WITH its serene and crystal blue waters, palm trees hidden behind towering rocky mountains, this picturesque river is nothing short of a paradise on Earth.
Located in the province of Surigao del Sur, this majestic river has become one of the tourist attraction sites in the Philippines. Winding the twelve kilometers from the highway junction, the mesmerizing river shapes the boundary of the villages Talisay and Cambatong in the sleepy town of Hinatuan.
Officially named Hinatuan River, it has become better known as “Enchanted River” because of the stories about spirits and fairies and other beings that continues to be woven around it. The scientific community and several professional divers have attempted to explore the brackish waters and the underwater compartments in the river. There has been no successful exploration of all its chambers, as yet.
Jengbe Eder, a resident, tour guide, and one of caretakers at the Enchanted River, witnessed the failed explorations.
“Many divers attempted to find answers and reached the bottom but until today, no one has ever reached it even the professional divers from different countries,” Eder said.
In 1999, the first tentative exploration was held by a cave diver named Alex Santos. He discovered underwater tunnels that led down into a subterranean cave systems.
In 2010, the further exploration by Dr. Alfonso Amores, together with Bernil Gastardo and Emgee Guillermo, revealed more underwater caverns, chambers, and tunnels that was estimated to take six more expeditions.
But in June 2014, as the crew with Dr. Amores was setting up safety gears in a cave dive, the current in the one they explored proved too much for the doctor, he ran out of air and died.
Eder narrated that the professional divers said the pursuit of finding the answers to this mysterious river puts their lives at risk.
“It’s a different world down there, a world that would really take you to another dimension. I overheard from one of the divers about the large cave that made him hesitant to enter upon feeling a sudden unexplainable feeling down there,” Eder said.
The University of San Carlos-Biology Department, DENR-BMB and GIZ conducted its first ever Rapid Source Assessment last March 20 to 24, 2015. Its purpose was to enhance previous data gathered during earlier surveys by Amores, Jake Miranda, and Bernil Gastardo. Along with them was the first cave diver to explore Enchanted River back in 1999, FCD Alex Santos.
“Its recent studies says the clear azure water all the way to the bottom is up to 80 feet down in some places. The last exploration pushed its 200 feet into the dark as the surface of the full extent of large cave and unmapped tunnel system,” Eder said.
However, Eder said, she believed that the tales of mystical legends are true and that we must be thankful to them in protecting the river and giving us this beautiful paradise.
Eder added that what matters most is how we will be able to protect and preserve the mystical beauty of the Enchanted River.
Hinatuan Tourism officer and Community Development officer Gemma Millan announced to the public the temporary closure of Enchanted River from January 9 until February 3, 2017.
This is one of the strategies of the local government of Hinatuan to let the river rejuvenate.
Jaira Rezel Castro is a student of Ateneo de Davao University.