Social media and news often dictate how we should view certain tourist spots. There are countless articles, Instagram posts and Pinterest wishlists nowadays and we can’t help but level our expectations with what we see online.
In 2013, the entire nation suffered the fate of Typhoon Yolanda, but Tacloban City, Leyte got affected the most. The entire city was submerged in water, and with that image alone, it was hard to imagine how the people can get past that. But with the help of many friends –– both local and international –– and the persistence and determination of the people of Tacloban, they pulled through.
Imagine my surprise when our AirAsia flight landed at the airport and we were welcomed by clean tiles, smiling employees, and a city brighter than any other that I’ve been to before.
While we were briefed about our activities in Eastern Visayas, I didn’t expect the adventure we had. Imagine this: three cities, three bodies of water, three days. Quite a challenge when you’re a group of more than ten. But we pulled through. The spirit of Tacloban is strong.
Speed it up: Torpedo boat riding at Ulot River
Ulot River, Paranas, Samar
2.5-3 hours from Tacloban Airport
As soon as we landed, we went straight to Ulot River, Samar. The words “torpedo boat riding” greeted us at the welcome. It’s not really the ideal 8 a.m. activity but when it comes to AirAsia trips, you just have to go with the flow (pun unintended) and prepare for a good time. Lunch will be served near the boulder-jumping area (!!!) and to get there, we have to brave the currents for an hour. Pro tip: get your helmet and vest (to be provided) and just trust the tour guides. They know what they are doing.
Aside from having a quiet spot in the middle of the forest, it’s also the perfect area to get your daredevil juices flowing. It’s not quite scary as jumping from a 10-feet cliff, but there’s something about jumping into the rapids that will really get your heart pumping fast.
Of course, as with any tour groups, there should always be one person who will initiate the activity and show that hey, this looks scary but (I hope) this is totally safe. And as a first timer in Samar, I did it.
This is how it will go: the tour guides will throw a rope from the other side of the river to help you cross. They will pull you in so try not put so much weight on yourself. Once you’ve crossed, proceed to the boulder directly in front of the scariest rapids you’ve ever seen. Trust me, that’s the safest area you can jump into.
I would compare the experience to jumping into beer foam. This is the same phrase I used to convince others to do it and they agree. So that should count for something.
Hidden treasure: Tinago falls in Biliran is the perfect getaway for some alone time.
Tinago Falls, Biliran, Leyte
3-3.5 hours from Tacloban Airport
The next day we found ourselves at Tinago Falls in Biliran. And the waterfalls is exactly that: tinago or hidden. It’s a little more developed than Ulot River with their restrooms and the mini auditorium that you can hang out at while your friends are having a swim.
As always, the trek going there is a little challenging, but there are marshals who can help you cross to the waterfalls. The currents are strong and the water is cold. But nothing beats catching the golden hour and hoping that 4 p.m. sun can take a peak between the mountains.
Pro tip: Before leaving the area, go to the restroom and finish your business. There aren’t any restrooms or gas stations on your drive going back. Holding your pee for 90-minutes straight isn’t really ideal.
Kayak attack: Get a piece — or peace — of nature at Lake Danao.
Lake Danao, Ormoc, Leyte
2.5-3 hours from Tacloban Airport
Fun fact: Lake Danao used to be called Lake Imelda. I think the current name attracts more tourists, to be honest.
The 148-hectare lake is known to be guitar-shaped. It’s a little hard to see if you don’t have a drone like Casey (RIP his vlogs). What I love the most about the area is it’s protected by the residents. They also earn their living by cooking food (e.g. sea weed, snails, the good stuff) and renting out floating cottages. Kayaks are also available if you want a private piece of the lake.
The water is surrounded by mountain ranges all over and it’s pretty quiet on a weekday. The water is clear, cold and unexpectedly not sticky. If you’re in the mood, this is the perfect time to recreate that scene from The Notebook (“Get in the water! Get in the water!”).
Coincidentally, we arrived in Tacloban on the same week as the Yolanda anniversary. We capped off the three-day trip with a visit to the memorial in the city proper. I couldn’t help but look back on the places that we’ve been to. Eastern Samar is home to some of the most wonderful bodies of water in the country, yet its people suffered from a tragic flash flood. But if anything, that experience strengthened them as one. I heard from the stories of the tour guides in Ulot River, the bystanders in Tinago Falls and residents of Lake Danao. Tacloban is far from fully recovering to where they were but I feel like in time, they’re going to be alright.
For Air Asia flight schedules, visit their website airasia.com