Behind Dark Shadows: Exploring Baganga and Cateel

Aliwagwag Falls
After spending a night in Mati City, we continued our journey to the northern part of Davao Oriental. Plans laid, our first stop would be in Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel; then off to San Victor Island in Baganga and stay a night in one of the simple beachfront resorts in the mainland; then back to Davao the following day to catch our flight to Manila at night. The itinerary was like "Amazing Race" but heck, no regrets. The falls and the island were worth the long, tiring van ride (if and only if you are game to rough it out).

From Mati City, we boarded a public van bound to Cateel. The trip schedules are rather sporadic, so make sure to check allot extra time for this. Better safe than sorry.

The van wasn't airconditioned and it was a bit dilapidated already but we didn't have much of a choice as we didn't know what time the next van would leave (if there's even a next one). We were supposed to alight in Cateel town proper and from there we planned to hire a habal-habal that would take us to Aliwagwag Falls as what we read in many blogs, but the driver offered to take us straight to Cateel for an additional fee.

If you would remember, the municipality of Cateel had been hit by typhoon Pablo in 2012. It was one of the strongest typhoons we had before typhoon Yolanda. Resilient as they were, the locals managed to recover, stand up, and move on with their lives. Four years later, communities and tourist spots have been rebuilt and are now being flocked by tourists coming from Mindanao and the rest of the country. This part of the Philippines was also one of the places that has been overshadowed by fear due to unrest and insurgencies. It may not be 100% peaceful now but it has definitely toned down.

Aliwagwag Falls
Said to be the longest cascading waterfalls in the Philippines, Aliwagwag Falls was one of the badly-hit tourist destination during typhoon Pablo. Centuries-old trees were wiped out, and the clear waters turned murky. It took years before it was restored through tree-planting and restoration efforts of the #HelpCateel movement. To date, four years later, Aliwagwag Falls is alive and kickin' again. It was turned into an LGU-managed eco park complete with picnic tables and clean restrooms. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited here.

The water is refreshing, albeit too cold for me. I started to shiver the moment I dipped my foot in it, so jump into the water with caution! The falls can also be viewed from the highway, through a bridge where cars usually park. You may also but food from Cateel town proper before proceeding to the eco park. We bought our food from a small eatery that sells grilled pork and chicken, as well as ready cooked viands, carinderia-style.

The van who brought us to Aliwagwag Falls had waited for us for around two hours, It also drove us to our next destination, the drop off point to San Victor Island in Baganga, the next town to Cateel. From there, the van left us already as we told ourselves we will just take a tricycle on our way to Balyan Beach Resort where we would stay for the night.

San Victor Island
Tucked in its namesake barangay, the three-hectare San Victor Island boasts fine white sands (as fine as Dahican Beach) and a serene environment. From the jump off point, San Victor Island is just 5-10 minutes away by boat. Roundtrip fare is Php 50 per person plus environmental fee of Php 30. On the island are tables for day tours as well as non-airconditioned and airconditioned rooms for overnight stays. You should also bring your own food here as there's no restaurant on the island. There is no fresh water, too.

We tried snorkeling but the current was too strong and the caretaker said most of the corals were damaged by typhoon Pablo as well. It might take years before it gets fully rehabilitated. Sad.

Balyan Beach Resort

From Brgy. San Victor, we took a tricycle to our home for the night, the Balyan Beach Resort. Mind you, tricycles are not that easy to hail there--we had to wait for awhile before a tricycle came up. Habal-habal is more common, but we figured we don't want to ride the habal-habal as we find it very unsafe especially if let's say were three persons (plus the driver) in one motorcycle. The road to Balyan Beach Resort is a main highway and so the vehicles passing through are fast. We didn't want to risk our lives. Yes it could have been fun have we decided to the habal-habal instead but I feel the tricycle is really safer.

Balyan Beach Resort is a family-run, simple beachfront property in Brgy. Lambajon. It is more popular for local daytrippers as it has native huts and grilling facilities. The rooms for rent are actually the rooms in the main house. We stayed in an airconditioned room for less than a thousand bucks. The toilet and bath though is shared by all the rooms on the second floor. Water pressure is a bit weak though. Our tour guide, RJ Bandigan, recommended this place to us. He was also with us during this trip.

The second floor where our rooms were has a veranda that commands a nice view of the sea. The spot is perfect for a night cap of coffee or drinks.There;s no breakfast at the resort but you can eat at the nearby burger joint or carinderias.

On our way to Balyan Beach Resort from Brgy. San Victor, we saw another beach cove that actually looks promising. I believe it is a fishing village at the moment but it definitely has a potential to become another tourist spot.

The towns of Baganga and Cateel may be overshadowed by unrest and insurgencies. True, it may not be as safe as the other destinations in the country, but if you have the guts and time, please do explore this side of the Philippines. No overrated bars or resorts; no ridiculous entrance or environmental fees. Just plain beauty of nature. Will I go back? Only time can tell.


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