Cagayan de Oro: Rapid River Thriller

The Fifth Rapid of Cagayan de Oro River. Written by Sophia Balod for

Last 2014, the body of a missing tourist was recovered in Cagayan de Oro River, Mindanao. This was the first accident since CDO began its commercial white water rafting operations in 1995. I was shocked to hear the news. After all, we did have a great time rafting in the river in 2013. It was a “memorable” experience for me as well: I almost drowned and died in the same river too.

It was the first of June. My batchmates from the UP CMC Broadcasting Association and I just had our first out-of-town summer getaway. Although we wouldn’t really call it a “summer” vacation because the rainy season just started. Thankfully, on June 1, the sun peeked and we knew that we were in for great treat.

Raft on a Jeepney
Raft on a Jeepney

We arrived at the river bank a few hours before noon. It was scorching hot and I was grateful that I wore long sleeves and leggings. We stepped onto the inflatable boat and I remember thinking: “Can this boat hold all six of us?”

I took one quick look at my thighs and realized I gained weight over the summer. “I mean, really?”

Apparently it can because in the next few minutes we were off to experience the river’s 21 raging rapids. The water was muddy and murky. I asked the boatman:

“Kuya, bakit brown ang tubig?” 

“Umulan kasi kagabi.”

“Dapat tawag dito Brown Water Rafting, eh.”

The river stretched for 18 kilometers and it took us around three hours to complete the journey. The journey was a staccato of intermittent adrenaline rush. I say this mainly because most of the time we were just sitting comfortably in our inflatable boats, mindlessly paddling into the still waters, lost in the wonders of nature.

But while the stillness of the river can be very alluring, we had to be alert once the rapids came. As we approached the turbulent waters, we paddled strongly against the furious currents—almost as if we were battling against King Triton himself.

It was exhausting. The paddling works out the arms, abs, and core, burning at least 300 calories per hour. Fortunately, the struggle on every rapid didn’t last too long; it would normally take us a minute or so before the stillness of the river greeted us again.

White Water Rafting in CDO
White Water Rafting in CDO

On our fifth rapid, however, I was not as lucky.

I fell from the inflatable boat and the murky waters swallowed me whole. I did not panic because I knew what to do: don’t struggle, float with the current. I laid my back against the water as if floating.

But instead of getting near my salvation, I was drifting away, like some sort of force was pulling me back. That force was a small whirlpool.

That was when I panicked. I could hardly breathe as the vortex slowly sucked me into the center.  I drank lots of muddy water that day.


The guide threw in a rope at me. I grabbed it, determined to cling to my life. As they were me pulling me into the boat, I looked at water around me and thought to myself:

“This is the same river that killed all those people in 2011. This is the same river where countless bodies were found floating around.”

I had a quick flashback of our coverage of Typhoon Sendong (International Name: Washi) in 2011. Flood. Devastated homes. Mud. Dead bodies. More dead bodies. And the stench. God, that horrible, horrible stench of decay.

Flashback to 2011. Dead pig by the Cagayan de Oro river during Typhoon Sendong
Flashback to 2011. Dead pig by the Cagayan de Oro river during Typhoon Sendong
Cagayan de Oro River after typhoon Sendong
Cagayan de Oro River after typhoon Sendong

It was a terrible experience to be helpless in a vortex of death.  But the flashbacks were just as terrible too. No sort of life vest or rope could have prepared me for that.

Everything went smooth after the fifth rapid. We had a grand time travelling through the rocky and unstable river. There were times when we fell from the inflatable boat but at least there was no whirlpool close by. Some of the “falls” were also orchestrated by our tour guides. They wanted us to experience the “thrill of the fall” without actually harming ourselves.They made sure that we fell on the safe and still parts of the river.

Aside from the rafting, we also experienced this awesome “Patianod” moment where we were arranged in a centipede-like position and floated along with the rapids. Needless to say, we had fun.

Risks are always part of the adventure. But it doesn’t mean that safety should be compromised. Here are some rafting tips to ensure safety for adrenaline junkies. I got some of the information here.

Bring extra clothes, light food, and water. Make sure to put them in waterproof bags. Be sure to have a securely-fastened life vest. Wear proper wet gear (rash guard/rubber shoes/trekking shoes). No slippers and jeans! Do not bring any loose accessories or any gadget. Apply sunblock for skin protection.

When the boat overturns and you are trapped inside, do not panic. Remember that there is an air gap in the boat. Use the boat as cover for rocks or any material that may hit you.

When the boat throws you out, keep your body upwards as if lying on the water. Keep your body according to the river flow. Point your feet downstream; this will help you locate if any rock there is there in front. If you find one, hold it with your feet.

In case of being thrown too far, catch the rope generally thrown by the guide. You will be pulled back to the boat. Row properly and follow commands set by the guide. The commands include ‘Go’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward.’

Pay proper attention to your paddle. While sitting on the right, grab with your left hand, the paddle’s end of ‘T’ shape and clutch the middle of your paddle stick with your right hand.

With my UP Broad Ass friendsWith my UP Broad Ass friends
With my UP Broad Ass friends

[Entry 13, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Hon Sophia Balod

Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She is currently a News Producer of special reports and features for Balitanghali, Saksi, and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She is also a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for Basic and Advanced Investigative Reporting. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.

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