Finally, after many years, I returned to the waterfalls located high above Davao city's northern boundary. It was a fog draped, early morning as Yong and I dropped over after hitchhiking with Lloyd who was on his way to CDO with his pretty little daughters. Soothing silence and cool, refreshing air greeted us as we took out our bags from the car trunk as cloudy mists floated hazily with the mystifying background. What a cool welcome, and I'd like to think that the enchanting waterfalls serenely awaited us. Indeed, I am back.
There were changes too, a new sign referred to a new trail down towards our white haired enchantress. However, we opted for the usual route where we had trodded in the past. The hut that guarded the old trail was still there, with the roadside fronting it now profusely littered with colorful rows of blooming ornamental plants displaying their potent prowess for catching travelers' attention.
Down towards the limestone trail we proceeded, nostalgia reminiscing me of a lone beetle that once flew ahead of our excursion group that literally led us along the trail like a self-confessed tour guide. The wayside now teemed with yawning yellow flowerettes nudged by early morning coolness. I expected quaint miracles along the way.
Barbed wires jutted coldly ahead of us, slicing through some man-made boundary in the evergreen thicket where there once was none. Vines futilely attempted to grasp at these sharp metal strings, wanting to reclaim their now bounded territory. I took my attention away from the illusionary scenes that some people call 'reality', knowing that the place would rather remind me of more lasting memory imprints of this certain space-time dimension.
The forest was growing, on a trail that I faintly remembered with the clear sky exposed directly above, now shaded us with the soothing cover of a young rainforest. Shades of ochre greens, deep earth, damp barks and long entwining vines that dared you to mimic Tarzan (or Cheetah, whatever suits) swaying from tree to tree, at your own risk. A really weird looking insect, which I surmised looked like a crooked, yellow-striped hopping hook, landed on my arm and insisted that it gets my gasping attention. There's a brown butterfly fluttering, but it still looked weird, enchantingly weird.
And there's that candy wrapper, and another empty shampoo sachet. Those are not weird, those are contemptuous. Instinctively, Yong and I took the garbage away from view. I embedded mine under root crevices hidden as tangible evidence against loitering jerks for the 'judge and jurors' in here. Grin.
Like awed witnesses we proceeded further down the mystifying trail surrounded by lush deep colors of the forest, with air refreshed by morning dewdrops dangling among drowsy leaves. A large giant fern stood magnificently nearby. Its variety existed since millions of years ago and I could imagine a roaring dinosaur springing out from the dense forest to hug me.
The enchantress whispered into our ears. Her bells of rippling crystalline waters lingered in the cool air, lulling us to tread ever closer. She surprised us, the trail towards her throne was now littered with strings of sparkling brooks and miniature waterfalls; every little nook by the corners pose like picturesque postcards. These weren't here many years ago. Amazing, she could even paint bits of landscape masterpieces, and it's live!
Gradually, her rippling crystalline song reached crescendo as we approached nearer, heaving beyond the scant palmera covering as viewed from the vantage earthy balcony. There she was, eternally washing her crystal white hair in a now widened sparkling emerald pool, more beautiful than ever.
Except for those junk food foil packs and water bottles wildly scattered on the other bank irrevelently left behind by loiterers with ugly habits of disposing their garbage. If their kind multiply too rapidly, it will be tragedy for this planet.
Yong and I decided to tour the vicinity that we so missed before taking the dive for the emerald waters. We crossed a makeshift bridge built above the falls where a scenic landscape waited for us. I took just one strawberry from the nearby field as we proceeded towards the ditch dug by Japanese soldiers during WW2. The vantage view from the ditch was a paradox mixture of beauty and the ugliness of war. There were holes where the Japs drilled to place their rifle nozzles, waiting to ambush allied soldiers. One could imagine those brave liberators emerging from the enchanting waterfalls, only to be straffed by enemy bullets.
Having enough of imaginary war adventures, we had to forcibly proceed towards the cottages strewn with all kinds of garbage before returning to the other riverbank. Too late for the Japs, the new culprits, those garbage throwers already left before they could be punished by firing squad. To cross back to our cottage we tiptoed across the large logs bridging towards the other bank, which also worked as a makeshift dam to create an artificial pool.
Bathing at the pool literally had you swimming with mineral water, for the alluring shape of the waterfalls was sculpted by centuries of mineral deposits. Its cool, rejuvenating waters seep through the skin pores, and the ripple of the falling waters massage like nature's version of jacuzzi, replete with some ergonomic tubs if you're inquisitive enough to find it.
Previously Yong planned to tour the beckoning areas further down the river. Hey, that's a good idea, I could show to him a place that looked like a strange altar. It seemed like a grotto with a cavity by a small cliff, and at the center was a large rock slab with some strange greenish ooze dripping out from the soil around it, probably caused by some mineral deposits. Yeah, and I could even find for him that weird place down the river where I had a strange experience. I once heard someone said PSSSSTT! loud enough for me to get startled, as if the source was just some feet beside me. I surmised it was my other acquaintances who were following behind me. Not until I looked back and discovered they were too far to be heard as audibly. So, let's start the trek!
Yong decreed that the plan will no longer proceed. Wha...
Anyway, there's a cave underneath the caretakers' hut. Shucks, I forgot to bring a flashlight. But not to worry, I inquired with the caretaker's boy if we could borrow flashlight from them, and he replied it was perfectly alright. I remembered that other cave some hundreds of meters from our location. Many years ago Yong and I entered that cave, and he kept ridiculing me for being jittery when a bat chased us away. I defended that unlike me, he did not see those horridly large spiders living along the crevices of the cave's very narrow and dark passageway. From its blackish, hairy tentacles jutting out of the rocks, I estimated the body of the critters could be more than 3 inches long. But this cave, I assured was different, although the last time I went there I had no flashlight. So I just randomly took pictures from a chamber that spouted some strange gurgling noise, with the camera flash. When it was developed, an image of a crystal clear spring spewing out from the stalactites appeared in the pictures. I assured Yong there weren't any spiders lurking in that cave as far as my short stint was concerned. But if there were any, I'd be glad to show it to him so he could understand why I reacted that way. So, let's go spelunkering!
Yong replied with a flat face that read: No Way.
I guess it was time to go back to the highway. By now we went to the other trail. It was artificially manicured compared to the previous one, but the benefit was that along the way, one sees massive stonehenge-like limestone boulders that kept jutting the landscape. Then I saw a weird ladybug. Picture it like your ordinary specie (but much larger and yellow in color), except that it seemed to be wearing some kind of plastic raincoat extending over its body. I followed the creature in an attempt to take pictures with my mobile phone. With the way the lilliputan scampered, the bug was obviously irritated and tried to hide among the leaves away from its admiring intruder. That led me to its ridiculous looking neighbor, a very large but fragile looking longleg spider, which I suspect stared at me with a quizzical look.
I will have to leave them, but a dark brown, tiny juvenile snake stoically poised on a large rock by the trail interrupted our hike. Its immobile posture was deceptive, for it was posed to strike at any trekker who dared come too close for its comfort. I threw some pebbles just enough to startle it and go scamper somewhere else, but the creature remained adamant, not moving even a single beat. I had to leave that snake too, but it should be smart enough not to hurt anybody even while protecting its territory. If it really had to, at least may it choose to kiss those garbage throwers.
We're now back at the highway. Fortunately there weren't any buses around yet, so I challenged Yong that we go hike further down, who grudgingly obliged. Only the cool air and soothing silence of the hills played like music to my ears. I tried to look for the exact place where I once witnessed the skeletal remains of a salvage victim. But it seemed vague now, overcome by the insistence that life goes on in this beautiful place. It was that experience that led me to discover the enchanting waterfalls.
The awesome landscape of the wide Arakan Valley ethereally remained with the distinct character of the soothing place. Above it, a magnificent brahminy kite soared over its kingdom. I told Yong I'll make it come nearer, jokingly. Or was I?
Minutes later the magnificent bird hovered very near for our amazement. I could see its healthy brown plumage spread proudly and nobly with the background of sun rays. It looked at me, and our eyes met.