I’m unsure as to whether this blog will be the shortest or the longest in this Sagada series, mostly because it would be very hard to put into words the experience of going through Sagada’s famous cave connection (and my tendency is to be more verbose than usual when describing something that I don’t have the words for.) I don’t think any language in the world have invented words that would accurately the physical and mental fatigue that one undergoes when doing this for the first time.
After getting back to our inn from Marlboro Country, we had a few hours to rest, take a shower and have lunch prior to the cave connection adventure in the afternoon. It’s too bad that we had 2 breakfasts that morning because the food that they served during lunch at Alibama Inn was really good and I couldn’t really eat more of it even if I wanted to.
“Cave Connection” pertains to a path that links two of Sagada’s major caves – the Lumiang Cave and the Sumaguing Cave. As I previously mentioned, I’ve already visited the Sumaguing Cave before, but the Lumiang Cave is something new to me. And since it’s classified as a burial cave, I was looking forward to seeing the famed coffins up close.
It was a short jeep ride going to the Lumiang Cave jump-off point. Prior to trekking downhill, we espied a low area on the other side of the road that looked like a wide-mouthed cave with lots of coffins at the entrance. Erwin told us that it is a burial cave exclusively for women who died at childbirth. They were segregated for the reason that dying at childbirth brings upon a curse of some sort. (Just now, I tried to do some online research regarding this. I found an online source quoting another guide who says this piece of information isn’t true. I hope there would be more consistency in explaining the historical significance of each place.)
The trek to the mouth of the cave involved keeping one’s balance in a very steep stairway hewn from the natural slope of the mountain. Some parts were slippery and it’s a good thing that handrails were also constructed. Around 5 minutes later, we were all at the entrance of the cave and indeed, small coffins were stacked all over the walls, even in very high and hard to reach places near the cave ceiling. We were told that scaffoldings were devised to put those coffins in place.
A short lecture on Sagada funeral practices was given by Erwin before our descent into the cave to start the cave connection. He explained the process (gruesome by our modern standards) by which they prepare the dead the traditional way. He also said that the position of the coffins does not in any way indicate one’s position in the social hierarchy of the Sagadans. The coffins are conspicuously small, and this is because the bodies are prepared in a fetal position for the final funeral rites.
A recurring theme in many coffins is the presence of the carving of a lizard on the top side of the coffin. Again, there’s some inconsistency regarding the symbolism of the lizard. Erwin’s own version is that it is carved on the coffins of the members of nobility. This blogger was told that it’s a sign of good luck. Another one was told that it’s a symbol of faithfulness. Obviously, an exhaustive ethnological study must be made to clarify a lot of conventional wisdom in Sagada.
INTO THE DARK
From the very wide cave entrance, the space that we moved through grew progressively smaller until we came to a point where we had to squeeze through very narrow areas to get to the next big opening. Thankfully, there was no shortage of gas lamps and everything was well-lit, minimizing our chances of hitting our heads, missing a step or other such accidents (although they still did happen.)
Early on, people noticed that my body was giving off steam. The only logical explanation is that my body must be burning calories quickly and the surrounding cold air makes the released heat visible. I was only the first one. Soon after, everyone was giving off their own steam.
It later became apparent that most types of footwear won’t enable one’s feet avoid slipping at most rock surfaces here, so people began to go barefoot and placed their flip-flops in the care of the guides. Fortunately, my battered P700 aqua shoes (a veteran of Biri Island) proved to be up to the challenge and I never once saw the need to take them off for the entire cave connection. (Available at Payless Shoesource.)
I also realized the futility of trying to bring a DSLR in a place like this. Here, the point-and-shoot reigns supreme. Point-and-shoots are very portable, light and uncomplicated to use. You can safely leave it with a guide and not worry about him being unable to figure out how to use it. In contrast, DSLRs are the exact opposite on each point. So 3 of the first 4 pictures in this blog entry are the only ones taken from my camera. The rest are from the others.
So we went down seemingly endlessly. There would be a few parts of “flat” surface before it’s time to go down again. The deeper the cave went, the more wet the environment became. There were points where we had no choice but to wade through chest-deep cold water, or be in the way of torrents of falling water just to continue in the path.
Occasionally, we’d stop by really nice formations for some group picture-taking and storytelling regarding the reason why this or that formation is named as such. Erwin had a particularly interesting (not to mention green-tinged) anecdote on the King’s Curtain. Anyway, the given names were in English, which probably means that these names were given in modern times.
THE LOWEST POINT
I can’t remember at which point Lumiang ended and Sumaguing began. The path has a V-pattern where at first you go all the way down seemingly to the very bottom of a mountain, and afterwards, you go up towards the other opening of the same height as the first one.
I think the lowest part of that “V” is a dark passage way about 10 to 15 meters long with waist-deep water you’d have wade through. Normally, 10-15 meters is no sweat for anyone. But this was at a point were people were both physically and mentally tired and some, like Gracey, were beginning to shiver because of the cold. This simple wade was a test of endurance and will power more than any point of the cave connection.
From that lowest point, we worked our way up to what we knew as the mouth of the Sumaguing Cave. We were going through it through willpower alone. It was quite disorienting to experience being exhausted in a very cold and wet environment. One usually tries to cool down when one gets tired from a strenuous activity. But how do you cool down when it’s already very cold all around you?
So we went up buoyed by the hope that we were near our adventure’s end. I wish we could say that it was a dogged single-mindedness and winning attitude that enabled us to finish the entire thing. But really, it was just a sheer desire to get it over with. We no longer posed for pictures, no longer cracked jokes and got to be more concerned for those of us who didn’t seem to be in good shape.
The light that greeted us at the mouth of the Sumaguing Cave was that of early evening. As if to put one last stumbling block, we had to go up a hundred steep steps from the cave entrance to the road where our jeep was located. This was just too much for me and from being among the first 5 to emerge from the cave, I dropped to being among the last 5 at the end of it due to my frequent rest stops. When I finally made it to the top, I was ready to faint from exhaustion.
So that was the cave connection, one of the most physically and mentally exhausting experiences I’ve ever gotten myself into. I think it’s one of those things I’m glad I experienced but am not really keen on going through again.
BACK TO THE TOWN
We almost didn’t talk to each other during the ride back. In the silence of recovering from our exhaustion, we just wanted to clean up ourselves from all the guano that we stepped on, touched and brushed against. For a while, all the communal restrooms were busy with all the people taking showers.
Later on, most of us found ourselves having dinner at the famous Yogurt House. Their big servings seemingly guaranteed that I’d regain the calories I lost during the cave connection. It was a fitting meal to end the day with.
A lot of us went straight to bed after dinner. But the Hardcore Drinkers Group had a reputation to uphold, and so they got busy with their Boracay Rhum while the rest of us slept soundly.
(Next, walking tour of the town of Sagada.)
= = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Sagada series dated June 18-20, 2011:
1. Sagada Adventure (Prologue)
2. Sagada Adventure, Day 1 (Arrival)
3. Sagada Adventure, Day 1 (Marlboro Country)
4. Sagada Adventure, Day 2 (Marlboro Country)
5. Sagada Adventure, Day 2 (Cave Connection)
6. Sagada Adventure, Day 3 (Walking Tour)
7. Sagada Adventure, Epilogue (Banaue Exit)