These are the days we really look forward to. Our road trip days. When we get a Saturday that is not filled with things we need to do. The days we get to pack up the car and just drive away from this city. Discover a new adventure.
Throughout the week we had been discussing the options of where to go, pouring over our map with a determination that reaches fever pitch as the day draws closer. Saturday morning came and we were woken to the sounds of little footsteps into our room and warm cuddles.Over breakfast we agreed on heading out past Antipolo deeper into the Province of Rizal to Tanay where we would check out Daranak Falls.
The soulful voice of Norah Jones is playing as we make our way through the traffic. Heading out of town I felt the same familiarity as I did the previous week. The feeling of relief and the anticipationof getting out into some ‘space’ as I watch the very busy and cluttered world of Manila move past our windows. I stare out the car window at the world we barely have a toe in. A woman is washing her dishes in a plastic bowl on the roadside. A few men washing a car while naked children hang around watching and playing with whatever ‘thing’ they find that they can make some enjoyment out of. Meanwhile, ourchildren are in their car seats playing quietly with the toys they selected to bring on this journey. A juxtaposition which has always made me feel uneasy. The skies are grey, the roads are wet and looking out you think it must be cold but its not. Today thankfully, we do have reprieve from the heat, but it is still warm and humid.
We soon found ourselves away from this picture, driving around the winding mountain roads. Taking in lovely views of villages sitting snugly in the mountain sides as small roads dipped, twisted and did loop-di-loops the deeper we ventured. Eventually we entered the Tanay region. Tanay is about fifty four kilometers away from Manila and is considered the major agricultural and commercial centre of Eastern Rizal. The road side was dotted with sari-sari’s, fruit stalls and corn peddlers. The further we drove, the road became more narrow and snakelike with steep dips and sharp corners. We were surrounded by only rain forest, a bit of live stock and the start of the rain falling softly.
Finally we arrived at our destination, Daranak Falls. These falls are located in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range which is the largest mountain range in the Philippines. By now it was very grey, cloudy and drizzly but we didn’t care, that’s how we like it when we head out into the bush. The rapids were wild and the sound of water falling filled every space. We walked across a rickety bridge, over small rapids, to the garden which was filled with colourful cabanas and garden sculptures. This place had that lovely secret garden feel about it with moss covered rocks, ferns and other rainforest flora growing with abundance, creating that gorgeous ambiance. One of the main attractions here are the balancing rocks, and apparently they hold an annual competition. As you walk around this place you find little piles of river rocks delicately balanced upon each other. A dedicated garden for these rock sculptures overlooked one of the rivers.
We followed a path around a mountain ridge and found ourselves at the base of the main attraction. The Daramak falls stand fourteen meters high and flow out through the mountain trees and crash over a rock face. It is an awe inspiring sight. On calm sunny days people are allowed to swim here. A sign said the water was thirty feet deep. A smaller fall off to the side was ferocious on this day and the water spray was soaking us through. The power of these falls was incredible and while SB and I looked on with wonder and tried to take photos without drowning our iPhones, FB was frightened of the rushing water and the explosive sound it was making.
We returned to the garden and decided to eat at the little kitchen sitting amongst the trees. A group of men were sitting around smoking and playing cards and a lady shooed a few of them off their seats to give us somewhere dry to sit. The group quickly dispersed and got busy cleaning off seats, setting the table and doing whatever jobs they were allocated.
Our next stop was at the Calinawan Cave. On our way to the falls we had passed a narrow turn off, with a roughly painted sign ‘Calinawan Cave’. We were intrigued so decided to venture down that way. The road was narrow, rough and a few times our driver stopped to ask a local if we were going the right way. One young boy told him we would ‘be okay in that car’ because it was an SUV. Sure enough the road got rougher and we were watching with interest at the passing huts nestled in long grass and trees spread along the roadside. Children played on a giant bridge we crossed. I started to wonder where we were when we finally arrived at an opening in the wilderness. A couple of small huts sat nestled into the forest and the rocky growth. A few people were sitting around in the shelter, dozing in the heat. This was the place. The cost was only 20 peso per person but a guide was 200peso. I found it amusing that the guide appeared optional.
We got ourselves kitted out with a couple of torches and we were led to a small dark opening down in the ground. I saw the mouth of the cave and shuddered. In the past I have had a fear of caves. My fear is being trapped between rocks, of not being able to get out. I also have a little claustrophobia. A few years back I was lucky enough to attend a Women in Leadership weekender and had the chance to address this fear directly by going caving. The cave was one you crawled into, so it really addressed that fear of getting wedged between rocks. Long story short, I had an anxiety attack but dealt with it head on and it was a great outcome. This was my first trip back into a cave since then and I felt apprehensive.
Down we walked and I quickly felt the rise of excitement I feel when I get to be up close with nature like this. There was also a bit of adrenalin pumping. Bats live in this cave and we were delighted to shine our torches up and wake them up. The bats would fly around us, quite annoyed at being woken up. FB thought it was awesome. I love bats too. The stalegtites and stalegmites in this cave form images with their twisting and turning shapes. The faces of men, a tyranosaurusrex head (which looked very real).
This cave system is made up of multiple levels and numerous chambers and openings. The magic of caves I believe, is the natural beauty formed by the twisting rocks and the stories the walls have to tell. To put your hand on a stalegtite that has been hanging from that cavern for centuries is almost mystical. These caves have an important history too. It is believed they were used as a hideout during the Spanish-American War for the Filipino Revolutionaries. During the Second World War the Japanese hid out in the tunnels and used them to travel between sites. When the Americans found out they bombed a part of the caves which blocked them off. Originally the caves were thought to be around six kilometers long. Thank goodness we did not walk that far. This tour was just a simple round trip down two levels as the lower levels were muddy and prone to flooding in the wet weather.
FB was in her element in these caves. The girl who was frightened by the waterfall was happily taking over from the tour guide with torch in hand. Following a bat that had reportedly flown past her, FB was convinced the bat was showing us the way. She held the guides hand and together they led us through. Back out into the sunlight I felt relieved but exhilarated by this unexpected gem of a find.
It was getting late now, time we found ourselves back on the road so we said Salamat to this family who appear to guard this cave.
As we headed back through the Province towards home, we were stopped in traffic. It was Fiesta time for a village we were driving through. Eventually we were able to drive slowly down the street passing people dressed in bright coloured costumes, singing and dancing down the street.
What a perfect way to end our day