Kindness of Strangers: Tikdong of Kawasan Falls

After spending the night in a tent at Lambug beach in Badian, I went to Kawasan Falls.

It was a random decision since I wanted to dive into the cold water after a sunny and salty day at the beach. I also thought of the possibility of spending the night, also in a tent, in Kawasan Falls, since I’ve never heard of anyone who actually did that. At least, I’d have the bragging rights to it.

Normally, there were rooms available for rent for guests at about PHP 1000 a night. I challenged the odds to get myself a deal at one of the caretakers.

Arriving at the most popular level, the one mostly seen on postcards and tourism billboards, I noticed the influx of people and it was just too crowded for me. I decided to go up one more level to see the situation up there.

I was greeted with the ‘commissioners’ upon arrival, those people who earn a living through commissions in rooms, tables or even the rafts for rent.

They thought I was Korean so they all talked to me in poor common folk English. I played along for a bit pretending I was a Korean tourist. I was really having fun since they really thought I was Korean, they were trying real hard to convince me to rent something, anything just to rip me off.

Until I quit the act and conversed with them in the vernacular which made them burst out in laughter. I instantly made friends.

Thinking I had the social advantage, I tried asking if it would be alright to spend the night in a tent, asking for an insider tip. The one handling the business of the cooperative initially said no since they do not allow tents in the area. She offered me a room instead for PHP 1500 which I politely declined.

I don’t know what came into my mind but I sensed that it was code for ‘try a little bit harder’. With the help of the president of the cooperative and the commissioners, I struck out a deal at PHP 300 a night for the tent space.

I went out to swim. Then I recorded a music video through my phone camera then dried my clothes.

I noticed that the crowd has dissipated leaving only the members of the cooperative. They invited me for a drink which I gladly accepted. Clearly, this was a background check or a light interrogation in their part. Maybe they have suspicions that I was an undercover agent for PDEA or the military, they were just making sure if my identity checked out. I was now drinking with the core members of Kawasan Level 2.

The oldest one in the group borrowed my ukulele and sang an old Cebuano song. I was busy talking with the rest of the group and made friends. It was a small world indeed since I knew their chief engineer at CEBECO.

Another group of seminarians were friends of my then Team Lead at Accenture. We were gathered together by fate.

One by one, my drinking buddies bid goodbye and retreated to their homes.

Someone by the name of Tikdong, a gray-haired man in his 50s suddenly showed up and introduced himself.

I actually noticed him join our group a few minutes back but he was just observing everything. We continued drinking one liter of San Miguel. I brought out my supply of Sisig canned goods for our pulutan.

Night was fast approaching and he asked me where I plan to eat dinner and sleep for the night. I told him I had already bought binalot food from the carenderia at the chapel entrance and that I’ll be sleeping in a tent. I don’t know what got into his head but he invited me to have dinner at his house and to continue our drinking session.

I barely knew this guy but my gut tells me that he was a good person and that he was part of the cooperative’s social circle. It was getting creepy anyway and I’ll be left with caretakers who I haven’t got a chance to talk to yet. They were busy betting cards.

After leaving my tent inside the caretakers room and taking all my valuables with me, I was ready to go to the mountain barangay. Tikdong told me his house was only 5 minutes away. What’s the worst thing that can happen right?

It was the longest five minutes of my life!

With no flashlights and trekking gear, we climbed a muddy 60-degree angle path in the dark holding onto roots and sunk boulders. One careless mistake and I’m surely dead!

I was panting and gasping heavily for breath while Tikdong, with a smirk on his face, looked as if he was just strolling at the park. It was too easy for him.

At last, we have arrived at his humble home, it was really dark along the way since there was no lamp posts nor electricity in his house. All I did was follow Tikdong’s every step along the way.

My stomach was now growling and food was already prepared on the table by his daughter. Calling Jennifer out to meet me, I was intimidated and quite awe-struck by her Christine Hermosa combined with Rosanna Roces mestiza beauty that everything suddenly moved in slow motion. She was definitely a jewel in the jungle.

It’s one of those rare moments when you feel that instant attraction for someone you just met.

All dreams of falling in love with her were broken when I saw a little boy with blue eyes go outside from a room. For a second there, I thought Tikdong wanted me to meet his daughter and strike out an instant marriage proposal which I would blindly accept.

Yes, she’s that beautiful. Turns out, she was married to a British National.

All hope was lost.

After dinner, we went to the house of one of our drinking buddies who worked at CEBECO, had a few beers and continued getting to know each other. The CEBECO guy even wanted me to meet up with the youth group in Badian that I could inspire them and teach them something, which really flattered me.

I also found out that Tikdong was an ex-CAFGU and was assigned in Cotabato fighting against armed rebels.

He could literally kill me with his bare hands if he wanted to.

He was also a rescue and recovery swimmer and I bet he knew the depths of the Matutinao River like the back of his hand.

He once saved the daughter of a military general from drowning and that throughout his career of saving lives, he had a perfect zero death record. The general actually asked him what he wanted in exchange for saving the life of his daughter. He would give him any amount that would secure him for life.

Tikdong actually declined the offer saying that it was his job, which I really admired of him. The general gave him a tip of PHP 5000 for his help nonetheless.

The night was getting pitch black and we were a getting a little bit tipsy. I was getting a bit worried of my safety and the situation I was in. Actually, I was really scared to death.

What was I thinking coming all the way up here with a guy I barely knew who was an ex-soldier?

Tikdong insisted that it was ‘safer’ for me to spend the night at his place rather than risk both our lives going down the slippery path. I was left with no other option.

Oh dear Lord, it’s all up to you if you’ll let me live another day.

Please don’t let Tikdong be an NPA or just a random hired killer. I was having crazy thoughts. I was in a state of paranoia.

You guessed it right, I had trouble sleeping for three valid reasons:

First, I was at a stranger’s house in an unknown mountain barangay with no phone signal and zero backup plan for emergencies. No one in my family knows I am here.

Second, I was not used to sleeping on a kawayan lantay, under a very thin sheet of blanket, with an ambient room temperature of 16 degrees Celsius without electricity so everything around me was pitch black and the house was definitely unsecured since the windows are still under construction.

Third reason, I just can’t stop thinking about Jennifer who I never really had a chance to get to know a little bit more. I had this crazy thought that she was into me and that she will come at me at dawn when everyone else is sleeping and then Tikdong will find out about it and that he will definitely kill me and that I will be missing in action without anyone knowing what happened to me.

The dawn was breaking and the sun’s rays were shining through. My stomach was really upset so I went out and looked for the crude toilet in darkness.

Doing the deed, I thanked God I survived another day. I just can’t help but laugh at myself and for the crazy decision I made that night.

After eating breakfast and bidding farewell to Jennifer, Tikdong and I had a quick tour of Kawasan Dam.

I found out that he was the one tasked by CEBECO for its maintenance. Everyday at 6AM, he dives into the freezing water and sees to it that the water system is clean and functional. He does this for a small stipend every month.

Guess we should be thankful we weren’t doing his job.

Yet again, my stomach was upset. I asked Tikdong if there was a toilet nearby. He told me there was none. He suggested to me to do either two things, to find a grassy place and do the deed there and use a leaf to wipe off my ass or to use the downstream water flow. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

When I finished the deed, there were two dudes walking behind me. I just zipped my shorts and moved along like nothing happened.

After the routine check-up, we then reunited with our drinking buddies back at level 2. We then had the obligatory group photo and I bid farewell to all of them.

Spending not a single peso in accommodation, food and drinks in Kawasan Falls, I was on my way to my next adventure. What a crazy experience indeed.

The man in the orange shirt is Tikdong while the guy on my right is the president of the cooperative handling the overall operations

P.S. Tikdong is the man in the orange shirt above.


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