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Rock Hopping & Climbing, Trekking the River of Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental – and being Rescued

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Let me tell you my group's story before you go over the pictures (next post) and find what to expect in trekking the river beyond The Forest Camp. As an overview, the experience was so much fun until the sun left us to fend for ourselves.

The Forest Camp Nature Trek Rock Climbing

When we saw the spring pools in The Forest Camp, Valencia, I already knew what we all had in mind. Four years ago, we'd been to Bato Springs Resort in Laguna. The pools there are bigger and there are those that are deep enough for an adult to dive. The place was also very big with lots of equally huge cottages (some 2-storeyed, we stayed overnight in one). I know that comparing the two would be unfair, Bato Springs was born from controversy of WWII soldiers stealing the place from the country. Anyhow, the pools in The Forest Camp look like they're for little kids although the short slides look really enjoyable:

The Forest Camp Valencia

Because of this mindset, we all just decided to take a trek in the trail that would eventually lead to the heart of the river.

The signs obviously stated things like:
  • River Trekking
  • Rock Hopping
  • Trail Biking
But we never paid attention. Rather, I didn't take time to read. *o* All we anticipated was that we'll just walk. We had no idea what we were in for.

For trekkers out there, this is not your usual kind of trail.

I'm used to trails with stopovers and for which the end has a different path going home. And usually, there would be a sign saying “Finish” (unless the leader or the professor says so). But the end for this one is a dead end.

The only way back is the path you took in going there.

This is definitely my first time doing a go-back-around-trail.

We never reached the end. *Le sigh* Thus, the unsatisfying feeling. We arrived at the camp around noon, took a look around before finally deciding to trek head on around 1pm. We stopped completely where we were then at exactly 6pm for it was already dark (like 6pm is the official time for night time).

Basically, if you want to finish the trail and you're no mountaineers, you have to head out at 7am so you may be able to return before 3pm.

The owner told us this after the rescue mission. *laughs* The mishap was rather fun on my part though, but my friends were so scared. Anyhow, at one point I sensed my friends getting really infuriated with me and then I whispered to the one closest to me that I'm rather feeling exhilirated with what happened although I hate the cold. I thought I was going to be FOed (friendship over) by them because of my insistence to finish the trail.

So what's about 3pm? That's Forest Camp's official curfew for trekkers. If you want to trek, you have to register somewhere there and ask for a radio. We missed all that. We were completely on our own. Don't do this.

There are 3 short falls that you have to reach. The first one is so short, I could not consider it a falls. The second one was just ahead of us, on the part where we stopped (or got stuck), blocked by a huge rock. The third falls is just a few meters ahead of the second falls (or maybe I heard wrong) and is the end of the trail.

I could just imagine the finish line of the trail to look like the ravine in Jurrasic Park, a stone wall with falls (just shorter) streaming:


It was the start of the rainy season. The officer at the Tourist Office in Dumaguete already warned us not to go to Casaroro Falls for fear of landslide and flash flood. It was the reason why we headed south instead. Because of the recent rain, the stones on the river were slippery. That was the second reason why we had a hard time climbing the rocks. The first being we're small people (except for one). And the third being that my companions are on the heavy side. *coughs*

On the latter part of the trek, I was the one ahead. My friends already expressed of going back. I was thinking that if I'm too far ahead, they'd eventually follow. I badly need (rather want) to finish the trail. I never went on an adventure unfinished. Well, except that part where we (with pros) climbed the highest mountain of Cebu and I was 10 meters short from the top and that I didn't swim towards that slob of rock at the center of the Mt. Taal's crater (nobody did, we're already in the crater anyway).

But then, when I reached this particular rock (slate), I was at a standstill. I only had to scale it with my eyes and I knew I simply couldn't climb it on my own. I'm usually with professional mountaineers (fun in high school) or scientists (on college field trips) when I'm on an adventure and my companions have gears (or rather, the place is already set up). Besides, I'm one of those girls who couldn't do pull ups in ROTC. I tend to jump from one foothold to the next in wallclimbing (to the irritation of my spotter). Anyhow, it's just supposed to be river trekking. At my 4'9” height (with hypermobility), I have to accept defeat. So I waited for my friends to arrive and ask the braver one to climb the rock first so she may pull me up later (she's only 5'1” but when you're so short, she's already tall).

Our tallest friend (5'6”) captured that moment as our other friend (4'11”) helped me gain my bearing as you can see on the first image of this post.

That was the last of the picture taken from the river. We never had the chance to take another one since the trail has gone sinister at that point. The path is getting steeper, rocks getting bigger and it's getting dark already. We needed to save battery from our phones for we didn't bring flashlights with us.

I still remember that part where before climbing the rock, 5'6” friend threw her iPhone above to 5'1” friend, who caught it in one hand, which then slipped from her hand, hit the rock, slid downwards before being caught again. If that phone died back then, we wouldn't have this picture.

We trudged on ahead after this and we soon grew silent. The path has just getting harder. A hundred meters ahead, we saw an orange sign for which the letters are blurry from where we stood.

There's this formation of rocks that acts like a cave in front of us. The only way ahead is to climb through it. I climbed it first and told my friends to wait until I make out what the sign reads. I left my things near the mouth of the opening, walked ahead, climbed up more stones.

When I was finally able to read the sign, it says something like:

FOREST CMP

There's a letter missing in the word, forest, and I forgot which vowel. I intended to return to the mouth of that cave-like formation so we may discuss our next course of action but as I turned around, my friends had already climbed through so we all had to move on. As someone guilty, I felt like some weight was lifted from my shoulders when my friends are the ones who pulled themselves up through the cave.

About 20 meters ahead is a huge writing on a rock saying,

Continue to Fulls

You see, the monkey (you'll understand why I'm referring to him as monkey) who put up the signs can't spell the word, “falls”.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE OWNERS:
  • Use translucent paint for the signages.
  • Put up signs on the way back.
  • Have someone stationed at the entrance of the trail to check wayward people like us. *scoffs*
  • Tell the trekkers to go back the way they've come from.
  • Having a tour guide for the trail is not necessary. That would ruin the adventure. Our tour guides (rescuers) are like ninjas (my tour guide would refer to themselves as monkeys). Even Navy SEALS according to the film Lone Survivor can't copy that expert rock hopper Muslim lookout.
  • Scrap the one above, tour guides should be optional. The trekkers who'd hire a tour guide must pay a fee for the guide. 70% of the fee will go to the guides and 30% to the owners of Forest Camp. I've read a book adapting this system on 2006. I forgot which one.
  • Publicize the trail more so adventurers will come. I've been to a few trekking adventures and they were comparatively light (others already put up the gears). This isn't mountain-or-rock-climbing, just rock hopping. Let adventurers play out their fantasies of being a ninja.
  • If you don't own the place and insist for the trail to end before crossing the river, put a huge sign saying, “End of Camp Forest”.
  • Following above, you can put a small warning beneath, “You may choose to continue but you're on your own.”

So according to the owner, for the last 18 years since his family had opened The Forest Camp for business, there were 4 reported deaths. The deaths were caused not by fall but by flashflood. One girl died when her boyfriend was no longer able to hold her and she got washed away. There are monkeys around (never saw one but I think we heard one). There's supposed to be a snake large enough to swallow a chicken. I saw a small snake with a standing head after my tour guide alerted me about it, it must be a poisonous one. Small wonder since as I said on my other Negros Trip post, the island of Negros originally came from Pangea. There's possibility of lifeforms that are also possible in geographically huge countries.

As I was the one who kept pushing for finishing the trail, my friends got so angry since I put their lives in danger. And at this point, I was just feeling guilty.

So it got so dark and the light in my friends' phones isn't enough to illuminate the way. 4'11” friend's caution was in the right place. We stopped where we should be.

We had no idea if there's a way through ahead (or we're near the finish line) or we have to go back the way we've come from.

We decided to stay the night and wait for the daylight to come. The problem was we only had small water left in our water bottles for provision. Needless to say, we had no food and it has gotten colder for the night. I told you I hate the cold. Worse, we didn't have lunch. We're scared on how we'll be able to move on ahead or go back when we're drained of energy in the morning.

Though it didn't really rain, there were tiny drizzles and the impending rain scared us. I closed my eyes and prayed for the rain never to come. My friends had lots of concerns but all I had was the rain. Fortunately for us, the rain never did come.

I asked my friends to text someone to research the internet to get information on how long the trail is and what comes ahead. The signal was hard to catch and we can't activate our wifi network. 5'1” friend texted a friend from a province who had good sense to get the contact information of the camp's owner and texted him, who acted fast in having us rescued.

God, how lucky we were to be born in the age with cellphones and internet.

Because we're all suckers for movies, we thought of being rescued by a helicopter. Yeah, I know that's silly. By the way, at this point, the ravine looks about at least a 100-meter drop. The pictures I'm about to share will show the ravine as shallow. But the place where we stopped is an entirely different story. My friends contemplated on whether the helicopter would be able to get through the ravine. I simply told them no. Not only is the ravine too deep (or rather from our point of view, too steep) to scale but it's also very narrow unlike the one in Jurrasic Park. Besides, I've seen helicopters going round and round to get a good landing up front (we were playing football one time when the President's entourage just decided to practice landing where we're playing).

As to how my friend was able to text someone (and how the owner was able to call her) despite the scarce signal? She put her cellphone on her head so her head could act like an antenna. After all, humans are electromagnetic and therefore, can send electromagnetic waves.

So the owner texted and asked if we've crossed the river. Of course, we've crossed the river, we're on the river! But more importantly, why can't my friends tell that we've all crossed the river? Why couldn't they tell that we've trekked the river this whole time? I was so pissed at that point but since I'm the one to blame for our ill circumstance, I just told them,

Aren't we all in the river right now? It's not like it's a stream or a brook....

So now we have something new to contemplate. Why would the owner ask that question? Was the river not part of the trail?

What's sillier is that for my friend to suggest we might be on the news the next day which was highly unlikely to me and I'll tell you why later.

I had my line of thinking answered as I talked with my tour guide. I was able to talk to him alone because we left everybody on their own. During the rescue, my friends had a hard time moving forward and my tour guide so enthusiastic for us to move fast ahead, I went with him without second thought. Well, getting slow makes the cold seep into my skin and I don't like it one bit.

Maybe at that time, to my friends our entire trip was wasted on that single place for we never get to visit other spots. But as someone from Cebu, I'm so used to bodies of water that I enjoyed playing ninja in that river a lot. Although I have yet to see a really big body of fresh water (you can go freely behind Manila Waters in Quezon City btw).

The reason why I could go on par with my tour guide at rock hopping was because it was so dark on the way back. At that point, I definitely understood the addage that fear is in the mind. Because I couldn't see how deep the surrounding areas are around the rocks that I hop on, I couldn't sense how dangerous my situation was. Besides, I let my tour guide assist me the entire time. The faster we get off the river (and the cold), the better.

I did slip one time but so did my tour guide (though not together). Some rocks hubble that even my tour guide slipped and landed with both hands. He was very sorry to me that shit happened to him. I could imagine how embarrassed he felt when there a stranger was, thinking he hops like a ninja but then fell. I slipped on that rock (see first image of this post) on the way down. My friends said their tour guides opted on going down the river flow (on the left of that image) instead of that rock.

Of course, I told my mom everything. As I get to the part where our rescuers arrived, she asked,

Did they let you finish the trail?


When our rescuers arrived, they commented:

You're so near to the end already, why not finish it?

I answered back,

So, do you want us to finish it now?

But my friends were so adamant on leaving. I had to lie on the inn that I was being sarcastic with my comment there.

We could just hear the falls from where we stayed (or stopped or got stuck). It was just behind the huge rock that blocked us. Our rescuers commented that we're so lucky it didn't rain where we were. That part gets flooded and we're in danger from getting washed away. We noticed there was a pathway above us, a slight elevation of soil. In case of flood, that's where we should climb atop on according to the guides. But even the flood would reach it if it rains really hard.

I told my mom that on the way back to our inn, the owner and his son hitched us for a ride for their house is on the same street as our inn. She asked if the son joined in rescuing us. I told her no but he was originally part of the rescue team. She then said that those signages must have been put up by the father so his son might have his own adventure. Touche.

The Public Land Act (Commonwealth Act No.141) posits something like bodies of water (rivers, creeks, lakes) shall remain under the domain of the Republic of the Philippines.

I don't know if this applies to all but this would entail no one can own the river where The Forest Camp takes its water from except for the country. Besides it states that

Marshy lands or lands covered with water bordering upon the shores or banks of navigable lakes or rivers shall be disposed of to private parties by lease only and not otherwise.

Although those lands could be sold to the lessees under some conditions. Still, those are lands, not bodies of water. So the camp owners must take heed in their business. It's for this reason that I strongly don't think we'd appear on a newspaper. Why put one's own business in danger, duh?

The owner was quick to act. The ninjas he sent arrived like within an hour. They're terribly funny except for my tour guide (but he's a bit inquisitive, he pointed out the camp's faults and that the river could be in danger of being pulled out by the government so to speak).

The reason I'm familiar with this issue is because we've got a creek and a major river (the one that divides the town of Poro from Tudela in Camotes) flowing on our piece of land. There's a bill seeking to exclude the alienable and disposable drylands of Camotes Islands as part of the Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserves (like in Palawan). We're just waiting until before the end of PNoy's term for him to pass it as a law. My family doesn't like the idea of giving up 20-m strips of land along the sides of bodies of water. Sometimes, you can't blame why hill people would settle informally in cities. Their lands had long been taken by the Spaniards and then after the Commonwealth government, by former Pres. Marcos under the various laws he made. It's disheartening when you can't really own the land that your ancestors are supposed to pass unto you.

So according to the entrance of the trail, we've got River Trekking and Rock Hopping covered. But I can't figure out the Bike Trail. The only trail I could remember flat enough to ride a bike on was that part above the ravine that I climbed up on as we followed the trail. It was also the same path we took going back (when we finally got there). Then for cyclists, that wouldn't be much of a challenge unless the trail biking refers to the kind of trail BMX experts like Danny Macaskill could manage and that is, the rocks themselves.

Why do you think we kept moving on? We took a good look on their wall-climbing tower and find it too small. And the zipline was too short, we expected the trail to be just as short. 5'6” friend who'd traveled the USA experienced an 800-meter zipline that we all underestimated the river.

Anyhow, if you're going to ask me how long the river could be, judging by the speed of the monkeys who rescued us, it must be about 5km. I can't believe it's that short. But don't take my word for it, I still need for google to have that area mapped.

Okay, okay, the owner claimed that we're not supposed to cross the river. The river is already the end trail.

If you go behind the Forest Camp establishment, you don't need to pay the P85 entrance fee. Understanding the Public Land Act, the river is a public domain (although it's a different issue when the river crosses your land). It's for that reason that the local children could just go hopping on the rocks. The only problem is, you'll be your own problem. This is the reason why Forest Camp's owner claimed that the nature trek they're offering ends at the first sign of crossing the river.

Then following the orange dot is just for fun for adventurers.

The owner was very kind to us. 5'6” friend already thought of possible compensations to us while we were still mulling about (for 2 hours no less) at the place we got stuck. So we all had expectations on how we're supposed to be treated.

The Forest Camp owner met those. He let us occupy an expensive lodge (for free) so we may fix ourselves and kept us fed for the night. We bought t-shirts as souvenirs. Afterwhich, the owner and his son delivered us to our inn.

In retrospect, if The Forest Camp's owners don't even own the river, then they were kind enough to put up signs so adventurers might finish the trail in one piece. But in hindsight, we wouldn't have trekked the river if there weren't signs to follow in the first place. *laughs*

At the place where we got stuck, a friend expressed she'd like to forget our misadventure. But then after the rescue, she expressed we'd definitely go back one day and finish the trail. Perhaps, our rescuers' ninja-slash-monkey skills in rock hopping have awed her into thinking the trail isn't as dangerous as she thought.

I'd love to go back and finish the trail.

I'm tipping my hat to our Ninja Tour Guides for turning my friend's perspective around. You made all the difference. Thank you for providing us a fun rescue.

By the way, according to the film, Lone Survivor, this is how professional rock hopping looks:


5'1” friend took over 500 pictures using her GoPro and had our misadventure documented. Of course, I'm only showing a few:

The Forest Camp Features

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
Pools on the front

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
the Bridge

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
the famous treehouse

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
the river on the right of the treehouse

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
Nature Trek Starting Point

The Forest Camp, Valencia, Negros Oriental
Nature Trek Signage

To be continued...

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