Speak of Cebu and images of the Sto. Niño , the province’s patron, come to mind. And so does the valiant Lapu-Lapu, sweet mangoes, the famous lechon, guitars and beaches. But it is more than that. Cebu is a special and beautiful place. It is also my home.
I was holding tightly to the habalhabal’s iron back frame as the driver deftly maneuvered at the shallow river, evading deeper portions and rocks, culled from memories of countless trips. Water splashed at my sandals and legs. Brief stops and pauses. A few lean to’s and short walks just made the anticipation of reaching my destination greater. Patience is a virtue, I silently told myself.
Tuburan is located in northwestern Cebu and one of the progressive towns in this part of the island province. About 30 minutes into its interior, where the terrain turns rugged, a stunning landscape unfolds. Marmol Cliff has been on my mind since I saw a spectacular spread at the coffee table book Cebu: Pride of Place. During a shoot for the book Balaanong Bahandi in this town, a brief visit to this terra incognita, at least for me, was at the top of my list.
Getting there is not easy. You have to hire a habalhabal, those motorcycle transports that cram 4 to 5 passengers in a single trip that gives the impression of copulation (in Cebuano, habal means to have sex, for animals, that is). You should chose a driver who knows the way as it involves riding into the river, one who has an idea of where to cross and what to evade as there is no other way.
Because of this, the cliff is only accessible when the waters are shallow, especially the non rainy season. A brief rain in the mountains is enough to raise water level to several feet and has deadly consequences to unwitting passengers. At Marmol Cliff, I was told by the driver that there is at least one fatality every year as waters can go as high as 20 feet or more. During these times, residents living in the vicinity or beyond hike their way.
As we hit the river, flat terrain gives way to rolling hills. From villages to almost uninhabited space except for the occasional homestead at the banks. From a wide water expanse, the flow narrows and in some parts deeper. Then rolling hills give way to mountains, farmlands transform to rugged bush and soaring trees. The sound of birds are much apparent now with sighting of colorful feathers flying above from time to time.
But we are not alone. There are many gravel gatherers along the way. The occasional habalhabal with or without passengers make the trip back and forth. Children are bathing in the clear river as some people are hiking along the banks. Several minutes into the wild landscape, the mountains at both sides turn steep until it is, more or less, 90 degrees and forming a gorge. The vegetation is forest like with some walls bare. Swallow are now aplenty.
As I surveyed the surroundings, following the jutting tops of the cliffs, into the interior and just behind the bend where the river emanates, lo and behold, beautiful Marmol Cliff! Standing tall and high, its white limestone face aglow in the early afternoon sun. I was just speechless and in awe. The setting is so picturesque. The ruggedness of the terrain contrasts with the sheer vertical drop that you don’t really have an option but to direct our view into this spectacular sight.
Is it worth the effort to see beautiful Marmol Cliff? You bet, it is.