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    Posted June 29, 2014 by
    JRDecenella
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    Capping summer with fun moments in Surigao del Sur, Philippines

     

    A crystal-clear water flowing quietly over a bottomless cave that is the riverbed, a group of islets dotting the turquoise blue water and a few sandbars that could be mistaken for the shore line all give the impression of picturesque tourist attractions common among the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas.

     

    These majestic tourist destinations in fact lie in the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Mindanao: Surigao del Sur.

     

    ‘ENCHANTED RIVER’

     

    Enchanted River in barangay Cambatong is a 30-minute ride from the town proper of Hinatuan, which is another 40-minute ride from the town of Mangagoy where we were fortunate to receive accommodation from the Corro family, who showed gestures of the quintessential hospitality inherent among Filipinos.

     

    To reach there, take a flight to Butuan airport if you're outside Mindanao. Private vehicles such as vans could be rented for Php3,000 ($70) to take you around Surigao del Sur.

     

    Many tales about Hinatuan River (its official name) have spread by word of mouth: that the river is haunted by supernatural beings protecting the serene body of water, thus its popular brand Enchanted River.

     

     

    Accompanying the mystical legends of Enchanted River is the translucent water through which visitors could see even the deepest part of the cave’s mouth underneath. One might think that it is where the water comes from, but nobody could tell with certainty about its source. Any attempt at determining the river’s staple is a foolhardy game of chance because the cave serving as riverbed remains unplumbed, and every single diver that had tried before to measure its depth succeeded only in confirming previous failed trials.

     

    One of the favorite come-ons – which draws up a curious crowd – is the “feeding time” at 12 noon when a bell starts ringing for everyone to clear out the river and a caretaker throws leftovers into the water. No sooner had the hand pitched the hodgepodge of food scraps than a school of fish sprang from beneath the water to race toward the much-awaited feed and in the process reveal their silvery scales to the audience.

     

    Their meal time is accompanied by the “Hymn of Hinatuan” playing as the jocund creatures appear to jive with its rhythm. The caretaker later told me that the river is a mixture of brackish water, allowing the fish to survive.

     

    Guests are charged an entrance fee of Php30 (nearly $1) and another Php100 for the cottage. But word of caution, be sure to bring with you a super size umbrella in case of an unforeseen rain because the management would never tend to your needs for shelter come what may.

     

    BRITANIA ISLANDS

     

    As if the fun moments at Enchanted River were not enough, we renewed all our strength in anticipation of more excitement and thrill at our next stop: Britania Islands.

     

    Previously insignificant to residents, the group of 24 islets across Lianga Bay facing the Pacific Ocean is now a famous tourist spot in the town of San Agustin, providing lucrative livelihood to the locals.

     

    Swarming the coastal lines of Brgy. Britania are rows of pump boats for rent for guests wanting to go island hopping, which is the primary attraction of the place. For Php1,500 ($35), we managed to explore the pristine beauty of the islets, majority of which are densely populated by a jungle of vegetation and others completely naked.

     

    All of the white-sand-laden islets conjure up the image of Poseidon’s court in the Greek mythology. From a distance, they also appear like the large mass of earth hurled by the skies at the high seas in popular Filipino folklore when a weary eagle in search of mass to alight upon tricked the two factions into a violent crossfire of rocks and waves. This explains in fancy why the ocean is encumbered with boulders of varying sizes.

     

    Britania deserves a rank as one of the must-visit places in the Philippines, comparable only to the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan.

     

    A visit to Britania would never be complete without the adrenalin-inducing hopping to the premier quartet consisting of Buslon, Naked, Hagonoy and Hiyor-hiyoran islets (though we managed to visit only the first three for lack of time).

     

    Standard rates for boat rental start at Php1000 for two islets, P1,500 for the premier quartet and P2,000 for all islets. The pump boats can carry up to 20 passengers.

     

    We were ferried first to the Hagonoy islet, which has been so named after a kind of weed that had once grown among its bed of fine white sand. Onlookers from a distance could only marvel at the sight of a miniature desert engulfed in a deep blue oasis.

     

    We basked in the sun and frolicked in the fine bed of powdery sand, of course with the usual photo op to provoke envy among dear friends. I was thinking, as we were leaving Surigao two days later, that Boracay could not stand comparison with Britania Islands, a haven far from the bustle of the city life and free from the dire prospect of devastation on the pretext of progress.

     

    After a few minutes of prancing in Hagonoy, we hurried to our next destination: Naked island. The inspiration for its name is simple: the barren field does not grow any kind of vegetation. As we approached the islet, I had the impression that Naked must have been a piece among the clouds that had fallen off the sky when Gravity took its first and final nap.

     

    Naked Island is an elongated sandbar just 10 minutes of ride away from Hagonoy. The two islets are almost comparable with respect to size and appearance, the only differences being that Hagonoy grows a few coconut trees and Naked is a place sprawled with small and rough stones.

     

    The largest among the islets we visited was Boslon, where thick bushes of vegetation finally abound. The islet is also a favorite site for photo sessions against a grotto as the backdrop.

     

    It was already a little before 7 p.m. – a tussle between darkness and light – when we completed the island hopping, and everyone in the group could still smell the salted breeze of the sea.

     

    A piece of advice: you should be able to find a resort nearby to rinse off the seawater and to spend the night in since there is no available accommodation within the area. Lucky us, for we were billeted at the Solar Lodge & Beach Resort, courtesy of the Apolinario family, for whose warm showcase of hospitality we will forever be grateful.

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