Monday, April 20, 2009

Sumaguing Cave Adventure - Sagada Day 1

Bet you're really eager to hear about my Sagada adventure. Well, I'm equally eager to tell you about it. Here it is.

We left Manila at 10:30 pm. Boyet drove to Baguio because he came home from the office at 8:30 pm. We wouldn't have been able to make it to the bus station before 10 pm if he didn't decide to bring our old, trusty Blackie. Our target was to catch the first Baguio-Sagada bus (GL or Lizardo) which was scheduled to leave at 5:30 am the following day. However, according to my research, the buses that ply that route do not actually leave according to schedule. When the bus is full, it leaves no matter whether it be early or late. The trip from Manila by public transpo is anywhere from 5 to 7 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.

By 4:30 am we were at the Microtel hotel in session road. We had arranged with my husband's friend Robbie to park the car there because we had a booking for the weekend anyway. We got to the Dangwa bus station in Baguio by 5 am but the bus was no where in the vicinity yet. In fact, noone was there even at the sales booth that we boarded the bus to find a place to sit even without the ticket. I chose to stay at the driver's side of the bus because we were going north and that side would be facing the west most of the time.

The trip took roughly 6 hours through mostly rough and bumpy road. While the part near Baguio was cemented, it had only lasted for about 1/3 of the whole route. But the trip was rather nice - the weather was cool and the view was scenic. There were about 3 stops to take some snack and do some personal stuff. While at the bus, we had met 4 persons from Pampanga (Tita Glo, Tito Bon, Luchie and Maris) who we found out were also booked at Tita Mary's Residential Lodge - a new but highly recommended inn where we would be spending the first 2 nights of our stay in Sagada. I found out that they didn't have a guide yet and asked them to join my party instead.

It was 11:45 am, when we got to the Residential Lodge. After having checked in, and placed our baggage inside our rooms, we went out to have lunch at the Yoghurt House. I can't say I really liked their food but the yoghurt is the best in all of Sagada. By 3 pm we were met by our guide, Andrew, at the Lodge and we were off to our first stop - the Lumiang Burial Cave.

The cave was a few meters down but the steps were small and steep which made it hard to descend and ascend. I admit I was not particularly impressed at this spot at first. I mean we had gone all the way down and all we could see were some dirt, a dark pit and some wooden things that looked as if they had been covered but dug up after quite a while. The wooden boxes turned out to be coffins. They were smaller than a mature adult's coffin because the dead were made to fit inside it while in a fetal position. And yes, they were ancient - some hundreds of years old. Of course, the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider that I dreamed I was got the better of me and soon I was looking at what seemed to be archaeologic finds. We didn't stay for a long time there though because we needed to go to the Sumaguing Cave. After all, that cave is the highlight of any Sagada trip and since our new-found friends would only have 1.5 days to stay there, we deemed it would be best to see Sumaguing the soonest we could.

The trek to the Sumaguing Cave took us about 30 minutes from Lumiang. But we had enjoyed the walk because it was leisurely and we took pictures along the way. There were rice paddies that looked more like miniature rice terraces that were bright green as the grains had just been planted. The road was well paved and cemented and it didn't hurt my feet to walk. For a moment I thought that it would be easy to trek Sagada if it followed that pattern. But, I was proven wrong a few hours after.

Finally, we reached the entrance of Sumaguing. Mariz decided not to join us because she was already too exhausted. I, of course, adviced her against going too. It was the kind of risk that I wouldn't be willing to take either. It was good that there was a store just across the entrance. They sold practically everything a cave explorer would need. Yes, even a toilet and shower room to rid oneself of the dirt and odor that would be all over us. But we didn't know that yet. Ikee and I dressed down. I wore an old nylon shorts with the black shirt I had worn on our way from Manila. I knew I would be dirty and with a limited supply of clothes, I didn't want to get a new shirt soiled.

We had two guides - Andrew and Rod. Andrew, being the more senior guide (sorry Andrew, had to say it) gave us instructions about how to do the spelunking. Soon, we started our adventure. The first part of the cave, just as we were warned, was slippery and treacherous. We were all scared but excited. The thrill for the neophytes slowly creeped. I, for one, wanted to go ahead and follow my instinct. There were 7 of us and I was ahead of everyone for because I felt that Ikee needed the boost of confidence and I also wanted to ensure that she was alright all the time, not that I knew what to do. But I had to follow what my guide said lest I put myself or my "pack" in danger. Peril is almost always seductive you know.

At one point, we were told to hold on to rocks. At another, we were instructed not to touch the ground because it was covered by bat poop - slimy and stinky. But then again, you'd think twice about not holding on if you were in my place because doing so would actually save your life. There was no way you'd slip without dragging someone with you either. Thus, you save your life not only because of yourself but because of those you are with too. The cave was dark and everything was wet and slippery. Some rocks you hold on to. Others, you hug and kiss. Not kiss really but we had to keep so close to some rocks that it felt like we were kissing them. Some rocks would let you climb up them with nothing but your bare hands but would not let you slip nor fall. Those white rocks are called flowstones. Amazing.

But, as always, a treacherous journey ends with a beautiful reward. The rock formations were so beautiful. Andrew and Rod have this communicable sense of humor that we didn't feel scared so much. We needed a guide to keep us safe and to boost our confidence too. At that point, both our entertainment and safety depended so much on these guys who knew the cave so well they practically grew in it. I remember Andrew saying as a child he had gone to the cave so often to play hide and seek with his friends. Sheesh, some hiding place I tell you. We had given a nickname for Rod, the younger of the two. At a certain point, he rolled up his shirt up to the level of his diaphragm. He moved quite quickly and had the energy and the moves of a superhero - Spiderman. Thus, we called him midribbed spiderman.

Later on, I found out that rolling up his shirt had a purpose. It was to protect it from getting wet. Ikee got her shirt all wet such that midway through she shivered that I had to exchange shirts with her. But, my shirt was just a little less wet than hers so that she still shivered. We had asked her to stay close to the lamps that Andrew and Rod carried but to no avail. She trembled her way through the basement level of the cave. It was a good thing Rod had lent her his extra shirt he kept in his bag.

The cave had challenged us beyond what we ourselves expected we could do. None of us ever tried to rapell nor spelunk. But we did. None of us expected to smell of bat dung ever. But we did. Not one of us, mostly in our mid 40's, ever tried to get intimate with any rock. But we all did. All in all, the Sumaguing cave aka the King's palace, is a test of endurance and determination towards reaching our ultimate goal - that is to splendor in the beauty that lied within it and get out of there alive.

Related stories:

Sumaguing Cave Adventure - Sagada Day 1
Bomod-ok Falls Adventure - Sagada Day 2
A view at Kiltepan – Sagada Day 3 & 4
Surviving Sagada

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