I drifted along slowly with the current. To my right was a towering wall of limestone covered in lush vegetation. To my left, was a rocky riverbed peppered with purple flowers and weeds. We were cruising along Siitan River in Nagtipunan, a town in Quirino province where several major tributaries of the Cagayan River converge.
Photo by Lakad Pilipinas
I was riding a tire’s inner tube, known locally as interyor, just enjoying the scenery. Since the current wasn’t that strong, the ride was pretty calm and relaxing. More than a few times, the boatmen had to nudge the tubes with their paddles so we would move forward. We tried to paddle along with our hands, shifting direction left or right. But mostly we just drifted peacefully along. “Kulang na lang may hawak na cocktail,” someone remarked as he floated by.
Photo before river tubing courtesy of Ironwulf
A few of us had volunteered to ride tire tubes to test out the route while the rest of the group rode in wooden boats called balasyan down the scenic river. Local fishermen served as bugador (boatmen), paddling the boats along with the current and ensuring our safety. Though the native boats looked flimsy, they’re actually quite sturdy. Locals told us that these boats, formed from 3 solid pieces of kalantas wood, actually become stronger every time they get wet. The boatmen used to transport logs on these back when there were no roads in the province. And like the boats, the boatmen themselves are just as resilient. At 70 years old, Mang Fabian, the oldest boatman in Siitan River could put many younger men to shame with his strength.
Mang Fabian (70), the oldest boatman at Siitan River. Photo by Edwin Antonio.
Cagayan River is known as one of the cleanest bodies of water in the Philippines. Our guides told us that during summer months, the river here is crystal clear. But despite the drizzle and overcast skies that made the water cloudier than usual, the scenery was still breathtakingly stunning. We were only the third group to try tubing down the river, which local tourism officials were testing out to develop into package tours.
Our jump-off point for the river cruise adventure was Bimmapor, a natural rock formation that sits on the shore of the Siitan River. The landmark gets its name from “bapor,” the local word for a steamship or vessel because it resembles a ship’s stern about to sink. For those who love the outdoors, the town of Nagtipunan is an ideal destination for boating, camping and picnics. One look at the river, and we were all raring to jump into the water and go for a swim. The surrounding landscape was just awe-inspiring.
From Bimmapor, we boarded the wooden boats to the main picnic area to pick up the life vests, river tubes and leave our bags behind. For safety reasons, most of us decided to leave our bulky SLR cameras tied up in garbage bags along the shore under a tarpaulin tent. I immediately regretted not having an underwater camera to take along on the ride, but thankfully my companions were better equipped with their gear. Then, we transferred to the river tubes and just floated downstream.
Just as I was starting to relax on the tube and enjoy the view, the current shifted. The water churned and turned frothy, sending me spinning along the river haphazardly. I could barely control the tube as it was tossed and turned by the rapids. Just go with the flow, I told myself. At one point, the tube neared a protrusion in the cliffside, which I kicked away to propel myself in the opposite direction. After tumbling down a few meters of white water, the tube careened wildly in the opposite direction, veering close to a hollow portion under the opposite cliff wall, where water trickled down from above. Like nature’s own roller coaster, the current corrected itself, teasing us with near crashes, but just sending us gently along the river without any incident except for a good shower of water from a natural waterfall on the rocks.
After the thrilling whitewater portion, our tubes went back to drifting peacefully in the water. A few of us had to be rescued to get back to the riverside after reaching a dead spot near a rock where the current kept us at a standstill, no matter how hard we tried to paddle. But with the stunning scenery, I could have lazed all day on that tube.
What really impressed me was how the boatmen managed to paddle against the current to bring us back to the jump off point. They had the strenuous task of paddling upstream, while we clambered the rest of the way over rocks to the riverbed just across the picnic area, where the boats were waiting to take us to cross.In some sections, we trekked along the rocky riverbed, but the portion crossing the white water was a dead end that required a river crossing by boat. The boatmen paddled and pushed the boats as far as they could go near the edge, then took us two at a time to cross the river. It was a fun ride again through the white water portion going to a shallow portion of the river where we could swim and wade.
The light drizzle turned to heavy rain just as we got back to the riverside, where a delicious feast was waiting for us prepared by the caterers from MJ Snack House, where we had stopped for a delicious snack of Pancit Cabagan earlier. There was crispy pork bits, delicious dinakdakan, tinolang manok, a fish dish, steamed okra, talong ensalada, and a heartwarming soup. We huddled under the tent, eating with our bare hands.
After a thrilling jeepney ride through a very steep and winding mountain road, we ended our adventure-filled day at Landingan Viewpoint with tapuy (local rice wine) with a view. This elevated spot overlooking the whole town of Nagtipunan offered a stunning panoramic view of the towering hills and the Cagayan River that cuts through the valley.
It was the perfect place to raise our glasses to this awesome province. While Quirino province has often been overlooked as a tourist destination, with sights and adventures like these awaiting, I don’t think it will be for long. Cheers to Discovering the Undiscovered!
Photo by Edwin Antonio
Photo courtesy of Eazy Traveler
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- The Siitan River Adventure at Nagtipunan, Quirino, Philippines is doable all-year around, but the water is clearer during summer months.
- The river’s water level is highest from October – September up to February. It’s lower from April to July.
- After our initial test run, the local tourism came up with Day Tour Packages. The tour for 4 Pax costs P825.00/pax. Tour inclusions: AM/PM snacks & buffet lunch, river cruising, life vest and headgear rental, tour guide, trip to Landingan Viewpoint, water tubing / swimming. Optional: Kayaking, Van Transfer.
- For Siitan River tour inquiries, contact: Orlan T. Baliton, Events & Tour Packaging in-charge. 0935-9141007
- What to wear: swimwear, rashguard, board shorts & outdoor sandals with straps or water shoes (it’s possible to lose slippers during the whitewater portion)
- What to bring: Dry bag to secure gadgets, towel, change of clothes, drinking water
- Waterproof/underwater camera or GoPro highly recommended
DISCOVER THE UNDISCOVERED
Special thanks to the Provincial Government of Quirino and Binary Digital Communications for making this #DiscovertheUndiscovered trip to Quirino possible.