CEBU CITY, Philippines – Typhoon Odette may have changed the topography of the Kanlaob River in Alegria town, southwestern Cebu.
But the thrill and excitement remain for anyone who wants to dive into its cool, turquoise pools and emerald waters, and marvel at nature’s work.
The local government of Alegria on March 15 reopened its canyoneering activities at the Kanlaob River located in Barangay Compostela, nearly three months since Odette devastated the locality.
It took local authorities several weeks to clear the river – and the roads leading to it – from typhoon debris, and make sure it is safe to accommodate tourists again.
Alegria is a fourth-class municipality located approximately 115 kilometers southwest of Cebu City with a population of roughly 25,200 people.
It was one of the areas that bore the brunt of Odette which lashed the central and southern portions of the province last December 2021.
The news of reopening Kanlaob River to adventure-seekers was like a ray of hope for people like Jhek-Jhek Germino who depended on tourism activities for their livelihoods.
Jhek-Jhek, a long-time tour guide in Alegria, admitted that they were initially shocked to see how Odette completely transformed the face of the Kanlaob River.
Most of the tour guides there, including Jhek-Jhek, grew up in the Kanlaob River, spending most of their childhood swimming, rock climbing, and basically enjoying nature’s blessing.
“It was an almost different Kanlaob River for us. It was the first time that the river changed a lot,” Jhek-Jhek said in Cebuano.
“It was indeed surprising and challenging at first but our local government was able to help in identifying areas that can still be used for tourism activities, making it easier for tour guides like us to know which areas are safe or dangerous.”
The aftermath of Odette resulted to changes in the water levels of the Kanlaob River; exposed small, underwater caves with their stalactites and stalagmites; and brought to surface portions of the river that were previously submerged.
Guests can choose between two types of canyoneering adventures in Alegria – the Kanlaob Canyoneering and Wonderfalls Canyoneering.
Each activity can take up to four hours, which involved a lot of trekking, a little bit of rock climbing, and of course – jumping into the cool and clear river.
Kanlaob Canyoneering covers the southern portion of the Kanlaob River, near the borders of Alegria and Badian.
Wonderfalls, on the other hand, takes you further upstream where guests get to witness other bodies of water such as waterfalls and tubod (spring in English), the latter being the reason behind Alegria’s namesake.
“Alegria is abundant with water, particularly tubod,” explained Jhek-Jhek.
This is why guides and tour operators recommend for guests to bring their personal water tumblers not only because hiking upstream can be a thirst-quenching ordeal but also to help them further appreciate Alegria’s history.
The name Alegria is derived from the Spanish word alegre, which translates to cheerfulness and extravagant joy in English.
Locals believed that Spaniards named it Alegria after uttering “Que alegria!” to describe how springs sprout out of the mountains as if they were dancing to a certain tune.
“Tubod is the source of water, from drinking to washing clothes, for most of the communities in the mountain barangays of Alegria,” Jhek-Jhek said.
The municipal government closed the Kanlaob River from tourists a day before Odette ravaged Cebu, and until March 15.
But as early as January 2022, tour operators have begun receiving inquiries for booking.
“Now that we’ve reopened our canyoneering, we’re expecting more tourists to come and visit Alegria, with the pandemic gradually fading, borders reopening,” said Mayor Verna Magallon.
Before COVID-19, as many as 1,000 individuals would go to Alegria to do canyoneering alone, according to local guides and operators.
Despite the difficulties and hardships tourism stakeholders suffered during the two-year pandemic, they decided to keep canyoneering packages at P1,500.
“It has always been P1,500 even before the pandemic. And all agreed not to modify it if it meant inviting more tourists to come,” said Jhek-Jhek.
The amount is inclusive of renting protective gears such as a life vest, helmet, transportation costs as guests need to take a 10-minute ride to the hinterland portions of Barangay Compostela, and food.
“Indeed, there are changes in our canyoneering adventure. For sure, the guests that have experienced it before can observe these changes… And it’s really time for our tourism sector to reopen,” Magallon added.