Kinabuan Falls in Sta. Ines, Tanay Rizal used to be just a side trip for hikers and mountaineers climbing Sierra Madre’s Mt. Irid. Recently though, it has also become a popular destination for Metro Manila mountain bikers seeking to cool off in a body of water that’s not as crowded as Daranak, Batlag or Puray. Unlike these other waterfalls that are now often crowded with noisy barkadas, Kinabuan still has that rustic frontier charm that many of the more touristy waterfalls have lost. Because it isn’t easy to get to, Kinabuan hardly sees any crowds.
Kinabuan is also home to a community of Dumagats–indigenous peoples who call the Sierra Madre their home. Like the Aetas of Central Luzon, the Dumagats live on the margins of society, and eke out a living with subsistence farming and hunting.
It’s easy to get to Kinabuan if you’re a mountain biker. By that I mean, it’s easy to figure out how to get there. Biking to Kinabuan itself, is anything but easy.
If you’re a mamaw padyakoldaway biker coming from Metro Manila, you will need to ride through the twisting rolling Marilaque highway and turn left at the San Andres welcome arch. From there it’s roughly 21 kilometers of gravel roads, river crossings, and rock gardens galore.
If you’re not a mamaw, or if you need to be home by nightfall, I suggest you park at either Park Rest and Dine or the Sierra Madre Hotel. You could also park along the highway, but understand that that is less secure.
I’ve been to Kinabuan thrice so far this year. First time was with the bikers from “Spirit of 29.” They were somewhat underwhelmed by the size of the waterfalls, but were quite happy with the quality of the trail and the scenery.
A common comment about the Sierra Madre trails is that it’s hard to believe you could ride amid this amazing scenery, just an hour and a half away from Metro Manila by car. That ride set us up for another adventure to Laiban-Daraitan Bike Ride a few weeks later.
We met Mang Bernardo, the Dumagat chieftain there, who welcomed us to their community. We couldn’t help but notice that he had a big wound on his foot which looked like it was already badly infected. Apparently, he was diabetic. He asked if we had any antibiotic medicines with us. Sadly, we had only brought a few canned goods and packs of instant noodles with us. Antibiotics also required a doctor’s prescription. But we promised that we would be back.
Second time I went to Kinabuan was with my significant other. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and we weren’t in the mood to mingle with hordes of giggling, swoony couples staring into each other’s eyes while listening to Jose Mari Chan or some half-assed bossa nova elevator music abomination. We weren’t too keen either on snacking on some overpriced ersatz Italian fusion cuisine which tastes like week-old tokneneng but with a fancier name.
We wanted to spend Valentine’s Day in some place a bit less cheesy even if it meant working up a bit of sweat. A place with lots of trees, cool running water and that precious thing called silence, which seems to be getting more and more precious these days. We both decided that Kinabuan Falls was the perfect getaway for that V-Day weekend.
Kara immediately loved the vibe of the place. Even though she hated the climbs, she really liked the off-the-beaten path and uncrowded feel of Sta. Ines and Kinabuan. There was a group of hikers at the falls when we arrived, but they were soon packing their bags for Mt. Irid a few minutes later.
While a lot of couples were probably feasting on steak, red wine and tiramisu that day, our romantic lunch consisted of fried spam, garlic rice, beer and Gatorade. That was okay with us–we had a whole waterfalls to ourselves.
Sadly though, we learned that Mang Bernardo had just passed away. The complications from his diabetes were too much, and he died just a day before we got to visit. His widow, Nanay Huling asked us if we could bring basic medicines like paracetamol and betadine for the community.
On my third trip to Kinabuan, we made sure to bring medicines for the Dumagats. We couldn’t bring any antibiotics or other prescription drugs but just flu and cough medicines, and alcohol and betadine for treating wounds. It wasn’t much, but it was all we could bring under the circumstances.
Charity is never going to be a substitute for justice. What the Dumagats need is an outreach program from the government so that their community can get the health and other social services they deserve.
But if you’re a visiting mountain biker or hiker, the Dumagats will always appreciate whatever help you can bring. So make sure to bring food and medicines when you can.