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Cave Excursions on Cebu Island. Philippines (Part 2)

Jim Smart

Sat March 25 - Tues March 28, 1989.  Tabunan Talamban, Adlaon, CEBU CITY.

Roque Cuasito does not operate on Pilipino time.  He arrived at my lodging with his 6 year old son Brian at 6.30 while I was still breakfasting.  By 7.15 we were at the Jeepney terminus in downtown Cebu City fighting to cram three large backpacks plus a small one for Brian into an Adlaon-bound jeepney.  A short while later one of Roque's employees arrived to act as porter and cook during our excursion.

By 10.30 the jeepney had brought us to Adlaon, a ramshackle one-street village at the road head. Here we met Liam, a middle aged simple country boy, whom Roque knew from many previous explorations in the area. Liam was already half drunk and happily agreed to come along with us and carry a pack, for a few pesos.

Our route into the hills to Tabunan Talamban was mostly along steep, single-file tracks.  Six year old Brian slowed our progress somewhat as did the hundreds of people we met travelling in the opposite direction. It was market day.  We haggled over various items and though we couldn't get a good price on a live chicken we did buy a large joint of lechon (roast pork) to supplement our diet.  By midday we were far beyond the reach of wheeled transport, across two deep valleys; outcrops of limestone were to be seen everywhere on the rolling and grassy landscape. (A few days later, in Cebu City, I was shown a book recounting the exploits of the Philippine resistance movement in this area during WWII.  There were numerous references to caves but what struck me most, looking at the pictures, was that this entire area - as far as the eye could see - was forested.  Today trees, in isolated clumps, account for probably less than 2% of the surface area. All gone in 45 years).

At last we arrived at the place Roque had planned for us to camp.  We waded our final river and, before we could unpack, received an invitation to crash out in the house of Alfredo Arcayan.  We readily accepted the invitation as storm clouds were rapidly gathering.  We'd no sooner charged up Roque's primus stove on the verandah of Alfredo's thatch and wood home (pigs occupy the ground floor) than the storm broke in a deluge that left market returnees stranded on the far side of the river and us assured that there would be no caving today.  Delighted, Liam held a whip-round (my money) and danced into the storm in search of a gallon of tuba, the local hooch.  We had a lot of visitors that night.

Day 2. Easter Sunday. March 26, 89.

The usual train of men and small boys followed us to the caves.  A man by the name of Perfecto was our guide: a wonderful, knowledgeable, shy man with no English whom I'd have liked to know better.  We followed him down river for an hour and a half, sometimes scrambling over boulders or walking along gravel banks and sometimes pushing through damp scrub: the sun was not yet high enough to dry the aftermath of the storm.

At last Perfecto led us along a trail rising high above the river's left bank, into some thorny secondary vegetation, to the entrance of the cave known as MIT-OL.  We were about 200 ft. above the river.  The climb over the entrance ledge was guarded by thousands of little stinging ants.  Mit-ol was a focal point of resistance against the Japanese in World War Two.  It had been a hard hike and we posed proudly for photographs.

It took quite a while for our team to negotiate the short climb down into Mit-ol 's main passage. Only about half of them were affluent enough to have their own flashlights and batteries though one enterprising fellow carried the standard domestic illumination: an old whisky bottle filled with kerosene with a corn-cob for a wick.

A few minutes along the Main Passage and Perfecto led us up a short climb to the left where we gained a narrow rift passage which in turn led to larger passage until we were halted by a couple of pitches above an enormous chamber about 100 ft. high containing some magnificent formations.  Even a veteran B.E.C. man would need a rope to continue here so we made a slow retreat while I sketched a survey.

Back in the Main Passage we continued away from the entrance until some extremely dodgy caving amongst some very loose boulders brought us up to a second entrance.  Jungle bashing brought us back to the Main Entrance about 100m. away.

Sadly most of the team surfaced with bats or speleothems as souvenirs.  Several of the boys had taken catapults into the cave and, though their hunting had mostly resulted in broken stal, enough bats - each about the size of a Greater Horseshoe - had been killed to provide a small feast.  A small stick fire was quickly prepared and the dead bats - fur and wings and all - were flung onto the embers.  One nimble bloke had even caught a couple of swifts but these were far too decorative to be eaten.  I saw them the next day in his house, tethered by their legs to his door frame.

In a nearby pasture we cooked rice and opened tins of fish which we ate with our fingers off a communal banana-leaf plate.  Then we turned our attention to Cathedral Cave.

An exposed and bouldery entrance chamber leads to large walking passage on the left.  A fire was lit in anticipation of the bats to be eaten later.  A notice in carbide smoke on the wall of the Main Passage warns guano collectors to keep out "signed Barrio Captain".  While most of the team remained in the Main Passage playing with their catapults I followed Perfecto past a Crossroads to a T-junction.  To the right the passage soon petered out in a couple of ascending calcited rifts, but left led to about 100m. of comfortable walking passage until a sharp left turn into a tunnel passage 20ft. high x 30 wide led to a definite conclusion.  I grovelled around in some painfully sharp alcoves here without success. A nearby high level passage was not explored.

Retracing our steps towards the T-junction we explored a passage on the right which returned us to the crossroads in the Main Passage.  A tricky climb on the far side of the Main Passage that only Perfecto and myself were able to negotiate brought us after a short while to three alternative entrances - 2 vertical and one horizontal.

After a short rest for cooked bats and cigarettes we headed for base arriving there about 4 p.m.  We cracked open the tuba and as the glass was passed round - the custom here is to have only one glass and wait your turn - so the tales of our activities expanded and improved.  Liam decided there wasn't going to be enough tuba to get us through the evening so he held another whip-round (my money again). Roque and I accompanied him to the store - about 20 minutes walk away where we found the majority of the villagers roaring drunk.  While Liam haggled over the price of tuba, Roque and I spent about 60 pesos (US $3) on a mountain of food and that night about a dozen people ate and drank to their heart's content on the veranda while another storm lashed its way up the valley.

Easter Monday. March 27.

Everybody very hungover. Reluctantly about five of us got ourselves to the store by noon where we employed an old guy to lead us to some springs about 45 minutes away upstream.  The associated cave passage was disappointingly small but they did provide the Filipinos with some more bats which they cooked while we sheltered from another passing storm.

After lunch we decided to call it a day.  We were too hungover to care much about caving.  On our way back to base Brian and I stopped for a swim in the river until an agitated cry from the bank caught my attention.  Looking upstream I saw a flood pulse bearing down on us. Within two minutes the river which was about 35 ft. wide at this point turned muddy and threatening and the water level rose about 18 ins.   Fortunately we managed to get ourselves stranded on the right side.

Tuesday. March 28.

We started the long hike back to the road head unaware that it was local government election day and all public transport had been granted a holiday.  Worse, there was a 24 hour ban on liquor sales.

At the first store we came to the owner agreed to let us drink beer in her private kitchen since she didn't think the law applied to foreigners and their friends.  She also cooked us an excellent breakfast.  We then continued our way on foot towards Cebu City in search of the elusive transport. Every liquor store we passed agreed to serve us beer and we were quite drunk when, way after dark, we cadged a dangerous ride into town in the company of the electoral ballot boxes and a dozen heavily armed and equally drunk members of the Philippine constabulary.

Jim Smart. Sept 1989. California.