Running the river of delights…
by Ronnie Hoyle

TAKING things easy does not mean that you are restricted to sitting on the sands admiring the distant views and toasting yourself on a local beach when you visit the Visayas…you can also get off your butt and go places as well – and still get as brown as a berry! In fact, if you are not very careful you could turn into a redskin…

Island hopping is one way of achieving this and you can do it from any of the resorts around Mactan Island or further airfield on Bohol, which offers a lot of choices for the intrepid explorer.

Properly basted in liberal lashings of sunscreen so you will not cook too quickly – the reflection of the sun on the water doubles exposure to harmful infra-red rays – you can, for instance, hire a banca from Alona Beach on Panglao Island and head for somewhere slightly different…a river cruise.

Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing to do: boatmen on the beach do not appear to be all that happy about venturing into what is basically unknown territory for them when you suggest that you would like to go from the beach and up the Loboc River a few miles away. I think I now know why.

A while ago I tried to do the trip in a friends’ new speedboat …and we ended up aground on rocks before we even got to the entrance to the river: the boss driving should have taken a bit more notice when it was pointed out to him that a guy in the water just ahead of us appeared to be walking on the water while half-a-mile out to sea – he was walking on the water!

We had missed the main channel to the river by electing to make a short-cut right across some rocks just inches under the water – clunk, clunk, batter, batter, brrr, brrr and boom – but for a fistful of pesos laughing locals suddenly appeared to rescue us and dragged and pushed the twin-engine catamaran craft into rock-clear deeper water again.

We had to limp back to the beach taking in gallons of liquid - which filled the CR at the stern to overflowing and started dragging the boat down: it wasn’t me in the john…honestly!

Okay, so it was back to the drawing board for the next trip up the river…and we started out on land.

Taking a car was a far easier way to get to the Loboc River and a bit safer, although it lacked the salt spray in the face and the wind riffling through what little hair we had left after the adventure of a few days before.
Of course, we made a few other diversions before we got to Loboc itself and our real objective of the day, but we had been travelling up the river valley all the time so there were always tantalizing visions of the brown and green flowing water and the activities which go on beside it, like the nipa palm plantations which seem to spread out for miles on one side in their muddy domain.

The line of cars and vans – plus the coach – pulled up beside the river should have told us what to expect by turning up just before lunchtime. There seemed to be about twenty double-hulled bancas decked out as restaurants drawn up and hugging the boat station, and hundreds of people milling about getting on and off and taking pictures of the many captured tarsiers which were on display at the side of the river.

A trip up and down to the Tontonan Falls with lunch on board as a team of other boats followed closely in your wake, together with the inevitable canned music while the scenery zipped by, may have satisfied most customers, but it was a bit too commercial for us so we hired a smaller banca and went off on our own, going where we wanted to go.

As it happened, we stopped to have a chat and a swim in the river with a carabao, docked in front of the resort at Nuts Huts and decided the path up the side of the hill was too steep for us at that sweaty time of day, and got to the falls just as the flotilla of bigger boats were turning around to go home. Our smaller boat took us where the big boys feared to tread, so we had some fine close-up views of the falls as we pottered about in the turbulent stream.

On the way back we also had a little mystery trip denied to the other river rats: just as we were eating our sandwiches – which I’m sure tasted just as good as the knife and fork feast provided on the other boats - we turned into a small inlet which was too small for the ‘big boys’ to get into…and suddenly the murky river disappeared: we had motored into a circular pool and crystal clear fresh water was erupting out of the ground like a geyser beneath the boat from an underground river.

By the time we disembarked back at the boat station, the ‘big boys’ were chugging their way up the river with another load of hurried and harried visitors who would not see or do half the things we did during our leisurely exploration of the upper reaches of the navigable portion of Loboc River on a sunny afternoon.

And as for the speedboat which never quite made the trip up the river at all? Well, that’s a story that, frankly, we’d all like to forget: a couple of nights later we were told that the boat – all seven million pesos of it – had exploded and caught fire at its’ mooring in front of Danao Beach on Panglao while awaiting repairs…anyway, we can always go and pay our last respects to what’s left of it the next time we venture out from Alona Beach to go diving!