One article in 8 Magazine (a travel mag dedicated to Region 8 tourism) that interested me was the unique, 21-km. Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride along the Ulot River (Samar Island’s longest River) in Paranas in Western Samar, the newest signature eco-tourism adventure in Samar. A joint project of the Department of Tourism and the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop, it was launched on November 30, 2010 but the operation was stopped in January the next year after floods hit the area. It reopened in the third week of March after the quality of the water in the river improved.
|The rapids of the Ulot River|
The 455,700 hectare SINP, the biggest natural park in the country, was declared a protected area on April 13, 2003 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 442. It covers 333,330 hectares of land and a buffer zone of 125,400 hectares of primary forest and a large, contiguous tract of secondary forest in good ecological condition. It boasts of many caves, various wildlife species and river systems such as the navigable, 9-km. long Ulot (a Waray term meaning “monkey”) River, which is within the Ulot Watershed Area, one of Samar’s 8 watershed areas.
The Ulot River starts from the mountainous town of San Jose de Buan (Western Samar) in the north, flowing downstream to Paranas and finally draining at Can-Avid (Eastern Samar) in the east. Including its tributaries, the river’s length could reach 520 kms.. For years, it has been used as a nautical highway for transporting goods and people, linking Western Samar with Eastern Samar until the 1940s when a gravel road from the west to the east was opened.
|The SINP Headquarters|
It just so happened that me and my son Jandy were in Tacloban City during the Holy Week break and I reserved a whole day for this one-of-a-kind adventure. To get there, my brother-in-law Manny and his Taclobanon wife Paula generously offered us the use their Mitsubishi Lancer and their family driver Cherwine B. Avis. We left the city by 8:30 AM, a Black Saturday, and traversed the Maharlika Highway going to Catbalogan City. Upon entering Paranas, we inquired at a nearby police station for directions going to Buray Junction. It seems we just passed it, the junction readily identified by a Petron gas station (the only gas station we espied throughout the trip) at the corner.
|We missed seeing this sign on the road to SINP|
From the junction, the SINP headquarters was a further 16 kms. away, along the Wright-Taft Rd.. The road was concreted, with occasional potholes and cracks. Along the way we passed the upscale Villa Escober Spring Resort. Just before reaching SINP, a huge boulder from a rock slide was blocking the road but we just drove around it. Upon reaching the SINP headquarters (around 10 AM). We parked the car along the road, as the park gate was closed, and I entered via an open pedestrian gate. The offices were also closed, it being a holiday, but, luckily for us, I met the watchman Mr. Raffy Manrique who offered to personally bring us to the Torpedo Boat jump-off point, a riverbank just 150 m. away from the SINP headquarters, at Sitio Campo Uno in Brgy. Tenani.
|L-R: Raffy, the author, Cherwine and Jandy|
Upon arrival, we registered our names at a logbook and met up with Mr. Gilberto P. Eneran, the current head of the Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), who would man, together with the father and son team of Oscar and Nicky Obleno, our 4 m. long torpedo boat. Gilbert, as boatman, operated the engine while Nicky, at the front of the boat, acted as timoner (pointman), the one who navigates and pushes the torpedo boat away from the rocks.
|All aboard and ready to go|
All experienced boatmen trained on safe river travel, they had been operating boats before, transporting illegally cut trees in the area, but now helping protects and conserve the SINP. The TORPEDO now has 57 members and 23 boats. They are part of the Ulot Watershed Model Forest Stakeholder Federation, an umbrella of 9 people’s organizations involved in the SINP (tour guiding, boat services, catering, food production, etc.).
|Beautiful curtain waterfalls along the way|
The wooden boat, without outriggers, is powered by a 16 HP engine. It has elevated sides to prevent water from getting in and the boat from tipping. Aside from the crew, our boat could seat 5 passengers but it was just me, Jandy and Cherwine. We sat on seats with backrests and, on the sides, were inner rails for us to hold on as well as protect our hands from boulders the boat may hit along the way. For our added protection, we wore life jackets and helmets.
|A quiet rural scene along the river|
The first leg of our challenging but not nerve wracking, wet and wild adventure ride was a 10.5-km. journey downstream. One thing that made this boat ride truly remarkable was the natural scenery the route provided, with tick forests, the habitat of exotic flora and fauna, all around us. We started in calm waters, with some beautiful curtain waterfalls to be seen along the riverbank. Soon enough, ripples began to appear, followed by white water rapids encountered in shallow and narrow areas called sinisikuhan (“bent elbows”). Here, the waters move fast at the river bend and, as the boat speeds away, water splashes hits our faces or drenches us. As our boat had no outriggers, we really got to feel the swaying of the boat.
|The fun begins here …..|
Our boatman, with their knowledge of river maneuvers and keen eyes to spot obstacles such as rocks or boulders that block our way, skillfully and safely run the fast moving rapids. Occasionally, passenger boats coming from or going to Brgy. Tula would pass us by. After 45 mins. our boat stopped at Deni’s Point, a picnic area a few meters from a 10-ft. fall that drops into the river. Boats that have to continue beyond this point would have to unload their cargo and passengers, drag the boat to an area where the grade is gradual, pull or lower the boat down with a rope, reload the cargo and passengers then continue on with their trip.
|Passenger boat coming back from Brgy. Tula|
Deni’s Point is a tranquil, secluded and scenic jungle spot where one can commune with nature. Surrounded by tall trees, its riverbanks are lined with big stones and huge boulders. Across is a small curtain waterfall. Here, Jandy and I swam its clear waters while Cherwine dove from a huge boulder into the fast flowing river. A lifeline was thrown across the river to catch should we be swept by the fast moving waters.
|The swirling rapids of Deni’s Point|
After our 45-min. sojourn in this beautiful spot, we returned to our boat for the second half of our extreme ride, this time an exhilarating 10.5-km. and much longer upstream ride (called the “Salmon Run Experience”), back to the takeoff point in Sitio Campo Uno. This time our boat trip, now going against the Ulot River currents, would meet and feel the onrushing waters and we were to experience even bigger splashes as our boat plunge through the waves. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief every time we pulled out of a challenging rapid.
|The waterfall at Deni’s Point|
At a particular area called the “Salmon Run”(referring to a time when salmon swam up the river to spawn at their place of birth), the drop is around 3 to 4 ft. Here, tourists normally would have to get off the boat so that the boatmen could pull the boat up the rapids. However, since we were only three, we were allowed to stay on board the boat. Back at Campo Uno, we had some snacks and soft drinks at a nearby sari-sari store (there are no eateries here) before indulging in another favorite river activity – kayaking.
|Nicky manhandling the torpedo boat at Salmon Run|
We each had a crack at this on a single yellow-colored kayak, me being the last to try. I wondered why Cherwine and Jandy gave up after just one short round but I soon found out. Going with the flow of the water was easy, going against it wasn’t. It was a struggle just getting back to the takeoff point. After this very tiring activity, we decided to just loll around in the quiet river waters, still with our life vests on. Thus sated, we left the place by 3:30 PM and we were back in Tacloban City by 5:30 PM. Truly an experience of a lifetime.
|Jandy tries his hand at kayaking|
Samar island Natural Park: Sitio Campo Uno, Brgy. Tenani, Paranas, Western Samar 6703. Mobile number: (0917) 702-7467. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.samarislandnaturalpark.com. The Torpedo Boat package costs PhP1,800 (maximum of 5 tourists per boat), inclusive of the SINP entrance fee, boat rental, tour guiding fee, safety gear rental and community development fee. A single kayak rents for PhP50 while a tandem kayak rents for PhP75. Tubing (PhP20 rental fee) is also offered along the Ulot River.
|Our torpedo boat team – L-R: Gilbert, Nicky and Oscar|
The SINP headquarters also has accommodations for visitors wishing to stay overnight. It has 3 airconditioned rooms. One room has dorm-type double deckers good for 15 people (PhP100/pax/day) while 2 other rooms can accommodate 4 people each (PhP150/pax/day).