Spelunking in a Historical Cave

(Bulwagan ni Bonifacio)

Before we entered one of several narrow passages leading to the part of the cave called Bulwagan ni Bonifacio, my guide Ogie warned me: “Sir, ituturo ko sa inyo anong bato ang puwedeng hawakan. Kung maling bato ang kapitan niyo, baka gumulong ang mga bato. Baka madaganan tayo o kaya hindi na tayo makalabas.”

Ogie’s statement had the potency of consecutive espresso shots; I was suddenly wide awake, ready to heed my guide’s advice lest my carelessness cause our untimely demise.

* * *

The cave I explored is the famed Pamitinan Cave, formerly the hideout of Andres Bonifacio and a cabal of Katipuneros, currently a Montalban tourist spot and a source of water for nearby residents. A river, a couple of makeshift rest houses, and numerous limestone boulders separate the cave from the Montalban Tourism Office. I was exhausted by the hike from the Tourism Office to Pamitinan: the distance was manageable but I had to maintain my balance myself while perching on the limestones (it didn’t help that I was strapped to  a heavy backpack). When we reached the balcony in front of the cave, I told the guide I needed to to catch my breath before entering the cave.

(River of Montalban Gorge)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

* * *

Pamitinan is a wet cave. We trod muddy ground that pulled one’s footwear; we stepped on slippery rocks.  Accompanying us on the journey were the plastic pipes that coursed the water from the cave to the residents of Wawa. Some pipes had leaks, and the guide would stand in front of the leak so that I can pass without getting drenched – a pointless gesture since I would be drenched and muddied by the end of the journey. The cave also had a stream that we had to wade through.

(Stream Inside Cave)

(Portion of A Hidden Stream)

(Water Pipes!)

(Slippery Ground!)

Pamitinan has a number of narrow passageways that requires one to occasionally contort or squeeze the body; claustrophobics and the morbidly obese are advised to avoid the cave.

(My guide trying to pass one of several narrow passageways)

(Abandon Hope All Ye Enter Here!)

* * *

Ogie gestured towards the face of a rock and remarked, “Eto sulat ng mga sinaunang tao.” I glanced at the writings, hoping to find ancient script, but was disappointed to recognize Roman Alphabet instead. The writing was dated 1902, so what Ogie meant by ‘sinauna’ was old and not prehistoric.

After taking pictures, I had an irresistible urge to touch the writing. To my horror, a portion of the text became smudged as my finger ran over it. Great, I said to myself, I just defaced a historical landmark.

(Ancient and Modern Vandalism)

(Ancient and Modern Vandalism)

* * *

The destination of the cave tour is the Bulwagan ni Bonifacio, a chamber where Bonifacio and Katipuneros had meetings. At the center of the chamber is a table-like formation. Since the formation was the closest thing to a chair inside that chamber, I sat there for about 10 minutes to catch my breath.

(Table-formation Inside Bulwagan ni Bonfacio)

(Rock Formation Inside Bulwagan ni Bonifacio)

* * *

Ogie was screaming, though I could not understand what he was saying since he had his flashlight between his teeth; he was helping me clamber down a passageway on our way back from Bulwagan ni Bonifacio. Apparently, I was clinging to a rock I was not supposed to hold. After adjusting my position, I managed to escape the passageway without any unfortunate incident.

(Resting – again)

* * *

We emerged from Pamitinan Cave after two hours.

* * *

How to Get to Pamitinan: Ride an FX going to Montalban. Ask the driver to drop you at San Rafael, particularly in the area where there are jeeps going to Wawa.

Ask the driver of Wawa-bound jeep to drop you at the Montalban Tourism Office.

Additional Tips: Register at the Montalban Tourism Office before spelunking at Pamitinan Cave; the office will provide a guide  (fee: “Bahala na po kayo”). You can also rent a hardhat (fee: P50) and a flashlight (fee: p50).

(Montalban Tourism Office)


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Bomod-Ok Falls

I remember the panting – especially the panting. On the stone steps on the way to Bomod-Ok Falls, my guide and I would meet tourists gasping for air. In my mind I sneered at these crepuscular hikers: what hubris to drag your feeble bodies along the paths of the mountain and the rice terraces!

And then it was my turn to pant. After a momentary dip in the cold waters of the falls, we went back to the trail leading to the Bomod-Ok Information Center. After 5 minutes I noticed that I was breathing rapidly, and my heart pounding violently on my  rib cage. I told my guide that I want to rest, and so I sat on a terrace.

What began as a leisurely stroll to the falls ended up as an exhausting hike back to the Bomod-Ok Information Center. It took us over hour to get to the top, as I constantly asked the guide to rest so that I can catch my breath and slow my heartbeat.

At the end of the hike, I was chastened as to my physical capabilities. I guess I am – like the tourists I met – a crepuscular hiker after all.

* * *

THE TRIP TO BOMOK-OD FALLS IN PICTURES

(The trip to Bomod-Ok Falls begins here. The Sagada Tourist Information Office assigned a driver to bring me to this place where I registered, hired a guide, and availed of a walking stick.)

(Things to remember while hiking.)

(My heart sank when the guide told me we needed to go past this village before reaching the falls.)

(Pictorial Before the Long Walk)

(Rice Terraces!)

(Gold Panning: My guide looks at rocks with streaks and specks of gold)

(Violet algae inside a rice terrace. According to my guide, the farmers have to contend with algae and snails when planting rice.)

(We’re Near the Falls!)

(Bomod-Ok Falls)

(What the picture doesn’t show are the bats flying all around the place.)

(At this point I got tired looking at the rice terraces.)

(Before undertaking a trip to Bomod-Ok Falls, note that the journey entails walking up and down these steps. A thousand and more of these steps.)

Cave Connection

The strangest diversion in Sagada: trekking inside a subterrane that seems like a passageway to Hades. But how else would you describe a network of caves whose entrance is surrounded by piles of coffins, whose terrain is shrouded in darkness, and whose rocks form various phantasmagorical shapes?

  

  

  

  

This brief sojourn into the netherworld involves conquering both your fear of darkness and fear of heights, as well as exerting the strength of your body. I do not fear the dark, and the glow  from the guide’s gas lamp is enough to banish frightful thoughts that come with the darkness. I do however fear heights, and in this case the light from the gas lamp becomes an annoyance, as the light dispels the blackness to reveal the occasional sheer drop. To control my fear, I focused on my guide and the path between us.

The physical exertion consists of clambering up and down rocks, climbing up and down ropes, wading through underground streams, and stepping on your guide. It is a tiring activity, and I asked the guide numerous times to stop so that I can catch my breath or drink mineral water.

 

  

I finished caving in 2 and 1/2 hours, head aloft upon hearing the guide say that the average time spelunking inside the Cave Connection is 3-4 hours (despite committing an amateur rock climber’s mistake of constantly clinging to the rocks).

Having conquered the connection between Lumiang and Sumaging, I now dream of spelunking inside the Crystal Cave.

Going to Sagada

Cable Tour Bus Ride [Note: I had the fortune – or misfortune – of getting a single-ride from Manila to Sagada. Normally Cable Tour buses stop at Bontoc. But on this journey, the driver decided to extend the trip to Sagada]

Having survived Cable Tour’s grueling 13-hour bus ride from Manila to Sagada, I feel qualified to write a blurb for the bus company. My imaginary and ecstatic write-up would be as follows:

Cable Tour’s Character Building Bus Ride!

Build character! Be a better person! Sign up for Cable Tour’s Character Building Bus Ride! And develop Patience, Endurance, and Fortitude!

Patience:  Travel in a bus blessed with engine failure and air conditioner malfunction! Learn to exercise patience or walk back to Manila from God knows what part of the country! We guarantee character transformation by the end of the journey! 

Endurance: Thanks to our custom-designed air conditioner, you will learn to endure heat for several hours!  And with our unusually angled seats, learn to endure pain in your backside as well!

Fortitude: Face your fear of heights! Take a trip up on the mountains, in a bus veering close to the edge of the precipice!

Yes, I felt my character transform after the trip. Now, whenever slighted by another person, I take a deep breath and – before taking appropriate action – count to five, five being the number of seconds it would take me to aim my foot at the offending person’s fanny. Indeed my character transformation was so effective that I decided not to repeat the experience upon returning to Manila and instead chose another bus (Lizardo) that took a different route (Sagada to Baguio).

* * *

Blood Pressure Tales Among all the backpackers to Sagada, perhaps I was the only one who toted a blood pressure (BP) monitoring device. My trip to the Mountain Province coincided with a BP monitoring period prescribed by my doctor. Thus I stashed an Omron device in my bag, along with my headphone, cellular phone, food rations, medicine, and books by Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Simic, and Alexander Kluge.

Bringing a blood pressure monitoring device to Sagada is one thing, but checking your blood pressure while traveling is another. A table and a chair are essential for the proper angling of the arm to be checked, but the gas station stopovers failed to provide such amenities.

However we did stop by a coffee shop in the Mountain Province; this shop is a bare and dingy structure, the opposite of swanky cafes in Manila that offers various permutations of coffee, cream, cinnamon, and sugar while playing house or jazz music. I walked towards the wooden table and monoblock chair in front of the shop, hoping – at last! – to check my blood pressure. But a middle-aged passenger, oblivious to the BP device that I was holding, glanced at me momentarily and ran towards the chair and settled his selfish and sorry ass on the plastic seat. I then imagined wrapping the arm cuff around his neck, and inflating the cuff until the eyes popped out of his head.

I went inside the coffee shop and saw a table with 3 customers. I put the Omron device on the table and took deep breaths to calm myself before measuring my blood pressure. One of the customers took interest in the device, and started conversing with me (thus disrupting my efforts to relax myself): “Uy ano yan? Subukan mo naman sa akin yan pagkatapos mo.” So after checking my blood pressure (168/98), I put the cuff around his right arm and checked his blood pressure (172/94). I told him, “Dapat hindi mo muna ininom yung kape mo. Mag-iiba yung numero kung may kinain at ininom ka.”

* * *

Masferre Inn I was incredulous: one thousand pesos per night for a room without an air conditioner? Then again, who needs air conditioning in Sagada? And the room is spacious and tranquil – good enough for my morning rituals. So I paid the receptionist cum waitress two thousand pesos for two days use of the room.

Inside the room, I arranged my notebook, pocketbooks, cellular phone, headphone, and Omron device on the table, converting the space into a simulacrum of my bedroom. The essential labor done, I plopped into the bed and contemplated the adventures that lay ahead of me.

 

To The Foot of Mt. Mayon

Despite looking like a child’s toy, the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) is in reality one badass vehicle. It can cross landscapes that would break the axle of an automobile or sink  its wheels. It can keep pace with any motorized two-wheeler. And it is easy to drive: consider yourself a competent ATV-driver if you know how to grip the throttle and the brake.

I enjoyed the long ATV drive to the foot of Mt. Mayon. My inner speed demon possessed me, and I momentarily forgot that I was a cinephile and a literati. Still – square person that I am – I  followed safety precautions by   maintaining distance between my ATV and the  guide’s ATV, and avoiding grasping the throttle whenever the vehicle moved downward on a slope.

It was a thrill to cross muddy terrain, rocky landscapes,  and streams of water.  We also passed by a sleepy village where all the children playing on the roadside waved at us. My ATV seemed unstoppable.

The trip lasted for an hour, and we arrived at a cluster of bamboo sheds. This was the spot where we abandon the ATVs and hike to the pile of lava rocks. I was wet and muddy, and my arms were sore from driving, but I was ready – raring even – to walk.

* * *

When the guides told me we were to hike to the mound of lava rocks, I did not expect the hike also involved clambering up a tall heap of slippery rocks.  My foot slipped a couple of times going up the mound, and I automatically clung to rocks for dear life. One of the guides advised me – for reasons I cannot comprehend – to avoid clinging to the rocks while walking up the pile. He held my hand so that  I wouldn’t fall in case I slipped again. Yes I reached the top, but my manliness rolled down the hill, battered and bruised as it hit the ground.

A surreal sight on top of the lava rocks: a helipad with a small wooden table in one corner. Stretches of lava rocks and large patches of treetops surrounded the helipad. These are bounded by Lignon Hill on one side and the mighty and magnificent Mayon on another side.

Before climbing down the heap of lava rocks, the guides asked if I wanted to zipline back to the ATVs (a zipline structure stood a few meters from the helipad). Noticing the absence of safety helmets and walkie-talkies in their persons, I declined. Again I slipped a couple of times but managed to walk back to the site in one piece.

We drove our ATVs back to the Barangay we came from.

Aquanaut Voyage: Aquarium Diving at Manila Ocean Park

The things I endure to get my kicks.

I walked briskly inside the Manila Ocean Park Mall, eager to return to my hotel room. I tried remaining incognito by avoiding the gaze of guests thronging the entrance of the exhibits. I was embarrassed because I had no underwear inside my pants – the truant garment was soaking wet and had to spend time being stuffed into the left back pocket of my pants (the disagreeable alternative was for me to stroll the passageways holding my dripping briefs). Had my shirt not been lengthy, an observer might have seen a big wet spot on my backside, and then imagine that I had been the victim of an untimely bowel movement.

When I arrived at my room, I vowed that the next time I dive – if I dive again – I would bring a bag and extra underwear.

* * *

Manila Ocean Park’s Aquanaut Voyage. P995 for 10 minutes at the bottom of an aquarium is steep, but diving was a new experience for me, and (more importantly) someone else paid for it.

I arrived at the entrance around 3 pm (the Aquanaut Voyager occupies the same room as the Glass Bottom Ride and is open after lunchtime).  The person who took my Access Card said I had to spend a few minutes listening to a short briefing by the diving instructor – to prevent my unnecessary and untimely demise I presume.

The first part of the briefing was on underwater communication: the instructor and I would be unable to communicate vocally (obviously), so we needed to use hand signals.   He taught me how to gesture ‘I’m okay’ and ‘There is a problem.’ The instructor said that he would check on me regularly while we were underwater, and I had to respond by using the appropriate hand gesture. He also taught me the hand gestures that he would be making: ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Look around,’ and ‘Kneel.’

The second part of the briefing consisted of some do’s and don’ts. The instructor told me to walk on my heels so that I wouldn’t float upwards. He also advised me that before submerging, I had to pull the neck of my wetsuit outward to let the water inside  my suit (I forgot the reason for this, but it had something to do with compression). He warned me not to touch the fishes.

The diving instructor asked me if I had extra underwear. It dawned on me that since I was going underwater, I would get wet and would need extra briefs; apparently I did not think this endeavor through. He suggested that I just go back to my hotel room after the dive without my underwear.

He then pointed to the helmet that I would be wearing – a gigantic monstrosity weighing 30 kilograms with a tube attached to an oxygen-producing machine; the helmet would probably break my neck if it were not made buoyant by the waters. The instructor reassured me that in case of brownouts, the gizmo can still provide 10-minutes worth of oxygen, plus the generator of the Park would be kicking in.

Safety measures discussed and apprehensions addressed, I brought the wetsuit and the footwear given to me to the shower room, and changed clothing.

* * *

Underwater. I was fascinated that no water was coming inside the helmet, despite  the helmet not being sealed to the suit. Perhaps the pressure from the air inside the head gear kept the water out, though this pressure was probably also the reason why I felt slight pain in the ears (which I would continue to feel 30 minutes after the dive). Though I had sufficient air, I was afraid of hyperventilating underwater. I took slow and calming breaths. Ten minutes, I told myself, the dive is just 10 minutes.

It was hard walking underwater. I must have forgotten the rule to walk on my heels because I floated upwards thrice and the instructor had to catch my wrist and hold me down.  He walked backward so that he has me in his sights while he guided me around the aquarium. I saw a manta ray dart behind his back and thought he would bump into it, so I pointed towards his shoulder. He merely nodded and did not bother turning his head.

The instructor pointed toward one side of the aquarium; I noticed that it was the side of tunnel inside the Oceanarium, and people were gathering in front of the glass wall to look at the fishes… and me. Parents and kids were making thumbs-up sign (to which I responded in kind), and some of the ladies took pictures of  the fishes and me with their cellphone camera.

* * *

No hitches during the dive. I took a shower and went back to my hotel room where I chanced upon a hair dryer inside the bathroom drawer. Time to dry my underwear.

Lignon Hill

ZIPLINE

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

Swoosh!

The Lignon Hill zipline is not the longest, highest, or fastest zipline in the country, but any death slide that lets me soar over trees is good enough for me.

I had three zipline positions to choose from: the lame (but cheap) Basic, the somewhat daring (and more expensive) Superman, and the very daring but awkward (and most expensive) Spiderman. I was tempted to try the Spiderman position, but I realized it was as appealing as being hung upside down like the carcass of a pig on a meat hook. I chose the Superman position.  This costs P350, which includes ziplining in a facedown position, ziplining back in a sitting position, and a photograph of the ziplining with the Mayon Volcano as backdrop (electronic copies of pictures are also posted for free for a couple of days on the Lignon Hill Zipline Facebook page).

I was thrilled by the ride. Yes the Lignon Hill Zipline may be lame compared to the one in Danao or in Lake Sebu, but for an acrophobe like me, any elevated position is cause for excitement (or a heart attack). The hairy Blue Eagle comes swooping down…

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

HANGING BRIDGE

I wanted to take on the hanging bridge after trying out the zipline. I just flew over a hillside and I consider myself a veteran of the Maragondon Hanging Bridges, so I thought, how hard can crossing this rickety structure be? After I signed up and paid P150, the person manning the shack gave me a helmet and harness. I chuckled and said to myself, “Aren’t they going overboard with the safety precautions?”

And then I saw the bridge. It was a series of narrow planks with rails made up of a long cable and black netting; this was not what I expected.  If a person had the misfortune of falling off the bridge and going through the thick foliage, he would have a bone-breaking roll down the hill. Suddenly the harness and the overhead cable to which the harness is strapped made sense.

The guide asked, “Sir, gusto niyo ako o ikaw mauna?”  I chose the manlier option of taking the lead.

I found the perpetual swaying nerve-wracking. To manage my fear, I applied a technique used by a mountaineer in my favorite novel of adventure, Solo Faces.  Hanging high up in the mountains, this character imagined being in a school yard, hanging just a few feet above ground.  The self-deception worked for a few seconds until I got distracted by the discussion of two loud-mouthed onlookers:

“Uy tignan mo, natatakot yung mama.”

“Hindi, kumukuha lang siya ng picture.”

Had my camera been disposable, I would have lobbed it at them and shouted, “Ano ba? Kung hindi kayo tumahimik, ihuhulog ko kayo sa bangin!”

My anxiety increased as I reached the middle portion of the bridge. The guide probably noticed that I hesitated moving my legs, so he asked me, “Sir ok lang po kayo?”  I did not reply for I found the question ridiculous (“Kung hindi ako ok, may magagawa ka ba?”). I focused on controlling my breathing and steadying my gaze on the planks.

I reached the end of the bridge after several agonizing minutes. Kagawad Mars was waiting for me at the exit, and I muttered, “Walang hiya. Mas nakakatakot pa pala ito kaysa sa zipline.”

JAPANESE TUNNEL

Two tunnels: one guarded by a dummy of a Japanese soldier and impassable because of a padlocked gate; the other small and narrow with no guard or gate protecting it.

I had to crawl (not crouch) to enter the narrow tunnel, muddying my arms, jeans, and camera in the process; Japanese soldiers must have had narrow frames to be able to go through such a small opening. After crawling for a few seconds, I decided to use the flash of my camera to light my way. No luck – the miniscule and momentary light hardly dissipated the darkness. I suddenly had an idea what it was like to be a suppository.

I crawled backwards. I was afraid of getting stuck in the tunnel since at that time I was the only person in the area, and no one would be able to hear me shout for help. I managed to emerge into the daylight muddy but grateful, with a vow to fight for the rights of suppositories all over the world.

* * *

An old lady helped me clean up by pouring water on my muddy arms and hands. I told her about my experience, and she said that I should have asked for the guide of the tunnel. “Dapat doon ka sa may gate pumasok. Bubuksan ko ang ilaw, at tutulungan ka ng guide. Yung pinasok mo, exit yun. ” Entering through a back opening: damn it, I really did become a suppository!