Cruising along a river of raw, natural beauty
SAMAR—The first time she went on the 21-kilometer cruise along the Ulot River in Paranas town, Samar province, almost two years ago, Canadian Elaine Springgay was awed by its raw, natural beauty.
“It is really beautiful and I was really surprised by the color of the water. It’s almost turquoise green and it’s very peaceful,” she said.
Springgay, 29, has ridden the Torpedo Boat Ride Extreme Adventure on the Ulot several times, but she still enjoys it. She even jokes that it has become her favorite “office.”
“When you go on Torpedo, especially after the first couple of kilometers … you really get to see what the environment must have looked like before people started to cut trees,” said Springgay, ecotourism and enterprise adviser of the Ulot Watershed Model Forest (UWMF).
The UWMF supervises the torpedo boat adventure, a joint ecotourism project of Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and the Department of Tourism (DOT)-Eastern Visayas. SINP aims to protect 87,538 hectares, including the 90-km Ulot River cutting across Samar Island from west to east, of the park.
SINP covers 333,330 ha of land and a buffer zone of 125,400 ha, or a total area of 455,700 ha. It has helped organize community groups and provide livelihood training to stop local residents from engaging in charcoal making, timber poaching, kaingin (slash-and-burn farming) and hunting wildlife.
One of the livelihood projects is the boat ride along the Ulot River, which for centuries has been used as a nautical highway. Early inhabitants used raft or banca in traversing the river.
The Ulot was Samar’s only link to Eastern Samar until the late 1940s when a gravel road was opened.
For the adventure cruise, the people of Barangay Tenani in Paranas town formed the Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (Torpedo). They also named their boats “torpedo.”
The 4-meter boats have elevated sides to prevent water from coming in—a design similar to that of boats used in the past to bring out illegally cut lumber.
The DOT trained Torpedo members in dealing with and guiding tourists, administering first aid and in white-water rescue.
On Nov. 30, 2010, the adventure project was launched. It was stopped barely two months after, however, when floods hit the area. It reopened in March 2011 after the quality of water in the river improved.
More than 1,600 people, including 150 foreigners, have already tried the cruise, Springgay said.
The ride brings passengers 10.5 km downstream in boats without outriggers but powered by 16-horsepower engines.
The boats will shoot some rapids into a jungle spot where visitors can eat, rest or even swim at Denit Point, a tranquil secluded place surrounded by a natural habitat of exotic flora and fauna.
They will take another thrilling 10.5-km trip upstream to their takeoff point in Sitio Campo Uno.
A boat rental of P1,825 is charged for every five tourists, said Angelito Villanueva, SINP protected area superintendent. The park gets P100 of the amount, leaving the rest to the people’s organization.
According to Villanueva, SINP can accommodate visitors who want to stay overnight in any of the three air-conditioned rooms with a 30-bed capacity for P150 a day per visitor.
Eugene Igdalino, 34, Torpedo vice president, said that before joining the group, he was into farming and timber poaching, earning only about P3,000 a month.
“Now, I am a tour guide, a job which gives me additional income, and I already have self-esteem. I am no longer shy,” Igdalino said. His income from Torpedo alone reaches P4,000 a month.
“I am also a barangay secretary and still tills a farm,” he added.
Indeed, life has become better for Igdalino.
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