A claustrophobic’s biggest no-no is how I would describe Sumaging Cave. Unlike some of our other adventures, Teresa and I couldn’t just walk leisurely through Sagada and wind up trekking through the manifold cave system by ourselves. For this one, we needed a guide. Without one, we probably wouldn’t have made it.
Upon arriving in Sagada, we had to register at the tourism office and pay a very small fee to be able to take part in some of the activities that the mountainous region had to offer. On our second full day, we showed up early in the morning after breakfast and hired a guide to take us through Sumaging. After saying his name three times and having us butcher it just as many times, our guide politely asked us to call him “Chris”. He, on the other hand, had no problem pronouncing Teresa’s name in that hybrid-Spanish/Filipino/mountain accent. It was the same in Peru, no one had a problem with her name. “Darcy”, on the other hand, contains just the right combination of letters and tones that makes everyone in the Philippines look confusedly at me as though I told them my name was “Onomatopoeia”. Teresa’s mom still calls me “Doxy” so I’m used to it.
Chris took us down the same road we had taken the morning prior on our long walk through Sagada’s magnificent pine forests. This time around, we broke off on another path that led us to the cave mouth. On the way in, Chris accidently smashed the oil lantern on one of the rocks and had to leave us there while he went back up to replace it. When he came back, he got it lit up and passed me a waterproof light that I hung around my neck. While we’d been waiting for him, we tried to guess our route inward; it seemed the only way was a steep drop down about twenty feet. In fact, there was a tiny crevasse that to this day I still can’t believe anything larger than a cat could fit through. Like I mentioned earlier, this cave system is not for the claustrophobic.
I was absolutely stunned that I was able to maneuver my way in through some of these gaps. They looked absolutely tiny and my breath caught the first few times, certain I was going to trap myself. Occasionally, we’d be wiggling through these small spaces, which would normally be pitch black without our lantern/light system, and Chris would tell us to hug the wall because a steep cliff would be on the other side. Here we were in this tight little hole with an underground drop-off on the opposite side that would result in serious injury or death if we slipped up. We felt like true adventurers.
There were times when my light would press against the ground and lose most of its illumination. These were the most stressful moments, not being able to see anything around me. The caverns zigzagged so much that if Chris got ahead, mine would be the only light. Teresa was between us at almost all times.
We eventually got to a chest-high underground river that we had to wade through. One part had a waterfall crashing over our heads that we had no choice but to walk right in to. After that, ropes hung on a cliff wall above us that we had to climb up and once we did, we emerged in a massive open area the size of a football stadium, but still pitch-black without the artificial light. The ceiling was covered with thousands of bats and the smell was pungent with their defecation; I would acquaint it to something along the lines of rotting goat’s cheese. Not pleasant, but certainly interesting.
The whole trek took 2 ½ hours and it was just spectacular. We did the whole thing either in flip-flops, or barefoot when necessary. I typically have a mediocre opinion of caving excursions. However, this was one of the most exciting adventures I’ve ever been on. It was challenging, it was unique, and often we weren’t sure where we were going, where we’d end up, or what could happen to us. Very exciting, to say the least.
Later that day, after freshening up, Teresa and I took a walk uphill from where our log cabin was. We ended up in a field of terraces that came to a dead end of thatched grass and sharp foliage that I tore my shirt and sliced my shoulder on, so we went back to the main road and began ascending some more. At the same time, the clouds began to descend and the thunder began to rumble. It was awe-inspiring, being within the very clouds that were churning up the thunder. We half-expected to be surrounded by electric bolts at any moment.
Up here, the flora was a unique mixture of tropical and temperate. Mushrooms were growing out of the dung of black caribou on the side of the road. I pulled out our map and saw that a freshwater lake lay close by. We found the road to it, but were getting extremely exhausted and our water supply was running short thanks to my unquenchable thirst. We turned back before we found the lake, but the walk through this heavenly forest was more than worth the experience.
This was our last day in Sagada and we’d be heading to another small village the next morning, Batad, after heading back down to Banaue, then back up the mountains going east this time instead of west. Sagada was a special surprise for us, and more than relaxing, despite all of the physical activity involved. Teresa and I came to the Philippines mainly for the islands, but this pine-riddled environment turned out to be very close to the peak of our overall enjoyment of this highly diverse nation.