Enchanted River: The challenges and the surprises

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Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

In life, we always meet challenges along the way. It’s either you face them or you run from them. This happens especially when one travels. Uncertainty is present everywhere. It can be an adventure and a misadventure at the same time. Going to Hinatuan’s Enchanted River challenged and surprised me.

It was past nine in the morning when I arrived at the Langihan Terminal, where the buses going to Mangagoy are. A van driver with a turban in his head approached me readily after I alighted the multicab. He said that his van would be going to Mangagoy and it would be faster than the bus. I asked, “Hindi po ba kayo humihinto hinto?” (Is the van going straight with the route or will you be stopping by the towns?)

He answered,”Hindi. Tuloy-tuloy yan. Hindi na dadaan sa San Franz. Lalarga na rin mayamaya.” (No, it would not stop by the towns. It would not pass San Franz anymore. In just a few minutes, we will be leaving the terminal.)

On that day, I was still torn whether to take the bus or the van. Taking the bus would mean a 5-hour ride while taking the van would only take three hours as per research. Fellow Pinoy Travel Bloggers who already went there advised me to take the bus but I can’t take the five hours since our schedule was tight. We have to visit Hinatuan on that cloudy Wednesday or else the other schedule would adjust as well. Time was very important so I decided to just take the van. But since my travel buddy’s late, I went to this carinderia, Chow Eatery at the entrance of the terminal and ate my early lunch: Adobo, rice, ice tea (Php 65 all-in-all).

The woman who’s managing the carinderia asked me where I was going. (I think this is normal when you’re alone. People would talk to you…puzzled, why you’re all alone.)

I told them that I’ll be visiting Hinatuan Enchanted River. Another local who’s eating at the carinderia said, “Bakit? Nakapag-asawa ka ba ng taga-ron? Anung gagawin mo dun?” (Why? Have you been married to a local there? What will you do there?) Honestly, I don’t want to talk to this guy with a tattoo on his arm because he looked like he’s drunk. But, I still have to utter a few words and be polite. After all, I’m the stranger in their land.

“Bakasyon po (I’m on a vacation!),” I replied.

He then continued, “Ahh…Bakasyon? Ganyan na ba ang mga turista ngaun, pinupuntahan na pala yung Hinatuan? (Vacation? Are tourists really visiting Hinatuan?)” The guy seemed surprised that this lady traveled far just to see the Hinatuan Enchanted River, which for them, is just an ordinary weekend getaway.

He offered to be my guide since he’s also going in the same route. I politely declined and told him that I’m traveling with someone and we already have a contact person in the place. (Maybe, he thought I’m all alone. Yikes. Scary.)

At around 10:30 am, J finally arrived. At last, I can escape the conversation. We then proceeded to the van. A couple who were seated in the passenger seat looked bored.

Photo by Joseph Dy

I asked the driver if we’ll be leaving but it looked like that he’s still waiting for other passengers to board the van. Gahd… I was already having second thoughts whether to stick with the van or get out and move to the bus. It was already 11 am. If we moved to the bus, we would arrive in Hinatuan past 4 in the afternoon. So we stayed in the van.

After two hours of waiting (YES, TWO HOURS of wasted time), the van driver who didn’t keep his word finally started the engine and off we go. I was really getting worried with the time. I set up my timer to get the actual travel time. I slept my worries away.

At around 3 in the afternoon, the driver stopped and told us that we’re already at the Junction going to Brgy. Dugmanon. I looked out of the window and saw the sign going to the Enchanted River. I smiled. I stopped the timer: 2 hours, 33 minutes. If we add the waiting time, it would summed up to 4 hours, 33 minutes.

We went out of the van and started clicking. Then, I noticed, the habal-habal (motorcycle which can carry up to 4 people) was nowhere to be found. I asked the driver. He then pointed me to this group of locals across the street. One of them has a motorcycle. But he declined to give us a ride. No one seemed passing the highway. Minutes later, motorcycles passed by but all of them were full of passengers.

Challenge number 1 solved but here’s challenge number 2. I was really getting frustrated. No one seemed to care. I even called the management of the Hinatuan Enchanted River but the guy who answered the phone said that they cannot send someone to pick us up at the junction. This time, I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. After waiting for 2 hours and traveling for another 2 hours and 33 minutes, the trip was a failure. J was keeping calm while I got so emotional that I won’t be able to see the Enchanted River and we’ve wasted one whole day.

But God’s so good that HE sent HIS angels to turn the frown on my face into a smile. After 30 minutes of waiting at the junction, a man drove by with only one passenger. J approached him. We negotiated Php 200 (for two, which means, Php 100 each) for a ride to the Enchanted River and back to the Hinatuan Terminal. He agreed. I smiled and hopped onto the habal-habal. Thank you Lord!

After a 20-minute bumpy and adrenaline-rush ride from the junction, the engine stopped and we found ourselves at the entrance to the Enchanted River. It was already 3:50pm. We only have an hour to enjoy the river. It closes at 5:00pm.

We paid Php 10.00 for the entrance fee and entered. The local government has put some cottages and landscaped the pathwalk going to the river. I was ecstatic when my eyes finally saw the magical place that I used to see in photos. The “badtrip” feeling’s gone. My heart was overflowing with happiness.

I dropped my bag at one of the tables and started clicking away. Wow! The deep aqua blue water was so surreal but it was real. Another dream come true for me.

Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

Few locals were swimming in the river when we arrived. They were having so much fun and even posed for the camera.

Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

As much as I want to take a dip, I decided to take photos of all the angles before getting wet.

Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

A little bit later, a staff member whose name was E.M. approached us and started talking to us. I asked, “Bakit po tinawag na enchanted river?” (Why do you call it enchanted river?)

He said,”Kasi gawa nung kulay nya, mukhang enchanted.” (It’s because of its color. That’s why we call it enchanted.) I didn’t ask him any further since he didn’t seem to know. But a group of tech divers explored the depth up to 100 meters and discovered caves.

Kuya E.M. was so friendly that he led us to the quieter side of the river with a bamboo bridge leading to the boats. He offered to take our photos as souvenir since we would not be going to Sibadan Fish Cage anymore due to time constraints.

Hinatuan Enchanted River

In fairness to Kuya E.M., he can operate a DSLR camera. haha. He then related, “Marami na rin akong nagamit na camera. Yung mga nagpapakuha din dito. Gusto kong maging photographer. (I have used a lot of cameras from other tourists. I want to be a photographer).” Why not?

Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

The other side of the river. That's Kuya E.M. at the stairs.

When I was satisfied with my shots, we returned to the main swimming area. I was about to go down the stairs when I remembered, “Wah, I don’t have a life vest and the water’s so deep!” hahaha.

Kuya E.M. then handed the life vest, which they lent to visitors for a fee of Php 15.00/hour. By the time that we went swimming, the other visitors left. I put on my goggles and was in awe when I saw the school of fish. They were huge. How I wish I knew what species they were.

Fish at the Enchanted River

Two of the school of fish looked like cousins of Dory.

There are other weird creatures that can only be found in salty water.

Swimming with the school of fish felt like I was a fish as well in a large aquarium. The only difference was I don’t have fins and gills so I can swim deeper. haha.

Enchanted River by Izah Morales

The water in the Hinatuan Enchanted River is brackish, a mixture of salt and fresh water. If we had only arrived early, we would have taken the boat leading to the sea. Yes, the river is connected to the sea.

We were having so much fun taking photos underwater when I saw the time. It’s nearly 5pm. I told J that we should get out of the water because the locals have superstitions that no one should swim beyond 5pm. They believe that spirits guard the river.

Kuya E.M. returned and said that the driver’s asking for an additional Php 100 since it’s getting late. We didn’t argue anymore and agreed. We did have fun anyway, even for just a few hours.

After a quick drying up, we bade goodbye to Enchanted River. I’ll surely come back and explore more of its wonders. I thank God for the blessing of experiencing his wondrous gifts. Ahh, nature is love :) Last year, I was fortunate to swim in the cleanest lake, Kayangan Lake in Coron. This year, it’s the Enchanted River in Brgy. Talisay, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, one of the few remaining clean rivers in the Philippines.

Enchanted River by Izah Morales

The sun was starting to rest and its orange rays were fading. We’re off to chase the last bus to Mangagoy, which will leave the terminal at 6pm. And that I will share in my next post.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Take the van if you’re chasing time but if you have the luxury of time then the bus is way better (we tried it on the way back to Butuan).
  • Don’t take the van if you don’t like to wait. Take the bus if you want more leg room.
  • Don’t alight at the junction. Alight at the Hinatuan Terminal, and take the habal-habal from there.
  • Travel early and arrive early. We missed the fish feeding during 12-1pm.

Travel Notes: 

  • Waiting time at the Langihan Terminal: 2 hours before leaving the terminal
  • Travel time Butuan-Hinatuan: 2 hours and 33 minutes
  • Brgy. Dugmanon Junction-Hinatuan Enchanted River Distance: 12 kilometers
  • Travel time Junction-Hinatuan Enchanted River: 20 minutes
  • Habal-Habal Ride: Php 150/per person / Normal rate if you ride from the Hinatuan Terminal (Php 100 roundtrip. Php 50 per way)
  • Operation Hours: Enchanted River opens at 6 am and closes at 5pm
  • Contact Essentials: Hinatuan Enchanted River Management-0920 259 5554 / Gemma Millan-Hinatuan Tourism Officer- 0919 460 0855
  • For the full itinerary and expenses of the trip, click here.

Hinatuan Enchanted River by Izah Morales

How to get to Enchanted River: 

From Butuan:

1. Take the Bachelor bus or van with the Mangagoy route from Langihan Terminal.

2. Tell the driver that you’re alighting at the Hinatuan Terminal.

3. From the Hinatuan Terminal, hire a habal-habal going to the Enchanted River. Fare is Php 40-50 per way. You can also hire a multicab if you’re traveling in a group. You can ask assistance from the Hinatuan Tourism Office.

From Davao:

-This is another route but it would take 7-8 hours. You can ride a van or a bus from the Ecoland Terminal.