"a caterpillar doesn't just grow into a butterfly. a caterpillar must undergo metamorphosis, and a cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all: enters total chaos, undergoes total rebuilding, and is born to a new way of living. only in taking the risk of entering that inert cocoon can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

off the beaten path: the northern sarokan cave adventure in batanes' itbayat island

"No memory is ever alone; it's at the end of a trail of memories, 
a dozen trails that each have their own associations."
-- Louis L'Amour

finding more than the usual in batanes, experiencing more than the usual in itbayat island | a journey to the northernmost

in may 2011, my travel soulmates and i -- we call ourselves the pinas flashpackers, by the way -- boarded a falowa in basco and braved unforgiving big waves for about 4 hours to get to itbayat island, seat of the northernmost municipality of the philippines and the largest of the three inhabited islands of the northernmost province in the philippines, batanes.

on our second day of exploring and experiencing itbayat, we went to the northern edge of santa rosa (kaynatuan) -- one of only five barangays in the island and also the northernmost barangay. yup, yup, it was a journey to the northernmost barangay in the northernmost municipality of the northernmost province of the philippines! (a mouthful of 'northernmosts,' i know -- haha, i'm beating you to the redundancy alert.)

simply put, santa rosa (kaynatuan) is the northernmost barangay in the philippines and that's where our adventure party went. there, we explored the northern sarokan cave, one of the itbayat caves -- the others being eastern sarokan, do'tboran cave, and pevangan cave. torongan cave, which we visited on our first day, is another cave in itbayat but it is located somewhere in the mid-western side of the island.

our spelunking adventure in barangay santa rosa started with a truck ride from itbayat municipal proper (or itbayat centro) followed by a long, long walk. our path from the jump-off changed from a wide dirt road surrounded by low grass to a narrow pass bounded by tall grass and thicket on both sides. we went through a forest and emerged on a semi-defined trail that led us to slightly vegetated slopes. we gamely climbed over a make-shift pastoral gate and got to the other side -- the rocky slopes facing the south china sea! the view from there? very splendid!

past the gate, down the rocky slopes

the view from the rocky slopes

we walked some more, ever carefully moving down the slopes, knowing that we were dealing with the natural combo of uneven terrain, scattered big and small sharp rocks, very slight drizzle, the sun, and the wind. we got our respite from all that when we reached a thicket and entered the mossy forest that hides the mouth of itbayat's northern sarokan cave.

we entered the big, dark, damp cave, put to good use our headlamps, stretched our muscles as we navigated up, down, up, down, up on uneven (and, at times, slimy) ground and rocks and walls, and squeezed and twisted our bodies through narrow holes.

navigating inside northern sarokan cave

the northern sarokan cave is huge and getting from one end to the other is not at all a walk in the park. even kuya cresente castillo, the barangay captain of santa rosa, who took the lead in guiding us through the cave got a bit confused where the exit was. it's good that we also had with us toto, who helped kuya cresente in making us go through the squeezes and demonstrated to us how to navigate the pitches (shafts, very steep cave sections) with spiderman-like ease.

inside northern sarokan cave

then, too, it's a bit physically demanding -- i did not notice until after we got out of the cave that i actually got scratches and small incisions on my palms and fingers -- all 10 digits! -- from having to hold unyielding rocks for support while avoiding physical contact with the cave's speleothems: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstones. i'm grateful that i still managed to take pictures -- at least, every time i wasn't too preoccupied with keeping my footing or struggling for my safety -- during our time inside the cave.

just some of northern sarokan cave's speleothems

when we finally got to the other end, we welcomed the sight of daylight with much relief and celebrated our survival with buko (young coconut) delight. the other mouth of northern sarokan cave leads to a clearing surrounded with coconut trees, which, that time, were teeming with young coconut fruits. our guides provided us the buko fruits as rewards. they told us that we hold the record of being the second group of tourists to enter the northern sarokan cave. way to go PINAS FLASHPACKERS! :) only a trio of taiwanese nationals -- or thai, i'm no longer sure -- beat us to first place.

us. spelunkers of north sarokan cave.

there were six of us pinas flashpackers who went spelunking in northern sarokan cave that day -- kat, mati, shella, onad, tony, and i. with us were barangay captain cresente, toto, our nameless truck driver, and kuya roger doplito, our tour guide for the itbayat leg of our 2011 batanes trip.

our guides for the northern sarokan cave adventure

after recharging ourselves by having our fill of buko and happy talks, we walked the long, long way back to where we left the truck -- raindrops falling on us and around us and with heavy mud sticking to our footwear. for those of us who eventually opted to walk barefoot, we had heavy mud sticking to our feet. it was still a memorable and healthy-for-the-spirit kind of walk -- never mind that we were drenched with our own sweat plus the rain and the clouds refused to part.

the next day, storm signal no. 1 was up in itbayat (and the entire batanes group of islands) due to typhoon "bebeng" -- the coast guard disallowed sea travels and the air transportation office was also strict with the flights -- so we were 'officially' stranded. haha. i'll be telling the rest of the story in another entry. you should look forward to that. ;-)


  1. I'm so looking forward to your seair/stranded post. :)

  2. it's really the next one. expect it here tomorrow night. :D i can't share stranded in babuyan without sharing stranded in batanes first. hehe.


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