In mid-October we had a short work break and took the opportunity for a quick trip to the Philippines. During our brief visit to Cebu, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see the famous Kawasan Falls. The falls were on the opposite side of the island from Mactan where we were staying. There were a lot of tour groups offering day trips to do canyoneering at the falls, but they all left at 5 AM or earlier. We only had three days in Cebu, and I was like ummm…this is vacation. No to 5 AM. No, sir.
So instead, we opted for a company (Island Trek Tours) that let us book a driver and go at our own pace. We were also able to choose an option that also included Osmeña Peak, the highest point on Cebu Island.
Our driver picked us up at (a much more reasonable) 8 AM and we made our way from our hotel in Mactan to Kawasan Falls. We were anticipating a 3.5 hour drive, but because of traffic getting out of Cebu City, it ended up taking more like 4.5 hours. Which was fine. Except that our driver was rocking out to techno covers of hit songs the whole time. Seriously. 4 1/2 hours of techno covers.
The drive itself was its own kind of cultural experience. After getting out of the city, we drove through a lot of beautiful rural areas covered in lush tropical jungle and rolling mountains. We also saw stores and homes made of patched together sheets of metal or half-collapsed bamboo. The parts of Cebu we drove through reminded us of our time in central Bali, at least in terms of the landscape and the way the communities looked. And also the cock fighting.
Visiting developing countries as a tourist is always somewhat complicated for me. It feels wrong not to acknowledge that the experience I have as a visiting Westerner is vastly different from that of the locals I encounter. While I would never claim that driving through Cebu in a private car entitles me to say I experienced “the real Cebu,” I am glad that we spent some time away from the hotels and resorts and beaches and got a tiny glimpse into what life looks like for some of the people who live in this beautiful corner of the world.
When we arrived in the town near the falls, our driver dropped us off with a local guide. The route we took up to the waterfalls made me feel like I had entered The Jungle Book. The river ran alongside the path and the trees and undergrowth were lush and green. We were told that unfortunately we weren’t seeing Kawasan at it’s best because it had stormed the night before and the water was much cloudier than usual. It also started to rain while we were making our way up there which was disappointing, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. We ended up swimming in the catch pool in the midst of a cold rain and rumbles of thunder which actually only added to the ambience.
There are two waterfalls at Kawasan. The higher waterfall is a much smaller volume of water than the lower one, and this is where you will see people jumping from the top into the pool below. After watching for a while, Jonathan got brave and gave it a go. I knew I would probably balk once I got up there and either chicken out or slip and fall off, so I watched from the bottom and took a video.
The second waterfall is much bigger and stronger and the catch pool is surprisingly deep. After going just a few feet from the side we weren’t able to touch the bottom anymore.
I have seen pictures and read articles that claim this water is gatorade blue. Maybe that’s true some of the time, but it definitely wasn’t when we were there. These photos are not edited.
Our guide didn’t speak much English so we didn’t get to learn a lot interesting facts about the falls from him, but he did lead us there and watched our things while we bobbed around in the water.
After a few hours split between the two falls, we headed back down to our driver and continued on for another 1.5 hours to make it to Osmeña Peak just before sundown. From the place where we left the car, it was a short 15 minute hike to the very top. The hike was a bit treacherous because the path was made of small stones that slid out from under my feet easily, but otherwise it wasn’t very difficult.
On the way up, we passed the tiniest little house built into the side of the mountain, with a sign out front that read “Room for Rent.” I have so many questions including how there was a room for rent when it looked like the entire house was the size of my bed, not to mention who in the world would find it and rent it, but some mysteries are not for me to solve.
On the way up, I also encountered some of the biggest snails I have ever seen in my life.
Sadly, the less than ideal weather continued into this part of the day, and we didn’t have the clear view we were hoping for. Even so, it was beautiful and somewhat surreal up on that craggy peak with the gray blowing around in different patterns. I am always struck in those moments by the peacefulness of mountaintops.
At the top of the mountain, we met a kitten who seemed to think he owned the place.
Our hiking guide was a real ham with the camera and immediately started shooting approximately one million photos from all different angles. He kept asking us to do different poses (unfortunately, we don’t know any) and even tried to get super artsy by holding a flower in the foreground. You know, like professional photographers do.
When we climbed back down we were tired and happy to sit quietly for our 3.5 hour drive back to our hotel in Mactan.
Even though we didn’t have a picture perfect day and we spent 9 hours in the car, I am still glad we took advantage of the opportunity to see a different part of the natural beauty of Cebu.