‘We weren’t meant to end up here, it was completely by chance, but I am so glad we did’
What started as a trip to one part of Laguna, ended up here, at the Twin Falls of San Juan, Kalayaan, Laguna. The story as to how this happened is the usual tale of travel misadventure filled with grumpiness, fraught with disappointment, and fear we had just driven two and a half hours to nothingness. So I will save that for another time, perhaps over a gin and tonic.
We had a plan but it didn’t work out and as we turned back from our initial destination we happened to decide to drive down a local street to see what a distant building was. Sitting on Lake Pagsanjan, white steeples jut out of a cliff-side and it looks like there is a castle hiding there amongst the trees. It turns out that it well could be a castle, we will just never know as it is a private residence with a high and mighty wall and giant thick gates enclosing it all, protecting it from the world outside. We got to the end of the small, narrow road and suddenly a group of local men were surrounding us, all eager to find out why a large black SUV with white people might be down in their neck of the woods. Through talk about the private castle and ‘move out of the way so we can turn around’, we learnt about some other falls close by that we could visit. The Twin falls in Kalayaan.
The Twin Falls sit in the foothills of the Sierra Madre range, the largest mountain range in the Philippines, inbetween Mounts Banahaw and Mt Makaling. There are waterfalls all over this area and one of the frustrations is trying to find them as so many are not widely advertised. I did a quick Google search and found a few blog posts on them and thankfully they provided much needed instructions on how to get there. Waze did not register the falls, and Google Maps was trying to take us about forty kilometers away from the area.
To get to Kalayaan you take a scenic drive along the National Highway, which passes alongside Laguna de Bay. The view is really lovely and captivates the imagination as looming mountains sit on the horizon and glass-like waters shimmer in the sunlight. Fish farms carpet the area and tiny dots of the fishermen move around the waters making barely a ripple.
The Twin Falls are accessible through the Kalayaan Twin Falls Resort. Now, for non-locals, a resort is simply a place for you to hang out. You can access basic facilities for a small fee. There is usually a sari-sari selling snacks, ablutions are tenuous at best so it isn’t for the faint hearted. There is usually some shelter for an extra cost and the area is tended by caretakers who live onsite.
The falls are called the Twin Falls because apparently there are falls on the other side of the mountain. What is unique about this area is that there are multiple falls in a small and accessible area. When you walk from the carpark to the main resort you pass a large catchment pool where the waters run down the mountain into Laguna de Bay. The ravine is deep and local kids climb rockface and the cement skeletons of a previous time and then they jump into the deep. They also climb up the rocks of one of the falls and slide down in the gushing water. I drew in breath wondering if their mothers knew what they were up to. A semi-hidden staircase on the other side intrigued us and we wished we had the time to explore what lay beyond. Three large waterfalls cascaded down a partially man-made wall and at the top of this was the resort.
The resort sits a little way up a mountain and in here you will find three falls with catchment pools built around them, providing easy access for swimming. Colourful paint is used on rocks and cabanas to liven the place up and videoke is set up in a corner for extra entertainment. The largest pool in the center flows the mountain water down to where the local boys swam.
The icy cold mountain water ran over my feet furiously as it headed down the mountain
The falls were big and furious because of the rains we have had, and the water overflowed in the pools so we were wading through ankle deep water as we walked along. A stairwell at the end was steep and led up a path further into the mountain, to two other falls. The children’s eyes were wide with wonder and as we looked around at the pools they were so eager to jump into I noticed the extraordinary amount of butterflies fluttering around. I remember in grade seven my teacher would give us giant A3 sized pages of colouring in images. They were from memory, almost an early version of the adult colouring in books with intricate designs weaving around the page. My favourite was one that was filled with large images of tropical butterflies. I used to colour them in and be amazed that creatures like this existed. Now, when we go into the rainforest and there are butterflies it is like my colouring-in pictures from some thirty years ago, have come alive.
We climbed the steep stairwell and walked along a short path. At the end we found stage two of the falls and it was beautiful. Deep in the rainforest, lush green trees, vines and enormous ferns grew and the sound of the waterfalls were intense. It drowned out all other sounds. The air was heavy with humidity and the sweat dripped off us but the waterfalls cooled the area down. We found ourselves taking long deep breathes of sweet fresh air. Butterflies fluttered around us. The falls were medium sized and the catchment pool was small and broke off through the rocky ground so the falls fell in rivulets into the stream that led down the mountain. It looked as though you could swim there, however the waters were fierce and it was not really safe for the children on that particular day.
Another steep path led further up into the mountain to the last of the falls in that area. Another magnificant sight. The falls were tall and cascaded over rocks and down the mountain, it was really quite a sight. The rainforest created a lovely canopy shading us from the sun. Deep shadows played with streams of intense light filtering through and it was a kind of paradise.
After a good look at these falls we headed back down the mountain to the resort where SB and the children threw themselves into the pools. BB preferred the smaller pool and was soon busy playing with the other children building a retaining wall to keep the water in, with stones they were collecting from the bottom of the pool. They were not really successful as the water flow was very strong. FB stayed with her dad. The icy cold waters making her shiver but she still just wanted to swim. I walked around with my feet ankle deep, taking it all in. I watched people sing along to the videoke machine and other children diving down into the deeper pool. The water was murky from the rain as the debris from the mountains ran into the pools.
The swimming and walking had made us hungry and halfway home we stopped roadside to buy freshly cooked white corn. Corn is a common street food here and the yellow corn is the juiciest and sweetest corn you can find. White corn is more subtle in flavour but still delicous. Large pots filled with boiling water and corn cobs sit on fires, burning with dried coconut shells and the smoke fills the makeshift shelters erected for the sellers to sit under. The corn tasted smokey and delicious and I wished we had brought extra.
Where: Kalayaan Twin Falls, San Juan, Laguna
How: You can take the scenic route through Pallila, Tanay and along Laguna de Bay, the roads are twisty and windy and trust me – if you are prone to travel sickness you ought to consider the alternative route. We took the Expressway down from Manila, drove up through Pagsanjan. You take a turn off in the town to head towards Lumban which is the town before Kalayaan. You then find yourself on the National Highway and drive a short distance until you find yourself at the sign entering Kalayaan. Just in a short way on the right you will find the San Juan Evangelist Parish Church. There is a mobile phone tower over the road from it. Take the narrow road that runs alongside this church and just drive up until you reach the resort.
Cost: Adults: 40p, Children 20p, Cabana 300p for the day. We paid a caretaker to take us up the mountain. That was helpful as it was very slippery. We paid him 100p
Notes: The cabanas were in pretty good shape, so I’d be happy to hang there with a picnic. Facilities are basic so take toilet tissue. Take your food and water as supplies are limited. We had lunch at Calle Arco, a very eclectic restaurant in Pagsanjan. We have eaten there before and it is okay.