Go to the waterfall, they said. It’ll be beautiful, they said: This is the story of how I became one with Filipino rain and learned just how valuable a local guide can be.
When I traveled in the Philippines, I also made my way to El Nido, a wonderful little village at the northern tip of the island Palawan. Known for its amazing beaches and lush forests, it also hides a couple beautiful waterfalls – reachable only by hiking for about an hour through the woods.
Together with others from my hostel, we figured an hour walking sounded okay, so we made our way on motorbike to the starting point of the hike. Once there, we were immediately approached by a ‘local guide’ offering his services to take us to the waterfall. The price seemed a bit high, so we – like true adventurers – declined, fully prepared to navigate our own way through the forest. After all, how difficult can it be to follow a trail up the hill alongside a river?
The guide lowered his price, we declined again. Lowered again, still declined. Admittedly, we did falter a bit on our third ‘no’ but we stayed strong. We did not give in. This adventure was happening and we were going to conquer this hill with its hidden waterfall all on our own.
Full of confidence, we started our journey – just to come to a surprised stop about 20 meters later: the path led through the river. Not past, over, or alongside it. Through it. Knowing this would happen, the guide came up behind us to let us know that there were eight more of these river-crossings coming up. Wading through who-knows-how-deep water against a rather strong current had clearly not been part of our plan. But, we would not be deterred from our mission. Now at least we knew how often we had to cross the river, making it easier to track our progress. That was good, right? Right.
The first crossing saw piggyback-rides, people taking off their shoes and socks, and lots of shrieking and giggling. By the fourth, no one even blinked an eye before wading into the water – shoes, socks, and all. That was also about the same time it started to rain in typical typhoon fashion. We were quickly soaked through, had stowed all our valuables in the only bag that was actually waterproof, and agreed that if we didn’t reach the waterfall within 90 minutes, we would turn around. After all, there was no way it would take us that long to reach the waterfall. Hahaha I’m crying.
At first the sight of other tourists coming our way – returning from the waterfall – seemed like a good thing, as that meant we were still on the right track. But, all of them had a guide with them. There was not a single one that had decided they could find the waterfall by themselves. Not so sure anymore of our decision but unwilling to go back, we shortly tried to bribe a guide to leave his group and take us to the waterfall instead (he just laughed at us – bless his integrity).
After about half an hour, we were ready to admit it had been a stupid idea to try and tackle the hike by ourselves: we were drenched in rain and river water, had no idea where we were, and handled every splitting of the path with a clueless shoulder shrug and a ‘let’s just try this way’. On top of that, it became increasingly difficult to walk. The river gained water thanks to the ongoing downpour and little puddles turned the path into side rivers.
It was not going well.
We kept walking. And wading through now hip-deep water. And more hiking. Every layer I was wearing was completely soaked. I tried re-applying mosquito repellent but between river and rain, there was little chance for it to have any effect. After about two hours, the first ones from our group were ready to turn around. The spirits only lifted shortly when anther group of tourists told us the waterfall was only 15 minutes further down the path. Another 30 minutes later and we were still wandering around aimlessly. Our self-imposed deadline had long since passed and we were less and less hopeful. A dead end to the path we were on (which didn’t even remotely resemble a path anymore), another split, another wrong decision. Another turn-around. Tried the other direction. Still no waterfall.
After exploring yet another wrong pathway to yet another dead end, we collectively decided to go back. To give up. To accept the fact that we failed at conquering the ‘hill’ with its stupid waterfall. How pretty can a waterfall even be!? I mean, it’s just water falling down a cliff, right? With how muddy the water was, it couldn’t possibly look that pretty. We were not at all annoyed or bitter. We were not. We 100% were.
By the time we reached our motorbikes, we were tired, hungry, cold, soaked and disappointed. To top things off, we were informed by the locals that, since we had decided against a guide, we now had to pay for parking our bikes.
We didn’t even argue anymore.
In case you are wondering, the guide would’ve cost roughly a dollar per person and in hindsight none of us can believe that we didn’t say yes. It was a good reminder that not all locals are just out to get your money – some are actually offering their (much needed) help.
PS: After the trek we were told that there are crocodiles in the river. But I’m sure that’s just a rumor to scare the tourists. Right? [nervous laughter]
(If someone could please confirm that it’s a rumor, that would be great, thanks.)