Genie Ranada, writing for Marie Claire, lives out her childhood adventure fantasies as she spends three days exploring the Calbiga Caves in Samar. Her narrative goes to show that adventure can be found anywhere, from the highest mountain peaks to the deepest crevasses.
One day, Leo, my partner-in-crime in adventure, heard from another member, Rob, about a three-day tour of the Langun-Gobingob Caves in Calbiga, Samar. Leo had put together a week-long itinerary. Was I interested in joining them? Three days inside a cave, where people's most common phobias are concentrated into one place: it's pitch black, full of bats, bugs, spiders, and snakes. Then again, it was bound to be unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I had no problem with any of those phobias. Was I interested? Heck yeah.
From Manila to Calbiga, Samar
Our little group took a plane to Catbalogan, Samar, then public transportation to Calbiga. There we met up with Joni Bonifacio, the man behind the madness, who made it to the 2006 edition of the Lonely Planet guide to the Philippines, and is the sole proprietor of adventure company Trexplore. Amiable and capable, he would be our guide for the next three days and two nights inside the Langun-Gobingob cave.
We suited up in orange coveralls and put on our carbide lamps--basically hardhats with a little flame burning in front which casts a wide circle of light. Joni briefed us about what we were to expect, and thus prepared, we made our way down into the mouth of the cave. Soon the daylight was just a faint glow.
Entering the Langun-Gobingob Cave
Our first stop: "Kiss The Rock," the entrance to the cave proper which cavers kiss for good luck. From there it was a short trek to our first campsite, a chamber the size of a football field with a pool at one end where we could take a dip. The air was damp, and the ceiling dripped nonstop. We looked for a dry spot to set up our bedrolls and kitchen, and cooked dinner. Here I saw the first of many strange creatures we would encounter: a cave crab. It was dead white, with hollows where its eyes should have been. Three-inch long cave crickets hopped about, getting tangled up in my hair, nipping experimentally at us as we slept, and chewing the plastic containing our leftover pasta sauce into lace.
That first night, we slept in a circle of candles, which burnt steadily with no wind to disturb them. I woke up in the middle of the night. Everyone was asleep. The candles had burnt down to nothing--it was literally pitch black. So this was what total darkness was like; it didn't matter if your eyes were open or closed, with not the faintest bit of light for your eyes to adjust to. Strange, to say the least.
The next day we got up, had breakfast, and got ready for our trek. As I suited up, I heard Joni sing to himself, "It's caving time... Alleluia!" (to the tune of It's Raining Men) and had to stifle a giggle. I thought, "Wow, this guy really loves the caves!" By the end of the trip, I would understand why. That day I saw amazing things, like formations that looked like atomic bomb clouds or giant foaming waves, frozen in mid-explosion. Some looked like corals, like popcorn, like angel wings, like a snake's spine. Some were pure white, as if covered in icing or snow; others glittered. There were towering spires, arches, and chandeliers. These were all made from stone; all hundreds of thousands of years in the making; all breathtaking.
Not to be outdone, cave creatures caught our attention as well: cave spiders as big as my face if you stretched out their spindly legs, baby bats to pet, a blind fish to ogle, an occasional tarantula.
We crawled through a small hole that led us into a huge chamber big enough for three helicopters to fly through, and more importantly, light! An opening at the top of the chamber let in faint daylight. It was a sweet sight.
It was strange to think I could take daylight for granted, until I spent two days in the dark. At the end of the chamber was an opening, and next to that was our campsite. There was a problem though: bats roost near cave openings, and to get to our campsite, we had to wade through batshit, or guano--the size of a small field! It came up to my knees, and at one point I tripped, burying my hands up to my forearms in guano. It's like compost, and full of digested bug bits. I was mock-yelling the whole time ("AAUUGH! Get it off me!"), and at one point started to laugh my head off. I was wading through guano, and I had paid to do it. It was crazy. Batshit crazy, even. And I was actually enjoying myself.
We set up camp and settled down to see yet another amazing sight. At 5:45PM, the bats and cave birds flew out of the caves to feed. Their sound started out as a low roar, then built up into a deafening sound like rushing water. Then, they came in a huge swarm, blackening the mouth of the cave, as we gaped. We had trekked for two days to see this, to be at the right place at the right time, and we weren't going to miss a single moment: this almost solid mass of flying, shrieking creatures, forming swirls and eddies as they flew out in a mad rush.
When it was over, we stretched our stiff necks and prepared for another trek to lower Langun. We swam down underground rivers and waterfalls, drank from clear pools, hopped across amazing terraces made from stone, and wriggled through tiny holes.
The next day we broke camp, packed our stuff, and walked out into the sunlight. We took with us one of the best adventures of our lives--and also three days' worth of waste matter in plastic bags and bottles, as you're not allowed to relieve yourself inside the caves. But again, I didn't mind. I got to experience a completely different subterranean world, and I'm ready for the next adventure.
What You Need For A Caving Adventure
Today's versions are lighter and sleeker than the leather hiking boots of yore. Look for good lugs (the part of the sole that provides traction).
AMCI Mountaineering Club Inc. offers a Basic Mountaineering Course from June to October every year. It's four months you will never forget.
An Excellent Guide
Samar is a veritable wonderland for adventure tourism, and Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore will take you there. Seriously, this man has got your back, underground or otherwise.