By Ana Domingo

I first heard of the Enchanted River from my Director when producing a travel show years ago. He said, “We should go here,” and showed me the photo. It was blue. If blue had a visual representation (embodied best by water) – THAT was blue.

It was a natural stream of water seemingly connected to an underground cave system flowing in a channel towards the sea and from the depths where it ascended water turned turquoise with some hints of green and sky blue lining the areas where the water kissed the rocks and stone surrounding it.

The name itself made it a must-see: ‘The Enchanted River’ – automatically my eyes were drawn towards the depths of the river where the blue became bluer, hues of cobalt and darker, as if calling me to dive in and explore its depths. What was under there? Where did it lead? Can anyone just swim there? Can I swim there?

The Enchanted River is located in the Municipality of Hinatuan. It shapes the boundaries of Barangay Talisay and Cambatong in Hinatuan, flowing towards the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, situated on the east coast of Mindanao.

We needed to cover all the important tourist attractions in a limited number of days and do so smoothly, enjoyably and safely. Peak seasons can also be especially harrowing with the influx of tourists competing for the same tours, accommodations, rides, attention, etc., so booking and coordinating our trips at least two weeks to one month in advance was a must.

GETTING THERE

November to May (Amihan season) is the best time to go by boat to Philippine Island destinations, when the cool northeast trade winds prevail and the seas are tranquil and quiet.

Halloween signals the start of the peak season and planes were already fully booked by the time I checked our travel options to Hinatuan, so we opted for 2GO Travel as our transportation (by sea) for our production team.

There is no plane or boat ride that goes straight to Hinatuan from Manila, so we took the Manila to Butuan route, leaving from Pier 4 in Manila and arriving in Butuan City at Nasipit Pier – with the boat trip taking a total of 33 hours, including a short stopover in Cebu.

When we arrived at Nasipit Pier, Kuya JunJun of the Butuan Grand Palace Hotel was already waiting for us.

Butuan City is a first-class urbanised city and was the ideal take-off point and stopover for our trip, being a comfortable 2 hours and 54 minutes drive away from Hinatuan, home of the Enchanted River.

DAY ONE HINATUAN

Day one of our Enchanted River expedition was a discovery and appreciation of the Municipality of Hinatuan, home of the Enchanted River – its history, geography, landmarks, native delicacies and cuisine, inns and accommodations.

Where To Stay

We left Butuan City at 7:30AM and arrived at Hinatuan by 10:30AM. We checked in at Casa Isabelle Tourist Inn – one among many inns and lodgings for tourists in Hinatuan that provide all the essential elements for comfort.

Geography & Socio-Economic Life

Hinatuan is one of the seventeen municipalities of Surigao Del Sur, located at the mouth of the Hinatuan River on the eastern seacoast of Mindanao; bound on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the northeast by the municipality of Barobo, on the northwest by the municipality of Tagbina, on the west by the province of Agusan del Sur and on the south by the municipality of Bislig.

White beaches line the coast, a few nautical miles from the Philippine Deep, which gives the town her supply of marine products. The municipality is traversed by three big rivers: the Hinatuan River, the Bigaan Loyola River and the Tagasaka-Tarusan River. These rivers and strategic seacoast, along with the cool climate brought about by the mountain ranges of Baculin, Tagbobonga-Panlimoknan-Tagongon and Tandawan, rich in soil fertility, provide plentiful supplies of forest products for Hinatuan. The mountain ranges serve as havens for wild life, resulting in the balanced eco-system of the municipality.

Considering the rich and vast natural resources, the major livelihoods in Hinatuan are fishing and farming, along with other related industries like fish processing, seaweed culture and various home and cottage industries.

Native Delicacies & Cuisine

Lunch was a feast of various shellfish, crabs, prawns, shrimp and fish cooked in various ways and served with mango and rice in huge plates. We noticed that the seafood was all very tasty and fresh – not having the usual, ‘seafood’ taste that is called ‘malansa’, that is commonly experienced when eating seafood in the city. Our tour guides said that this is because all seafood in Hinatuan is cooked fresh from the catch.

Cultural Walk

Ms. Malot Manzano of Villa Juanita Hinatuan took us out for a cultural walk around town. It was a perfect way to learn about Hinatuan history. The walk does not take longer than an hour and is enjoyable, with all the sites and landmarks only a few metres away from each other. It starts with The Municipal Hall leading to The St. Augustine Church, The Hinatuan Doppler Radar Station, Rizal Park, Children’s Park and The Marine Products at Fish Landing.

St. Augustine Church

In 1898 a permanent church was built as a testament to the work of Christianity in the region.  The Church is a replica of the church of Baguio City and through Fr. Guillermo Ari, the successor of Fr. Jansen, and the best workmanship in masonry of Brother Van Damn, we now have the Hinatuan Parish Church standing in honour of Patron St. Augustine.

The Fish Landing

The fish landing shows how marine life is flourishing in Hinatuan, with tuna as big as humans and other sea creatures like octopus and squid along with various fish freshly caught and displayed for market. The walk was good and a bit tiring and Ms. Malot took us to Villa Juanita Hinatuan after our town tour – one of Hinatuan’s prized accommodations, for some snacks. By 6:30PM we were brought back to Casa Isabelle Tourist Inn so we could refresh and prepare for our dinner and Filipino feast at Drawde’s Tudlo Hakop BBQ Hauz Kamayan – fresh seafood, barbecue, lechon and rice along with fresh mango, watermelon and other fruits.

DAY TWO ENCHANTED RIVER

We woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready and went to the ground floor for the traditional Hinatuan Nascafe Coffee and Tsokolate with pandesal for our pre-breakfast morning snack at 6:00AM. We were set to grab breakfast en route to the Enchanted River, so we kept the snack light and perky.

Tours En Route to the Enchanted River

En route to the Enchanted River we visited various locations, including The Hinatuan Marker (Barangay Bitoon), The Hinatuan Ecopark, Mariana’s Agri Tourism Park, Mana-ay Seafoods House and Amparita’s Souvenir Shop.

Mana-ay Seafoods House

To prepare us for a day at the Hinatuan Enchanted River we had a hearty seafood breakfast at Mana-ay Seafoods House, where again we tasted the sweetness of the freshest catch cooked in a broth with vegetables and served with rice to warm up our tummies and satisfy our hearts! There really is something to cooking live catch which made me want to move to Hinatuan just for it – because I had never tasted seafood like this before!

Amparita’s Souvenir Shop

No tour is complete without souvenirs that you can take home to your loved ones and family after your trip! Amparita’s Souvenir Shop was a quick stop on our way to the Hinatuan Enchanted River that had everything of Hinatuan’s you could take home with you to remember your visit by: keychains, shirts, hats, coin purses made of coconut shell, bags, sunglasses, weave-work, placemats, doormats, postcards, home décor, even chopping boards using the strongest kamagong wood are there for you to enjoy and share. We each happily got our own souvenir bags for our trip.

The Hinatuan Enchanted River

Nothing could have prepared me for this meeting. It was like seeing a long-forgotten lover again, or a crush you longed to meet. I felt giddy. And by the time our feet settled on the ground from our coaster the team was practically running to see the river.

And she was blue. They called her, ‘bluer than blue’, The Enchanted River, because truly, you could stare at her depths in the glass-clarity of the water and where her depths descended the blue turned bluer, calling you to remain. She was not photoshopped, no. But she was so vibrant, and so colourfully happy, that you might as well have been in a colour graded movie! I have never seen colours so rich, so blue, so turquoise, so clean – and simply wonderfully beautiful! I was enchanted and that is why she got her name. There are no other words to describe her. I loved her at first sight!