They say secrets are best kept hidden. But Aloguinsan's Bojo River is one southern secret I'd be most willing to spill.  :)

Our journey starts one Tuesday in February when the traffic gods decided to poop all over our lives by closing one lane of the old bridge. Classic. That was one good reason to flee the city. Good thing there was this pretty Camaro to brighten up our morning. (Hello there, sweet thang *wink,wink*) :)

Aloguinsan is a small southwestern town, about 59 km away from Cebu City.  It's a pretty long drive so, stock up on good music, food and water.

We decided to drive to Bojo River. Thank heavens for GPS. None of us have been there before, and I've never seen GPS in real life until this drive. What a strange talking map. Haha #ignoramus :)

 If you wish to commute though, here is one useful and informative guide I found.

We obviously haven't heard a lot about Aloguinsan, other than its famed "Hidden Beach". Admit it, when you go south, you think whale sharks, Moalboal beach parties or canyoneering. Not a secret river snaking its way to Tanon Strait. Aloguinsan's Bojo river is proving to be an exciting mystery.

After about 3 hours of driving through Cebu's beautiful hills, we finally arrive!

The Bojo River Nature Reserve is run by the Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association, or BAETAs. Their efforts in making the Bojo river a sustainable source of livelihood for the locals while maintaining its natural beauty has won numerous awards.

There's a short walk towards the reserve. It was peaceful and quiet, unlike most tourist traps we see all over Cebu.

At last, the river!

We were greeted by their friendly staff, who were all smiles and very accommodating. We got settled into a spot in their homey payag-inspired lounge/orientation area.

For walk-in guests like us, the fee was Php400 inclusive of the river cruise, life vests and use of their facilities. If you book beforehand, you can get lunch, a welcome lei and a welcome song on top of the cruise for only Php650 for a minimum of 5 people. They also have special packages and village tours. All of the proceeds go to the maintenance of the nature reserve and serve as extra income to the locals who operate as boatmen and guides. Here's a more detailed  list of fun eco-activities you can enjoy while in Bojo River.

After settling in and a brief orientation, we were ready to roll! What's cool is they even have umbrellas that you can bring with you to fend off the heat.
Ready na ka, Shar?

Meet our boatman-guide, Chuy Kuya Boatman-Guide. Yeah, I forgot his name. :'( If you, by any chance, know this amazing dude, please drop me a message. He's the best.

We were so giddy when we climbed in!

Here's the winning edge about this cruise: the guides know their stuff.

 Kuya shared that there are certain qualifications to be a river guide. They actually have to pass a moving exam to be qualified. They have to be knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area, historical facts about Bojo---all of them part of their ecotourism advocacy, which is awesome. There truly is an effort to keep the locals informed about the environment. With this information, they know what they are protecting and how their share impacts the ecosystem as a whole. Isn't that just amazeballs. One big kudos to BAETAs!

 All throughout the tour, Kuya pointed out plant and mangrove species using their scientific name, just like how your biology teacher would. What did I tell you. He's awesome.

Bojo is a Spanish word for "river ceiling"; not to be confused with the Cebuano boho which means a hole. The river is an inlet opening out to Tanon strait. This served as a passageway for trading a long time ago. Kuya said that this was where fishermen sought refuge during bad weather. The other boatman said this was also a path they took when they wanted to go Negros to party (mamayle). Haha!

Kuya was also so proud to say that the waters of Bojo are clean and unspoiled. He described it as brackish, which is the result of fresh and sea water combining. The Bojo River opens up to the Tanon Strait aka one of the most awesome biodiverse bodies of water in the Philippines. 

 Sometimes bubbles can be seen on the surface and this is a good sign. It means that there's a good supply of oxygen provided by the many mangroves in the area.

The BAETAS, with the help of some of Cebu's top universities did an inventory of all flora and fauna in the area. Kuya told us the story of how they went into groups, divvied the area into quadrants and cataloged all the species of plants and animals that they can find.

They officially started this initiative back in 2009. 

Ah, so hayahay.

We approached the mouth of the inlet, where the river becomes wider. Cliffs flank you on either side. Once, this was a site for hunting Yamashita's hidden treasures.

This is also where the salt water meets fresh water. See the swirling part right there?

I wish I fixed my hair tho. Hihi.
Here we are at the mouth of the river at last! We got pretty excited.

I must say, Kuya is an ace photographer. He even angled the boat so that we could take a good photo. :D

You can even see Mt Kanlaon from this vantage point.

Also, the water is perfect for swimming. Kuya paddled out to where we could see schools of small fish and corals. The water was so clear, you can see them all from the boat! Cebu is beyond blessed for these natural wonders. Tanon is a treasure.

(But due to, uh, biological reasons, I was not able to take a dip. Next time, though!)

So because I stayed in the boat and unable to swim, kuya told me a story of engkantos in the river instead. He said that all the di-ingun-ato that reside in the river are friendly ones. Sometimes, at night, they would see what looked like a big bright ship entering the mouth of the river. It was supposedly a faerie ship, with lights too bright for a normal fishing boat. The hairs on my arms stood when he told me that.

Sometimes the spirits would play pranks on them too, tipping their boats this way and that. 

Legend has it that this rock face used to be a cave inhabited by spirits. Kuya says they've nicknamed it The Cathedral. It was believed that a long time ago people would come here when they needed to borrow things, like food or candles or wedding clothes. They would come here in the evening and in the morning, the items would magically appear at the mouth of the cave. But people, over time, stopped returning the engkanto's things, so she distanced herself from the mortals and closed the door to her cave.

After a few more minutes of swimming, it was now time to head back. Bojo is a sanctuary; a little piece of tranquil tucked away in Cebu's southwestern mountains. 

As we ended the trip, I told kuya, "Maayu nalang na preserve ni ninyo nga lugar kuya sah. Wa jud nadaot ug na over-commercialize, di pariha sa uban attractions diri sa south." (It's a good thing you were able to preserve this place. It's not as over-commercialized as other places here in the south.)

Kuya replied, "Mao ma'am kay ecotourism man ning atoa. Kadto sa uban mao'y gitawag ug mass tourism" (Yes, because what we do is ecotourism, instead of mass tourism)

Well-said Kuya. :)

With that in mind, I hope the rest of Cebu can take its cue from BAETAS and Bojo in advocating more ecotourism programs. There are so many wonderful things that we can develop and turn into something locals can earn from. Instead of letting locals join the brain-drain into the city or abroad, or worse, have them turn into illegal trade just to put food on the table, we should have more projects like these. 

It's a win-win situation: our resources get protected, we generate more jobs, and our local attractions can get more recognition. :)

Cheers to everyone behind this wonderful initiative! We hope more tourists can come and see the awesomeness of Bojo River. It is definitely worth the trip!

What are you waiting for? Head on out to Aloguinsan ASAP and experience this for yourself!

Love local, 

K x

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