While the Wawa River cuts through the primeval rock after the thousand-year process of erosion to form the majestic limestone walls, there is also the local folklore which tells that the Montalban Gorge was created by the mighty Bernardo Carpio.
The Legend of Bernardo Carpio
There are several versions about the story of Bernardo Carpio. One version tells about Bernardo as a love child of Infanta Jimena and Don Sancho Diaz. When the forbidden love affair between his sister Infanta and political rival Sancho was discovered by the King Alfonso, he ordered the imprisonment of Infanta and the murder of Sancho.
The young Bernardo was able to escape the furious King Alfonso only to be discovered later. But the boy has grown as a giant. The cruel king wanted Bernardo to suffer the same fate as with his parents so he ordered a shaman to have him locked-up until he meets his death deep within the hallows of the mountain in Montalban. The shaman was able to lure Bernardo into the trapped. It is said that whenever an earthquake occurs, it is caused by Bernardo trying to escape from the bowels of the mountain.
But another version of the legend revealed that Bernardo broke free by successfully pushing the grinding mountains apart. Water gushed out from the other side of the mountain which formed the river channels of the San Mateo and Marikina. Below the narrow gap between the amazing limestone mountains, Wawa Dam was constructed by the American in 1909 as the primary water source for Manila.
Where the Road Ends, The Hiking Begins
Although we have travelled a lot around the country and have been living in San Mateo Rizal for five years, we ashamedly admit that we have paid little attention to our town’s next door neighbor –Montalban (now Rodriguez). One of Montalban’s attractions is Wawa Dam and we were surprised to discover that it only took us less than 20 minutes to get there from our home.
Traveling to Wawa Dam took us to an easy drive across the well-paved roads of San Mateo and then to the mountain road of Rodriguez until we reached, literally the end of the road at Barangay San Rafael.
Where the road ended, the hiking began. The hike to Wawa Dam involved us walking on a rocky ascending trail with steep drop-offs on one side and bamboo and nipa houses on the other. These dwellings along the sides of the trail made brisk business by selling turon and samalamig to hikers.
As the winding mountain trail became narrower, we could see from one side the steep slope and the running river further enhanced by huge white boulders where the locals have built makeshift huts of bamboo and nipa that tourists and campers could use for a minimal rental fee.
A few walks further, we had a view of the amazing Wawa Dam also with huts huddled close together at the foot of dam looking similar to the luncheon scene at Villa Escudero. Later on the trip we would hike down to get close to the dam but we continued following the trail to the dam’s reservoir.
Upper Lake Reservoir
On our way to the reservoir, we walked pass by some cave entrances along the trail and walked pass through two tunnels carved out from the limestone wall until we reached the dam’s observation deck.
From the abandoned observation deck, we had spectacular views of the majestic gorge, the gorgeous upper lake and the dam below that spans across the narrow chasm.
The height of the deck from the lake below is a dizzying three-storey vertical drop but Howie Severino made history recently perhaps to be the first journalist and blogger to have jumped off from the deck’s ledge into the lake. It may be a feat for Howie but for a local group of children, diving off from the observation deck is part of their swimming routine in Wawa Dam.
We crossed the iron bridge that connects the observation deck to the lakeshore. At the lakeshore, we found more huts this time filled with families having picnic, friends exchanging stories, and even a group singing their hearts out around a videoke!
We were so excited to take a plunge into the lake but we realized that we did the most unforgivable thing we’ve ever done for this trip of forgetting our bathing suit or at least to bringing extra clothes and missing the chance to go for a swim into the cold water.
Wawa Dam ceased operation in the 1960’s when the Ipo-La Mesa-Angat watershed was established. Since its decommissioning, the dam’s lower river and upper lake were frequented by local tourists and campers for its ethereal beauty and extremely cheap almost free accomodation.
The dam is like a more rustic version of the man-made falls of the popular Villa Escudero. Although the trip down to the picnic site close to foot of the dam is arduous but it cost practically nothing to enjoy the man-made falls.
The water pouring from the reservoir in the upper lake to the dam wall and the gurgling water around the primordial rock boulders on the river provide a refreshing treat to the senses and to the spirit.
But the dam is far from amusing. It has a grim history. The locals believe that its nangunguha, it summarily takes a human life. Its victims were usually first born males. Survivors claimed that a strong force was pulling them down while swimming even on shallow parts of the river.
A local television documentary named the supernatural force as Pandora, a river fairy who has been raped by a mortal and has sought revenge by drowning her victims.
Tired and thristy, we rested in one of the bamboo stalls selling sweet turon and ice-cold samalamig along the side of the trail. We asked the tindera about the Pamitinan Cave. She pointed at the limestone wall across her stall where two caves are visible from her stall’s window.
A year before the start of the 1896 Revolution, Andres Bonifacio with eight men fled to the mountains of Montalaban, to Pamintinan Cave on a Good Friday. Bonifacio inscribed on the cave wall what could have been the first cry of Philippine Independence. According to the local tourism office, the cave wall still bears the inscription Viva la Independencia Filipinas!
The Pamintinan Cave is just one of the several cave systems in the Montalban Gorge. Other caves are said to be where the Japanese soldiers have retreated and spent their last defense during the final days of World War II. A marker by the cave entrance is visible from the trail. Guided tours into the caves are arranged at the Montalban Tourism Office.