Water cascaded from the sides of the gorge and fell just a few feet from our raft. We followed the river as it snaked through the canyon, awed by what we were seeing—lush forests, centuries-old rice terraces carved from the hills, and waterfalls that seemed to burst from the mountain walls themselves.
But the serene moment was broken when the raft lurched forward. Our guide’s voice rang loud and clear: “Left-Right-Left-Right” while we paddled to keep the raft steady. This was Kalinga’s famous Chico River, and its churning whitewater seemed determined to test our spirit of adventure.
While the onset of the rainy season can put a damper on most travel plans, the months of August to December are peak season for whitewater rafting in Kalinga. Since these months have the most rainfall, the river’s water levels are at their highest, resulting in more exciting rapids. In fact, extreme rafters prefer to head to the river after a typhoon has just passed to ensure a more thrilling ride.
Adrenaline junkies can take their pick as different areas of the Chico River offer a variety of rapids that cater to different skill and thrill levels. Class 1 rapids are defined by smooth water and light ripples that offer little challenge to paddle through and are ideal for beginners. Meanwhile, Class 5 rapids are characterized by steep drops and violent currents that are best run by expert paddlers.
During our trip, we encountered mostly Class 3 rapids, with moderate to irregular waves that were difficult to avoid and required complex maneuvering to keep our raft from capsizing.
Over 174 kilometers long, the Chico River is considered as the premiere white water rafting destination in Northern Luzon. The breathtaking scenery alone makes the trip worthwhile. You can catch plenty of this great scenery on the two-hour jeepney ride from Tuguegarao in Cagayan to Kalinga’s capital Tabuk. For city dwellers like me who only see buildings, traffic jams and pollution on a typical jeepney ride, the two-hour drive is an adventure in itself. The best way to enjoy the mountain views is to “topload” or ride on the roof of the jeepney as it traverses the winding mountain roads that barely hug cliff walls.
But the real adventure begins when you hit the water. Whitewater rafting can best be described as a combination of relaxing paddling through long stretches of calm water, and sudden exhilaration every time you plunge into the rapids.
Enthusiasm was high whenever we spotted a bend in the river where the smooth stream would meet huge boulders. On most of these spots, we would just glide through without incident. On other spots we would be spun around like clothes in a washing machine. At one point we hit a large rock that led to a steep descent which could have flung all of us into the water. We managed to make it past that amid sighs of relief.
To add to the fun, whenever other rafts would get within shouting distance of each other, water fights would ensue, as other rafters would use paddles and even helmets to splash water on riders of the other rafts.
Though a few people fell into the water, none of the rafts had tipped over during the whole ride. On our final stretch we were allowed to jump into the chilly water, and drift downstream with the current.
So should you try it even just once?
According to river rafting guide Argel: “You never run the same river twice. Every time you go whitewater rafting, it’s a new experience.”
Whitewater rafting is an extremely fun activity ideal for friends, families and colleagues. It can provide physical exercise while also rewarding rafters with a great view and helping foster teamwork, since everyone has to work together to maneuver the watercraft.
Because of its extreme nature, whitewater rafting attracts outdoor enthusiasts and a relatively young crowd of adventure-seekers.
Since Kalinga can be reached by land travel, this can be an ideal weekend activity, especially for those based in Manila.
Companies that offer package tours for whitewater rafting provide the gear, protective equipment, safety vests, and food for the four-hour trip. •
For whitewater rafting trips, contact Anton Carag of Adventures and Expeditions Philippines Inc., Mobile: 0917-5327480; Landline: (078) 8441298.