Hiking at Hulugan

Get lost and find thyself.

Have you ever gotten lost on a road trip? How did that turn out?

No? Well, would you like to?

It’s been quite a while since my last blog but the good news is, monsoon
season is over, and it’s hiking season again. I’ve been cooped up for months
away from nature and it isn’t the best feeling in the world.

The opportunity came when my friend Chester who hasn’t hiked in a long time
suggested we go somewhere without having to climb a mountain just yet in order to reintroduce himself  gradually to hiking. He suggested going to
Luisiana, Laguna, a province outside of Manila that’s easily dayhikable.

Turns out it was the perfect choice. Luisiana is home to the increasingly
popular Hulugan Falls.

“Hulugan” in Filipino means “to pour into” and boy, does it deserve its
name! To get to this waterfall means trekking down into a deep basin where I imagine tons of water pour into every single day. To see this phenomenon in its full glory requires coming here during the rainy season such as between October to early February.

Hulugan Waterfalls as seen from the rim of the basin before going down to the bottom

I’ve seen other hikers’ photos and the waterfall can be truly gorgeous. At the
very least visit a day after it has rained (check the weather forecasts) to
ensure you don’t see just a trickle which is what happens during the summer. 

When we visited, it hadn’t rained for several days so I wasn’t able to see the full extent of Hulugan’s power. The flow wasn’t as strong but as it were, the spray was strong enough to drench us from a distance. We were also lucky enough to see a rainbow just as we arrived!

Hulugan Falls

Hulugan isn’t the only waterfall in the area. There are three lesser ones: Talay, Aliw, and Hidden Waterfalls. During registration, make sure you know whether you’d like to visit all four because it will determine the trail your guide will take you on.

We would’ve visited all four but my friend and I lost about half a day getting there. Chester brought his car but we both didn’t think relying on Waze or Google Maps was a necessity. We’d read the directions going there, and we thought we had it all down pat.

Turns out we didn’t. What was supposed to be a three-hour drive stretched to five hours and thirty minutes! We’d missed a crucial turn because we were having too much fun talking and singing in the car (a la James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke)!

By the time we noticed we were lost and decided to use a GPS, we were so far off the mark that Waze took us on a full detour that was two hours long.

Still, it was fun getting lost. We drew close to lovely Mt. Makiling again (one
of the mountains we climbed together in 2017), wound through remote plantations and grassy fields along country roads that sometimes brought us past geothermal stations or wooded plots of land. Occasionally, we’d pass tiny villages beside wide creeks that had one-way bridges.

By the time we arrived for registration at the barangay hall in San Salvador
in the municipality of Luisiana, it was 1.30 PM, too late to visit all four
falls. We could only do three if we wanted to leave for Manila before
dark.

We registered and were assigned a guide and then proceeded to the parking area, some 10 minutes away. From there, we took a tricycle to the jump off site.

First stop was Talay Falls.

Talay Falls

Five minutes away from Talay lay Hidden Falls.

Feeling like explorers at the aptly named Hidden Falls

From Hidden Falls to Hulugan was a mere 30 minute-hike (depending on your pace). Since we came late, we had the place all to ourselves and took pictures to our hearts’ content.

Finally, it was almost four in the afternoon and we had to climb back up. The slope up the side of the basin was steep and took only fifteen minutes to climb. Once back up, it was a short walk to the entrance where a tricycle waited to take us back to the parking area.

All in all, it was a quick two hours. Had we arrived earlier, we’d have stayed longer.

The ride home was no less eventful. This time, we didn’t take any chances
and used Waze. Funny thing was, it didn’t exactly take us where we expected to go.

Normally, all roads from the south of Manila lead to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). We’d left San Salvador at around 4 PM but to our surprise, the sun was already setting and we still weren’t anywhere near any place remotely familiar. Instead of moving back to civilization, we were going deeper and deeper into remote country as the miles flew by.

Finally, it was dark and few vehicles plied the road. Utter darkness took
over on all sides, pierced only by the glare of our headlights. Hair raising
twists and turns had me squirming in my seat. My palms dripped cold sweat.

Contemplating the waterfall from my perch just near where the trail begins up the slope with a “hiker dog” who liked going ahead of us and then waiting patiently while we caught up to him.

Put simply, we didn’t know where we were. We pressed on. If the road was
asphalted, we figured we’d eventually end up somewhere populated at some point.

We never did enter Manila through SLEX. Instead we exited Laguna via the
province of Rizal, entering Metro Manila through Taytay. We didn’t know it but Waze had led us through the newly opened Metro Manila Expressway Project. We were clueless, especially since the map just said to follow the “Manila East Road” instead of the more familiar C6.

Not bad at all. No toll fees to pay, no insufferable long lines at SLEX toll booths, and above all, no need to endure horrendous C5 traffic on the way home.

Did I enjoy getting lost? I sure did.

Getting lost is, by far, one of the best ways to enjoy the road. It can reveal a lot about yourself, too. If you want to know whether you can handle uncertainty or – if you wish – the certainty of not knowing  where you’re headed, then I suggest following where the wind takes you sometimes. See what happens.

At the very least, you’ll have a tale to tell. That and the pleasure of singing
along to 90s pop songs in the car, windows open, at the top of your lungs on a winding country road.

—–

Planning to go to Hulugan Falls?

Since we didn’t have an itinerary and got lost, let me point you to these blogs if you want to know how to get there:

Hot tip 1: As of November 2018, guides have no set fee at San Salvador. It’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to give. In my opinion, you’d be doing the locals a huge favor by giving them at least PhP 500  (USD 9.54) which is the standard minimum for hikes in the  mountains near Metro Manila. If you’re not comfortable with that because you think it’s not hiking a mountain, after all, or you’re on a tight budget, then perhaps PhP 300 (USD 5.72) is reasonable enough. You can contact our guide Marie Aguilar at +63 955 558 9075.

Hot tip 2: Fruits are sold in abundance on the way to San Salvador. Peak season for lanzones and rambutan is between September to early November.

Delicious lanzones and rambutan that are way cheaper in Laguna than in Metro Manila!

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