Calinawan Cave (Tanay, Rizal)

Calinawan Cave

Calinawan Cave

This natural, multi-level cave, part of several series of caves in the area, was said to have been discovered in 1901 (by a grandfather of one of the cave guides).  It was used as a local hideout by refugees during the Philippine-American War and by the Japanese during World War II.

Calinawan Cave (2)

Media group

We detoured to this cave before proceeding to Daranak Falls. It’s a long and bumpy ride getting there since most of the road isn’t paved yet and the cave isn’t signposted that well.

Calinawan Cave (8)

The author at Level 1

This cave is mostly dry and many of the stalactites and stalagmites, though still impressive, are dead. The cave’s name was derived from the word linaw (clear).  During the 15th-18th century, opposing parties used to convene inside the cave to settle disputes.  It’s a long cave system with different levels and openings.

The cave opening

The cave opening

This cave has 7 levels but most visitors only explore the first two levels. The less visited and seldom explored Levels 3-5 are more challenging to explore as you may need to get your hands dirty.

Calinawan Cave (23)

An eerie column

It also requires squeezing your body to fit inside the narrow and small cave openings.  It can only be explored during summer as, during the rainy season, they’re flooded and muddy. Levels 6-7 are closed. Our tour took about 30 mins.

Calinawan Cave (5)

Our guide Jason told us that one path leads to as far as the town of Montalban (others say that there are those that lead to the neighboring towns of Baras and Pililia).

Calinawan Cave (29)

The local TV fantasy series “Encantadia” was filmed here and, more recently, the Coco Martin TV series “Ang Probinsyano.” The TV series “Imortal” disturbed level 1 with silver and gray paint and glued glitters on the cave walls and other indelible and irreversible damage.

Calinawan Cave (14)

In case you get hungry or thirsty after the cave exploration, small sari-sari stores in the area sell sandwiches, soft drinks, halo-halo, mais con yelo, and biscuits.

Calinawan Cave (31)

As a spelunking experience, this is a relatively easy cave to explore, requiring no technical or special skills, especially for the first 2 levels. Well suited for first timers with no previous spelunking experience.  Levels 3-5, taking about half a day to explore, are just satisfying enough for the veterans.

Calinawan Cave (36)

Calinawan Cave: Calinawan Road, Brgy. Tandang Kutyo, Tanay, Rizal. Admission: PhP20. Tour guide fee: PhP 200 (good for 10 pax). You are provided with safety helmets and LED flashlights (however, these are very weak and you won’t be able to take great photos inside) as the second level of the cave has zero visibility. For that mandatory picture taking, use a camera with low light function. If you wish to explore layers 3-5, the guide may ask you for a consideration fee.

How to Get There: Calinawan Cave can be reached by tricycle (PhP200) from Tanay Market. For those with cars, there’s a parking area in front of the cave entrance.

Tanay Tourism Office: G/F, New Tanay Municipal Hall, M. H. del Pilar St., Tanay, Rizal 1980.  Tel: (02) 7361059 and (02) 6551773 loc 212-213.  Mobile number: (0998) 988-1590. E-mail: tanaytourism11@gmail.com. Website: www.tanay.gov.ph.

Hoyop-Hoyopan Caves (Camalig, Albay)

Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave (photo Rommel Natanauan)

Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave (photo Rommel Natanauan)

After our short stopover at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Tabaco City proper, we proceeded on our way, via a 28.3-km./28-min. drive along the Ligao –Tabaco Rd., to Camalig and a further 8 kms. (a 20-min.) drive south to Hoyop-Hoyopan Caves where we were to do some amateur spelunking. The cave is privately owned and maintained by the Soriano, Nieva and Nuylan families.  Here, we were met by Mr. Garner N. Abril, our local cave guide who was well versed in the cave’s history and its trail.

One of the cave entrances

One of the cave entrances

This natural, 3-level, tunnel-like limestone cave, one of the most popular and easily accessible caves in Albay, covers an approximate area of 31.4 sq. m. of land. Located 16 kms. from the Cagsawa Ruins, the cave’s name is derived from the Bicol word meaning “eternal whispering breeze” or “blow-blow” because of the sound of wind whistling through the main entrance.  Upon entering, we instantly felt a blow of cold air.

Mr. Garner N. Abril, our local cave guide

Mr. Garner N. Abril, our local cave guide

Our tour, done in a group, went through the subterranean path and eventually ended at the other part of the mountain.  We traversed a staircase that provided easy access to the other levels of the cave.   Strategically placed light bulb along pathways allowed us to fully appreciate the rock formations inside the cave.

Cave stalactites

Cave stalactites

In 1972, 2,000-year old bones in burial jars, beadwork and potsherds, dating from 200 B.C. to 900 A.D. and attributed to Calanay complex, were excavated here.  The artifacts are now housed at the National Museum in Manila, while some are displayed at nearby Camalig Church. The late Franciscan Fr. Cantius Kobak, OFM, an archaeologist, classified the cave as old as 3000 B.C to 4000 B.C.

Media team posing beside a cave pool

Media team posing beside a cave pool

During the Japanese occupation in World War II, Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave served as a guerilla and refugee camp of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) and as a hospital and orphanage. According to stories from the townsfolk, it took three years before the enemies discovered the camp.  During the Martial law era, when curfew was strictly imposed, this cave served as a safe haven for party goers and, when a destructive typhoon strikes in the area, as a refuge and shelter.

The Dance Hall

The Dance Hall

The cave has wonderful formations of stalagmites and stalactites and numerous entrances and exits varying from two to 10 m. in diameter. Many of the different stalactite formations resemble a chicken drumstick,a statue of the Blessed Virgin, a hanging snake, a hand formation, a sexy lady with long hair, a hanging man, a statue of Moses and a crocodile tail.  In order to reach the different chambers, these narrow passageways tested our skill in squeezing, scrambling, crawling, and kneeling to get through to a mini-pond (some sections of the cave have puddles of water) and the “dance hall” (a wide open-space with a round concrete platform installed in the middle ).   One of the cave’s openings is a grand window, through which travelers can enjoy a splendid view of Mayon Volcano.

Mano po

Mano po

After we exited the cave, we bought some crystals, mounted on key chains, pendants or necklaces, and some native products (hats, etc.) available for sale at a stall.  I bought a crystal  necklace and key chain as well as one in its raw form (prices, depending on the size of the crystal stone, ranges from PhP50- 500).

Jollibee Chicken Joy Drumstick

Jollibee Chicken Joy drumstick?

Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave: Brgy. Cotmon, Camalig, Albay. Admission: PhP200 for two to three persons, while the parking fee is P25 is also charged. A local tour guide, , can be hired for PhP100 to PhP200 (inclusive of 1 lamp). An additional PhP300 is charged if you want to turn on the lights inside the cave. Public transportation to the cave is also available.

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Poblacion, Camalig, 4502, Albay. Tel.: (052) 484-1965

Municipal Tourism, Culture and Arts Office: Camalig Tourism  and Pasalubong Center, Brgy. 2, Camalig, Albay.  Mobile number: (0927) 621-3315.  E-mail: camalig_tourism@yahoo.com.

Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office (PTCAO): Albay Tourism Bldg., Albay Astrodome Complex, Capt. F. Aquende Drive, 4500 Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 481-0250 and (052) 742-0242. E-mail: albaytourism@yahoo.com and albaytourism@gmail.com.

Hinagdanan Cave (Dauis, Bohol)

Hinagdanan Cave

Hinagdanan Cave

After our late lunch and short rest at our resort, we were back on the road again on our airconditioned coach, making a short 13-km./15-min. drive to the next town of Dauis where we made a stopover at Hinagdanan Cave.  Upon arrival at the parking lot, we first noticed a number of hawker stalls selling T-shirts, trinkets and other souvenirs, at the end of which is the ticket booth where visitors pay a small entrance fee to enter and explore the cave.

The entrance booth

The entrance booth

Accompanied by a local guide, we entered this cave via an unbelievably small opening with steep concrete stairs (with railings installed), through which only one person at a time can descend or ascend.  The cave was quite dark, slippery and wet, not really recommended for elderly or those with disabilities.  Its single, 100 m. long cavernous chamber is studded with stalactites,  stalagmites and other rock formations typically found in limestone caves.

The concrete stairs leading down to the cave

The concrete stairs leading down to the cave

According to our guide, Hinagdanan Cave was accidentally discovered when the owner of the area discovered the hole (now a skylight) while clearing the decaying branches on his land. The owner then threw a stone into the hole. Hearing a splash, he realized that a pool existed underground. He then built a ladder to get into the cave. Later, they named the cave Hinagdanan, meaning “laddered.”

Stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling

Stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling

Our guide was quite funny and witty with his scripted jokes (his delivery though made it funny). He was also proficient and trained enough to use a DSLR camera, knowing all the spots for nice pictures, the correct camera settings when taking pictures inside that dark cave, all the angles and the f/stops to make sure you get them.  We accepted his offer to take our pictures, using Joy’s camera. He took some really good shots inside.

Grotesque rock formations

Grotesque rock formations

If you’ve seen larger caves like I did, then you’ll probably not be impressed with this fairly small cave (maybe a maximum of 30 persons can be inside at the same time) as it wasn’t really grand or magnificent in terms of size.  However, it is exciting and interesting enough for those who are not really into caving but would still want to experience going inside a cave.

The beautiful cave pool

The beautiful cave pool

Inside is an picturesque, underground spring-fed swimming pool, with a depth of 15 ft. in the middle, illuminated by two natural skylights. Since it has an ocean exit, when it’s high tide, water seeps into the pool and raises its water level.  The owner also placed lights inside the cave so visitors don’t end up fumbling around. The cave and the water are cool and there was no strange smell inside the cave as there are no bats, just swallows.

Our media group

Our media group

I have visited this cave some 11 years ago and the cave still looked the same, minus the guides and souvenir shops that have mushroomed in the vicinity. Just like a number of our Philippine geologic treasures, some of its rock formations have, over the years, been vandalized or marked up with graffiti.

The souvenir stalls above ground

The souvenir stalls above ground

Hinagdanan Caves: Brgy. Bingag, Dauis, Bohol. Admission: PhP30.

How to Get There: Hinagdanan Cave is located 10 kms. from Tagbilaran City and 2.5 kms. from Dauis town proper, near Pangalo Island Nature Resort.

Spelunking at Maanghit Cave (Libertad, Antique)

After our banig making demonstration, we again boarded our van as we headed for Brgy. Union, the jump-off point for our hike to Maanghit Cave, located inland, 4 kms. north of Libertad. The  cave entrance is located near the river.

Trekking the well-trodden trail to Maaghit Cave

Trekking the well-trodden trail to Maaghit Cave

The local word maanghit, meaning “having a foul odor,” comes from the foul smell of the huge deposits of guano (bat droppings) which fall on the cave’s floor and are mined by the townspeople.  That said, we were in for a muddy and slippery tour.

Bungan-Bungan Spring

The blue lagoon at Bungan-Bungan Spring

Series of pools at Bungan-Bungan Spring

Series of crystal clear pools at Bungan-Bungan Spring

Upon arrival, we were all assigned local guides equipped with hard hats and flashlights.   No hard hats for us though. It’s a good thing Jandy and I wore hats to protect our heads.  Just 5 mins. into our hike, along a well-trodden trail through a light forest,we arrived at Bungan-Bungan Spring.  It has a blue lagoon and a series of small pools of crystal clear water walled in with stacks of river rocks.

Entering the low cave entrance

Entering the low cave entrance

Into the recesses of the cave

Into the recesses of the cave

We again proceeded on our trek to the cave, passing as well as hopping over a number of forest trees felled by the fury of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) which struck the town.  After about 20 mins., we espied the low and wide cave entrance on the rock face which we accessed via carved steps and rope railings.

Flowstone formations

Flowstone formations

Maanghit Cave is not big nor is it deep (just about 250 m. in depth) and it would just take us a few minutes to explore the cave until its terminus.  How I wish we carried Petromax lamps, not the flashlights we brought, to light our way better as well as illuminate the stalactite and stalagmite formations which, somehow, still continuously drip water.

A stalactite and stalagmite bout to meet (in a million years) to form a column

A stalactite and stalagmite about to meet (in a million years) to form a column

Though largely unseen, the sounds of bats congregating on the ceiling could easily be heard. Near the cave entrance are two small sinkholes where, when lighted, you hear and see running water, evidence of a small underground river within the cave itself.

A sinkhole with flowing water underneath

A sinkhole with flowing water underneath

After our spelunking tour of Maanghit Cave, we made our back to Bungan-Bungan Spring where we washed off the guano and its smell from our bodies. We then continued on our way back to Brgy. Union where we again boarded our van for the trip back to town.

Back to Sumaging Cave (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After our Bomod-ok Falls hike, we all again boarded to our hired jeepney and returned to Sagada town proper to pick up our packed lunch.  This was partaken off while on our way, down Suyo Rd., to Sumaging Cave (also called Big Cave, Marcos or Latipan Cave), another of Sagada’s popular and frequently visited attractions   Sumaging Cave has the largest chamber of Sagada’s 60 known, connected caves. 

Jandy descending down the cave entrance

My companions were slated to go spelunking there and Jandy and I gamely joined in.  We have entered this cave 15 years ago (Jandy was 12 years old then) with a lone Kankanai lady guide but we only went as far as the King’s Curtain.  With his then small frame, Jandy simply could not make it down the “curtain.”  For this spelunking tour, we still wore the same clothes we wore at the Bomod-ok Falls hike but I brought along my waterproof case for my camera.  Jocie, our tour coordinator, chose to stay behind, having been in this cave twice before.

A short briefing from our guide

Upon alighting our jeepney, we all went down a path leading to the cave’s big yawning entrance. Entering this cave doesn’t require special training or equipment but were required to register at the Municipal Hall and bring along 2 local guides with Petromax lamps.  Just like in Bomod-ok Falls, the place was crawling with tourists with the same intention as ours.  After a briefing from our guide, we all began our steep descent along the first 100 m. of the trail, the rocks made slippery by being coated with slimy guano (bat droppings).  

Having a foot spa treatment

Past the “elephant” formation, we were required to leave our shoes, slippers and sandals.  From hereon, it was barefoot trekking the rest of the way as it involved wading through water.  Along the way, we passed many  grotesque limestone formations which were given fanciful names such as “Pig Pen,” “Rice Granary,” “Giant’s Foot,” “Dap-ay,”the “Bear,” “Pregnant Woman,” “Cauliflower,””Giant Fudge,” “Frog Pool,” “Mickey Mouse” and “Alligator.” 

“Giant Fudge”
Riding the “Turtle”
Joy, Jessica and Desiree at the “Alligator” mouth

The “Dancing Hall” and “King’s Curtain” were quite impressive.  To get down the latter, which we failed to do during our previous visit, we had to use the thighs of our guides as stepping stones and their hands and shoulders as supports.  From there, we had to rappel (rope-assisted descent) down a slippery rock wall, to a cold, knee-deep underground river with crystal-clear waters.  On our return trek, we again have to rappel up as well as climb up a rope and rubber ladder.  Our tourist route took all of 2 hrs. 

King’s Curtain
Jandy finally makes it down “King’s Curtain”

Other tourists were doing the more challenging and very difficult Cave Connection, a full exploration of Sumaging and Lumiang Caves which may take 3-4 hrs.  We exited the cave all sweaty, smelly, muddied, very tired but safe.  Jandy had some scratches on his elbow from a slip but was, altogether, unhurt.  I came out without a scratch but with aching muscles from 4 hrs. of morning hiking and 2 hrs. of afternoon spelunking.  Not bad.  Not bad at all. 

 

 

Biak-na-Bato National Park (Bulacan)

Biak-na-Bato National Park

I got an invitation from Jesu-Mariae School (JMS), my son Jandy’s school, to join an outbound education demonstration tour for teachers at Biak-na-Bato National Park in Bulacan sponsored by Lakbay Kalikasan and I promptly accepted.  Five JMS teachers were to accompany me – Ms. Ofelia “Openg” E. Bermas, Ms. Maritess H. Dimaranan, Mr. Robert V. “Rob” Castañeda, Mr. Joel P. Fatlaunag and Mr. Ronnie Boy R. Lansangan.   

The Balaong River

We left Manila fittingly on April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan, and were picked up, by 5 AM, at the EDSA Shrine by a Lakbay Kalikasan-chartered airconditioned tourist bus.  In all, there were 48 of us from different schools.  Our Lakbay Kalikasan hosts were Ms. Rosa-Vina S. Prudente (Team Leader and Lecturer), Mr. Ryan Viado (Team Leader 1), Mr. Roger Quizol (Team Leader 2), Ms. Hanna Garcia, Mr. Bobby Estrebillo and Mr. Joel Garalde.  We arrived at Biak-na-Bato by 9 AM after a 3-hr. trip (including waiting for latecomers, a stopover for breakfast and calls of nature) via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), exiting at Sta. Rita/Baliwag Exit.  Then, from the National Highway, we headed towards Plaridel and Baliwag. At a Y intersection 7 kms. from San Ildefonso, we took the road to the right then,  about 1 km farther, another right at another intersection leading straight to Biak na Bato.

Yungib 2 Cave

This 2,117-hectare National Park, site of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Biak-na-Bato Republic, covers a large part of San Miguel de Mayumo and parts of San Idelfonso and Doña Remedios Trinidad (DRT).  Its attractions are its series of 16 major caves, some unexplored, that lies at the rocky foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The park is bordered by a small mountain range (the 432-m. high Mt. Nabio, the 422-m. high Mt. Susong Dalaga and the 380-m. high Mt. Silid) in the east and the Balaong River in the west.   It also has low, 140-m. high, rolling hill lands.  Also within the park are Brgys. Biak-na-Bato, Kalawakan and Sibul. The park has two areas: the easily accessible Front Country and the undeveloped and hard to reach Back Country.  

Yungib 3 Cave

It seemed that we weren’t literally going for a walk in the park as our bus entered the Back Country. There are 3 trails leading to the Back Country and its rarely-visited caves.  The trail we chose was well-marked. It starts directly across the Balaong River from the park entrance and proceeds over hills towards Mt. Silid.  We are to explore several semi-caves and at least one pit cave.  From a trail branch to the top of Bahay Paniki Cave, we can also explore 2 more caves without spelunking gear.

Yungib 1 Cave

Reality meets history at this trail as we were going to walk under the blazing heat of the sun through an unpaved, poorly shaded and dusty trail as our Katipunero ancestors did over a century ago.  No pain, no gain.  However,we had the luxury of doing some stretching exercises before our hike. Accompanying us was park guide Mr. Patricio Garcenilla.  Our nostalgic 2-hr. trek took us to 4 caves – Yungib 2, Yungib 3, Tangapan Cave and Yungib 1. The first 3 were naturally lighted and all had at least 2 entrances.  In every cave, we were given a historical overview of what each cave served.  Yungib 2, the so-called Pagamutan (“infirmary”), was, in the past, the nearest cave from the battlefield. Here, in this makeshift hospital, our Katipunero ancestors sought medical help for battle wounds.  Yungib 3, on the other hand, served as the Katipuneros’ storage for weapons, food and other war necessities.

Tangapan Cave

Tangapan (“meeting place”) Cave, near the third trail’s start, was where Gen. Aguinaldo first made contact with other revolutionaries.  Its well-lit main chamber is accessed by a front and back entrance.  A small tunnel, leading to the river, requires the use of helmets and lights for exploring.  Our final destination, Yungib 1, was the longest and the darkest of the four.  Called the “Ambush Cave,” here our Katipunero ancestors would lie in ambush as they waited for pursuing Spanish soldiers.  They escaped via a rear entrance.  We also made our “escape” via the same route, watching our heads as we groped in the dark.  In all 4 caves, we all said a prayer dedicated to our brave ancestors prior to departing. 

Gen. Aguinaldo Cave

After this nostalgic travel through time, it was back to our bus for a short drive to the developed Front Country.  The parking area before the entrance was filled with food stalls selling just about anything from snacks, maps and even souvenirs made from Biak-na-Bato limestone.  This time, we hiked along paved trails straddling the river to our designated picnic area.  Along the way, we passed (but didn’t explore) the Gen. Aguinaldo Cave and Cuarto-Cuarto Cave. Gen. Aguinaldo Cave, also called Biak-na-Bato Cave, was Aguinaldo’s headquarters in 1897 and site of the republic. The Pact of Biak-na-Bato was also signed here.

Bahay Paniki Cave

Once at the picnic area, we pigged out, kamayan style, on a feast of pork adobo, inihaw na talong (eggplant), tokwa (tofu), rice, and a salad of diced tomatoes, onions and salted eggs, all washed down with soft drinks or bottled water. Just when we felt like dozing off, a whistle blew signaling the start of more trekking.  Whatever we ate seemed to disappear as we traversed the paved, up-and-down (mostly up) trail to Bahay Paniki (“House of Bats”) Cave.  This easy-to-explore and well-lit cave is located upstream from the river.  Probably the largest cave in the area, it has a rather deep natural indoor swimming pool fed by an underground stream.  Thousands of fruit bats fly in and out from dawn and dusk.  The presence of these bats also meant the presence of guano (bat droppings), a sure source of income for the inhabitants.  However, it was a cause of concern for those of us who wanted to swim.  What the heck!  A number of us (including me), with or without life vests, dove in and enjoyed the cool waters.

Lakbay Kalikasan: G/F Balai Lakbay, 2 Alondras St., Mira-Nila Homes, Tandang Sora Ave., Quezon City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 932-7818 to 19.  Mobile number: (0917) 500-4796. Website: www.lakbaykalikasan.com.

Sto. Lucia Complex (Dolores, Quezon)

Lakbay Kalikasan, Southeast Asia’s first and premier outbound education outfitter, embarked on a series of outbound education demonstration tours for teachers from other schools willing to try out their outbound education programs and they invited me to cover one of these tours that promote appreciation of the living remnants of a pre-Hispanic tradition which is still being practiced today in Mt. Banahaw, that of worshiping nature (rivers, mountains, old trees and fields) in the belief that such natural objects were the habitats of spirits. Jesu-Mariae School, my son Jandy’s school, joined the tour and they were represented by Robert “Rob” V. Castañeda and Eleser “Ely” Borero.  

Hiking up Calvario

Our destination was Mt. Banahaw’s Brgy. Sta. Lucia Complex 1 in Dolores (Quezon), one of Banahaw’s 4 complexes – the others being Kinabuhayan (Resurrection), Durungawan (Window) and Ilalim (Crater), which lies at the foot of the 1,470-m. high Mt. Cristobal.  We left the EDSA Shrine (our assembly place) by 5:30 AM, April 9 (Bataan Day), on board one of two vans. Joining us were 16 other teachers from 6 Metro Manila schools (Augustinian Abbey School, Madre Pia, Miriam College, Olivarez College, St. Benedict and Santa Catalina High School).  Our Lakbay Kalikasan hosts were Mr. Ramon Jocson (Corps Director), Mr. Ronaldo Dalofin (Team Leader/Lecturer 2), Mr. Roger Quizol (Team Leader 2), Mr. Oscar Orbe (Team Leader 3) and Ms. Billy de la Cruz (Facilitator 3).   The trip to Dolores was to take all of 3 hours.

Upon arrival at Sta. Lucia, we visited the compound of the Suprema Iglesia del Ciudad Mystica del Dios, Inc.  (Supreme Church of the Mystic City of God), the largest of Banahaw’s 66 to 88 registered colorums, entering it via a huge 20-foot high stainless steel gate.   The word colorum is derived from the Latin Mass invocation in saecula saeculorum.  These esoteric folk Christian religious communities, varying in size from several thousand members to a few adherents, believed that Mt. Banahaw is the site of the Holy Land and that Christ walked in the area.  They also share an intense nationalism and reverence for National Hero Jose Rizal who is considered a demigod or the Tagalog Jesus Christ.  Many sects also believe in the ascendancy of the female (Ciudad Mystica included) and women, rather than men, perform the priestly functions. These religious sects around Dolores resent the kulto (cult) connotation insinuated by non-believers. 

Piedra Mental

Mt. Banahaw is full of sacred natural shrines locally called puwestos (places), all said to have been discovered by Katipunero Agripino Lontok, and one of our objectives was to undergo and relive the pre-Hispanic tradition of pamumuwesto (spiritual pilgrimage) by hiking, crossing rivers and entering caves, all sacred destinations with deep historical and symbolical meanings, communing with the spirits for paglilinaw (discernment) and paglilinis ng loob (inner cleansing) so that we may take the challenges ahead.  Along the way, lectures and meditations are intermittently given and, in all puwestos, candles are always lit.

My baptism

We descended, down a gorge, to Sta. Lucia Falls, fed by the cool Lagnas (or Kinabuhayan) River, and Piedra Mental, a stone altar where pilgrims pray for mental discernment as they go through the pamumuwesto. At the stream which courses down Banahaw (also called Ilog ng Jordan, alluding to John the Baptist’s baptism of Christ), we “cleansed” or “purified” (water is a universal archetype for cleansing) ourselves and drank the sulfuric waters of the falls 3 times (symbolic of the Triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) prior to our entering the sacred caves (kuweba), the pilgrim’s church.  After our ritual baptism, we we then climbed up the steep gorge. 

One of many caves in Sta. Lucia Complex

At the huge boulder of Kaban ni San Isidro, the gate to the entire complex of Sto. Kalbaryo, we lighted candles and said a short prayer for safety and guidance, while at the book-shaped boulder called Aklat ng Buhay (the Book of Life said to contain our names, date of birth and even date of death) at Prisintahan , we imaginatively “register” our names and those of our loved ones. A real hurdle was the 40-m. long Santong Husgado (Holy Judge), one of the caves at Ina ng Awa revered by the religious sects and given Biblical names.  Said to test the purity of those who enter, it is believed that when you get out of this cave, 7 years of your sins will be forgiven but, if you are not completely malinis (cleansed), you will be trapped inside. 

Santong Husgado

We had to hike, barefoot, from Ina ng Awa to the cave opening (with lit candles strategically placed along the cave), carrying just the clothes on our back.  The ladies,  with their small frames, decided to go in first.  I was the last to enter this “cave” which was more of a rabbit hole.  All the while, I was figuring out how to get my 5’-10,” 188-pound frame inside that hole. Ready and willing for this test of faith (pagsubok), I kept remembering the familiar Biblical proverb “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  Crawling through it entailed a lot of body contorting as well as decision-making. “Should I enter head or feet first?”  “Should I do it on my stomach or on my back?” Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of struggle, I finally made it out to Ina ng Awa. Now I know how a worm feels.   I, together with the others, were all mud-splattered yet, surprisingly, our habit-cladded sister colleague from Madre Pia was still spotlessly clean.  Could it be divine intervention?  I wonder.   

Lakbay Kalikasan: G/F Balai Lakbay, 2 Alondras St., Mira-Nila Homes, Tandang Sora Ave., Quezon City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 932-7818 to 19.  Mobile number: (0917) 500-4796. Website: www.lakbaykalikasan.com.

Calbiga Caves System (Western Samar)

I have heard a lot about this relatively unknown, 900 sq. km. Calbiga Cave System in Western Samar, said to be the largest cave system in Asia, and Jandy and I opted to do some cave exploring there. Jandy and I woke up early, had a hearty breakfast, brought my camera, videocam, flashlight, spare batteries and a pack lunch (prepared by my sister-in-law, Paula) of corned beef sandwiches and bottled water, donned our media jackets (with its many convenient pockets) and proceeded, by jeepney, to the Tacloban City bus terminal by the pier.

The low cave entrance

We made the 59-km. (1 hr.) trip from the city to Calbiga via the 7:30 AM regular bus to Catbalogan, passing the same deplorable road conditions we encountered the day before. Upon our arrival at the town, we immediately registered our names at the municipal hall so that a mayor’s permit could be processed and secured.  A group of 9 had registered even earlier, having been in town since 7 AM.  Before we were issued permits, Municipal Administrator Mr. Mario Cabujat gave us a short talk on the past history of the caves and the dos & dont’s in exploring the cave.  After the briefing, we were all given our respective mayor’s permits.   The other group was kind enough to let us hitch with them in their AUV.

The initial 4-km. road going to Brgy. Panayuran was concrete-paved  up to a kilometer, becoming rough the remaining distance.  Our AUV arrived at the jump-off point by 10 PM and parked our vehicle.  We then negotiated with the residents for some guides and working Petromax lamps, settling on PhP250 per guide and PhP50 per Petromax lamp.  I got one guide and lamp while the others got another lamp and guide.  For additional lighting, some brought along some “Molotov cocktails” (actually kerosene-filled bottles with lighted rags as wicks).

A phallus-like stalagmite

Soon after, our group, now enlarged to 14 (another resident tagged along), started our trek along a well-marked trail passing through tall, 10-ft. high cogon grass.  Midway, the trek became steep and rocky as we entered a light forest.  We made a number of rest stops and the trail became narrower as we neared the cave. After an hour’s hike, we reached the dark, low cave opening, located below a limestone cliff studded with weathered stalactites. Going down from the main entrance (there are actually 5) was easy but going about this cave was a struggle as one had to hop from one rock to another with hardly any flat area.  Deciding on which rock to step on wasn’t easy as a lot were sharp and some were loose.  The cave floor was also littered with detached stalactites from previous illegal mining operations.  Some passageways were also narrow and low and one has to watch his (or her) head negotiating these areas.

Vakul

The first chamber, 5-km. long, 40-m. wide  Langun Cave, was huge.  Our flashlights could barely penetrate the darkness, much less reach the over 50-m. high ceiling.  Surprisingly, bats do not inhabit the caves.  The only flying things about are swallows (balinsasayaw).  We rested by a beautiful calcite formation with a small, clear reservoir of mineral water and refilled our water bottles and ate our packed corned beef sandwiches here, sharing some with the two guides.  Water was occasionally dripping from the ceiling, reminding me that it was seeping water that hollowed out these caves by dissolving the limestone and combining to precipitate  calcite over millions of years.  Also, the evaporation of water in places, leaves minute deposits of calcium carbonate that hang hollowly from the cave’s roof (stalactites) or rise solidly and more stumpily from the floor (stalagmites).  It is said that it takes a hundred years to make 1 cm. of pure white stalactite or stalagmite.

“Lady with the Lamp”

After our half-hour lunch, we resumed our exploration, taking my camera and videocam but leaving behind my backpack with my rubbish inside.  Every now and then we would come across beautiful, stalagmites of glittering snow-white calcium carbonate crystal, without a trace of other minerals, carved and combined to form beautiful shapes.  Unlike Sohoton Caves, none of them have yet been named. I therefore dubbed one with helictites (an occasional twisted, twiglike growth) as “The Lady with the Lamp” (in honor of Florence Nightingale, God bless her soul!), a beautiful, bullet-like,  snow-white stalagmite I dubbed as “The White Phallus” (I could think of no other description), another I dubbed  “The Inverted Shoe” (or bakya) and a huge calcite waterfall imbedded with tiny calcite crystals which glittered when lighted by our lamps, I dubbed as “Vakul,” because it reminded me of the Batanes headwear worn by Ivatan women.

“Casper the Friendly Ghost”

Our entry into 270 m. long, 160 m. wide Gobingob Hall, the second chamber, was no less easy and quite unglamorous.  We had to pass through a floor of soft and moist muck.  Our shoes sunk with every step and efforts to raise them was an ordeal.  Oftentimes they remained stuck in the mud.  One member of our party broke her slipper while others just took them off and walked barefoot.  After what seemed an eternity, we were ushered into a huge cathedral-like chamber with huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Unlike the previous chamber, the floor here was level, albeit muddy, with long-legged crickets, faded to a pale and sickly hue, hopping around. Inside, too, was an underground stream.  Italian spelunkers have found blind cavefish (the first in the country), crabs and other small shellfish here, true troglodytes wholly adapted to sightless existence in caves.  Try as I must, even with my flashlight, I could not espy a blind cave fish in the still waters.  Other members of the party were able to see one.  I was, however, able to observe, up close, a colorless blind crab caught by one of the group.  It was later released, unharmed.

“The Inverted Shoe”

Our visit to this chamber ended our cave tour. We retraced our steps back to where we left our backpack, proceeded on the cave entrance and emerged, dead tired, at 2:30 PM after 3 hrs. of exploration.  The thought of hiking the 3-km. uphill/downhill trail back to the village daunted me and after a few minutes hike, I asked my guide to carry my backpack the rest of the way.  We reached the village by 4 PM. After washing up, paying the guides (I paid my guide an extra PhP50 for carrying my backpack) and signing the required guestbook, we left the village at 4:30 PM for the trip back to Tacloban.  After 2 or 3 stops due to overheating plus a detour to Basey to drop off some passengers, we reached Tacloban by 8 PM.

Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park – Sohoton Caves (Basey, Samar)

The “Guardian Angel”

On April 16, Palm Sunday, Jandy and I made plans to visit the 840-hectare Sohoton Natural Bridge National Parkin Basey, Samar, established as such by American Gov. Frank Murphy on July 19, 1935 by virtue of Proclamation No. 831.  Joining us as guide was Mr. Victor Macasera, a medical representative from Astra Zeneca.  We woke up early and I packed my camera, videocam and other essentials for this day trip. Victor soon arrived and joined us for a hearty breakfast.  We left Tacloban in Victor’s car by 9 AM, bringing with us a picnic basket with packed lunch prepared for us by my sister-in-law Paula.   The 26-km. trip from Tacloban City to Basey took us a mere 20 mins., passing through the 2.16-km. longSan Juanico Bridge, Southeast Asia’s longest bridge, which connects Leyte Island with Samar Island.  There was still a break in the bridge’s railing, where, on February 11, 6 drunk Army men, coming from a fiesta in V&G Subdivision, crashed their vehicle through the railing, into the San Juanico Strait, and all drowned.

San Juanico Bridge

Upon our arrival at Basey’s port, Victor parked his car at the pier and arranged for a small pumpboat, Petromax lamp, permit and guide, all for PhP600.  He chose a small boat for two reasons.  First, we were just a small party and second, its shallow draft will enable us to negotiate the shallow portion of the Basey River.  The guide assigned to us was Mr. Francisco “Sidong” Corales, a 45-year old park ranger and certified spelunker.  The trip up the winding Basey (or Cadacan) River was engrossing.  From the wharf, it is an 11-km. (1.5 hr.) boat ride up along the 50 to sometimes 200 m. wide, golden brown Basey River.

Basey River

The initial portion was along evergreen banks lined with coconut trees, swamp plants and nipa palm (Nypa fruticans).   We had an intimate glimpse of small villages with river dwellers going about heartwarming daily activities like washing clothes and bathing children.  We also passed a colorful assortment of small native outriggers loaded with produce and passengers.  As we went further down the river, it started to narrow dramatically and the scenery began to change to eerie jungle, with massive and very rugged limestone outcrops gradually towering on both sides of the river.  We also passed bizarre, weather-sculpted limestone rock formations.  Huge trees, with interlaced roots and thick branches, hug the river’s edge and large, ancient-looking boulders also jutted out the water.

Bizarre rock formations along river

Occasionally, there were shallow portions along the river and Sidong and the boatmen had to alight to push the boat.  Pretty soon, we reached a junction where the Basey River branches out into the Bugasan and Sohoton Rivers and just before that was the unprepossessing entrance to the Panhulugan I Cave, the largest (546 sq. m.) and most spectacular endogenic cave in the park.   Directly across is towering Panhulugan Cliff, a high and steep rock formation, and cutting into the face of this cliff is  the 3.5-m. high and 50-m. long scar of Panhulugan Cave II. During the Philippine-American War, Filipino insurgents dropped rocks and logs down on U.S. troops coming up the narrow curve of the river.

Panhulugan Cave I entrance

We moored our boat at the entrance of Panhulugan Cave I, climbed a series of steps, crossed a bridge and stopped at a resting area with concrete tables and benches.  Here, Sidong showed us a map of the park and briefed us on what to expect inside the cave.  Upon entering and squeezing our way through narrow and sometimes low openings, we were ushered into a mystical and magical world of beautiful, glittering and exotically shaped and patterned stone unseen except with our Petromax lamps.  There were some walls of sparkling, pure white crystal and chambers replete with stalactites and stalagmites.  Geologically active, water constantly drips from stalactites and there are also large accumulations of materials beneath the chimney holes.

With their wild and vivid imagination, locals have christened many of the beautiful and breathtaking formations after religious icons, animals, plants, parts of the human anatomy and domestic as well as foreign tourist destinations.  Only nature can create and preserve such wonders.  One formation resembled a “three-legged elephant” complete with trunk (above).  Others were appropriately named the “Chair of Alexander the Great,” the “Ice Cream Cone,” the “Guardian Angel,” “Anaconda,” “Statue of Liberty” and beside it, the “Holy Family.” A fenced off portion has a flow area similar to the famed “Banaue Rice Terraces”.  A miniature horizontal ribbon-like formation is aptly named the “Great Wall of China” and beside it the “Chocolate Hills” of Bohol.

The Breast Room

Sidong also tried his hand in music, tapping on some seemingly hollow formations like organ pipes to create musical notes. He also ushered us into the Love Room where the ceiling was covered with the so-called European, American and Filipino versions of the female breast as well as the male sex organ.  One chamber has 15-m. high ceiling which exudes the solemn atmosphere of a high-domed cathedral.  Its eerie silence sent a tingling feeling down my spine.  Before exiting, Sidong showed us what appeared to be ancient animal bone fragments embedded in one of the cave walls.

The Caves of Sagada (Mountain Province)

The next day, Wednesday, we decided to go spelunking at Sumaging Cave.   Holy Week was around the corner and we wanted to go there before the onrush of tourists made it a first come-first served affair. Armed with my trusty video camera and point and shoot camera, we proceeded to the municipal hall where the Sagada Environmental Guides Association (SEGA) offers detailed information and guides with ropes and Petromax lamps.  They also keep the caves safe for and from tourists.  We hired a Kankanai lady guide for PhP300. It is always advisable to go spelunking with an accredited guide.  For one thing, they know the way to, from and around  the caves and secondly, if accidents happen inside a cave they now where to go for help.  Sagada sits on a limestone valley riddled with a total of 20 caves, some short, some  interconnected in huge underground mazes.  Eleven are burial caves, 6 of which are  accessible by foot from the highway. The burial caves have hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs and should be treated with respect.

Rice terraces along the road to the caves

With our guide in tow, we made a 40-min. downhill hike, along Soyu Rd., to the cave. Along the way, we passed many of Sagada’s coffee shops (try Shamrock Café beside the municipal hall) and guesthouses: Country Inn (up the stairs opposite the municipal hall), Masferre’s Inn and Café (displays old Masferre prints), Olahbinan Resthouse & Restaurant and the Greenhouse.  Next is the town’s first hotel, the 16-room Sagada Prime Hotel, opened in March 1997.  Here, we found a large, unsightly and quite out of place satellite dish.  Further out along Soyu Road, on the right, is Demang Village. This old village still holds traditional rituals at dap-ays (used by men of the village for meetings and ceremonies).  On the left, we saw some hanging coffins on a rock face.     Also along the way we passed some beautiful rice terraces.  Further down, to the left, we entered a path leading to Sumaging Cave’s (also called Big Cave, Marcos or Latipan Cave) big yawning entrance. Entering the cave doesn’t require special training or equipment but the first 100 m. entailed a steep and slippery descent.  At a certain point, we were required to take off our shoes.  Our guide pointed out the cave’s many unusual and grotesque limestone formations including “Pig Pen,” “Rice Granary,” “Giant’s Foot,” “Dap-ay,” “Pregnant Woman” and the impressive “Dancing Hall” and “King’s Curtain.”   We didn’t go beyond “King’s Curtain” as Jandy had difficulty going down.  The guide said that beyond was a cold, knee-deep underground stream which accumulates into  a large, 15-ft. diameter and 6-ft. deep vaulted pool 250 ft. down.  Its waters swirl through a funnel at the side of the mountain.   After about 2 hrs., we made our way back and out of the cave.

Jandy inside Sumaguing Cave

The tourist route takes about 3 hrs. but a full exploration of the cave entails at least 6 hrs. and some areas at its deepest levels can only be traversed by serious spelunkers with cave climbing equipment.  The cave also has other exits but most are difficult to reach by land. On our uphill trek back along Soyu Road, past the junction, is  a path on the right with a fence.  Here, steps going down the path leads to Lumiang Cave.  We stopped just at the large cave entrance where  many old and a few newer coffins were stacked. A portion of the cave’s mouth had collapsed and broken bones and coffin fragments litter the floor.  We felt no need to go inside.  The guide told us that this cave is connected to Sumaging Cave but reaching it would entail 6 hrs. of spelunking.   There are other caves that could be explored farther out but we were just too tired to explore them.    We returned to our inn for lunch and a much needed bath.  I opted for a noontime bath thinking the water would be warmer.  Boy was I wrong! Brrrr…..!