Thursday, June 8, 2017

TRAVEL | It comes in threes: The waterfalls of San Salvador, Luisiana, Laguna (Part 1: Talay Falls and Hidden Falls)

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The beauteous Hidden Falls in San Salvador, Luisiana, Laguna.

I've been to at least two waterfalls in South Cebu this summer: the crowded but really beautiful Kawasan Falls in Badian and the super fun, multi-tier Aguinid Falls in Samboan. Those two trips were really calculated for fear that I might end up with another "episode" as a result of too much physical activity and dehydration.

But after making it through with no fever at all, we geared up for yet another waterfall trip, this time in nearby Laguna. The more than 200-feet high Hulugan Falls was our prime target, which was, based on what we've read, accessible via a relatively short (around 30 minutes) but very steep and difficult downhill trek. And then you have to go back up.

But there was another option, a longer but supposedly much easier trail that will take you through two more waterfalls--Talay Falls and Hidden Falls--before getting to the big one. Banking on "easier," we chose this route.

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The barangay captain's house. This is where you register.

Jump-off
This trio of waterfalls is located in Brgy. San Salvador in the town of Luisiana. Yes, you read that right, though locally it's pronounced "loo-SHA-na." San Salvador is the first barangay if you're coming from Cavinti.

Guides are required and are already assigned to you at the barangay police headquarters shortly after making a right from the highway. There's no standard guide fee for now, so it's up to you how much you think you should give.

A few hundred meters inland is the barangay captain's residence where guests are required to register and pay a Php 20 fee. There's a store that serves meals and sells food and other supplies. Very basic restrooms and shower rooms are also available for a minimal fee. From this point forward only tricycles are allowed, and you need one to take you to the very jump-off of your trek, which is still quite a distance away. If you drove your own vehicle, you leave it here, where there's a designated parking area.

Hulugan Falls was only formally opened to the public in October 2016, and it's amazing how quickly the local community has organized themselves both to regulate tourism and ensure the preservation of the attraction, and in the process provide a means of livelihood for San Salvador's residents. Even more impressive is the fact that they have a proper first aid station manned by personnel who are also trained in rescue operations. They even have a stretcher.

The trek
We followed an established downhill trail blessed with lots of shade and great views of the surrounding mountains. The local community sure made it tourist-friendly by carving out steps installing bamboo railings along certain parts.

We crossed a small dam built from all those Php 20 fees collected from visitors. Our guide said it's meant to control the water volume during the dry season to ensure that there's still some water feeding into Hulugan Falls because it can dry up.

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Awesome views along the way.

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The mini-dam built from the Php 20 fees collected from visitors.

We carried on through an uneven terrain littered with potholes. There's water flowing along certain parts and my guess is that during the rainy season, this whole place becomes a swollen river. 

Our trek continued through a rolling terrain until we descended to a resting and picnic spot by the riverbank. It's the same river we crossed earlier. The area is completely shaded with trees under which they built a few bamboo tables and benches.

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I can imagine this place swelling with water during the rainy season.

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Puddles and the miniature cascades that feed them.

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Cute little potholes such are these are all over the place.

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The trails are well-established.

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Bamboo railings are built along certain sections of the trail to make it a little easier for visitors.

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Pit stop: the picnic area by the riverbank.

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More miniature cascades. The rocks are unmistakably volcanic, if their turning black when wet is any indication.

Talay Falls
Just a few meters from the picnic area is Talay Falls. It's a fairly small and slender cascade nestled in between huge boulders. There's a characteristic break in its flow, something that's immediately noticeable as it continuously pours into a small natural pool surrounded by, well, more boulders.

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Talay Falls and its natural pool.

Compared to Kawasan's ethereal, light blue pool, this one may not look as inviting because of its rather drab color. But that's because the rocks here are volcanic, sporting a very dark shade that turns black when wet. Kawasan's and Aguinid's, on the other hand, are limestone, which lend the water a pleasantly light hue.

Still, Talay Falls is beautiful in its own right.

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It's as if all these gigantic rocks are so protective of the waterfall.

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Notice the break in its flow.

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Over mossy rocks. On our way to the next waterfall.

The next waterfall is just a few minutes away and is basically right above Talay Falls. Again there's an established trail but this one involves climbing over huge rocks and even holding on to a rope.

Hidden Falls
After clearing a couple of huge boulders, this magnificent work of nature came to view:

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Hidden Falls in all its splendor.

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Getting closer to the waterfall entails going around its surrounding rock formation.

Well, this waterfall is indeed "hidden" from normal view because it lies behind gigantic boulders; hence, the name. I particularly like the rock formation, as if they were blocks randomly piled on top of each other.

We visited the place in the dead of summer, so the water wasn't as strong. But I think it looks fantastic nonetheless, especially with more rocks exposed from the lack in water volume, highlighting the variations in how the water cascades instead of just a singular careless gush. The limited area of wet--and therefore darkened--rocks also provides a wonderful contrast to the surrounding brown hues, which only accentuates the waterfall's beauty.

Hidden Falls is 💖.

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It's like the waterfall is highlighted from the rest of the landscape. I could probably just sit and stare at this all day.

And then off we went to the granddaddy of them all. Check out Part 2: Hulugan Falls. That's on my next post.

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GETTING THERE:

Via public transport
Take one of those buses bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna. There are terminals in Cubao and Taft Ave. in Makati City. It's about a 3-hour ride and the fare is >Php100 but shouldn't exceed Php150.

From Sta. Cruz take a jeepney bound for Lucena and get off at San Salvador. Your cue is a Hulugan Falls sign although it's better to just tell the driver to drop you off at the said barangay. But if you miss that, you can simply continue to the Luisiana town proper and hop on a tricycle going back.

There's an information desk right next to the barangay police headquarters where you'll be assigned a guide and who'll ride along with you in your tricycle to the barangay captain's house for registration. From here it's another tricycle ride to where your trek actually starts.

Via private vehicle
Take the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and exit at Calamba. Continue driving through the National Highway (although there's a diversion road so you can skip the traffic at the Calamba town proper). You'll pass by Pansol, Los Baños, Bay, Pila, Sta. Cruz, and Pagsanjan.

Once you reach the Pagsanjan church, turn right and continue driving towards Cavinti but don't go all the way to the town proper. There's a fork before you reach town; turn right and stay on the Cavinti-Luisiana Road. Look out for a Hulugan Falls roadside sign. Turn right and you'll immediately see an information desk right next to the barangay police headquarters. 

Or you can simply use Google Maps. It was pretty accurate based on our experience anyway.

At the information desk you'll be assigned a guide who'll ride along with you to the barangay captain's house for registration. From here it's only tricycles going to where your trek actually starts. You can leave your car at a designated parking space near the barangay captain's house.

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