Water is life and often revered for its healing properties. Modern science explains this phenomenon under the principles of hydrotherapy but there’s often more to it than what can be explained especially when it abounds in nature.

My journey in the eastern part of Mindanao took me to Monkayo, Compostela Valley. It’s a town located in a province that’s largely undiscovered by mainstream tourism.

One long search in the far reaches of Google led me to a handful of photo sharing sites and blogs featuring “Awao Falls”. Suffice to say, it’s not popular among tourists despite is undoubtedly effortless photogenic ability. Its low profile made me even more inspired to go there.

I thought I would just be crossing another item on my bucket list of excellent “off beat” places to visit in Mindanao. I also re-discovered there’s more to waterfalls than a beautiful backdrop for an epic photo to share in facebook.

My visit turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences during my travels this year.

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The perfect outdoor shower: Awao Falls of Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

Frustrated solo traveler

Before my trip to Awao Falls, I spent two nights in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur in a failed attempt to visit the remote waterways of Agusan Marsh. Found out that the only way to access Agusan Marsh for visitors is through a packaged tour offered by the local government. I was dismayed by the rates they showed me, which totaled over P5,000 for an overnight visit. It was way too expensive for my solo-traveler budget.

I was frustrated because I really wanted to visit Agusan Marsh. The timing would’ve been perfect because it was rainy season with no potentially disastrous monsoons in sight.

I was in Surigao del Norte, a week prior, and discovered a way to visit the gorgeous lagoons past Sohoton Cave on a shoe-string budget (skipping the P1,500++ boat transfer). It involved hiking for an hour through the forest / limestone cliff laden area of Bucas Grande Island and taking a 10-minute paddleboat ride to the entrance. Asking locals about this route got me acquainted with the Cebuano/Sinibuano/Surigaonon word “baktas,” which literally means “hike.”

I asked the LGU and locals I met in Bunawan if it was possible to “baktas” my way to Agusan Marsh (Lake Mihaba specifically). They discouraged me because it would be too difficult for a non-local to explore the area, especially if unannounced. Although I had a fiery desire to go despite the warning, I had to put out the flames because I had a stronger gut feeling not to persist. I could always come back.

I soon left Bunawan and diverted my efforts into visiting someplace else more accessible.

The Jouney to Awao Falls

The van ride from Bunawan to Monkayo took around an hour (P50 fare). The town is located mid-way along the Davao-Butuan highway so it should be easily accessible from both cities by bus (2 to 3 hours approximately). I went to the municipal tourism office of Monkayo for assistance. They were very helpful and friendly. One of the staff escorted me to the habal-habal (single motorcycle) terminal where I can get a ride to Awao Falls. The terminal, more like a covered shed, was less than 5 minutes’ walk from the municipal hall.

The drivers offered a rate of P200 for a one-way ride to Awao falls. Not too pricey considering its a bit over 40 kilometers (1-hour ride) away.

Not only was it my first time to visit ComVal (Compostela Valley Province), it was also my first time to ride a “skylab,” a very exciting variant of the habal-habal found mostly in Mindanao.

A skylab features long planks, bamboo poles in my case, attached parallel to both sides of the motorcycle (sometimes, it’s one long plank placed perpendicularly). This enables a motorcycle, originally intended for two people max, to carry a life-threatening number of passengers + sacks of rice or corn + livestock + anything imaginably possible.

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Philippine Skylab in its natural habitat. The 1-hour ride to Awao Falls had refreshing views of thick forest.

My skylab driver first took me to the Awao Barangay Hall to register / inform tanod officials there was an outsider visiting the falls. I had to wait 20 minutes outside the building because there was no one there. It was definitely an offbeat travel destination. The driver also needed to ask for directions because it had been ages since he last visited the Awao falls.

From the Brgy. Hall, we followed a dirt road, crossed a wide shallow stream, and went uphill for 15 minutes before dropping off at a point with a view of a small gorge.

My guide didn’t know the right path. We had to make our own way down farm patches and slippery rocky slopes.

When we reached the stream at the bottom, it was only a matter of intently listening to the faint sound of the waterfall to tell us which direction to go.

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Our drop off point at the dirt road going to Awao Falls

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First view of Awao Falls

Easier trail

On our way back from the falls, we discovered a much easier trail, which had improvised railings made from tree trunks. It was only a few hundred meters further from where we dropped off… If only we knew :)

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Better trail to Awao Falls

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First view of Awao Falls if we followed the better trail

Finally at Awao Falls

I was amazed at the full view of the Awao Falls.

No, it wasn’t hundreds of meters tall nor was it spewing insane amounts of  water per second. The Awao Falls had an elegance to it that I had not encountered yet. It had enough scale for a “wow moment,” and more remarkably, the water didn’t fall in one single drop. It descended gently over a mildly vegetated sloped wall seemingly forming a beautiful fan-shaped curtain of water.

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Front view of curtain-like Awao Falls

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Awao Falls surrounded by lush forest

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A closer view is the best

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View under the big fallen tree trunk

Best outdoor shower

I thought I would just visit this waterfall and take a couple of pictures, maybe even have an emo moment while appreciating the serene view, then move on to my next destination before it got dark.

The water was too inviting, I couldn’t resist taking a long shower. Even my skylab driver took one too.

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Serenity at Awao Falls

All my frustrations washed away quickly. I still had a week before my trip ended and I was revitalized to continue seeing more of Mindanao’s awesomeness.

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Awao Waterfall of Monkayo, Compostela Valley

The largest waterfalls may be breathtaking to look at but they’re too dangerous get close to.

The best ones are those where you can fully appreciate the therapeutic value of these special natural formations. That’s why, as of the moment, Awao Falls is my all-time favorite.