Tipuan- a waterfall at the cusp of change

April 4, 2017

March 21, 2016- I have heard of this waterfall at least two years back, and back then its description conjured images of remoteness and a pristine state of affairs. The opportunity finally arrived when it became a hastily agreed destination by a small group of outdoorsmen seeking a break from their usual routines. And when we arrived, we were promptly informed by the barangay captain that the waterfall we are about to visit is being 'developed' where hiring local guides will be obligatory. Acquiring one for this trip wasn't an issue because a friend of mine who lives in the area has agreed, beforehand, that he will function as our small group's guide, as he had been to the waterfall several times prior. However, it is clear that the destination has also fallen prey to a practice that has become widespread within the Philippines: local government units, even individuals, taking advantage of the local attraction to rake in easy money. But let's forget that, at least for the moment, shall we?


Here is a Phalaenopsis schilleriana, a pretty orchid species that is endemic to the Philippines. The flowers are fragrant.

 Zeb with a Sailfin Dragon (Hydrosaurus pustulatus), an impressive lizard that is restricted only to the Philippines. Despite being called 'iguana' in Manila, these are members of the Agamidae family instead of the Iguanidae; locals call these animals 'layagan', an obvious allusion to the well-developed crest on the tail which resembles a sail (layag). These are largely arboreal lizards that favor riverine forests. When disturbed, they leap into the water and either swim, aided by the 'sail' on the tail, or walk on the water surface, thanks to closely set scales on their toes. An unrelated lizard from the Neotropics, the basilisk (Basiliscus ssp.), also feature the same behavior and also have crests on their backs.

 Tipuan is actually the name of a barangay, but because the waterfall has no definite name and its jump-off is located in this barangay, it was called 'Tipuan Waterfall' for the sake of formality and ease of reference. Going to the waterfall entailed a river crossing, with the current providing some bit of excitement.

 A ginger from the genus Plagiostachys.

 I looked up and saw a pair of eyes staring back at me.

 A Ficus growing on the resting spot at about halfway point of the trek.

 Scenic Tipuan Waterfall. Personally, I think this is one of those very few waterfalls wherein the basin is actually more charming than the waterfall itself.



 According to butterfly enthusiast Lydia Robledo, this could be Danaus chryssipus. The leaf belongs to Homonoia riparia, a rheophytic plant that is quite common in the Philippines. More on rheophytes later.

 For the life of me I could not remember the name of this millipede. But it's a common and conspicuous species that is not as timid as many other species. 


 Goodyera procera. Although it does not look like one, this is actually an orchid. And the interesting bit is that they are frequently found on river banks subject to periodic flooding, with hydrodynamically shaped leaves reducing drag and therefore the likelihood of being carried away by strong currents. And that is what a rheophyte is- a plant with very narrow leaves that grow on river banks, even sometimes submersed in water. Despite the apparent absence of publications describing it as one, G. procera may actually be one of the very few orchids that have favored a rheophytic lifestyle.

 A pretty spider camouflaged on the grass blades.

 A curculionid beetle.

 Those pink-purple flowers belong to Spathoglottis plicata. The presence of these orchids in a wide range of habitats is practically, well, obligatory.

 Another rheophyte, Sarcolobus luzonensis. The leaves turn a bright orange as they age, and prior to detaching from the stems.

 We spotted a large soft-shelled turtle coming up for air from that basin, and while it may only be the introduced Chinese soft-shelled (Pelodiscus sinensis), its large size prompted us to suspect it may even be the giant soft-shelled (Pelochelys), a seldom seen and magnificent beast.


 A predatory goby from the genus Glossogobius. These cheeky fishes lay in ambush on the shallows; this individual was found just inches away from my tent.

 A Flying Frog (Polypedates leucomystax), locally called 'palakang saging' or 'banana frogs' due to them being frequently found on banana groves, at least on cultivated areas.

 This could be from the genus Mithrenes.

 Another Polypedates leucomystax.

 I am not so familiar with snails to be able to give an educated guess about its identity, unfortunately.

 And I am equally terrible with mantid identification, too.

 A funny-looking moth. My apologies for the very grainy photo.

 A locust displaying some carnivorous dietary preference.

 An armored stick insect from the genus Tisamenus, probably T. serratorius.

 A jumping spider. These are primarily diurnal animals and I am quite surprised to see this individual with a newly caught meal, in the dead of the night.


A curculionid beetle parasitized by the bizarre Cordyceps fungus. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

 Not sure, but this could be a Wolf Spider (family Lycosidae).

 A rather quaint stick insect with dull violet thoracic sides.

 Love is in the air. Or on leaves, in this instance.

 A stick insect from the genus Mithrenes.

 A Dwarf Wood Scorpion (Liocheles australasiae). It may look defensive, but these scorpions are docile and innocuous.

 Another Liocheles australasiae.

 Morning mist.


 That's my tent, sitting just mere inches from the water level. I had to use tree fern fronds to cushion the tent floor as the substrate was heavily irregular. No tree fern was left without any fronds, if you're curious. By the way, those small purple flowers on the right side of the photo belongs to the genus Stachytarpeta, a weed introduced from the American tropics. But those would be nothing compared to exotics being introduced by the local barangay officials (think gumamela- Hibiscus, santan- Ixora, and the like), upsetting the natural balance of this place.


 Vantage point from the waterfall proper, showing all four of our tents.

 A terribly blurry photo of the spectacular Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys).

 A dark and foreboding part of the waterfall.

 This is a species of Poikilospermum. See those banana-like organs at the stems? Those are called 'stipules'. Many plants have stipules, but those on this plant is quite interesting.

 That's because those stipules harbor a colony of ants.

 A truly massive Alocasia macrorrhiza growing on boggy soils.

 Another curculionid beetle.

 A jewel orchid, probably from the genus Goodyera.

 A species of Hoya. To this day I still cannot pin it down to species level.

 Spathiphyllum commutatum, a relative of aroid plants such as anthuriums. Spathiphyllum are common indoor plants that are capable of filtering impurities from the air.

 Myrmecodia tuberosa, an ant plant. These curious anomalies of the plant kingdom have swollen stems that harbor ants inside that, in return for the shelter afforded by the plants, deposit wastes that act as fertilizers and even defend its host from intruders, including curious humans.

 Leea congesta. These large shrubs to small trees belong in the same family as grapes (family Vitaceae). Many thanks to Pieter Pelser (New Zealand) for assisting me on the identification of this plant.

 A well-marked jumping spider.


 Melastoma malabathricum, a common shrub with brightly-colored blooms. These plants are often seen on disturbed sites. And remember those curculionid beetles? Those are the main enemies of these plants' flowers.

 A clump of Hoya clambering on a tree.

 Zeb taking photos of the only strenuous part of the hike: a very steep trail with crumbly soils.


Note that these photos were taken last year. Just weeks ago I received information that the barangay officials have already set up a registration center at the entrance to the jump-off, and that rigged rafts were installed on the basin. When we went there I noticed rows of croton planted along the trail and trash left behind by previous visitors. While I would prefer this place to remain little known, the reality is that it is now seen as a generator of funds by the local barangay and the influx of visitors will bring changes to this once unspoiled waterfall; any human-induced change to places like these is always on the negative side. Nature is already perfect as it is.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter