I have never seen anything like it before and so my eager anticipation in checking it out myself became publicly palpable. The crystal-clear, aquamarine waters minus the offensive sulfuric smell, I was told, makes swimming in this lagoon a must for everybody. The travel bug has got the better of me again. This is a something exciting to discover, explore and document for others to know.
When an invite came along to inspect the place, I signed up for it without any hesitation…at all! I needed to go and be part of the travel team. As the Tourism Officer of Amlan, Negros Oriental, it is of course a shame to not even know that such place existed. It is one of my responsibilities to identify development initiatives for the town’s tourism industry and promote it within our locals and foreigners alike. The documenting team was composed of two assistants, one photographer and one freelance videographer. Others in the group would eventually become unwilling models along this trip.
We left the town center at dawn to give us enough time for any major setbacks that might delay this trip. The trusty and massive Cobra truck rumbled along Sitio Canete and its dirt tracks challenged and tested everyone’s patience and persistence. Since we are up on the highlands of Amlan and Tanjay City, these bumpy and dusty roads usually turn muddy and slippery during the rainy season. But on this day, the sun rose magnificently behind the beautiful mountain ranges of Cebu island. The Mangoto River was as its usual self, slow and steady this time. In one piece, we arrived safely in San Miguel, a hinterland barangay in Tanjay City.
First stop: Benguet Mining Tunnel
“Have you ever been inside?” we asked Dionaldo Sienes, a town councilor who is from Jantianon, Amlan.
“Of course, on several occasions,” he replied immediately.
We got off from the Cobra and made our way into the tunnel’s entrance. The eerie silence was deafening. We noticed rusty iron rings and red markings that have survived the test of time. The arched tunnel is 340 meters long, from end to end. A small ray of light marked the other end once you are inside. The tunnel is straight as a line. Trickles of water came from the surface and the side walls, making the walk-through damp, and cold. Walking through the tunnel reminded us what it was like during the heydays of its operations in the 50s, more than half a century ago when sulfur and other precious minerals were mined heavily. For a little adventure, one can bike its whole length with bike lights required. When we came out, it was drizzling and so we quickly hopped back on the truck for the main attraction of the trip, the “Asupri,” or the sulfur lagoon as the locals say it.
On top of a small plateau, we finally reached the OPAPP-built (Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process) satellite market in San Miguel by mid-morning. Welcoming smiles from the members of Kapatiran greeted our warm hellos. Kapatiran, a resettled community together with the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources manages this area. Vegetables of different varieties are very much vivid in this small community.
We got a quick briefing and we were also able to ask questions and signed the guestbook. These people know the sights and sounds in this part of the world; it makes them compelling tour guides along this exciting journey.
Second stop: Asupri sa Maiti
After a trek of less than 500 meters, we crossed the municipal boundary and were back in Jantianon, Amlan. Up further for another kilometer walk is the main attraction of the day, the “Asupri.” Even before we arrived, the gurgling sound of a delightfully clear and bright swift stream already told us were close. Dubbed the “Asupri sa Maiti (Maiti’s sulfur),” the sulfur lagoon’s crystal-clear, aquamarine water is a sight to behold. You can even see all the way to the bottom without any haze obstructing the impressive view. The water flows out of the sulfur cliffs fringing the lagoon, in languid yet steady rhythm.
The water was cold and it did not have that distinct sulfur smell. The presence of oxygen in sulfur actually dissipates that trademark rotten egg smell, so I learned. The lagoon was calm and serene, the breeze not picking up so to cause a stir on its surface. The sulfur cliffs had uneven contours but are very fragile. We took extra precaution not to crumble anything under our feet. Pictures here and there were taken taking advantage of such a magnificent creation of God. At this time nobody was still in the water and the assistant, still holding his camera, impatiently asked us if we were ready to try what the Kapatiran people do…to jump in this crystal waters.
“No so fast, but yes I am,” a reply filled with fear. Back then, when I did my cliff jump a few months back in Cantalina, Silab, my body felt the soreness of it. My arms were thrashed when I landed in the water and it was painfully hurting the whole of me. This time though would be different. Arms tucked, center of gravity at the hips, counted to three, took two quick steps forward and I took off. I always hate the feeling of a free fall but I always ended doing it. The landing was just right and a huge splash was just what I wanted. Others immediately followed suit, each one trying to outdo the last person’s splash, the bigger splash, the better. As we continued to enjoy this God’s given gift, we realized that the waters can get murky when the bottom gets disturbed but that didn’t in any way disheartened anyone’s enjoyment.
The ladies who were with us were more laid-back in their choices, rafting and picnicking right on the edge of the lagoon. The supplies were brought in – lunch, drinks and all. Asupri sa Maiti does not have any food outlet to speak of for now. Soon, additional support services will be in place. These services will also serve as livelihood projects/programs of the Kapatiran community. We hope to accomplish this and seek the assistance of the LGU concerned.
Third stop: Twin Falls
West of Asupri sa Maiti is another attraction. Its proximity is an added bonus since the road was not too difficult to maneuver. The Twin Falls can be deceiving in its own right. Why? The sulfur falls is hidden from plain view. To get a good perspective of it, it takes some nerve to get inside a dank and mossy rock shelter, wade into its dark placid pool and voila, the sulfur falls. Its size is intimate, but one has to be cautious during rainy days. Its water can swell into dangerous levels and can trap anyone inside. The rocks you see around the place holds a beauty within. Enchantingly carved over time by the swift mountain streams, the rock formations were reminiscent of an earthly lunar landscape.
The other falls is in plain sight, again small in size, but nevertheless charming, its misty drop relaxing, complementing the already tranquil environment. I guessed during heavy rains, these falls would have massive water volume dropping off its cliff. Near these falls are cottages for rent, built by our Kapatiran brothers and sisters.
The surrounding view is simply relaxing.
On our way back from the Twin Falls, we almost step on a wild plant whose flower color was that of a bright lipstick red.
“Careful,” a stern reminder came from our guide.
Miniature in size, it thrives on the damp, wet forest floor. It looked delicately beautiful, its flower of almost velvety quality. It reminded us we need to be extra careful when treading into these terrains. Anything we unknowingly step on can be a misery to an already stressed natural environment. Respect the environment; I kept repeating the line in my head. Until now, I never had the chance to know the plant’s name. Maybe this will become another assignment to accomplish soon.
Our task for the day is almost over before one of our companions pointed in the direction towards a mountain top.
“Over there, marks the boundary of Sibulan, Amlan Tanjay City and Pamplona,” Eric Barrera, who worked with the MPDC quipped.
“Seriously?” I asked. “Yes” he affirmed with no hesitation.
I wanted to go there, see it myself, and probably get a photo taken where the “mojon,” or the boundary marker of the four towns, repeat, four towns are located. I would probably spread on all four, with one limb out into each town’s territory, shouting “I’ve been here in four towns all at the same time!” Next time, we will be back with more reasons to explore.
Amlan’s beauty remains as captivating as it has ever been before. And what more reasons to begin exploring the world, by starting right here, in Amlan.