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Speleo Reconnaissance, Antique Province, Panay Island, Philippines

Prior research of the speleo literature available in the UK had revealed no information on caves in Antique Province apart from two caves marked on a tourist map: Tulingan Cave in the north and an un-named cave near San Remigio in the south.  I had no plans to visit Antique Province but the vagaries of Philippine shipping schedules brought me and Rhona Lacsinto to Antique, both of us island hopping in whatever small boats were available.  We were trying to get to Palawan Island which had been cut off to regular shipping for a month.  We never got to Palawan but we did hear of a few caves.

Some Definitions

Jeepney - Utilitarian pickups, originally converted U.S. army Jeeps now mostly Ford Fiera.  Able to transport an unbelievable number of passengers and personal effects.

Rebel-country - There is a very serious insurgency situation in the Philippines.  No-one can tell me which side is winning but the death-toll is colossal, and includes the civilians who are caught between the two sides.

Bgy = Barangay - The smallest official socio-political unit with an elected administration, usually a village.  A Sitio is a smaller section within the bgy region - e.g. a nearby hamlet.

Tuba - Palm Wine.  It tastes foul.

Friday Jan 20, 1989.

Early evening arrival at Libertad after a scorching day aboard Aida 1, a large outrigger pumpboat.

Sat Jan 21.

4 am. jeepney to San Jose de Buenavista.  No one here knows when a boat will be leaving ("maybe next month") but we do get some information on the cave at San Remigio.   We decide to visit it tomorrow.

Sun Jan 22.

Heavy thunder rain; trip postponed.

Mon Jan 23.

Rhona's birthday - i.e. a day to relax.   Change to a lodging house with better vibes, e.g. "Rule 4: Observe silence and cleanliness most of the time".  In the evening our Bistro meal is interrupted by a boozy journalist who writes me up for the local rag. (see paper clipping - Ed.)

Tues Jan 24.

It's only about 30 km. from San Jose to San Remigio Cave but it took us two jeepneys and more than four hours to get there.  The cave is known locally as BATO CAVE and is located behind La Reunion Elementary School.  It is well known locally everyone saying it has "many rooms and goes deep". So I was rather disappointed with the grubby little rift entrance we found, and further disappointed when Rhona announced she'd come down the cave with me (she dressed in all her snow-white finery).  Thus our exploration was perfunctory and we crawled barely 60 m. into the muddy hole, Rhona insisting that I leave candles every few metres. I decided to leave the girls at home in future.

Wed Jan 25.

I'd been told of some interesting caves in the mountains near Valderama.  This is rebel country but most people thought I'd be "fairly safe", so I set off early and by noon I was in Valderama and had secured the services of a guide and porter for the 12 km. walk up the river to Bgy San Augustin.  After lunch we set off, me wimpishly clinging to the hand of my 60 year old guide as we crossed and re-crossed the swiftly flowing River Cangaran.

San Augustin is extremely impoverished: no work and nothing for sale.  I'd brought my own food and this was prepared for me alone.  I'd eat before the gaze of the entire population of about 150 people.  When I'd finished, my leftovers would be triumphantly carried away by my host to share with his family, and everyone else would go home for about thirty minutes to eat.  This was the only opportunity I got to be alone.

Thurs Jan 26.

Although I'd made it clear that I was only paying one guide about a dozen people set off to MAYBUJO CAVE, about an hour's steep climb away.  This was the cave I'd heard about several times in San Jose and Valderama.  It was reported to be a long cave ending in a shaft that no-one had descended; you can hear running water down there, they said.

That's as maybe.  When we arrived there was a swarm of bees at the entrance and the visit was abandoned.

No problem though. Someone knew of another cave higher up the side of the valley: TABAY CAVE.  This was soon located about 120 m. above the river near sitio Datag.  A 4 metre limb was hacked off a nearby tree to facilitate my descent and the entrance pitch was bottomed to reveal a small steeply descending cave ending with a draughting squeeze negotiable with a lump hammer.  I had no lump hammer, length 10 metres.

We headed back to San Augustin waded the river (hold hands) crossed a few low grade rice fields and began the steep ascent towards sitio Boho where two caves were reported to be located.  My entourage of kids and old men infuriated me, laughing and talking and shouting at each other while I could hardly catch my breath or keep up with them.

About one hour from San Augustin in a tumble of deeply weathered limestone boulders and hidden by trees we found our first cave: BOHO CAVE I.  The larger of the two entrances was the only one negotiable without equipment; even so it was a bit of a nasty climb.  Someone kindly provided a piece of thick string to aid my descent . About 15 metres below the surface I gained the floor and was immediately hit by the horrid smell of batshit: my flashlight revealed their scarey orange eyes.  Within 15 minutes six brave souls had joined me at the foot of the shaft and we commenced exploration, one light between seven of us.

Although the passage was large (say 4½ m. wide and 10½ m high average) the bats were so numerous that we were successfully forced back by them: they flew into us, pissed on us, dropped ticks on us and were generally quite beastly.  I pondered histoplasmosis.  We took refuge behind a rock.  Shall we go now?, my companions asked.  No, we'll give it one more try.

Only two men accompanied on my second attempt and we got to a point where the passage shrank to about two metres square for a few metres.  There was an almost solid tide of bats flowing through here.  My companions started swiping at them with sticks, making great sport of the whole adventure.  The carnage was sickening: I called a halt to the attempt.  Length 100 metres and still going; depth 12 metres.

On the surface we all had a good laugh about the bats, drank tuba, and proceeded to another cave nearby in the same about clump of trees ( BOHO CAVE II ).  A short descent led to 45 metres of crawling maze; depth c. 9 metres.

We returned to the river to wash and then home to San Augustin for lunch ( more eyes, more leftovers).  No one knew of any more caves within safe walking distance (remember the insurgence ) so we clowned and festered away the rest of the day.

Fri Jan 27.

With my guide and porter I set off back to Valderama at 6 am.  I was in San Jose by eleven and found Rhona still sitting on her luggage and hoping for a boat. No news yet, she said, so I said goodbye, abandoned all thoughts of Palawan, and by evening I was enjoying the sultry air and bright lights of Iliolo City.

Other Caves of Antique Province.

Information has been received on other caves in Province Antique, as follows:-

1. MAANGHIT CAVE, LIBERTAD

A cave mined for guano located about 4 km. north of Libertad and 4 km. Inland near a river.

2. Bgy TAMAYOK CAVES, 3 km. from PATNONGON

Two caves reported here: TURU-ONG CAVE and DAPA CAVE

3. CAVE, Bgy BUENAVISTA, BELISON

A cave mined for guano.  Deep water "You have to swim the in cave”.

Jim Smart   Feb. 1989

This is an extract from The Daily Start in the Philipines.

A member of the Bristol Exploration Club, affiliated with the British Cave Research Association based in London, England is in Bacolod city to explore Negros caves.

British’s speleogist James Smart, 40, has 25 years of' experience in exploring caves.

Smart, in a DAILY STAR interview, yesterday, Smart said he is in charge of the foreign section of the B.E.C., which was founded in 1935 and has about 280 active members at present.

Tourism Staff Officer Edwin Gatia is supplying Smart with information on the, locations of caves in Negros.

Smart, who has explored caves all over Europe said that the Madagascar and Austria caves are the most interesting there.

In the Philippines, he said, the Latipan-Lokohonmg cave system located in Sagada, Mt. Province is officially recognized as the deepest at 163 metres, with a length of about 3,975 meters, while the St. Paul subterranean cave in Palawan, he said, is the country's longest cave system with a length of 8,200 meters.

Smart said he intends to visit some caves in the south of Negros, particularly those in Mainit and Konog-Konog in Candoni, Kabankalan, Hog, Cauayan and Hinoba-an areas, and in Escalante and San Carlos in the north.

His research work on Negos caves will be published in the "Cave Science Magazine" circulated in England the official magazine of the B.C.R.A.

Smart has also visited some of the cave systems found in Antique.  GR Gumban

Another snippet said: -

That Somerset County Council road signs do not disappear they merely go underground in pot-holes near Priddy.

Letter From The Philippines

Dear Ted,

BACOCOD CITY 8:2:1989

If you think the enclosed news clipping is a bit off the mark, this is the second rag to give me coverage. Furthermore the 7 o'clock news the other morning went something like….llong-go, llong-go. llong-go .... Breestol Explortion Club sa England ....long-go, llong-go .... Professor Jims Smart llong-go .... etc." for FIVE MINUTES.  Lord knows exactly what was said but I gather I'm leading an expedition!  Also apparently I've been in the "Towns Talk" column, but I've not seen it. I can't imagine what I'm doing there something about discos or music I expect.

Lotsa caves here on Negros but all the ones I've visited have been small. Travel is naturally slow here and I have to tread cautiously both to satisfy the locals' curiosity and also because of the military situation.  Things are VERY heavy and I can see caves that it would be suicide to walk to.  For my sanity I like to retreat to a city a couple of nights a week to mellow out (= get pissed) and relax (= have my nails manicured).

See you

James