Saturday was our usual adventure day. We decided to check out the waterfall we didn’t get to see last time we went down to Laguna. I made clear to I-Bug and SB that we were taking the expressway this time. I did not want to get car sick again. So with the car packed up, StarBucks in hand, we headed off on our adventure.
We were headed to the Bunga falls, located in a town called Nagcarlan which sits down in the heart of Laguna. Once in Laguna we turned off the expressway and drove through the small towns that dot the landscape. We travelled through Santo Tomas and Alaminos, stopping at San Pablo for lunch. Then we got to Nagcarlan. This is an old town, settled in 1583 by the French missionaries. It is said the town was named after a rich benefactress. This town is the location of the only underground cemetery in The Philippines.
Just out of town the landscape changes and becomes more mountainous. As with the TayTay Falls, the roads became more twisted, winding and narrow, through green forest. There is no signage so we had to ask for directions a few times. Finally we made it to an open space which was the car park. A small sari-sari sat in the open, looking like an intruder with its colourful packets of quick snacks, in an otherwise ordinary, green natural space. We were instructed to walk down a path, past a couple of huts, a caribou lazily grazing, to some steep stone stairs. The pathway was narrow, winding and slippery. The walk is not long, only about ten minutes.
We made it to the Bunga Falls and were at once stuck by how much of a contrast there was between the sight of the falls, and the sight of its surrounds. A sari sari sat on the water’s edge where we paid the entrance fee and a ridiculous 250 peso for a half rotted, very uncomfortable bamboo shelter.
The Bunga Falls. So lovely from this vantage point
The falls are known as the Twin Falls as there are two almost identical falls, either side of a big rock. They are about fifteen meters high, so pretty big. The catch basin is a good size and very deep, at around ten meters. There is a lot of history at this place. First of all the Bunga Falls are named after the betel nut palms that used to grow in the area. It also used to be a sign of manliness to climb the rock face and dive down into the catch basin.
There is folklore here of some creature that resides in the deep. It supposedly snatches swimmers who are ‘outsiders’. Tales of a hand pulling legs down fill the pages of many blog posts I have been reading on this site. Whether you believe in this stuff or not, there is an eeriness about the place. Well I thought so anyway. When I visit falls I am drawn into the energy, the natural space with all the sounds and sensations that go with it. I feel very much at peace. Here, I got none of that. The falls look beautiful, no doubt. Yet I just could not get away from there fast enough. SB reluctantly went for a swim in the deep, and I felt really worried. SB said the stories are a load of rubbish, he isn’t into that stuff. He said the polluted water was the issue for him. I just kept thinking if someone went under, you would never find them, it is so deep in that basin. I would not let the children go away from the water’s edge. It was too scary seeing the rocks just drop off.
I also read about the face in the rock in another blog. There were pictures posted of a full frontal view of the falls with the rock in the middle and sure enough, there is a rock face. It is just creepy. Sadly, my photos show only a side profile of the face. You can make out an eye, part of the nose and mouth.
I did not want to swim here, in fact I didn’t want the kids to swim either but we promised them they could and they were having none of our arguments. At the risk of upsetting any Filipino friends, I will put it out there. This is a local swimming hole and clearly it has been for a long time. Bamboo huts that are rotting and falling apart sit around the edges of the giant pool and this really detracts from the otherwise lovely space. There are piles of sludge from runoff and the water is polluted because people use this pool to do their washing in. The ground is sludgy and full of midgy’s and mosquito larvae are floating on the water’s edge along with the foamy pollution that washes up on the shore that my children insisted on playing in. It was gross.
The Bunga Falls – not so nice from this vantage point
The day we were there, a large number of locals were having a great time having picnics, swimming and doing their washing using detergents. I remember thinking how amazing it would be to grow up with a place like this as your swimming hole. We felt very welcomed and that is just one of the lovely qualities of the Filipinos. However SB and I felt saddened that this water hole was being treated this way. We love to be in nature and always feel upset when we find an amazing space that is not protected and well cared for. Even at the TayTay Falls, I had to chase down a group who had dropped an empty bottle, looked at it and walked off. I picked it up and chased them along the path making them take it to put in the rubbish. I’m sure my family thought I was a nutter, and these young people did too, but that rainforest is so gorgeous. It needs looking after. Time and time again we visit places that are potentially gorgeous yet are ruined through a general lack of care for the environment. It is very sad. Especially as The Philippines is rich in tourism potential.
I imagined the Bunga Falls in its natural state, blocking out the surrounds and focusing just on the gorgeous falls and the basin. That part really is lovely.
So we didn’t stay long. The kids had a quick swim, SB had a quick swim and then we climbed back up the hill to the car, eager to get out of the muddy surrounds.
We headed back into town and stopped at the Underground Cemetery. This cemetery and crypt were built around 1845. The outer walls are rounded with large iron gates welcoming you in. There are tombs in the walls on the upper ground. At the other side of this space is a small church with steps to the right leading down into the crypt. Small windows light the way giving it an ethereal, ancient feel. This is where the towns privileged were buried and it also served as a secret meeting place of the revolutionary leaders in Laguna in 1896.
The Underground Cemetery
When we arrived there was a restoration project going on so the little chapel was covered in scaffolding. We were still able to see the tombs and go into the underground crypt for a look. It is a great stop off if you are in the area, and I believe important as it is a significant structure for Laguna and The Philippines.
Inside the Underground Crypt
We were finally heading home again, tracing the roads we followed earlier. We got home late in the afternoon, with enough time for long hot showers, dinner and bed time stories.
Our next big adventure is coming up in a few short days. We are heading home to Australia for Christmas. It has been almost a year since we left our home shores and we are really excited to return…so long as the latest typhoon doesn’t get in our way.