“Mr. Ernie loves Jesus.”


“You’ll see.”

“Where are we going?”

You’ll see.”

I wasn’t getting much out of Chris as to the destination our latest adventure this past Saturday. However, the “Mr. Ernie loves Jesus” comment made immediate sense when our taxi driver pulled up.

Mr. Ernie’s cab is decked out from fender to frontal lobe in plastic figurines. The majority are religious. Jesus wasn’t takin’ the wheel, as the Country song goes, but he was damn sure ownin’ the dashboard.


A sun faded Hello Kitty impersonator swung lazily from the rearview mirror. Ten penguin statues created an Arc de Kitsch above the AC. We got in and drove north.

About two hours later, we pulled to a stop on a long dirt road, full of the usual culprits. Trikes. Piles of trash. A chicken. And a child or 12.


Wawa Dam isn’t immediately visible when you arrive. You’ll need to walk up the road for a few minutes.

The view sort of magically opens up, and in front of you is this incredible, 1,000-foot, manmade waterfall. The bright green Sierra Madre Mountains set the side stage for the Marikina River Gorge, where hundreds upon hundreds of bright white boulders rest at the base of a crashing wall of water.


The Wawa Dam was built in 1909, and it once supplied all of Metro Manila with water. When the Angat Dam was created in 1967, Wawa was abandoned.

Of course, waterfalls continue to operate even when you ditch them. Gravity is an infallible Cupid. Water and sheer cliffs will fall in love, every single time.


“This abandoned dam is delightful!” cried the leftover locals.

And they built tiny picnic tables made from dried palm fronds, string and bamboo poles. They set them in the running river.

“I can’t reach the Lechon!” screamed another.

They added rickety-ass bamboo bridges between the thatched picnic huts.

“I want some Banana Ketchup!” yelled a third.

Entrepreneurial spirit took root and a few began selling minor food items, beer and snacks.

And on and on it went … until Wawa Dam became the off-the-path party place it is today.

WaWa-Dam-Montalban-Marikina-River-swimming-rocks-bamboo-bridges-kids-Philippines-travel-thatched-huts-over-water-lunch-rocks-climbing-hiking-biking-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04250 WaWa-Dam-Montalban-Marikina-River-swimming-rocks-bamboo-bridges-kids-Philippines-travel-thatched-huts-over-water-lunch-rocks-climbing-hiking-biking-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04255 WaWa-Dam-Montalban-Marikina-River-swimming-rocks-bamboo-bridges-kids-Philippines-travel-thatched-huts-over-water-lunch-rocks-climbing-hiking-biking-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04268

To get into the gorge, you must navigate a steep, rock staircase, and then crawl over and under the boulders. There are long, high spans of empty air – connected by only two or three bamboo pools loosely held by wet string.

If you’re at all scared of heights (I am) or just afraid of falling to your super-mutilated death on sharp rocks below (I am), then you might need someone to hold your hand while you cross (I did).

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 6.26.55 PM WaWa-Dam-Montalban-climbing-rocks-bamboo-bridges-kids-Philippines-travel-thatched-huts-over-water-lunch-rocks-climbing-hiking-biking-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04216 WaWa-Dam-Montalban-Marikina-River-bamboo-bridges-Philippines-travel-thatched-huts-over-water-lunch-rocks-climbing-hiking-biking-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04275

I suggest giving yourself 4 hours to visit Wawa Dam and bring a bikini/towels/sunscreen. While the action is down in the gorge, the walk on the upper river is alternatively peaceful and beautiful. You cross a very cool, very old metal bridge with a disturbing amount of rust and holes. (Again, handholding required). It’s all very Indiana Jones.

Ugh ... this bridge is my nightmare

Ugh … this bridge is my nightmare

There’s a natural rock tunnel full of cats who eat crackers (not kidding) and views from the top of the dam are spectacular. The path eventually turns to dirt and becomes no wider than a truck tire.

On the upper river, life is quiet. Families turn spits of pig meat over fires. Kids kick soccer balls. Every so often, you hit a third-world bodega. There are a few grannies gathered around these lean-to package stores, rinsing rice or hanging up laundry. They sell sodas from the 1970s and candy that probably predates that decade.Wawa-Dam-Marikina-river-thatched-huts-lunch-purchase-snacks-biking-swimming-philippines-from-manila-day-trip-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04307

Well ... quiet until Chris gets here.

Well … quiet until Chris gets here.

Wawa-Dam-Marikina-river-Sierra-Madre-biking-swimming-philippines-from-manila-day-trip-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta-04340 wawa-damn-watch-tower-jumping-off-boating-swimming-mairikina-river-buddha-drinks-fanta-travel-philippines-day-trip-from-manila-04355

On our way back out, we passed five guys with mountain bikes. They’d ridden from Manila. A six-hour pedal; grins ear-to-ear. I chatted them up for a moment and thought about how much I’d love to do that some day. I want to return to Wawa by mountain bike, go spelunking in the neighboring cave and then work up the courage to jump off the abandoned Dam building into the pools below.

This pipe dream is no sturdier than a bamboo pole. But it’s a happy daydream, nonetheless.wawa-damn-teenagers-gay-makeup-visiting-philippines-buddha-drinks-fanta-04362


“The Precious”





Jenny Adams is a freelance travel writer, author and photographer. She currently contributes to a number of publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Hemispheres, American Way and Imbibe. She's the former Bar Columnist for the Miami Herald, the current Copy Editor at Robb Vices and is also wrestling a half-written novel, set in New Orleans. Jenny's got an knack for getting lost, an addiction to full-fat cream cheese, and a deep and abiding love for every Water Buffalo she's ever seen. Her bookshelf is mainly Tom Robbins, her favorite word is 'visceral,' and you can find out more about her at www.jennyadamsfreelance.com.

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