MANILA, APRIL 23, 2009
(STAR) Text and Photos By James C. Mananghaya - “If everyone could be here, just for one day, to feel the gentle kiss of cold water flowing down the mountain rocks, or feel the mighty river rapids, or simply take in fresh, cool air, then we would realize we are all under Mother Nature’s power and we are not, in any way, superior, and therefore must respect its authority over us humans.”

Jepoy, our lively and adventurous guide, poured cold river water on our heads as he steered our boat into a cave. I was with a feisty bunch of travel writers who had just gone whitewater rafting in the mighty Davao River in Calinan, Davao City.

Our group was on a three-day adventure trip to this wonderful province. We were all bleary-eyed as we had to leave Manila at 4:30 a.m. The rains had just ceased when the plane touched down at the Davao City International Airport. Clouds loomed on the horizon, making me worry that the adventure I came here for might not happen. But luckily, the hot summer sun shone through.

Atfer checking in at the Waterfront Hotel in Davao City, we hurried to the Crocodile Park for a briefing by the Wild Water Adventure guys, who are experts in almost all forms of outdoor sports.

We then headed to the Davao River, 45 minutes away from the city proper. We all caught up on sleep along the way, our only opportunity to recharge before the three-and-a-half-hour rafting activity.

For P2,500 per person, thrill-seeking tourists can paddle their way through exciting rapids on a 13-kilometer stretch of the river, occasionally coming to deep portions that are good for swimming. The package includes, aside from the guided tour, transport from Crocodile Farm to Davao River, and a modest but tasty lunch served al fresco.

Aside from the thrill of the rapids, you can feast on scenes of lush forests, which are fortunately being protected not only by the government, but the local residents as well. The good thing is that people take only what they need. They are aware of the bounty of their forests and realize that if they take only what they need, they would never run out of resources.

Aside from a wide array of trees and undergrowth, there are occasional sightings of rare animals, such as the Philippine water dragonand predatory birds such as hawks, crows and smaller ones such as the balinsasayaw, the swiftlet that makes a nest out of its saliva, a prized delicacy in many Asian countries.

A section of the river has a high rock platform from where daredevils could jump into the water. It looks intimidating, but if you let go of your inhibitions and fears, Nature will richly reward you with an unforgettable experience.

Our tiring first day was amply rewarded with a hearty dinner hosted by the Marco Polo Hotel. The group feasted on fresh tuna kinilaw, seaweeds, prawns and a bountiful spread of seafood, complemented by a dessert of mangosteen and durian ice cream, made exclusively in the province.

Still fighting sleep deprivation, but energized by the excitement, the group prepared for yet another day of adventure in Davao. Next stop: the Pamulaan School for Indigenous Peoples in Mintal District.

This institution, part of the University of Southeastern Philippines, best embodies the words “unity in diversity,” as it promotes the preservation and development of ethnic Filipino cultures and traditions, from the Subanons of Mindanao to the Mangyans of Southern Luzon.

Here, aside from acquiring a college education, students get the chance to promote, develop and preserve their identity by honing their skills in ethnic dance, music, poetry and visual arts.

A visit to Davao would not be complete, they say, without paying a “courtesy call” to the national bird, the majestic but endangered Philippine eagle, at its sanctuary in Malagos, the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

This sprawling watershed area is provided for the breeding of the “Haribon,” or haring ibon, king of the birds. A team of dedicated men and women work doubly hard to save the Philippine eagle, one of the most powerful raptors and one of the largest eagles in the world.

Seeing the Philippine eagle up close – or maybe not so close, as most of them stay high up in their large and spacious enclosures ­– and learning about its life is an unforgettable experience that arouses a sense of national pride and a desire to contribute something to this noble endeavor, not only for the country but also for the preservation of nature’s ecological balance. Any contribution to the foundation could go a long way and no amount is too little for the organization, which spends around P100,000 for each eagle each year.

Saving the Philippine eagle is more than just saving the bird. As my friend, singer-songwriter Joey Ayala puts it in the song “Agila,” will we let this magnificent winged wonder vanish? Will we allow the King of Philippine forests just be remembered in textbooks and posters? The answer, which I believe everyone would agree to, is no, definitely not after getting the chance to see the eagle unfold its seven-foot wingspan, or behold its intense, unafraid, and unflinching stare.

Davao is not only host to one of the world’s most magnificent birds, it is also home of the tallest mountain in the country – Mt. Apo, which towers over the province at 2,954 meters or a staggering 9,692 feet.

Seeing Mt. Apo is a humbling experience, and the enormity of the mountain – straddling Davao City, Digos City, Kidapawan City and North Cotabato – makes one feel so small and insignificant.

One of the best sites from which to view Mt. Apo is Camp Sabros in Digos City, which is being used as base camp for those who dare scale its majestic peak.

The adventure camp also boasts of another adventure – the longest zip line in the world, stretching 800 meters from end to end. This experience should not be missed by thrill seekers, as it is a rare chance to feel what it is like to soar above the trees like the mighty Philippine eagle.

But more than the adventure, taking the zip line teaches one to let go of fears and apprehensions. The experience allows one to be free, to feel the wind and to marvel at the wonders of Nature, and to appreciate how important it is to take care of and protect our world.

The last day of our trip was capped by a visit to Samal Island, where the famous Pearl Farm is located. Taking a boat ride from Davao wharf to this precious gem in the south is an invigorating experience.

The resort, which lies within a forest, provides the perfect environment for tired souls – and bodies – looking for rest and relaxation, not to mention mouth-watering food and even more beautiful sights.

We left Davao with full but heavy hearts, and memories that would always serve as an invitation to come back.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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