Whether this city’s name comes from the Malayo-Polynesian word ag (water) or from the ancient local word karayan (river), locals takes pride in having Cagayan de Oro River or as some would describe it, river of gold.

And indeed, even centuries after early gold mining activities in the area by Spanish explorers, the river continues to provide livelihood to the communities where it flows.

Whitewater rafting, for instance, started here as a hobby for a group of outdoor sports enthusiasts. This pastime for adventure seekers now directly employs hundreds and provides income indirectly to probably a thousand more.

Among the pioneers in this hobby-turned-business enterprise is Rupert M. Domingo of the Cagayan de Oro Whitewater Rafting Adventure that initially organized group trips to popularize this activity.

Consequently, it grew into a thriving business attracting other entrepreneurs before being aggressively promoted by the government’s Tourism department.

Having the distinction of being the pioneer rafting outfitter in the city, the Cagayan de Oro Whitewater Rafting Adventure, now known as Rafting Adventure Philippines (RAP), targeted a bigger market. Its leaders, who eventually became investors, painstakingly surveyed the river and perfected the taming of the wild rapids in the river’s head waters.

RAP started with only a couple of rafts and one guide. Today, it rents out 22 rafts with 30 guides and paddlers. It holds certifications from the International Rafting Federation for safety and river handling techniques as well as from the Philippine National Red Cross on the application of first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Business was good for years until two years ago when rogue Moro rebel units attacked civilian communities in nearby Lanao del Norte, less than two hours away from this city. Tourists arriving in Northern Mindanao dropped significantly and with it, the number of whitewater rafting guests even as new outfitters opened businesses in the city.

“I don’t worry too much because we already have a name in the rafting industry,” Mr. Domingo said. “We are not new to this situation anymore.”

The industry has been recovering since last year, although actual figures in number of guests as well as revenues were unavailable.

Unaffected by the drought that caused problems on the island’s power supply and agriculture in the first six months of the year, the whitewater rafting industry did well with its peak season running from December to May.

Another entrepreneur from a relatively newer whitewater rafting firm said that even as the rapids may not be as strong as the normal runs during the dry spell, the river never really slacks.

“Our well-trained guides know how to maneuver the rafts so that even if there are few rapids, they make sure they’ll hit the big and exciting drops,” said Roldan Kaamiño, owner of Kagay Whitewater Rafting. “Guests would get bored without those exciting plunges,” he said.

Kagay, like the bigger groups into this business, also actively takes part in the protection of the river even as some of its river guides used to be into illegal logging. Part of its briefing before trips is an orientation on the rivers in Lanao provinces and in Bukidnon that all connect to the Cagayan de Oro River.

“We document illegal cutting of trees if we chance on these and send reports to the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] and the local media,” said Mr. Kaamiño.

The age-old adage that “water is life” has gone beyond its traditional meaning in this city notwithstanding previous experiences where flash floods destroyed houses built along the banks of Cagayan de Oro river.

With six rafting outfitters registered with the City Tourism Office, whitewater rafting is a source of income for many families.

article by Louise G. Dumas of Business World

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