MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
Despite all our initial apprehensions, the overnight 12-hour bus ride to Bontoc was smooth and trouble-free. And the weather? Quite nice and balmy, rather windy with a touch of cloud. One would be hard-pressed to believe it was raining real hard just a day or two ago.
In fact, the only hitch was that we had to change a flat tire somewhere in San Miguel, Bulacan.
The bus driver did tell us that there were some portions of the highway which were partially closed, due to landslides; and the clearance was just enough for our bus to pass through.
After alighting at the Cable Tours station in Bontoc, we walked over to where the jeepney bound for Sagada was waiting. Tired and weary from the overnight bus trip, we were impatient to get moving.
Good thing that while waiting for the jeep to fill up with passengers, we were entertained by this Manila girl who kept on yakking on her cellphone. Among other things, she had been in Baguio / Sagada for 2 weeks; she had a mountain of bills to pay (Citibank credit card, Globe cellphone bill, company loan, etc.); and she was looking for a new job. Tsk, tsk. . . .
Finally, we arrived in Sagada just around lunch time. First order of business was to drop by the Municipal Hall and register. This is required of every tourist, i'm not quite sure why, though. Maybe it's so that they can organize a search party for you, in case you're knuckle-headed enough to explore caves on your own, etc.
Speaking of which, C. and i decided to do some spelunking this afternoon. We dropped by the Tourist Information Center to hire a guide. There were actually two caves to choose from: Sumaging ("Big") Cave, which takes around 2 hours; and Lumiang Cave, which has these burial coffins strewn around near its entrance.
Or you could do both. The guides were offering this "Cave Connection" tour, wherein you enter Lumiang Cave and exit through Sumaging. This, they said, would take around 3 hours.
Pretty intriguing, huh? I was ready to say "go sago", but C. pointed out that 3 hours was way too much time to be spending inside tight, dank, claustrophobic caves. So, we settled for Sumaging Cave only.
Our guide this afternoon was this wiry, muscular local named George, who proved to be quite reticent. I don't know about you, but i like my tour guides to be chatty, with lots of war stories. The only story George narrated was about this female guide, who brought along a troop of 3 tourists into Sumaging Cave, at the height of a typhoon around 5 or 6 years ago. Surprise, surprise, they all died, except for one of the female tourists, who had to spend the entire night inside the cave, shivering from the cold, with no food and no light, until she was rescued the next day.
Not exactly a cheerful ending, i must say. But i bit my tongue, as George was bringing along the kerosene lamp, which would serve as our light source inside the cave. So no sense antagonizing him with some smart-alecky comments, diba?
To the batcave!
The above picture shows the steps leading down into the entrance of Sumaging Cave proper. It looks deceivingly easy; but from beyond this point onwards, the steps had muddy puddles from the recent heavy rains. In fact, George mentioned that the water levels inside the cave might be higher than normal.
Uh oh, how high exactly? I wondered aloud. George just shrugged, and gave a diffident half-smile.
The mouth of the cave entrance looked forbidding. George mentioned that we would be going down up to 120 meters below ground level. Sounds awesome, no?
We scrambled amongst the rocks, George going in front with his kerosene lamp, C. behind him, and myself bringing up the rear and carrying our backpack. Man, these rocks are really slippery! In fact, i slipped and fell on my butt twice.
And the reason why the rocks were slippery? Ahh....bat guano.
Yup, in some instances, the guano was quite moist and fresh, with that distinct pungent odor and mushy consistency. Almost like freshly-made ube jam, except darker in color. Hmm. . . must have been discharged from the source only a few minutes ago, eh?
Thankfully, after much more scrambling, we reached the portion of the cave with ice-cold crystal-clear water flowing from the rocks (see picture below). These rocks were grainier in texture; and thus, had more grip. Water was at knee-deep level.
Fantastic rock formations, with refreshing ice-cold water pouring forth.
Another rock formation.
At this point, the trek inside the cave became more challenging; and the best option was to take off one's shoes and go barefoot.
We had to rapel down a smooth rock wall, maybe 50 - 55 degrees. George made it look so easy. Actually, it looked more difficult than it really was. Of course, it was also easier said than done. C. was cool about it, even posing for pics; but i hung on for dear life.
Okay! What's next? This turned out to be nothing compared to what came ahead. As George led us into the inner recesses of the cave, we had to squeeze ourselves in between some narrow rock walls. The cold water was waist-deep by now, and i had to make sure our backpack didn't get submerged.
Uh oh, are you sure we can do this? I asked him at one point. He nodded, taciturn as usual.
Now, facing us was this pool of water which we had to cross. It looked and felt deep. How deep? Ordinarily, the water would be around chest-level, but with the recent rains, definitely higher. Uh oh.
Thankfully, we made it through. The soil we were stepping on was quite soft though, much like quicksand. At this point, i was literally grasping at the rock walls as though my life depended on it, just to get better traction and prevent myself from slipping into the water.
Your intrepid adventurers taking a moment to catch their breath.
As we made our way back to the entrance of the cave, we stopped for a while to catch our breath and snap some souvenir pics. Suddenly, George came alive and displayed heretofore undiscovered dexterity with C.'s digital camera. Not only was he familiar with all the settings, he waxed rhapsodically that he preferred Canon cameras over other brands, etc. He was about to get into a technical discussion about shutter speeds, etc., when we decided it was time to get moving again.
"And God said, "Let there be light"; and it was so."
In the end, i sustained bruises on both knees; scratches on both elbows, my right hand and right foot; and enough scary moments to last me a lifetime.
Truth be told, inside the cave, i was tempted to tap C. on the shoulder and tell him that we should just turn back, instead of proceeding further, a few times; but in the end, i was grateful that we pressed on and took in the entire experience.
When we neared the cave entrance and saw the open outdoors (see above pic), you couldn't imagine how relieved i felt, to be able to see the sky again.
And most of all, thank God we didn't choose the "Cave Connection" tour!!!
As much as possible, do not bring any personal belongings [wallet, cellphone, etc.] inside, as you will need both hands free. If you really have to, bring a small backpack, and make sure to line its interior with a waterproof [Ziplock] plastic bag)