Today I went to Casaroro Falls in Apolong and the Japanese Shrine in Sagbang, both in the municipality of Valencia.
It was a a darn fool idea, and in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have done it. But since today is April Fool's Day, after all, there's no better time to do something foolish than today.
The jaunt started innocently enough. I asked my aunt to open the store for me today so I could get some serious biking done. I had three options in mind: Siquijor, the neighboring island; Santander, at the southern tip of Cebu Island; or the Forest Camp in Valencia. Up until I left this morning, I really wasn't sure where I would go.
Ultimately, I opted for Valencia as my friends Jong and Danah Fortunato had indicated they would be there this morning. True enough, they arrived, albeit a few minutes after I had had breakfast there and left, so I had to turn back.
After breakfast, I went on my way. First stop, Forest Camp, about a kilometer from the Valencia town proper. It was easy enough to get there, and I managed to do so before 8 a.m. I took a couple of snaps at the gate, just to show that I did make it there.
And then what? It was too early to go back. I decided, what the heck, I'll head on up to Casaroro Falls. I asked around, and they told me that I should just follow the road. Was it far? I asked. Yes, it was far, they said. Good, I said smugly, I could use the exercise.
You know how it is when you bite off more than you can chew? Well, this was one such occasion. I trudged up and onwards, pushing my bike because it was too steep for me to ride. The road was paved, thankfully. As I ascended, the houses started to thin out, until I finally reached a point where the electrical posts and the concrete came to a stop and gave way to a dirt road with plenty of loose stones.
I should turned back, but part of me was thinking: I've come this far. Just a little bit more....
About an hour and a half later, I came upon a sign that said Casaroro Falls. Hooray! Entrance was P10, and a jolly caretaker took my money and had me sign in.
Ah, but wait! This was only the entrance to Casaroro Falls. I would have to go in...and down. Around 200 ft. down, to be precise.
Fortunately, they had made a cement-and-metal stairway snaking down into valley so it wasn't as difficult as it would have been. Still, it's a 20 story descent. That would have been fine, but remember, one also has to go back up.
Nevertheless, the view of the valley was breathtaking and I could take a break along the path and enjoy the scenery. Eventually, I hit the bottom of the valley were a stream, fed from the waterfalls, ran through.
Just a little further on and I came upon the waterfall. You hear it before you see it, really, because it's around a bend over which you have to tread carefully on rocks. And there it was! Around 200 ft. high, not as wide as other falls I had seen, but breathtaking nonetheless.
A few pictures and a long climb later, I was ready to make my way down. I thought the ride back would be easy. It was downhill, after all. But I hadn't counted on the road being so steep and the stones being so loose. I was going down faster than I wanted, despite keeping a knuckle-white grip on the brakes, and I even managed to overtake a motorcycle.
Inevitably, I lost control of the bike and tumbled into the dust. I bruised my left palm when I absorbed the shock and I hurt my left shoulder, my left side, and my left leg in the process. It was the first time my bike actually flipped over on top of me. This was also the first time I literally tasted dust. Yuck!
The people on the motorcycle I had just passed just looked at me and went on their way. So much for good samaritans.
No broken bones, thankfully, and once more I made my way down. My left hand hurt a lot, though, and it was hard to keep squeezing on the brakes, which I really needed to do on account of the steep grade downwards.
Now, on any other day, I would have headed down to Valencia and back to the city. But, no, today is April Fool's Day, and the gods of stupidity exert undue influence. On the way up to Casaroro, I came upon a fork in the road: the left branch led up to Casaroro, and the right branch went down to the Japanese Shrine.
The Japanese Shrine has been an obsessin of mine since last year when I made an attempt on it and had to turn back because I ran out of time. Here, it was within reach! And on a downward path on paved road yet! How easy could it be?
Down I went. Then the concrete road ended yet again. I fell off my bike yet again. Once more, no broken bones, thank goodness, so I told myself to carry on.
Did I say it was a downward path? I eventually came upon a small bridge, one side being connected to the road I was on, and the other side of leading up and up another hilly path.
I ought to have let go of the idea of making it to the shrine and just gone back up to the fork. But...but...but! I'm already here, I said. Maybe it's just a little further on. Besides, the road back up was pretty steep, and maybe the road ahead will curve down in a while.
Two kilometers later, I was doing all I could to put one foot in front of the other, pushing my bike up the hill. I was baking in the hot summer sun, and without my sunscreen yet. Optimistically, I hoped that the next bend would find me at the shrine, and always it would turn out to be more road going uphill. And I was travelling alone, too, and I began to be fearful someone might rob me in that desolate path where houses were few, far between, and mostly unoccupied. I weighed my options: should I call my uncle for help? Or should I just trudge on.
One kilometer later, the upward climb leveled off into small plateau. I spied a decent but lonely looking house and begged for water from the two kids playing in the yard. Where's the Shrine, I asked after gulping down two glasses. He pointed up in the opposite direction.
I was all but ready to give up and head on down to Palinpinon. But now I was so close it would have been utter stupidity to turn back when I could reach it. I locked my bike at a Barangay Tanod outpost and climbed up another 500m of very steep road.
By noon, I had arrived. And there it was, a simple white tori leading to well-manicured lawn on top of the hill.
The Japanese Shrine, dedicated to all the soldiers who had lost their lives in Negros during World War II. Story has it that the Japanese soldiers stationed in the lowlands made their way up to the hills of Valencia when it became apparent that the American forces were going to take back the Philippines. Climbing back a similar, if not the same, path I could better appreciate what they went through.
There is another side story, of course. A treasure hunter I spoke with speculated that the Japanese soldiers brought some Yamashita treasure with them on the way up. Why else would the Japanese come back some forty years later and build a memorial to a war they wanted to forget? Did anyone bother to check what they brought out with them, my friend asked. But it's all fanciful thinking, I think.
Still, I was less than impressed with the Japanese Shrine. The actual memorial was a three-sided obelisk and gave no indication of what it was for. There was a wall off to one side, and I expected that to at least have some story. But nothing. Just a plain whitewashed wall.
I took a few shots of the place, wondering that I had obsessed about this shrine for a long while. Sure, the view was breathtaking, but that was it. Then I realized that, yes, I had actually made it. On foot. So that must have been something.
They did have some very strange-looking chickens up there. I just found them...creepy. This one, in particular, was the weirdest of the bunch. And, yeah, they had an eyeless effigy that looked like a chicken idol. Shudder!
And so finally, I made my way down, taking a couple of false turns in the process. The ride down was uneventful compared to what I had been through earlier that morning. Just as well, because my palm was already blue were it was bruised, and I had developed a real phobia of falling off the bike. I made it home at 2PM, some nine hours after I started.
Really, in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have done it the way I did it.
I should have gone up on a motorized vehicle and not on foot, as I did. The Forest Camp was renting out Quad ATVs that would have been perfect for the journey, but I did not take them. As I'm very cheap, I really don't know if I would have considered it.
I should have gone up with some companions. What if I had really broken something in my two falls? What if I was robbed?
I should have done Casaroro Falls and the Japanese Shrine on two separate trips.
I should have brought sunscreen. And now my arms are a dark shade of crisp red.
But today is April Fool's Day, after all, and the gods of stupidity rule. All the same, they may have been smiling their foolish grins down on me. I did make it, after all, and it's not a trip many people would make alone.
So yeah, hooray for April Fool's Day.
Man, I am so buff.