PARANAS, Samar – The locals here are reaping the benefits of eco-tourism, five years after they shifted their livelihood from illegal logging to professional tour guiding.
Eugene Igdalino, 36, the leader of 30 boatmen and river guides in Barangay Tenani, said each one of them have been earning P5,000 to P7,000 a month from guiding thrill-seeking tourists.
“We have been receiving an average of 500 visitors a month during summer days and 200 tourists a month on rainy days. Our earning is enough to provide the basic needs of our families,” said Igdalino, who has been engaged in tourism since 2010. Before the area was identified as ecotourism destination five years ago, the main livelihood of the local communities was derived from shifting cultivation or slash and burn and the harvesting of forest produce including rattan, bamboo, medicinal and culinary plants, freshwater fish and wild animals. The commitment of locals to take part in eco-tourism has motivated national government agencies to assist villagers through the provision of gears, building tourism support facilities and capability trainings.
Department of Tourism (DOT) Regional Director Karina Rosa Tiopes said the site has faced many challenges since it was launched half a decade ago. Among these are frequent flooding, strong typhoons, old boats and damaged safety gears. “We need to revitalize the Ulot River Torpedo boat ride to cope with the growing number of tourists. We have been pushing to promote tourism here because we believe this will lead to economic growth,” Tiopes said.
Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan vowed to provide more assistance to the local tourism activity such as multicab for catering services, road concreting to the jump-off point, platforms for selling local food products, trail for senior citizens, and a hanging bridge. “The more that this is successful, the more that we will help you,” the governor told the group of tour guides. The Ulot River Torpedo (Tenani Boat operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization) Extreme Boat Riding is a 10.5 kilometers one-hour ride downstream from the jump-off point. The upstream trip requires an hour and 15 minutes, for a total of 21 kilometers.
Boats used are outriggers to allow the boat to pass through rocky areas.
The activity is just part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop, which houses recreation sites such as Taft Philippine Eagle Sanctuary, Pangpang Falls, Can-maanghit Falls, Lusungan Falls, Yabon Falls, Liaw Cave, Silay Cave, Catingcoy Cave, Pugtak Spring, Duloy Spring, Sulfan Spring, and Nasarang Spring. Developing the site for eco- tourism has kicked off when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources pushed for convergence of various efforts to combat illegal logging and provide alternative livelihood. The DOT initially promoted tubing along the river, but outdoor tourism experts suggested that boat ride itself is a unique activity. The river is within the Ulot Watershed Model Forest located in the south central portion of Samar Island and is rich in forest (timber and non-timber) as well as other resources.
Its annual runoff of 815 million cubic meters is more than enough to provide for the area’s domestic water requirement of about 7.5 million cubic meters, according to the International Model Forest Network (IMFN). The total length of its streams is 520 kilometers. (SARWELL Q. MENIANO, PNA)