Surviving Sumaging Cave
- Liv G. Campo () - May 30, 2009 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Sagada is not only about hanging coffins and burial caves. Favored by nature with high mountains and many caves, this sleepy town of Mt. Province has also quickly become a favorite place for mountaineers and spelunkers.

My friends and I were among those lured by the attractions of Sagada. We were there last Holy Week.

Initially, our itinerary only consisted of visits to the hanging coffins in the Echo Valley, the rice terraces in Kiltepan, the big falls, among a few others. But when the tour guide we contacted through e-mail suggested we should not miss Sumaging Cave, we included it, without actually knowing what we were in for.

After visiting the Burial Cave, with its wet and fog covered trail, we thought that Sumaging, the next cave to see, would be just another burial cave. But we were wrong.

Upon reaching the site, our guide Daniel, who already had a gas lamp at this juncture, told us to leave all the unnecessary things in the car, except for our cameras. And while he and the other guide named George were lighting their gas lamps at the entrance, I asked what could be waiting for us out there after seeing how big (and dark) the cave was.

Daniel then explained to the group we would be on a spelunking activity for the next two hours or so, depending on how fast we move. Hearing this, some members of our group started complaining. But heck, we were already in Sagada, so we should try what everyone was there for.

Sumaging Cave, which is said to have existed millions of years ago (there are fossilized seashells in its walls that date back to the time before the first men inhabited the earth), was also used as a burial ground by the old people there, however, the coffins were destroyed over the years by the water inside it.

So we went inside the cave with only the two lamps lighting our way. The spelunking is divided into three stages. Stage one is what could be called the “bat territory” and of course, with bats’ shit all over the place. And I mean really all over that our hands (and even hair) were already smudged with them even while still halfway into the fist stage. The trail is very steep and rocky that one has to hold into the nearest rock for support, regardless of the slimy feel and the stink in them.

It was a long and difficult trek down. We were all glad when our guides told us to leave our slippers at some corner for the next stage.

Stage two was a completely different world. If the first part was all rough rocks and bat manure, the next stage was a visual treat: magnificent stalactites and stalagmites all over the cave, plus, running water for the tired feet as bonus. At first, the task ahead looked difficult. The rocks in this part looked slippery, that it took several minutes for those in the frontline to follow the guides. But it was actually easy. Easier than maneuvering the hard rocks in the first stage.

Apart from having to jump 12 or so feet to the ground with only Daniel as our human ladder, the rest of the trail was fun. We got to see the many rock formations all over the place. The light coming from our two lamps added drama to the place, making it more breathtaking. And Daniel always had a story or two about the “queen” and her “king,” which he would ask us to find among the many rock formations.

The second stage was a bit of relief from the first. We got to clean our hands from guano and enjoy the relaxing flow of the cold water on our feet. Because of the abundance of water inside the cave, there are holes there that resemble small swimming pools or what Daniel calls “the mother of all bath tubs,” since there are also smaller “bath tubs” in some corners of the cave.

The final stage was another thing. It was a combination of both stages: hard and fun. What greets (and sometimes discourages some to go through it) is the small opening, which can only accommodate one person, going down feet first, at a time.

Just as we thought, the small opening was just the tip of the iceberg. Our guide George was in charge of this game, armed with only a gas lamp since all other belongings were left in the care of Daniel, who was accompanying our friend Ella, who was already chilling and decided not to join us.

Inside the small opening is a small pool, which is a jump-off to a tunnel-like passage, where ropes are used to get down to another pool of waist-deep water. There are rocks protruding everywhere in this trail. Plus, water here is already surging at high speed that you have to hold on to the rope for dear life for you to reach the water below. Falling would mean hitting the big rocks in the corners. It was more than just rappelling for us. It was a death-defying stunt!     

But we managed to get to the last point all soaked and cold and exhausted that we could only giggle at Daniel’s never ending tales of the cave’s “kings” and “queens” and “the dinosaur’s footprints” inside the cave. He would tell his visitors these stories, and although he was corny most of the time, especially when he let us make a small line at the entrance of the cave to get to “another cave,” which turned out to be a tiny hole in a rock near where he was standing, we still enjoyed the way he helped us forget our worries, stupid worries of not coming out of the cave alive.

We survived! Beaten, stinking, and all.

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