Magdapio Falls

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Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2018

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Our itinerary of the Philippines included a day trip from Manila to Pagsanjan where a dug-out canoe would to take us to the 70-feet high Magdapio waterfalls where scenes for the film Apocalypse Now were filmed. We were told that on the previous day, heavy rain had caused the boat trip to be abandoned half way due to dangerously-high water levels, so we were slightly nervous when told we’d be going all the way.

After a two-hour journey, we arrived at our base, Pagsanjan Riverview Restaurant. We divested ourselves of valuables, changed into swimsuits and t-shirts and donned life jackets and hard hats: this increased our anxiety having never had to wear a hard hat for a boat trip before.

Our long wooden canoe arrived towed by one with outboard motor. Roy got in first to steady the canoe whilst I sat between his legs holding on to the metal bar in front. We set off with our two boatmen at the front and back and after 10-minutes, we were cast off leaving the boatmen to paddle. Having passed the floating ticket office where a shrimp net caught our entrance fee, we soon swapped calm waters for the white variety and as the ravine on either side became steeper, we hit rapids.

As we were going against the flow of water, the boatmen often had to get out and pull the boat with us still in it, across and around rocks. Their feet must have been so tough as they stood on rough rocks to gain traction to pull the boat through narrow gaps. The poor boatmen were exhausted and after particularly difficult sections, they had to sit and have a blow or cool down by submerging themselves fully in the water. In one place we had to get out, so they could pull the boat without us.

After 90 minutes, we reached the main falls, we got out once again, clambered over rocks and steps set into the river bank and onto a large bamboo raft. Two men used a rope to pull the raft through the falls, where we were lashed by pounding water. At the back of the falls, we got off for a quick dip in the frothy water, but then I had to be ‘helped’ back onto the raft by a hefty shove that only my partner could give.

Safely back in the canoe, we set off on the return journey although this time the rapids were with us, which made it much easier for the boatmen although we kept taking in water which had to be bailed out. We also met around 50 boats of two going up to the falls and were really pleased that we’d had them to ourselves.

By the end of the journey my bottom was numb from being sat on a wooden plank and my hands were similarly numb from gripping so tightly onto the metal bar and I was relieved when the restaurant honed into view. Roy got out first and having got cramp in one leg, I must have made the most unusual exit the boatmen had seen much to their amusement.

We staggered back up through the garden to get the boatmen’s ‘mandatory’ tip of 300 Peso/£5, but we gave them extra as they’d really earned their money.

Having got dried off we enjoyed a splendid lunch in the garden restaurant starting with a clams in a light ginger broth and spring rolls before a feast of fried chicken, noodles, vegetables and rice. For pudding there were bananas and mango and we shared three much needed, reviving beers.

Helen Jackson

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