MONTALBAN GORGE. 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. According to the legend, Bernardo was 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 trap. It is said that whenever an earthquake occurs, it is caused by Bernardo trying to escape from the bowels of the mountain.
NAUUMPUGANG BATO. A sequel to the legend revealed that Bernardo broke free by successfully pushing the grinding mountains of Pamitinan and Binacayan apart.
Water gushed out from the other side of the mountain which formed the river channels of 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. The trail to Wawa Dam involved 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.
OLD OBSERVATION DECK. On our way to the upper part of the dam, we walked through two tunnels carved out from the mountain’s limestone wall to reach the old observation deck. Here, we had spectacular views of the majestic gorge, the gorgeous upper river and the narrow chasm.
The height of the deck from the lake below is a dizzying 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 upper river. It may be a feat for Howie but for a group of local children, diving off from the observation deck is part of their swimming routine in Wawa Dam.
WAWA RIVER. We crossed the iron bridge that connects the observation deck to the upper river. There were makeshift huts 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 river 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.
WAWA DAM. 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 accommodation.
During summer months, the dam’s spillway is converted into a picnic area much like a version of the popular luncheon scene at 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.
PAMITINAN CAVE. Tired and thirsty, 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!
EPILOGUE. 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.