Filipinos are fond of, Bee would say obsessed with, titles. Go to any municipality or city and more often than not, the locals have christened it with a label to describe their place.
Valencia did not escape this baptism. It is called the ‘Little Baguio of Negros Oriental’. I wish they hadn’t linked it with the ‘Summer Capital of the Philippines’, for this town about 7.5km east of Dumaguete City is nothing at all like Baguio City.
It is much more beautiful (if Baguio can be described as beautiful at all). Bee and I stayed for just a little over two hours, yet we were bitten by its charm.
We arrived past three in the afternoon at the public market. I didn’t notice it from the road at first. I expected a rambling building with the words, ‘Pamilihang Bayan ng Valencia (Valencia Public Market)’, or its equivalent in Cebuano, like those usually found in most towns. But Valencia’s was a quiet succession of adjacent stalls in one-storey buildings that led to the plaza and municipal hall.
After the cold treatment we got from ‘The City of Gentle People’, I was wary about asking directions from the vendors even if I could do so in Cebuano. All we got from speaking the local language in Dumaguete City were smirks and a reply in English, to my complete bafflement.
When I finally got the courage to ask, ‘Asa po ang mga habal-habal (Where are the motorcycles)?’, the lady in a vegetable stall replied with such enthusiasm that soon, about four more people were helping her explain where to go. Everyone spoke in the local tongue, too, raising my spirits. Good thing we picked up most of what they said.
We headed to the side of the plaza and found the rows of habal-habal for rent. I thought the motorcycles would be bigger, as the travel guide described the road to Casaroro Falls as ‘treacherous’. But there they were, looking like the small motorbike my father used to bring me to school.
Roy, the youngest-looking of the group, was the first to speak to us. Like in the market stall, all the other riders gathered to find out what the two bespectacled visitors wanted.
The first price Roy offered to bring us to Casaroro Falls and Forest Camp and back to the plaza was P500. Bee and I glanced at each other. Based on the travel guide and our own calculations, it shouldn’t cost more than P400. When we mentioned this amount, Roy readily agreed. I was relieved. There was little time to bargain as the sun would be setting soon.
I eyed Roy’s motorbike and knew Bee and I wouldn’t fit. Roy had no problem about sharing the profit with a fellow rider. Bee got Kuya (older brother) Fernando to take him.
The first part of the trip went smoothly enough on a nice, concrete road that was broken by a river crossing. Boulders littered the river. Roy said they were brought there by typhoon Sendong (Washi). Aah…Little did I know that that statement would nudge more than an ‘Ah’ from me later on.
After about 10 minutes, the road stopped and a formidable stretch of rocks lay before us. This must be the start of the treacherous road. Roy asked me to hold on to him more tightly by encircling his waist with my arms. Until then, I only had one hand lightly resting on his shoulder. This must be serious now.
Roy braced himself, and off we went. After a few seconds, my butt left the seat and kissed the air. I managed to get it back. But the ride wasn’t over and I felt sweat broke out of my palms, the ones grasping the front of Roy’s shirt. This was no short trip to bring me to school. I either keep my balance or fall hard on the rocks and break…something.
Fortunately, the road gave way to a dirt path that was easier to navigate. I could relax my hold on Roy’s shirt, which probably had an imprint of my palms by then. We got to the end of the road with our bodies intact, to our great relief.
But not yet. There were 350 steps down to Casaroro Falls. 350 slippery steps. For this reason, Roy and Kuya Fernando decided to accompany us so we wouldn’t fall or get lost. Get lost? But all we had to do was follow the stairs and the path, right?
It turned out Sendong decimated the concrete trail. A few feet from the bottom of the stairs, the path ended and beyond it, in complete abandon, were piles of boulders and rocks and stones strewn all over the upstream part of the river we had crossed earlier. My ‘aah’ turned into, ‘WOW!’ Wow, can I do this?
I was getting hungry at this point and Bee and I only had about an inch of bottled water. I knew from two hikes in the past that walking through boulders was not easy, and that I didn’t have the greatest balancing act in the world.
But there was also no way I was going to tell Bee or our sweet habal-habal boys that I couldn’t do it. The sound of the river was all around us, and not too far away I could hear the rumbling of the falls. In any case, Roy and Kuya Fernando were already skipping ahead of us. Yes, skipping, like they had been born doing this.
The boulders were intimidating, and I began to understand why a mountaineer considered such treks as ‘technical’, like a serious writing task where one doesn’t just ramble on and on (ehem). We got to a spot where the huge rocks appeared to have formed a wall to guard the falls from intruders. I couldn’t stretch my legs high enough to find solid footing.
So I learned to take smaller steps, use my hands for balance, sit down first if I had to, focus on where my next step would be, and nothing else. The falls could have run out of water and I wouldn’t have minded. I was already having a blast conquering those giants of rocks.
We couldn’t see the falls as we scrambled towards it for it was hidden by a bend in the river. So its first sight was completely unexpected, and it wiped away everything that came before it. Gone was the excitement over the boulders, in its place was pure awe.
At a height of 100 feet, the falls was not as wide as the ones I saw in Thailand. But what glued my eyes, and ears, to it was its powerful and thunderous plunge towards the poor rocks lying on its foot.
Reaching the falls through the difficult route made me appreciate it more. Perhaps the local government need not spend funds for the footpath’s repair. One would surely be willing to cross tough terrain just to behold such rugged beauty.
Did I mention one would also need to wade through two parts of the river? And the currents weren’t the timid types, too. There were also great views of trees and bamboos.
Bee and I crawled through the 350 steps on the way back. We had spent all our energy on the boulders. But the jarring motorcycle ride revived me, enough to hold on tightly to Roy again and stain his shirt some more.
We were too tired to stop by Forest Camp to have a look. By then, it was also getting dark. For P200 more, Bee and I asked Roy and Kuya Fernando to bring us all the way back to Dumaguete.
But we made two quick stops. First, I had to take a photo of the rural health unit, as it was the most modern-looking I have seen in the country. The town seemed to take health seriously.
Next, we stopped at the plaza because Roy and Kuya Fernando wanted us to enjoy the town some more. It was only then that the huge size of the plaza hit me. Was this a football field? There were certainly plenty of boys playing the game. It was refreshing to watch a sport other than basketball in a small town.
As we made our way back to Dumaguete, Roy said that Valencia is a good place to live in. Water is free and they get refunds on their electricity bill since a geothermal plant is located in the municipality. The weather is cool and there are plenty of nice spots to visit. I added that the people are kind, easy to be with, and can speak their language.
Valencia was such a great discovery, certainly worthy of another visit, and maybe a new title if it has to have one.
If you need a ride and guide up Casaroro Falls, contact Roy Deserdo at 0906-8771441 or Fernando Inofe at 0999-4560396. Fernando is the more experienced rider, but Roy can hold his own on the rough trail.