package cost P1,400 (about $30) which includes: hotel pick-up and drop-off, 20 rapids (other companies only do about 15 or 16), the cave, canopy walk, zipline and packed lunch.
Golden Friendship Whitewater Rafting
Contact: Vittal @ (088) 858-9007 or 0919-4924488
Ridgeview Chalets, Xavier Estates
Airport Rd., Cagayan de Oro City
Tel. Nos. (088) 858-7929/30 & 858-8933/37