We watched from the shade of a craggy white rock as a makeshift bamboo raft effortlessly glides across the calm, coffee brown waters of Peñaranda River. We were at a the limestone gorge in the town of Gen. Tinio and we missed the sparkling green waters of the Minalungao National Park by a single day.
|NO GREEN WATERS FOR US|
It rained the previous night, a sentry along the road told our van driver as we shelled out a few hundred pesos to enter the road leading to Nueva Ecija’s only Natural Park. We pushed on despite the warning. After almost an hour of driving, we were almost at Minalungao, it seemed such a waste to turn back now.
|A KID HAULING IN RENTABLE FLOATERS|
And indeed, as we were forewarned, the water was nowhere near the deep emerald we usually see on photographs. Its waters were still as serene, but it was brown in color, latte brown to be precise. But that didn’t seem to dampen the weekend crowd that has gathered along the flat banks of the river.
|THE WEEKEND CROWD AT MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK|
Along makeshift huts, people cooked from pots, set their barbecues and opened coolers filled with softdrinks and even possibly, alcohol. Where it was once known only to a few, mostly locals, the Minalungao National Park has now gotten its fair share of attention, thanks to the power of social media.
|IF YOU DIDN’T BRING FOOD, YOU CAN BUY THEM HERE|
People now come here in droves. I can only imagine the lament of a few locals who still remember the days when the Peñaranda River, the waterway that runs across the colossal limestone karsts of the park, only got filled to brimming during Sabado de Gloria, a time when they would go to the river to have their annual family picnic. It’s a tradition I clearly remember during my summers in Cabanatuan City.
|STILL SERENE EVEN WITH THE WATER’S MUDDY COLOR|
With Minalungao’s relative proximity to Metro Manila and with its out of this world beauty, who really could blame the people for trooping here. It is indeed a perfect weekend getaway; one can marvel at the towering limestones, some as high as fifty feet up, the cave available for exploration, the rafts one could relaxingly ride on, and now, a zipline. Yes, a zipline. A place can’t get any more touristy than with a zipline installed.
|KID GUIDES WITH PORTABLE LAMPS FOR CAVING|
The previously untouched sharp boulders lining the banks of the gorge has now been paved. It used to be that visitors would need to hop and balance from one rock to the next to access the cave at the far end of the Minalungao Park. Now, one could walk without fear of breaking one’s neck by slipping and falling to the chasm below.
|ROCK CLIMBING, ANYONE?|
And this is one of those parks where accidents do happen. As of last count, at least seventy people have already died in the park, mostly from drowning. The river giveth and the river taketh, as they say, even as dutiful signs dot the pathways as warnings for touristy bravados.
|RENTABLE RAFTS WHERE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HAVE YOUR LUNCH IN TOO|
The name of the National Park came from the hollows beyond the walls of Minalungao; mina meaning mine, and lungao, the local term for a cave. And it didn’t get its name for nothing.
The park has a total of eight known caves, some of which are home to balinsasayaw (swallow) birds whose nest are deeply sought after for they are used as the main ingredient for the highly expensive bird’s nest soup. These caves have also been a refuge to our Katipuneros during the struggle for independence with Spain and some even claim that a few broken artifacts have also been found inside their dark chambers.
|THE ONLY CAVE OPEN TO TOURISTS AT MINALUNGAO ~ PHOTO BY KIRKANATOMY.COM|
Only one of these is open to the public though. And as is the case with most tourist spots, that cave has its shares of love declarations on its walls, but more seriously, even breakage of stalactites for souvenirs to bring back home. A ghastly memento telling I’ve been there (and I helped wreck the place).
|CROSSING A RICKETY BAMBOO BRIDGE TO THE CAVE AREA|
Cross the river via one of the rafts in the area and you’ll find a seemingly never-ending concrete stairs besides the skeleton of a multi-story concrete structure which I think would be turned into a hotel soon. The steps lead to a grotto. After exactly a thousand steps, on the top, you’ll find a cross and almost nothing else. Well, according to those who actually reached it, I surely didn’t.
|AS RUGGED AS YOU CAN IMAGINE IT TO BE|
Still, there’s no denying the beauty of Minalungao National Park; brown waters, heavy crowd, cemented pathways and all. The sheer massiveness of its rock walls contrasting with the placid water running in between them is a feast for the senses. You literally shrink to insignificance when confronted by such spectacle of nature.
|BRAVE SOULS DOING THE ROCK HOP AT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GORGE|
But a better way to appreciate it is by respecting the place. That means no scrawling on its walls, taking your trash with you, knowing when to jump from its cliff by consulting your guides and not your inner machismo, and making as little human imprint as possible.
|MINALUNGAO WOULD MAKE YOU FEE MINISCULE|
As for us, it would probably be a better idea to visit it when it doesn’t rain that much, there isn’t that much crowd (so weekdays it is) and with no hangover from a previous night’s drinking session.
~ You can book a tour of the Minalungao National Park if you’re staying at Microtel Cabanatuan (0927) 804-2929
Minalungao National Park
Address: Brgy. Minalungao, Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija
Entrance Fee: Php20.00 + Php20.00 tricycle / car fee
Guide Fee: By Donation
Cottage Rental: Php200.00 to Php300.00
Raft Rental: Php800.00 to Php1,500.00 (8-10 Pax)
Zipline Fee: Php100.00
GPS Coordinates Map: 15.298281, 121.121852