White Water Rafting in Cagayan de Oro

It is 5:30  on a Monday morning and Rupert Domingo is awakened by the insistent pinging of his cell phone. He had deliberately set the alarm 30 minutes early the night before. He wanted to start early, re-check the equipment, and make sure everything is in order.

He reaches for the phone, turns the alarm off, and swings his feet from  bed and stands somewhat shakily. He really should knock off a can or two from his customary 8 cans. But yesterday was a particularly good run and a guy is, afterall, entitled to some good time with his friends.

He walks to the kitchen and fixes himself a strong cup of coffee. Twelve years, he thinks, and he still gets butterflies in his stomach at the thought of yet another day shooting the rapids.

Soon the rest of the guys from the Cagayan de Oro Whitewater Rafting Adventure Company will begin to arrive at his home which also serves as an office of sorts for the group.

Seven AM. The three other active members of the company—Tata Bioco, Chisum Factura, and Babars Barreto—have arrived together with the two hired jeepneys bearing all the necessary equipment. All are clad in shorts and rubber sandals,  the preferred “office” attire, and a short meeting is called to order by Domingo.

Domingo, the godfather of Cagayan de Oro whitewater rafting and the unspoken leader of the group, begins by asking if any of the two jeepney drivers smoke.

“You cannot smoke the whole time you are with us,” he tells them.

Domingo explains that smokers often pollute the environment without even their knowing it. Most of the guys that make up the CDO White Water Rafting Co., Domingo says, are former smokers but they all quit the habit after realizing the foolishness of proclaiming themselves avid environmentalists one minute and lighting up the next.

Seven thirty. With the briefing done, the group packs into the two jeepneys carrying six rafts. They are joined by two more river guides, friends from the Northern Mindanao Mountaineering Society (NORMMS), and the group proceeds to DV Soria to meet and pick up the day’s clients.

 

The CDO White Water Rafting Adventure Co. was established a decade ago by a group of intrepid outdoorsmen, bonded by years of alcohol-induced camaraderie on mountain top campsites,  whose desire to share the love for the outdoors became the cornerstone of  a thriving business.

All of the incorporators of the company were members of the Northern Mindanao Mountaineering Society (NORMMS) and in between climbs, society members would often try other activities related to mountaineering.

“We began thinking about white water rafting in 1993 after seeing the sport in the Discovery Channel,” says Tata Bioco.

Bioco recalls their first run 12 years ago, from Taguanao to Carmen Bridge (a distance of 8 kilometers), and laughs hysterically with the rest of the group.

“We had no helmets, no life vests,” Bioco says.

“What we had was a Sevylor still-water raft, wooden paddles salvaged from bangkas, and lots of bravado borne out of inexperience,” Bioco says.

“We had so much fun that right after that first run, all of us were hooked on rafting,”Bioco says.

A year later, the group experienced its first flip. By then, they had tried runs from farther up river, where the rapids ranged from challenging to downright crazy, considering that they had no safety equipment whatsoever.

“That first flip, on June 14, 1994, made us realize the value of  having safety gear,” Bioco says.

And so the group scrounged around for life vests (most with names of shipping companies prominently printed in front) and helmets (of the sort worn by BMX riders).  They also made the inevitable decision to buy a raft specifically designed for white water rafting. They bought their first raft, second-hand, for $900 in the US.

The following year, out of the prodding of friends, eight NORMMS members decided to pool their money and invest in a company patterned after the outfitter companies in the US—companies that provide outdoor guides and equipment  for clients, for a fee of course. And so began the Cagayan de Oro White Water Rafting Adventure Company.

Ten years later, from the unbelievably cheap initial fee of P100, the group now charges P1200 per person. With 12 white water rafts, each with a carrying capacity of 9 paying clients, the group averages 3-4 runs per week, year-round. The group also no longer uses what they call “tora-tora” safety gear (gear “requisitioned” from various sources) and has invested in a complete line of safety equipment designed for the perils of white water rafting.

Out of the largesse of white water rafting, the group was able to form Sinkhole Ventures last year, a subsidiary that runs the Macahambus Adventure Park. The park is located at the 150-feet deep Macahambus Gorge, the site of a famous battle between Filipino revolutionaries and American soldiers at the turn of the 20th century.

But financial success has dulled none of  the group’s core concerns; the group’s passion for the outdoors has lost none of its luster.

“The river is the lifeblood of our business,” Rupert Domingo says.

To minimize the environmental impact of river runs, the group, with the help of local officials and volunteers, regularly conducts river clean-ups twice a month. They also encourage communities along the river to avoid dumping their wastes in the river. Partly to prod local initiative and partly to help uplift the livelihood of locals, the group distributed livestock to various families, most of whom are also porters for their clients, in exchange for their commitment to keep the river clean.

“It is a pity that not too many people realize the ecological importance of this river,” Chisum Factura says.

“Cagayan River serves as a refuge for several plant and animal species,” Factura says.

“Kaingin farming, logging, quarrying, and the irresponsible dumping of untreated sewage all do damage that may prove disastrous in the long term,” Factura says.

 

“Eeeasy, eeasy, easy,” Domingo tells the paddlers in his raft as they approach the last of the 14 rapids. As with each of his 600 runs, his eyes squint in the sunlight, picking out the surest way through the frothing, churning white water. He could feel his muscles, hot with adrenaline, go taut in anticipation of the sudden, frantic, almost hysterical paddling ahead.

“Hard left! Hard left! Hard left!” He calls from astern, quickly adjusting the tempo and direction of his paddling to correct the raft’s course. The raft’s bow rises convulsively as it crests the foaming water and is jarred by another and still another and another till it settles in the water, clear at last of the swirling backwash that would have held it.

All cheer as they hold their paddles high in a gesture of jubilation and, to some large extent, relief. And then the silly, sheepish grins at the sight of each other’s foolish bravado.

It is now 2:30 PM. The last four hours has been one of easy, quiet paddling one moment, so quiet one could almost hear the swish of fish underneath, and thundering, roaring paddle strokes battling the white water the next. Domingo smiles as he watches from his perch the satisfied grins of his clients and he thinks, with luck and good health, he could probably do this till he’s too old to lift an aluminum paddle. He nods to Factura in the next raft, smiles at the river and thinks”, God it’s good to be alive

first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer

27 March 2005

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One response to this post.

  1. you really made the right decision ^_^..the best water rafting experience in the country…i like your article coz it always remind me about the fun and the thrill on the river..hehe

    Reply

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