Canyoneering at Kawasa waterfall in the Philippines
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Guest Blog Post by Sophie van der Meulen
Now, one thing you need to know about me before we get started: I am afraid of heights. As I get older, this fear just gets stronger and stronger to the point where I get woozy standing on a step ladder. I know, kind of ridiculous.
But one of the things I love about travel is that it helps you get over your fears. It makes you more confident, more daring and all around more badass. So naturally, when I was in Moalboal and saw an advertisement for canyoneering, I thought: hell yes! The manager of the hostel, one of the coolest ladies I’ve ever met, highly recommended it. No one she’s ever sent canyoneering had come back disappointed. Which was a good enough sales pitch for me.
If you don’t know what canyoneering is, neither did I. Canyoneering basically means making your way down a canyon on foot, following the path of the river. Which includes wading through water, climbing on rocks, and jumping down waterfalls. My inner budding adrenaline junkie was immediately sold. This sounded like fun!
The hostel manager, a.k.a. my new best friend, told me that this canyoneering trip also had several cliff jumps from 2 meter at the start to 12 meters at the end. And that somehow I became even more excited, despite my fear of heights. I suppose two months of solo backpacking had really cemented a “when in Rome” attitude in me. Because these were the last days of my trip and who knows when I would get the chance to do something this cool again?
So, I immediately booked the trip for the next day.
For those of you who have not been in Moalboal, it’s a small seaside town on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. It’s a lovely place with that typical laid-back beach vibe and lots of backpackers. It is also has a unique snorkeling experience: schools of sardines and the occasional sea turtle swim about 5 meters from the beach. Truly breathtaking, but I digress.
The next morning, as recommended, I stuffed myself with a big breakfast of mango pancakes to prepare for today's activities. I was picked up from the hostel by my guide, and he drove me, Philippino style on the back of his motorbike, to the office of Jerwin’s Canyoneering Adventure.
There, I received a life vest, helmet, water shoes and a waterproof pouch for my phone so that I could take pictures during the trip. Once the rest of the group arrived, we drove to the start of the Kawasan National Park. From there we started our short hike down to the canyon. The views while hiking were great, and I merrily chatted with the guide, trying to reel in my excitement.
Of course, we weren’t the only ones with the terrific idea to go canyoneering, and we had to wait several times during the day for other groups to go first. But it wasn’t so crowded that I ever got annoying, and each group could still move at their own pace.
We started off slow, getting used to walking in the refreshingly cold water of the river without slipping on rocks. Then quickly we got to the first jump: a small 2 meter hop down. The guide explained the proper way to jump (hands crossed over your chest, gripping your life vest, leap off with your feet first), but gave us the opportunity to do this one backward. Not one for conventions, I off course, took option number two. Despite the relatively low height, just the act of jumping backward gave me a little jolt of adrenaline. I immediately wanted more.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for the second jump. Jump number two, at 4 meters, seemed considerably higher. As we climbed up rocks to get to the jump point, I tried my best not to look down. I quickly realized that the key to cliff jumping is to just GO. As soon as you stop to consider what you’re doing, the fear kicks in. So I signaled the guide to start filming, walked up and without missing a beat, jumped.
Four meters is just high enough to give you that butterflies in your stomach moment of falling, what a rush!
Of course, there was a lot more to enjoy than just jumping. We swam through waterfalls, slid down rock slides and climbed and clambered our way down the river. Our guide was not only fun but also a great photographer, constantly taking pictures and videos of our adventure.
Along the way, there was a platform where women were selling food. After a quick lunch of truly gross white rice and grilled hot dogs, we continued. The next jump was a 6-meter drop off the lunch platform. I could feel the food come up a bit as I was going down…
While I stuck with the standard feet first jump, the guides were doing backflips and dives into the water to the delight of all spectators, including myself.
After this, the second part of the canyon included a bit more walking on the banks. Which suited me fine as the deeper we went down, the more we were in the shade, and I started to get cold in the water.
Along the way, we passed a spot where they were carving out a big stone slide, which, unfortunately, wasn’t ready to be used yet. It was right next to a former jump that had been closed due to an accident. Apparently, last year, someone took off their helmet before jumping and smashed his head on the rocks. That was the first moment I realized how dangerous this activity could be, especially when you disregard safety protocol. And as ridiculous as I looked in my helmet, I was suddenly very glad to have it on. Especially as we approached the second to last jump of 8 meters. I won’t lie, this one had me nervous. Eight meters is pretty high, and I was trembling a bit as I climbed up.
But I buckled down and jumped, screaming the whole way down. And it hurt. Hitting the water, even feet first, from an eight-meter drop is painful. It almost knocked the wind out of me, and I could feel the force course through my back. I hadn’t expected it to be painful and that dampened the rush of adrenaline I was feeling. One of my groupmates bowed out at this point, too afraid to jump this high.
As we went on, I was starting to get tired, four hours in, but we were coming up on the grand finale: the 12-meter Kawasa waterfall. Now, this is what I had been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to since the first jump. My guide was a big fan of my enthusiasm for jumping off the cliffs and told me that if I wanted, I could go even higher. Next, to the standard jump-off point, there was an additional one, a meter higher. Well, I couldn’t say no to that. After all, if I was willing to jump to 12 meters what was one more meter. “Do it for the story,” I kept telling myself.
When we got to the top of the waterfall, only two of us were planning to jump. We had to wait behind another group where a couple of girls were holding up the line because they were taking too long to jump. I instantly recognized their mistake: stopping. They had climbed up, stood on the ledge and looked down. The moment you wait and look down is the moment your survival instinct kicks in, and everything in you wants to get away as quickly as possible.
But because I had foolishly agreed to jump 13 meters, I was able to cut in front of them. As I was waiting my turn, I felt my hands shaking and my knees getting weak. To get to the jump point, I had to edge down a little slope, and this was the worst part of it all. The thing that scares me the most isn’t the falling itself; it’s the feeling that I’m about to fall. Because of the height of the jump, I actually had to take my helmet off so that it wouldn’t choke me as I hit the water, so all I had as a security blanket was my life vest. The impressed faces of the guides did make me feel a little better about myself. I was going to show these boys just how fearless women can be. I scooted down on my butt to the jump point, knowing that I would have to stand up to jump and I felt the panic rising. What the hell was I doing? This is crazy!
Despite the voice in my head telling me what a mistake this was, I gave a thumbs up to my guide. He started filming, I slowly got to my feet and… leaped.
A 13-meter drop allows for a solid two to three seconds of freefall. And in those three seconds, it seemed like time had stopped as I screamed, my voice catching in my throat and all thoughts faded from my mine. And then I hit the water with a force that took my breath away. I let myself sink for a moment, stunned by the impact, before kicking my way to the surface. I suddenly realized how easy it is to drown after a fall like that.
But the pain and fear instantly faded as my whole body was flooded with adrenaline, and I’ll admit pride. I looked up at the cliff and the waterfall and the small figure of my guide waving at me, and it seemed unreal that I had just jumped that high. I felt incredibly empowered for doing it, despite my fears and hesitations.
I waited for the rest of the group, floating in my life vest, trying to steady my hands, now shaking from the adrenaline instead of fear. We walked down, back to the office, where we changed into dry clothes and exchanged pictures and videos. On the way back to the hostel, riding on the back of the guides motorcycle, I couldn’t help but smile. What a great day!
Hi, I’m Sophie! I’m a travel blogger and freelance writer, originally from the Netherlands, but now a digital nomad. I explore the world, chasing adventure and working from wherever I find an internet connection. My wanderlust has taken me to some pretty cool places, and I hope to see many more. Follow my journey on www.justheadingout.com