DESPITE the drop in volume of water due to the El Niño phenomenon, local and international tourists continue to flock to the Aguinid Falls in the southern town of Samboan, Cebu.
At least 60 persons, both young and old, visited the popular falls last Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
Among them were a young foreign couple who came all the way from the other side of the world.
Roxanne, a Canadian, said she and her Irish boyfriend Luke found out about Aguinid Falls through a blog posted online.
Intrigued by its umbrella-like cascades of milky blue water, the two hopped on a plane to embark on a trekking and swimming adventure.
But since Cebu Province has been under a dry spell since last August, Aguinid was not able to showcase its trademark umbrella-like falls.
Roxanne and Luke, though, were still all smiles as they climbed their way to the falls’ higher levels.
They commended the Barangay Council of Tangbo and the Municipal Government for initiating a one-month voluntary rehabilitation to let Aguinid “heal.”
“We were attracted by its beauty and the adventure it offers. We think that it’s really important for those concerned to clean up the area to make it safer for visitors and to preserve nature,” Roxanne said.
The couple, though, are not the only ones looking forward to Aguinid’s temporary closure for one month starting on June 17.
For someone who spent his youth having adventures in Aguinid, Jonathan Rocamora said he wants to keep the serenity of the place.
It was for this reason that the Barangay Council of Tangbo passed the Aguinid Waterfalls Ordinance in 2009 to protect nature and regulate tourism activities.
Under the ordinance, visitors pay an entrance fee of P40 for local tourists and P60 for international tourists.
Rocamora, who sits in the barangay council and at the same time works as a tour guide, said they impose strict rules and regulations with corresponding penalties for violations, such as vandalism, collection of flora and/or fauna, bringing of food and alcoholic beverages and bringing of trash.
To ensure safety, each of the 70 volunteer tour guides underwent training on basic life support and customer service. They were also taught basic English, French, Spanish and Russian. Only certified tour guides are allowed to accept guests.
Regardless of whether guests come in groups or solo, Rocamora said they assign two tour guides as part of the buddy system to ensure safety.
“It is really advised to visit Aguinid with guides because there are dangerous zones with sinkholes, slippery rocks and deeper areas. The guides are all locals that grew up here so we know the way around. This is also purely nature, meaning there are no man-made structures to guide you,” he said in Cebuano.
Although they were already doing well even before the closure, he said they saw the need to conduct a cleanup.
“We saw some areas where we can still improve. We pushed for this voluntary rehabilitation now while we’re still experiencing El Niño so that we can thoroughly clean the area,” Rocamora said.
Unlike most other cleanup drives, the one in Aguinid will not involve garbage, but fallen tree branches that have clogged the waterways.
If not acted upon immediately, Rocamora said these might harm unsuspecting guests and tour guides.
Aside from the cleanup, Rocamora said the rehabilitation will also involve planting trees in the area outside the falls. The activity will be initiated by tour guides and the barangay.
But what will happen to the livelihood of the more than 50 tour guides once Aguinid closes its doors for a month?
Rocamora said the move to give the falls a break has the support of all tour guides because they also share the same concern for the environment.
“We have a proposal to hold kayaking and snorkeling activities while we clean up and let Aguinid rest. We have a public beach that we also want to develop as a protected area like Aguinid, but we still have to coordinate with the Municipal Government,” he said.
The association of tour guides, or the Tangbo Eco-Tourism Water Association (Tetwa), was given kayaks and snorkeling gear and equipment by the Department of Labor and Employment to help upgrade their livelihood.
Before Aguinid reopens, Rocamora said they plan to amend the barangay ordinance on the rules and regulations related to the operation and protection of the falls.
The proposed amendments include the establishment of a standard entrance and guide fees, imposition of environmental protection laws and the provision of safety gear and equipment.
The proposed P300 standard rate already covers both local and international tourists. It also covers the environmental fee, rental for gear and equipment and guide fee.
“We came up with this proposal to prevent mass tourism, which often leads to the destruction of nature,” Rocamora said.
The proposed amendment will be deliberated by the Municipal Council once the new set of elected officials assumes office at noon of June 30. (RTF)