JOVELLAR, Albay, Jan. 28 (PNA) -- Deep through the woods down the outskirts of this poor, sleepy Bicol town are peculiar natural settings that make the place incredibly spectacular.
Nestled along a mountain range greened by verdant woodlands classified by ecological authorities as rain forests, the municipality boasts of exotic underground rivers, breathtaking cave systems, amazing waterfalls and surprising peak.
Most famous among leisure travelers and picnickers who wish to commune with nature is a 120-meter-long cavern oddly serving as an underwater passage for the Quintinday River - a long, expansive watercourse spanning from the lower slope of Mt. Mayon crossing the town of Camalig to this town, down to the Jovellar River that flows through the nearby Donsol, Sorsogon.
Called the Quitinday Underground River situated in Barangay Quitinday, less than a kilometer from the downtown, this extraordinary water conduit offers a narrow arch at its upstream entrance to where the rapids turbulently flow into the four-meter-deep pool inside the cave.
The cave’s width varies from five to eight meters, depending on the irregular span between its walls that features a strange buildup of finely sculptured limestone rocks that eerily look like an army of animated small minions in fancy formations.
Water feed by founts at its ridge also drops intermittently from the cave’s roof, a continuing natural episode that forms overhead stalactites and stalagmites.
Hundreds of visitors coming daily, especially during weekends and summer, days won’t miss exploring with awe the underground river via bamboo rafts manned by young “boatmen” who skillfully propel their makeshift watercraft through its clear, cold and serene waters.
Quitinday River’s fantastic features also include a series of waterfalls, the most prominent of which is the called Sigpit (constricted) Falls because of its being ensconced between exciting rock walls wrapped in vine roots and foliage, giving it a high and narrow attributes.
Another facet that makes Quitinday River an astounding natural asset is the chain of 10 major cave systems that have complex patterns of superimposed passages representing a long history of cave development.
Experts who recently studied the antiquity of the place, according to municipal administrator Justin Luna, theorized that the flow velocity of the water that extracts classic sediments from the river gullies made of massive limestone rocks may have formed over centuries the cave systems.
All these wonders of Quitinday are arranged along the foot of Makatanaw-Dagat, a lushly vegetated peak towering about 500 meters over the municipality to offer unobstructed views of Mt. Mayon, Ticao and Burias Passes off Donsol and Pioduran towns and Albay Gulf by Legazpi City.
Another special attribute of this peak are its series of founts that marvelously jet in forms of tiny waterfalls into the river.
Luna said the local government has built a water reservoir at the mountain’s shoulder that feeds every household in the locality with fresh, crystal-clear water that is absolutely safe for drinking sans hygienic treatment.
This town, however, is not just about Quitinday when it comes to natural wonders as still, three kilometers from the poblacion is Magtaguinting Falls of Barangay Bagacay, a broad waterfall that grandiosely offers an alluring natural beauty.
Its water turbulently cascades from the height of 120 feet into the Naglaus River, which is part of a natural formation of largely unexplored underground river whose 500 meters long tunneled river that looks mysterious and weird could also be navigated using bamboo crafts for a unique experience.
This underground river is a grotto-like caver system set at the hillside of Barangay Del Rosario, about seven kilometers from the town proper traversable to the next barangay of Nabasan, Daraga, Albay and known as the local version of the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan.
The river cave's mouth has a clear and cold lagoon framed by a unique formation of limestone rocks. Another one of nature’s gifts to this small, sleepy municipality, listed as one of the poorest in Albay, is the Quibaraw Falls in Barangay San Vicente, three kilometers from the town center.
This waterfall, which cascades from 120 feet at the slope of a mountain can be reached via a one-kilometer ascending foot trail that traverses thick patches of old-growth trees.
Apart from all these marvelous natural formations, the municipality is also called the “river town”, being traversed by seven major rivers, among them the Jovellar-Donsol River that strategically runs through the center of the municipality from its source in Camalig town; and Cagnanaga River along its eastern boundary that empties into the Ilog River.
Others are the Kagbuwaya and Quipia Rivers, which flow down from the mountains of Camalig and Buyo River that originates from Pioduran town -- all join the Jovellar River that empties into the Donsol River, the vast waterway whose mouth is the feeding site of the famous whale sharks of Donsol.
And realizing lately that the bizarre features of its backyard are world-class eco-tourism attractions, the locality, situated in the out-of-the-way southwestern section of Albay, is now plucking itself from obscurity into the eyes of the travel industry world.
According to Lourdes Boreta, the municipal tourism officer, the local government has already put in place an intensified tourism industry promotion campaign even as so many tourists are already rediscovering the place for themselves.
Boreta said they are taking advantage of the current foreign market trend showing that international tourists no longer tend to repeat visiting a local destination as they follow a cycle leading them from one place to another.
This trend, she said, creates a demand for a new destination other than Palawan, Donsol and other old eco-tourism destinations “and we now offer our place as an alternative travel point where tourists would surely be delighted by our hospitality, sumptuous delicacies and marvelous natural sites.”
“Our town is no longer a hidden tourism treasure nowadays as people from different parts of the world have already been coming to discover our unveiled natural secrets, especially that we now have a good road that links us to the tourism town of Donsol,” Boreta told the Philippines News Agency during a weekend visit to the place.
The road she was referring to is the 25.6-kilometer Pioduran-Donsol Road whose concreting works by the Department of Public Works and Highways are nearing completion to link with the 24.9-kilometer Guinobatan-Jovellar Road leading to the national highway.
On the other hand, Albay third district congressional Rep. Fernando Gonzalez has filed a bill recently approved by the House committee on tourism seeking the declaration of the municipality as an ecotourism zone which, when enacted into law, will compel the Department of Tourism to give the place priority attention towards development.
Boreta said the congressional measure is urgently needed by the local government as it cannot afford the cost of development, given its very meager resources. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/EDS