By Greg Hutchinson
The Tibiao River is short–no more than 30 kilometres from source to mouth near the town of Tibiao. It cuts a deep and steep path from Mount Madja-as–the towering 2,200-metre mountain that casts a shadow over the seaside town of Culasi in northern Antique on Panay Island. That’s how close the mountain is to the sea. Just a handful of kilometres as the Philippine eagle flies!
Rain falling on Mt Madja-as produce waterfalls with such intensity they appear like white streaks of paint on a dark canvass plastering the horizon.
The river is swift to rise in the early months of the rainy season starting in June when rains can be prolonged along the full course of The Tibiao, and the fertile soil easily dislodges, making the river murky — a small annoyance for the kayaker but a godsend for the farmer planting rice downstream.
Come October when the “amihan” or colder easterly wind resumes, rains still fall on the summit and slopes of Mt Madja-as, but less on the main course of the river, sustaining a consistently high river level and clear water conditions, awesome for predictable and safe paddling. Such conditions persist usually through to late February, early March.
Tribal Adventure Tours introduced river kayaking to the Tibiao River — and indeed the Philippines — in 1997 when it hosted the first international Kayak Cup. The event featured a wildwater event over 7 kms and a slalom event with 23 gates over a distance of around 300 metres. The event was staged at Kayak Inn, Tribal Adventures’ adventure retreat set up for the event AND for a tour we put on jointly for the Australian tourist with Qantas Holidays.
The event put the Tibiao River and the tiny village of Tuno, midway upstream, on the adventure tourism map. No one would dispute that for a provincial event, the Cup was a roaring success: Extensive TV coverage included seven TV programmes. The coverage in no small way assisted Tribal Adventures and Qantas Holidays secure in 1999 the Kalakbay (national tourism) Award for the Best Overseas Marketed Tour Programme.
The Adventure company also introduced the kawa–the cast iron-wok-like pot used for the making of muscovado sugar– as a hot tub, warmed by flaming discarded bamboo. It was an instant winner. Why?
It was placed in an area with a tradition of witchcraft. Within 18 months of the Kayak Cup, Kuling who the locals insisted was a manananggal or aswang (witch) was stoned and injured by children and ritually killed with a bolo slashing into the flesh of her arms and torso by a Tuno resident.
Yes, I had been called upon by several mothers with sick children to deliver them by car to the witch doctor on the lowland about 8 kilometres away. I always advised I would drive them the 20 kms to Culasi to the hospital but they always insisted I had to deliver them to the witch doctor. They put the blame squarely on Kuling.
And, it was difficult to explain how the lady, who had a limp, could walk the 5 kms from the lowland to Tuno in mere minutes. The people believed she could fly!
Yes, on the day of her killing, I had seen her head wrapped with banana leaves. The locals said this was to stop her hair standing out like the pines of a porcupine, another sign of being a witch we were told. Perhaps. But I had also heard that she was hurt on her way up the track from the lowland and she had wrapped her head to halt the bleeding.
Anyway, that was the last I saw of Kuling alive: I walked by her, my kayak on my shoulder, with a friend Peter carrying his kayak too. I looked back at her as she gazed beyond Peter and me. When we had finished kayaking that late afternoon, Kuling was already dead.
With no power at Kayak Inn near the village of Tuno on the Tibiao, so no electricity for hot water–and with the steep mountains above casting wide shadows not sufficient sunlight penetrates for solar water heating–we paddlers needed to quickly get warm after expending much energy on kayaking the river. So, I scoured the lowlands of Antique for kawa and found small ones that could fit one person, medium-sized ones that could comfortably accommodate a couple, and a massive cast-iron pot more than a century old that can squeeze in a large family. I must have seemed like that proverbial Englishman who had too much midday sun — craving a bath, absent notoriety. So, I immersed myself in one of the flaming tubs. Not once a week as the English in their personal meanness are known for–but daily–and for a lengthy period each time, looking out and up the river from whence I hurtled.
We learned to sit gingerly, our backsides elevated from the red-hot bottom of the kawa. Though an Australian presenter of the TV programme Getaway did get a touch singed from a raw flame as she lay in her kawa. It made for a blockbuster epidsode!
Through Edwin Endrico, the Kayak Inn caretaker, we learned what leaves and roots would be therapeutic to place in the woks and what flowers would help excite or relax.
Harvesting tuba, Edwin would serve me and my paddling companions, the 12-hour coconut brew. We would watch the fireflies abuzz: On one memorable Christmas Eve, an Australian lady commented: “You have gone to so much trouble to light up the trees”. Power came some years later: It was a government commitment–a quid pro quo — for Tribal Adventures putting on the Kayak Cup ’97.
We were visited on one occasion by the Tuno barangay captain: He had a knife in one hand, a banana in another. He proceeded to cut the banana and threw pieces into the two kawas. He had a cheeky look on his face. He only needed to add pepper and salt to his “ulam” (dish).
In the years that have followed the kawa has gained in popularity, mystique and notoriety–a symbol of Tibiao, and indeed Antique province.