The Ultimate Whitewater Adventure
Text By: Melo Villareal
Photos By: Roger Alcantara
“Face the fear! Get ready! Now forward, hard forward! HARDER!” Danny Bravo, the head rafter, shouted above the roar of the mighty Chico River. The five intrepid and very wet thrill seekers in the rubber raft gamely followed Danny’s orders. As the adrenaline rushed inside my body, I felt the proverbial rush as the raft swiftly went up, down and sideways. I was speechless and all that I can think was … WOW!
the kalinga trip
The adventure began on the night of December 26, 2003 with a 12-hour bus ride from Espana, Manila to Tabuk, Kalinga Province. Departing Manila at 10:15pm, Roger Alcantara, a Manila Times photo journalist, and I reached Tabuk at 9:45 the next morning. I slept on the bus. I figured that since there was nothing interesting to see as we drove in the darkness, I might as well sleep to preserve my energy for the river trek. The thrill of it all gave me a smile as I closed my eyes.
When we arrived at Tabuk’s Davidson Hotel, I learned that there were twenty other rafters having breakfast. After we deposited our things in our room and freshened up, Roger and I had breakfast while we waited for our host, Naty Sugguiayao.
After we exchanged pleasantries, Naty led us to Lawagan Resort to link up with other rafters that Lito Beltran had gathered. Lito is a popular photography instructor of the Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation.
the rafting adventure
The day was overcast and the temperature was cold when we began our trek. As we drove through the rough roads, we had a breathtaking view of the world-famous rice terraces. There were also waterfalls along the way. Kalingans walking along the road greeted us “Umali Kayo!” — Welcome, as we passed by. Such friendliness, so rare in the city, warmed our hearts.
At Lubuagan, the “start off point,” lead rafter Danny Bravo gave a rafting safety seminar. He tipped us on how to “read the river,” taught us the different paddling moves and most importantly, led us through the survival guide.
If anybody falls from the raft, just go with the flow and don't let go of the paddle. If you are in a shallow rapic, use your feet to push against the rocks until the guides throw you a safety rope and bang! You're back to the adventure!"
Danny kept repeating, “If anybody falls from the raft, just go with the flow and don’t let go of the paddle. If you are in a shallow rapid, use your feet to push against the rocks until the guides throw you a safety rope and bang! You’re back to the adventure!”
We learned that the vital paddle commands are, “forward,” “backward,” “left back” and “right back.”
Then, after Danny reminded us to check our life jackets, to buckle our head gear, to secure our grips on our paddles, to properly position our feet and to put our cameras in sealed pelican boxes, the handlers pushed our rafts off their moorings. Rapids, here we come!
The river journey started with a tame rapid and progressed to a series of heart stopping ones. It was like riding a wild horse bucking in the river. The calm sections of the river served as our respite from the nerve-wracking intensity of the rapids.
Our raft was named “Allasiw” — meaning an exchange of four peace tokens among the head hunter tribes of Kalinga. We conquered our fears and became bolder as the ride progressed. Each time that we survived a rapid or skirted a rock formation, we shouted and greeted one another with “High Fives.”
As we paddled on calm waters, Danny identified the popular Chico River spots such as Angel’s Nightmare, God’s Playground, Dead Carabao, Piggybank, Danny’s Drop (where Danny slammed into a rock and broke his tooth) and Dragon’s Tail. Each had a unique characteristic and I leave it to you find out and to enjoy.
The ride took almost three hours. We made a stopover near a breathtaking waterfall. We marveled at its beauty while we ate our snacks. We then continued our way until we reached “Malaking Bato” — the drop off point. Though a bountiful lunch was prepared, we could not eat. We were still excited. Once everybody had settled down, we then proceeded to the eating spot beside the river and enjoyed the meal.
What a trip!
history in the making
Whitewater rafting is the newest sports adventure to invade the Philippines. While adventure-seeking travelers craving for more whitewater rafting spots beyond Central America and Africa flocked for decades to the rivers of Brazil and Borneo, the raging rivers of the Philippines remained undiscovered.
It was Ned Sickles, together with other Oregonians, Gary Fondren and Dr. Bob Anderson who discovered the potential of the Chico River to become a world-class whitewater rafting destination. After spotting it in 1997 via satellite mapping, the three Oregonians traveled from the United States to visit the Cordilleras. Naty Sugguiyao’s eldest daughter, Mae Shiu, who was then with the UP Mountaineers and Elmer Cabotaje, now a trustee of the Philippine Airlines Mountaineering Club, joined the Americans on their first exploratory run.
The exploration lasted for four days. The Americans were impressed with the awesome scenery and the diverse levels of the rapids. Since that first trip in 1997, Ned and his friends have been coming back to enjoy the river and to train the Kalingans to become proficient river guides. During each trip, the group brought the latest rafting equipment. Ned is now considered as the father of Chico River whitewater rafting.
The months of July to January are the prime whitewater rafting months. These months have the most rainfall, the highest water levels and as a result, the most exciting rapids.
Chico River Quest Inc (CRQI), managed and operated by Kalingans led by Naty Sugguiyao, is the biggest whitewater rafting tour operator in Kalinga Province. The Kalinga Raft Guides Association provides CRQI with guides who know the river well and were trained by professional whitewater guides from the US.
back to manila
The euphoria of the Chico River rafting lingered for several days. Having survived three hours on the Chico, I now consider myself as the newest river warrior and I made a promise to myself to go back.
Face your fear and see you in the rapids.
Melo Villareal – Mobile # 0918-6167049 / 0918-9402039 / 0922-8890525
Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Tuguegarao thrice weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
From Tuguegarao, it’s an hour by Bus or Jeep to Tabuk.
PAL Reservations: (02) 855-8888
Autobus Lines – Tel# (02)743-6870
Victory Liner – Tel # (02) 920-7396
These Buses offers daily trip to Tabuk. Reservation is a must to get a secured seat.
the chico river rafters creed:
The Chico River is never to be conquered, but to be respected and protected.
Whitewater rafting forum post comments and questions about whitewater rafting in the Philippines.
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