What usually strikes the first-time visitor to Taglinaw is the water — lots of it.
Even during the hot summer months, it flows in abundance, silent and deep in some parts, then rushing in a deafening roar where it drops off the rock cliffs, as if defying both El Niño and our expectations.
The trek itself, a two-kilometer jaunt from the sleepy village of Malico in San Francisco town, includes seven crossings across the meandering river that leads to the falls, amidst a lush green forest. Here, time seems to have stood still. The place has an air of almost eerie remoteness, heightened by its state of immaculate preservation. You can’t help feeling you’ve discovered a secret tropical paradise.
And yet for so long , we were unaware of its existence. It was by serendipity that some fellow backpackers got lost in the area looking for a plateau named Batong Lapad and ended up walking into the welcoming showers of Taglinaw instead. Such discoveries are what adventures are made of.
Our group left Maasin on the early morning bus bound for San Ricardo. After three hours, we got off at the Marayag crossing, where we were met by our guide. After lunch at Malico, we set off for the final leg of our trek.
As it turned out, much of the journey was spent crossing the river at various points. The flow of the water was quite strong so we had to assist each other on the way across. However, the cool water provided a measure of relief for tired feet and limbs.
We also took occasional sips from some springs along the riverbank — at last, some genuine spring water!
Along the way, our guide told us about life in their village. We learned that Malico has no access to electricity and does not have a water system, even with the abundance of potable and power-generating water in the area. School children have to walk several kilometers each day to the nearest school. Government services rarely reach the area. Prodigiously blessed with natural beauty, Malico, nevertheless lags behind in terms of material progress.
Soon, we reached the first of three waterfalls that make up Taglinaw (‘time of calm’ in Bisaya). I donned a snorkel to see the life underneath and saw shrimp and other fish living in amazingly cold water. The wet suit did not do any good. It was like swimming in the Arctic!
We climbed up to the second falls and came upon another pool. We marveled at the spectacle of cool, blue water framed by prehistoric stones and lush green foliage, the likes of which we never thought existed in the province.
But what actually makes Taglinaw unique is its state of preservation. We have seen other falls before, but most of these bore the scars of irresponsible visitors and the management’s lopsided attempts at making these places more “user-friendly”. Litter and graffitti spoil the natural landscape.
Taglinaw, on the other hand, though visited by most people in Panaon Island, especially during summer, has been able to maintain its natural splendor.
Night was fast approaching so we decided to set up camp. After a dinner of native chicken barbecue, we relaxed outside our tents nursing our ever-dependable Kulafus, recounting the events of the day as the moon shone brightly overhead.
We were roused early the next morning by heavy rains and strong winds. It appeared that a typhoon was on its way, so we immediately packed up, fearing that the water might rise. As we made our way back, we noticed that even with the heavy rain, the water remained very clear; the trees upriver are obviously still there.
The barangay officials were anxiously awaiting our arrival. After a breakfast of native chicken tinola, we discussed some management strategies for Taglinaw. We suggested they put up garbage bins for the trash that visitors usually leave behind, and that all visitors should be provided with a guide who will brief them on park rules and regulations, which will prohibit, among other things, the taking of any flora or fauna in the area. We clearly emphasized that the construction of a road allowing motor vehicles to reach the falls will spoil Taglinaw as a place for adventure.
We ended our visit by thanking the hospitable and humble people of Malico, San Francisco. After all, the Taglinaw experience is an adventure worth repeating all over again!