“Come on, let’s walk barefoot.”
I don’t remember who among my travel companions said it, but he/she said it as though we were going for a walk in the park, and not down a hill to a waterfall. On a muddy trail. And in rainy weather.
I took off my trekking sandals. Our guide, still sandal-clad, did not protest at the sight of us taking off our footwear. I felt a jolt of adrenaline in my veins and tried to ward off images of sharp, unforgiving rocks piercing my feet. Hey, if our guide was not protesting, then the trail must be safe for barefoot trekking.
Thankfully, it was not raining when we started our trek. The first part was easy – just flat, soft earth.
My travel companions gamely taking on the barefoot trekking challenge to Merloquet Waterfalls in Sibulao, Zamboanga
Time seemed to have stopped as I just brought one foot in front of another, dipping my toes and heels on the earth, and allowing the mud to just embrace them, then release each foot as I took the next step. Occasionally I could hear a sound much like “shhh” as my feet sank deep into softer mud, like it was telling me to keep quiet.
I have walked barefoot before, but not this long, and not like this. Who knew that walking on mud can be relaxing?
For several minutes that seemed like hours, we just walked on the flat trail. Our guide kept watch like a sentinel.
Then, the terrain began to slope, and the fun part began. The intermittent rains had not only made the trail slippery, but also loosened the soil, and it took all our energy and presence of mind to keep from slipping. Going barefoot, to me, actually helped. The direct contact with the earth helped me step and curve my foot to better grip the soil. We were all hands and knees – and crouching – for majority of the descent.
I could not help admiring our guide, who was going down almost with no effort – marangs, rifle and all.
Our guide to Merloquet Waterfalls. While I am not big on armed escorts and they usually scare me more than assure me, I do understand Sibulao barangay officials’ good intentions to give us the best protection. And our guide put us at ease with his smile and easy-going nature.
Slipping did not really seem dangerous – it was all just mud, and no rocks below, though the unlucky person would wind up in a full-out mudbath. Which happened to one of my travel companions – backpack and behind caked in mud.
Unfortunately, we did not have photos of our descent – we were too busy clinging on for dear life to grass, shrub or whatever handhold we could find to keep from slipping. And, parts of us still ended up bathed in mud despite our best efforts!
Actually, it would have been fun to just let go and do a mudslide. Oh, if not only for my borrowed camera…
Our efforts were generously rewarded with the beauty of Merloquet’s enormous waterfalls. Torrents of water cascaded through dark gray tiers, forming irregular staircases.
The streams we saw close to Merloquet Waterfalls were already beautiful.
The majestic Merloquet Waterfalls in Sibulao, Zamboanga
We walked closer to the falls to get a “shower.” And yes, as I had hoped, the rocks were flat – though sometimes slippery – so there was no threat of getting our feet pierced. The water massaged our backs and washed our muddied bodies.
If this is not bliss, I don’t know what is. =)
After getting blissed out in the waterfalls, we had a marang feast, courtesy of the kind people from Sibulao barangay hall. Sibulao is the marang capital in Zamboanga City. (The marangs and marang plantations in Sibulao deserve a separate entry, and I will write about them in the future).
While we happily devoured marangs, the rain started to pour and beat down our bare, tarp-roofed cottage. We watched Merloquet Waterfalls transform from white to brown, with the torrents growing bigger every few minutes.
When the rain did not abate even after we finished the marangs, we decided to start the trek back up. Amazingly, it was easier, and it was not just going against gravity that kept us from slipping – the downpour had washed away the loose parts of the trail, so we now walked on fuller, more compact soil.
We let the rain beat our backs as we traipsed on mud and puddles. It was a triumphant moment when we reached the pickup, the vehicle that brought us to Sibulao.
Another walking meditation on mud – and also, puddles
During the early part of my Visayas adventure, a newfound mountaineer friend told me how much fun it can be to climb mountains while raining. I looked at him then like he was crazy, but he only smiled and said I should try it. After walking, crouching, clinging, slipping, sliding, and walking again to and from Merloquet Waterfalls, I think I now somehow get what he means.
How to go to Merloquet Waterfalls:
From Zamboanga City proper, take a tricycle to the bus terminal. Fare can be anywhere between Php30-Php50 (don’t forget to haggle with the driver). Ride a bus going to Vitali. Fare is usually Php200. Then, from Vitali, take a habal-habal/motorbike (again, negotiate prices with the driver) to Sibulao, where Merloquet Waterfalls is. Travel time is over two hours. Best to inform the local government, particularly the barangay officials, in advance, to make sure you get a guide to the waterfalls. My travel companions and I just went there with no notice, but managed to get a guide – still, it’s best to inform them in advance. You may contact Kagawad Elizabeth Luna at +639268844249.