Errmm... this might be a post that is one summer late, as it's the last day of May already and classes will actually start tomorrow for some schools in the province. However, St. Louis School - Don Bosco in Dumaguete has thankfully moved the first day of school to June 15, because the road going to the campus is not finished yet and one can just imagine the horrendous traffic snarl that would ensue once school begins.
The rains have also come, signaling the end of summer and the start of the wet season, which is probably not a very good time to go mountain climbing and canoing to distant mountain waterfalls. In fact, when we went to Lake Balanan yesterday, it rained sporadically throughout the day that's why we had to defer our banca ride to the Balanan Waterfalls.
But the rain did not stop us from swimming in the Balanan Hillside Pools, four sets of odd-shaped pools carved on the side of the mountain. If you hold on to the edge of each pool, you will be looking directly down a steep cliff with lush vegetation. I've been to a lot of swimming pools this summer and I swear the Balanan Hillside Pools are the very, very best among all the rest.
Because the water comes from an underground spring, that you can actually drink. The caretakers there said they get drinking water from the source that feeds water to the pools. And when it rained, the air was cold but the water was warm so it was actually warmer to be swimming than not! On the other hand, when it is a bright and sunny day, as it was the last time that we went there, the water is cool and refreshing. Plus there's the canopy of trees and mountains all around. Every time I reached the edge of the pool and looked around I just kept saying, this is the best place ever, this is the best place ever! I could swim here the whole day. Which we did, actually, that's why last night's post was just a picture of the road sign where one makes a turn to go up the mountain.
So, this is how to get to Lake Balanan:
If you're bringing a four-wheeled vehicle or a motorcycle from Dumaguete or from Bayawan or from Bacolod or from wherever, look for the Km 51 marker on the Siaton Hiway, right before or after (depends on where you're coming from) the bridge (whose name I failed to get, sorry).
The ten kilometer drive up the mountain to the lake is not so steep (unlike the drive to Pulangbato!) but there are areas that are narrow and so near the pang-pang (cliff). Some cliffsides have railings but some do not! So if you're a not-so-brave driver like me, there are alternatives.
First alternative would be to get a driver who's not afraid of cliffs. Yesterday, Mike offered, no insisted, that he drive the car, to my great discomfort because I can't sit still when someone else is driving my car. He said, "Go to the back and go to sleep," which was mighty hard to do.
The other alternative, which we actually did the first time we went there, was to take the habal-habal from the town of Siaton. We left Dumaguete very early at six am, parked the car in Siaton and had breakfast (full meal with coffee at thirty whooping pesos per person only!) near the habal-habal terminal. The habal-habal costs eighty pesos per person hatid-sundo, meaning the driver will bring you to the mountain lake then he'll come back to fetch you when you text him that you want to be fetched already. Yes, there's a cellphone signal, albeit a weak one (one to two bars only) in the mountain, and all the habal-habal drivers have cellphones, too.
Travel time from the highway to the lake is about thirty minutes, I can't be too sure. I've wanted to clock it but the beautiful scenery always distracted me and I lost track of the time. Entrance fee to Lake Balanan is 50 pesos for adults and I forgot how much for kids, as we didn't have any kids below 12 years old with us. On Tuesdays, the entrance fee is waived, entrance is free! The huts where you can leave your stuff and eat your meals cost 30 pesos only. You can use the bamboo floating cottage/lake raft to cross and cruise along the lake for free. The banca ride to the waterfalls cost 100 pesos, seating capacity is 8 guests and two guides per banca.
I almost forgot, there are also the Ceres bus, the Van-for-hire and the other smaller public transport systems that ply the Dumaguete-Siaton route. Just ask the driver to drop you off at the habal-habal for Balanan terminal. It's right in front of the Siaton church.
Have a happy trip to Lake Balanan!!
P.S. When you leave, please be sure to clean up your trash, ok? Try not to mess up the beautiful place. Enjoy.