Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sagada

I never expected to go down a cave today, but I did. With hissing kerosene lamps providing the only light, the thrill of danger of was very real.

This is how it happened.

We woke up fairly early this morning and we had a decent breakfast at the inn. We then took a walk around the Banaue town proper. We crossed the rickety bridge that spanned the river, and tried our best not to look down as the drop was quite high.

We then took a jeepney back to Bontoc. On the jeepney, we met two Polish backpackers, Rafel and Mike. They also came from Banaue and were headed towards Sagada. At Bontoc, we took a bus going to Sagada, another hour's ride.

Rafel wanted to head back to Angeles that day but Mike was a bit more game to explore Sagada.

We had lunch, after which Mario, Mike, and I went to look for lodgings. We checked out a couple of places but eventually decided on the Sagada Inn. Pretty good place and a good price, too -- P600 for a twin bedroom with private bathroom.

We decided to go on a cave exploration tour. Price was P430 for all three of us.

We went to a limestone cave. Our guide was very reticent, which suited me just fine.

He said we would get a little wet, and asked if it would be all right if we did. That wasn't a big deal, I said. Oh, boy!

We thought we would get damp wet. We didn't know we would get wet wet.

The descent was fairly okay, just an ordinary hike along rocky stairs.

Eventually, the rock turned to flow stone. The guide asked us to take our shoes off. O-kay....

A little further ahead, we already had to start wading through pools of water.

I sensed that this was not the expedition I expected when the guide told us to empty our pockets. Mario and Mike decided to strip to their skivvies. I simply rolled up my pant legs.

Pretty soon, the water reached up to our calves, then to our hips, then to waist level. The water was very cold.

At that point, though, I could not think of going back. I had gone so far forward I simply had to see the whole exploration through.

I was weighed down by my backpack, containing not only my things but Mario and Mike's belongings as well. As we clambered through a narrow hole, my backpack got caught on the overhanging rock, and I fell waist-deep into the water. That wa the first close call.

Further on, we had to hold on to a rope while we traversed a rock face with no handholds. I was the last to cross, and I lost my footing! I held on to the ropes with my hands alone, and I could not feel anything beneath my feet, only water.

I don't know where I got the strength to pull myself up, but I did. I suppose my guardian angel was looking out for me.

Not long after, we got back to the fork at which we turned, having travelled in a loop. By then, the journey was drawing to a close. We dound our shoes, slipped them on, and began our ascent.

We had gone down 500 ft.

The rest fo the trip back to the hotel, we took things easy. We took photos of the spectacular vista below. A little further on, we parted ways with our guide. I tipped him an extra P50 in addition to the agreed-upon fee.

We took one more detour down a rocky path to a nearby cave where they stacked the hanging coffins. There were several college students already there, giggling away without a care. That annoyed me. This was a resting place for the dead, after all. I said a prayer before moving on.

We had snacks at Yoghurt House. What I've learned from this trip is that restaurants in the mountain province take their sweet time to prepare. The concept of customer service is nonexistent. Our food took over an hour to arrive! I was simply too tired to complain.

We ended the day with dinner, beer, and conversation.

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