Valencia, Negros Oriental, the Philippines
June 25, 2011
Baffling plumes of smoke were rising from the rocky mountainside by the zigzag highway. It couldn’t have been a swidden; the slope was too steep for crops. The van driver claimed it was sulfur emanating from hairline fissures in the rocks. True enough, a slightly sulfuric scent hung in the air when we stopped for some snapshots.
We had apparently entered a volcanic zone. Though originally from this island, my family and I were (blissfully?) unaware of a volcano in Negros other than the more famous and active Mt. Kanlaon. We hadn’t heard of Mt. Talinis until we were at its shadow.
Ten kilometers inland from Dumaguete, Valencia occupied a strip of land contoured by the crinkling of the earth’s crust. Rocks and soil in this part of town, aptly called Red Valley, had the color of rust, perhaps owing to minerals disemboweled from the earth by volcanic vents.
Streams with the transparency of glass, unmuddled by siltation during dry months, rushed down the mountainside. We walked along one such stream, its water so crystal clear it would’ve been invisible if not for the tiny ripples glistening in the sun.
Waterfalls may have been commonplace in such scraggy terrain, but Pulang Bato Falls occupied a special niche for the terra-cotta wall of rock (pulang bato being red rock in the vernacular) over which water cascaded down and fanned out in a veil of white. A collage of colors – pristine aqua of a forest lagoon, jungle green, and tawny luster of the riverbed – framed it like a painting.
A tad jaded about overdeveloped small town attractions, I found Pulang Bato Falls surprisingly secluded; the area around it had not been paved and choked by man-made structures. Touristy development was kept at bay at an unintrusive distance where, fingers crossed, it would remain.
My mother could not make the trek down the slippery slope strewn with jagged rocks for a closer approach. Left at the viewing platform with the van driver, she threatened to dive down the precipice a la Superman. On the brighter side, she had the pleasure of beholding Pulang Bato Falls in its natural glory.
Several smaller waterfalls, preferred by swimmers for their inclined cascades pouring into circular pools, were rendered accessible by paved and wooden trails. In one swimming hole outfitted with its private picnic table, a group of Korean tourists sequestered themselves, perching on boulders and diving from the falls.
Enchanting cascades aside, the distinct color and undulating terrain of Red Valley revealed that the landscape was still a work in progress by volcanic and tectonic forces.
Less than a year after our short excursion to Red Valley, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked this side of Negros Island, causing widespread destruction and death. Although tremors were common here, it was the first of such scale in the island, which led to the discovery of a fault line slicing through Negros Oriental. As I had belatedly discovered this volcano in my backyard, there was still so much to learn about my home island still seething red under our noses.