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Speleo Reconnaissance : Municipality of New Escalante, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

Jim Smart

Apart from all the usual hassles (the insurgency "problem", a new language to tangle with - there are over eighty distinct dialects in the Philippines and the difficulties of explaining the joys of caving to the local populace) my visit to New Escalante in the former province of Negros del Norte was hampered by unseasonally heavy rain.  I arrived on the day of a national holiday and, in the mayor's office, was able to meet many of the local barangay (village) Captains.  After some pretty standard cautionary advice the Mayor gave me a written letter of introduction granting me permission to travel at will within the Municipality.  By the time I had completed my work in this area I had made many good friends: it took me two days to recover from a beach party held in my honour on the day of my departure.

Baranqay Libertad

People spoke of "many caves" here including river caves.  A preliminary visit revealed limestone crags rising 200 ft. or more above the muddy cane fields.  But before I could reach them the rain started again and I took shelter under a banana leaf cut for me by a former guano miner, Dimitrio Dimitria.  Midday brought out the sun and a quick recce revealed vertical limestone cliffs, eroded pavements, small conical hills, enclosed depressions and a few small caves and pots.  Things looked promising and I arranged to lodge with Dimitrio's family at a later date.

My return trip was a disappointment.  I was shown only small fossil caves and many deep shafts that we could not descend de cause a promised rope did not materialize.  Dimitrio showed me the "best" caves first and as the day progressed and the quality declined I realized there were to be no tinkling river caves here.  So I curtailed my explorations and turned my attention across the Binaguiohan River to Bgy Binaguiohan.

The Caves of Bqy Libertad

All guano miners have to register their claim with the Philippine Bureau of Mines who then allocate a number to the site.  In the brief descriptions that follow I have listed the caves by these numbers except where a local name for the site was already in use.

JS ~ l.  A 35 ft. diameter shaft, 60 ft. deep, free climbable except for the last few feet.  Exploration incomplete.  Feb 27/89.

JS ~ 2.  A couple of 25 ft. vertical shafts located in a 200m. by 100m. polje.  Unexplored due to lack of equipment.  Feb 27/89.

BoM ~ 5.  Large rock shelter with two entrances & no dark zone. Mar 1/89.

BoM ~ 8.  Hidden in thick bush.  Spiralling entrance passage descends to main chamber 100 ft. long x 40 - 60 ft. wide and up to 60 ft. high.  Some short side passages and three alternative vertical entrances.

BoM ~ 12.  On summit of hill near old winding machinery used in guano extraction.  A deep vertical shaft reputed to lead to a chamber of two hectares area.  Feb 27/89 plus BoM ~ 8

BoM ~ 14.  A gaping hole in the side of a doline; unexplored. Mar 1/89

BoM ~ 30.  Shaft c. 75 ft. to unexplored cave.  Mar 1/89

Lapuz-lapuz Caves - A series of arches and short caves in an area of extreme limestone erosion and poison shrubs.   Feb 27/89.

Ome Cave A single chamber & alcove open to the elements.  The site of human habitation until just a few years ago.   Mar 1/89.

Pang pang Tuti - A 60 ft. long tunnel passage of spacious dimensions.  Almost entirely man-made (guano mine).  Mar 1/89

Siyawan Cave - Muddy cave about 220 ft. long; the home of cave swifts. Mar 1/89

Baranqay Binaquiohan

Disappointed with the Libertad caves and with four hours of daylight left I asked Dimitrio to show me the best cave in Bgy Binaguiohan.

Binaquiohan Cave ~2

Length c. 200 ft.  A muddy entrance chamber to walking-size passage with some small formations and alcoves.  While pretending to be impressed by one of these alcoves I heard the distant hammering of rock.  To my surprise guano miners miners were at work in the cave.  I'd always thought guano was mined with pick and shovel but it's not: it's hammer and chisel work and very hard work too.

Before I reached the working face I came upon a small boy about 10 years old - exiting the cave with two baskets of the stuff suspended from a pole over his shoulder.  Twelve men comprised the team working here, three of them sub-teenagers.  They each earn US $4 per ton delivered to the entrepreneur's truck a few km. away.  In the rainy season that truck can be a long, long way away.  On a good day the team will extract about half a ton.

BARANGAY LANGUB

"Langub" = "cave" in local dialect, so the place seemed worth a visit though I only expected a sea cave or two.  Langub is situated on the coastal plain near the sea 4 km. from the nearest "road".  My time was limited: the last jeepney home to Escalante passes Langub Crossing (= "junction") at 3 p.m. and my early start was delayed by torrential rain. It was gone noon when I arrived at the house of the Barrio Captain.  I had only two hours to locate and explore any caves, a pity cos I found a big-un.

Lanqub Cave

Situated about 2 km. from Langub, the enticing 15 ft. high x 30 ft. wide entrance opens onto a shallow valley.  Inside the large entrance chamber the cave was less enticing.  Despite the heavy rains of the previous few days the deep water that confronted me was stagnant and filthy and floating a asum of batshit. About twenty people had accompanied me to the cave whooping with delight at the fun of it all and never for a moment believing I'd venture inside.  Looking at that filthy water (and with one eye on the time) I was inclined to head back to Escalante but my audience were expecting a show so I changed into my swimming gear.  An old guy elbowed his way to the front of the crowd and volunteered himself as my guide.

The water turned out to be no more than waist deep; the slime and silt beneath the water was calf deep. I tried not to think of leeches and Weil's disease and followed my guide who was equipped with my only spare lamp. The entire cave was horizontally developed and ran very close to the surface.  After maybe 250m. we came to a collapse where we were able to climb out of the water and engage in some crouching and crawling until the passage regained its normal size.  A couple of man-made shafts here led to the surface about 20 ft. above.  I guess these shafts were constructed for guano miners. A little further on the passages became small, flat-out and very noisome.  We turned back, exploring several flooded side passages on out way out.

Back on the surface my audience was now filled with enthusiasm for cave exploration and miraculously remembered two more caves in the area.  Don't worry about the time, they said, we can arrange a boat to take you home.  So we went in search of these other caves, only one of which was located.

Buda de Franco Cave

When finally located this turned out to be a simple tunnel cave about 200 ft. long with a skylight entrance at the far end.  Lots of kids followed me into this cave, the tiny ones un-shyly holding on to my clothes and hands as we groped along with my one tiny lamp.  At the far end of the cave guano miners tallies are scratched onto the wall.

Cebu City.
March 1989