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Philippines Part IV: Samar Island & the Calbiga Caves

Delving into the darkness...

Have you ever seen Dawn of the Dead? Picture that but with over-enthusiastic trike drivers. As soon as our van pulled into Catbalogan City, the drivers were clutching to the vehicle like 30 fat kids fighting over one smartie. There was no daylight to be seen out the windows, only flailing arms and scraping fingers. A bidding war ensued, and before too long thirty drivers were whittled down to two, like mindless zombies desperately clawing over one carcass. Eventually, a reasonable price was agreed upon, and with our flesh still uneaten, we made our way to our accommodation to prepare for our ensuing adventure on Samar Island.

That evening we met with our guide Joni, and geologist Steve’s subterranean surprise was sprung. I don’t think he was too disappointed to be exploring the third largest cave in Asia. We made an early start, the four of us and Joni caught a crowded public bus towards our destination. We shared lunch and signed the papers deeming our lives worthless and therefore should we perish in the cave, they can say “Bullock who? Nope never heard of them.”

Although Soph & I are stoked, the look on the driver's face screams "I did not sign up for this."

After a short and relatively awkward ride on a motorbike, we trekked for about an hour through the jungle to reach the lookout point of the cave mouth. I’m sure you’ve read before the oft used adjectives: breath-taking, astounding, mind-boggling, amazing etc. in a number of blogs (I’m guilty too,) so I’m going to try something fresh. My nose hairs twitched with excitement as the gonad-shrinking enormity of the cave mouth beckoned us forth. Like moths towards an open flame, our feet moved unconsciously forward and down the concrete steps into the pitch black of the Langun-Goningob cave.

Down into the darkness we descended

Lead by the experienced Joni, deeper and deeper we delved, the light diminishing behind us as the call of the darkness saw us leaving the sunlight in our wake. We were advised to kiss a certain point on the rock wall for luck and to ask that the cave gods see us safely exiting the cave the following afternoon. Yes, we were to sleep deep in the cavern that night, with only our guide to indicate the difference between night and day.

We weaved through the stalagmites to our base for the night

The internal beauty of the cave was something to behold. Massive stalactites, stalagmites and intriguing formations were abundant, every twist and turn had us behold a different sight.
We set up camp on what was aptly named the “Football Field,” a sparse muddy plain in the middle of the cavernous system dominated by crickets and bats. Not cricket bats. I'm sorry, but it’s very late and that’s the best humour I have left. If you don’t like it, go read a book.
If you lied perfectly still, the multitude of crickets would come and crawl on your back, giving you what Joni would call a “cricket massage.” We tried this for about fifteen seconds before getting freaked out. Also, if you lie perfectly still for a number of days, you will end up covered in bat shit. I don’t know what this is called, but I’m sure it’s true.

Fortunately, cave spiders were of a rare commodity

We had a nap in the early evening before our wake up call for dinner. After our meaty meal, we walked further into the black, scampering over the Mars-like landscape for hours before finding a plateau high above the cavern floor. Here, we turned our helmet lights out. We sat in the silence of a night without a moon or stars for what seemed like an eternity. The moment was so relaxing I could have slept if not for the fear of falling down into the crevice at my feet. We made our way back to the campsite, seemingly floating over the rock that took all our concentration before meditating in the black-out.

Exploring an alien landscape

The morning after saw us up to our necks in flowing underground rivers, rappelling down sheer interior cliff faces and finding ourselves awe-struck at the eerie beauty of all the cave had to offer.

A geologist in his element

Seeing daylight for the first time cascading down through a natural skylight in the jagged ceiling was rewarding and welcoming, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had to navigate the deep river (while keeping our belongings relatively dry) which led into the dreaded mole-hills of guano that stood between us and our impending freedom. Yes, you heard right. Thousands of bats congregated at this end of the cave, therefore thousands of bats’ offerings congregated at the base, creating large mounds that we had to meander over. I wonder if this was a constant issue for Bruce Wayne. Believe it or not, we really, really enjoyed this moment.

Soph & I navigating the bat droppings. Note: I'm wearing shoes...

Conquering the dunes of dung, we made our way up and out of the cave, venturing forth into the jungle. The sun was harsh at first on the old eyes but we didn’t mind. A liberating and aerobic walk through the trees followed for an hour before we reached a village where we were allowed a much needed wash in their local water supply. Don’t worry we were downstream from where they actually gather their water so no villagers were harmed in the making of this blog. Although, our stench alone could possibly have taken down an elder if he was in close enough proximity. Sleeping in a cave doesn’t do wonders for your natural odour, just so you know.

Disclaimer: No villagers were poisoned after we bathed here

After a quick feed and reminisce back at the café, we took a ride to a stunning local waterfall which was especially vicious as we visited in the wet season. We said our fond farewells and went our separate ways. Joni Bonaficio, thank you for the experience.
Steve was due back at work in two days, and as Maddy was seeing him off the foursome was back to a twosome... and we had a mountain to climb. The story continues on Mt Apo...


For more caving photos, check out our Photo Gallery

Posted by roamingbullocks 21:35 Archived in Philippines

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Mental bro. That cave looks dirtier than your old bedroom after Ainsle had a crack at it. You guys are batshit crazy

by Ryza

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