Mt. Isarog National Park
Mt. Isarog Park: Trekking to Malabsay and Nabontolan Falls
Even though I grew up in Naga City, Bicol and often spend Christmas vacations and summer there, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t really been able to explore a lot of places. This is something I plan to resolve soon, little by little.
About a month ago, I decided to spend the weekend there to visit my folks. Lo, one of my childhood friends who works overseas, was also in Naga for a vacation, so I asked if he wanted to check out some of the tourist spots I’ve never been to. Because of the short notice, the quickest thing to arrange was a trek to falls in the Mt. Isarog National Park. The last time he went there was back in high school and he wasn’t familiar with the trail anymore, so he got two other friends of his to help guide us.
We drove to the foot of Mt. Isarog until an area that led to a narrow trail that can only be passed by foot. When we parked, some local kids flocked to the car and said they would watch it while we were gone. After hiking for about 10-15 minutes on a rocky footpath, we stopped at a house to sign a logbook with our names and pay an insurance fee of P10.00 each. After another 10 minute hike, we got to the entrance of Mt. Isarog National Park. The place was pretty run down – the gate was dilapidated and you could barely read a metal signpost near the entrance because of the rust and peeling paint.
We headed first to Nabontolan (also called Nabuntulan) Falls. Unlike Malabsay, it is not as visited by mountain climbers, hikers and picnic-goers because of its rough trail. From the entrance point, we headed left through a rough forested path, passing by an abandoned structure, which I assume used to be a guesthouse. I peeked inside through the broken windows and saw that the house was empty except for some mud and gravel on the tiled floors.
According to our guides, there used to be a better trail going down to the falls, but because of a landslide, it was no longer passable, so we had to trek down the river most of the way. This involved boosting each other up to get on top of huge boulders, wading through knee-high water, and balancing on slippery moss-covered rocks. Every once in a while, someone would yell out upon spotting limatiks (blood leeches) sticking to our clothes and legs, and it would be a mad scramble to remove it with leaves, sticks, pocket knives, or anything else we could grab.
Finally, we got to a secluded lagoon where the picturesque Nabontolan waterfalls was nestled. I’ve been to several waterfalls around the country, and I thought Nabontolan Falls was quite scenic. We were the only ones there and there were no signs of the development – just pure nature. The others took a dip, while I just enjoyed the view and took photos.
After hiking back to the entrance point, we made our way to the more well-known Malabsay Falls, which was an easy 10-minute hike to the right of the entrance. Most of the trail going down has a concrete path and stairs, making the hike easier, except for one section, where the stairs is damaged. A fallen tree trunk also sits in the middle of one part of the path, with a space where smaller people can duck under. Mossy banisters and graffiti-covered waiting-sheds markd the path. You can tell the place is frequented by lots of visitors, as plastic bags of trash were just hanging on a post and littering the ground near the top of the falls.
Down below, we saw the kids who were supposed to be watching the car swimming at the foot of the falls. The falls itself is not as spectacular as some others I’ve seen. Water cascades down from over 20-meters high (forty feet) in the heavily-forested Mount Isarog. A small set of steps leads up so hikers and mountaineers can take a plunge into the water.
A huge fallen tree trunk with lots of branches sits in the middle of the stones surrounding the falls, which sort of serves as a seating area for picnickers. According to friends, the tree looks exactly the same as it did 10 years ago. Sadly, bags of junk food, laminated paper plates, and styrofoam containers littered the rocks and the water near the stones surrounding the falls. It was a really depressing sight and though I planned to swim there, I lost interest after seeing all the trash.
The Philippines is blessed with such great natural attractions, but there are times I feel that we don’t deserve it. “Wala na kasing nagbabantay,” the others said. But why should there be someone to watch that visitors don’t leave their trash at the foot of the waterfalls? How hard is it to bring back up your empty bags of chips and plastic bottles instead of throwing it in the water? It’s the same mentality as people who just throw trash into rivers in the city.
Though I found Nabontolan falls very nice, I left feeling very disappointed about Malabsay falls. I hope people in charge of Mt. Isarog Park make sure that it’s taken care of in the future. I’d even suggest that they charge higher entrance fees just so they can pay a caretaker, or get the locals involved in keeping the place clean.