A good morning to go caving in The Philippines
The morning mist lifted off the surrounding mountains to reveal the first of our beautiful Rice Terraces. The air was cooler than it should have been in the tropical Philippines. The sky was lined with thick cloud. In most places that would have been a bad omen. Or a least a shady day. For me it brought light relief as we walked down a gravel strewn road for a day of caving in Sagada.
“Did you bring swimming gear?” Randy the guide asked.
Lu turned to me with a frown. “You didn’t tell me we’d be in water?”
“I didn’t know myself?!” Still clutching my memory card filled with Tibet riot photos I had brought my passport, camera and just about everything else water could kill off with me. Lu on the other hand was having her monthly friend visit her and was none to happy about going in the water.
“I’ll carry you.” Randy replied. I looked at the ex army guide I’d chosen and wondered if he was serious. He was a nice chap who’d just broken off from the official government tour guides association to set up his own agency. Super cheap, and to be honest the guy knew a lot about where we were going.
Lu’s face burst into a big smile at his chivalrous gesture. I then wondered if he’d carry my camera, wallet, boots and passport too?!
No. I’m glad I was at least sharing the costs.
Sagada offers the caves in The Philippines
We walked down a path of steep stone steps leading to the yawning entrance of a large cave. The air became cooler still and took on the scent of moist wood. It was the setting of yet more Sagada coffins. Unlike the previous hanging coffins. These were stacked along the walls in heaps and droves. Most were fairly aged and covered in patches of green moss. Others were in state of decrepit decay. In the center the oldest of the wooden structures was so far gone that wood and white sticks of bone were all that was left.
We went back up to the gravel strewn road and walked further to the main cave entrance. Just in time for the rain to arrive. Either way it looked like I was getting wet today. For all my travels I felt under prepared for the first time as Randy changed into his swimming gear, head torch and rock climbing shores. I packed every thing I had into one dry bag and tied my boots around my neck. Meanwhile Randy filled his day pack with Lu’s things. And again she fell for the chivalry.
She turned and unleashed a knowing mischievous grin at me. I asked how her stomach was. She frowned.
Lantern in hand Randy led the way into the wide cave opening.Darkness surrounded us as the spot lights from our head torches bounced off the glistening walls. To be fair to Randy he was good. He talked up about the caves history, the people who lived there 1000’s of years ago. The Japanese platoon that hid out there in WW2 and how his tour was better than the government one.
We descended deeper still into the caves. Bats flew out above us as Randy clapped his hands on que. Then, the water started to appear. At first up to our ankles; then up to our knees. It was cold, and black. Yet when our torches shone down, it was as clear as spring water should be.
We reached a large tunnel with an overflow of water splashing down from above. Using ropes to guide ourselves further down Lu shrieked out.
Going deeper into the water while caving in The Philippines
Dry bag and boots around my neck I must have looked a sight at I grabbed hold of the ropes and made
my decent. I looked up as Icy water splashed over my body. Up ahead there were more shrills of delight as Lu looked on at a large underground expanse of water. I crossed a narrow ravine and wondered how we were going to cross.
Randy blazed a head, turning back to guide Lu along slowly. I readjusted my boots around my neck to near choking point and pattered out onto the ravine. Grabbing main rope, I pushed off along the wall and managed to use my spine as a bumper as my weight cause the rope to bounce down and around. No sign of Randy to the rescue for me.
Rock formations in the Sagada Caves
Ravine crossed I Looked back from where we came I saw how the rough rock and been sculpted by natures water in smooth statues and glistening forms of art. My breath formed steam in the air as Randy pointed out some fabled works.
“This is the big lady.”
I saw why. There was also a Long Man and another few lady terms around.
“We go back?” asked Lu looking at the water ahead.
“No, forward” replied Randy. “And the under.”
I should have been excited. But all I could think about was the slow destruction of my electronics, and more importantly irreplaceable photos. I waded in and soon hoped he didn’t mean we literally had to go under water swimming. Lu squealed as Randy put her up on his shoulders like a little child and waded in .
The water came up to my waist, and then leveled off at that. Over a glistening underground dam and we were now faced with a very low claustrophobic opening that I knew would be a tight squeeze. Randy went first. He angled his shoulders, knelt down and then squirmed into the tight-fitting space. Falling to his belly he then spun around effortlessly to reposition his body and slipped on through.
Squeezing through a tiny cave
Smaller than any of us. Lu, of course, got stuck in the middle. I think she was trying not to get dirty by avoiding to touch the cave walls. It didn’t work. A slip, a splash, a groan, and then a manual spin from Randy and I, and she made it thorough.
Now came the embarrassing part. I thought for sure I would get stuck. I handed my gear to Randy and
squeezed into the opening. From memory I followed his actions. It worked. Once in position, I fell to my stomach and spun on the shiny rock and slipped through to the other side.
As we passed through many more tunnels and inner caves. I began to wonder if caving like this was possible in the rest of the world. In the west I imagined enforced helmets, rope ties, probably a license or a permit. And what ever else was deemed necessary. Here it was in the raw, and enjoyable.
After a rope climb up an underground rock face and some more human body part rock sculptures light appeared. We had in fact done a giant loop and were back at the start. Up ahead a group of local tourists were hovering around in preparation for their own cavernous assault.
Emerging from the caves of Sagada
It was still raining when we emerged, not that we weren’t already soaking. We thanked Randy for making the day so enjoyable and
made our way back to the hotel. My dry bag had held up well and everything bar my own person was dry. It was one of those days that was so good you wanted to stay another day just to repeat it all again. Over an amazing meal cooked
by a French expat we began planning for our next assault. The fabled Rice Terraces.
For the first time in while I felt excited about visiting a place. Tours, touts and guides aside, I vowed not to take any in Banaue.
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