"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."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

destination: balobok rock shelter and thereabouts

"The most rewarding things you do in life 
are often the ones that look like they cannot be done." 
-- Arnold Palmer

once upon a trip to tawi-tawi's balobok rock shelter
this is part 7 of a series entitled breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier.

day 3. april 23, 2011. black saturday.
adventure 1: island hopping -- bongao, tango, panglima sugala, sangasiapu, laa, pababag, pasiagan
adventure 2: destination: bud bongao
adventure 3: destination: balobok rock shelter in brgy. lakit-lakit
adventure 4: destination: provincial capitol

although kat and i gave up our quest to reach the summit of bud bongao, our adventures in the philippines' southernmost province were far from over. among other must-do activities in our list, we had to go and see for ourselves the balobok rock shelter, a recognized pre-historic site in lakit-lakit, tawi-tawi.

lakit-lakit is a barangay in nearby sanga-sanga island and is about 9 kms from bongao. for us to get there, we needed some means of land transportation. alvin called ismael, one of his younger relatives, and asked the latter to join our group at the foot of bud bongao in pasiagan. ismael wasted no time and soon arrived with his tricycle. although he was not familiar with balobok, he was as eager as we were to check out the place. kuya jan and alvin, although locals of tawi-tawi, were not familiar with the place either -- they just knew the direction to lakit-lakit but not the exact location of the balobok rock shelter. even so, we knew the place was just somewhere there and the five of us -- kuya jan, alvin, ismael, kat and i -- were all game enough to pursue the adventure together.

destination: balobok rock shelter and thereabouts
our adventure party of five :)

we followed the road from pasiagan until we crossed sanga-sanga bridge and went past the msu-tawi-tawi campus and the airport in sanga-sanga. eventually, we ran out of good road to take and ismael had to skillfully drive his tricycle through rough, uhm, rocky road. from time to time, we had to stop to ask for directions and affirmation from the few locals we encountered in the scarcely inhabited area. for the most part, the rough road was lined with dense vegetation on both sides and we only saw a few houses. truth be told, due to the absence of helpful signages and clear directions, there were moments when i felt that our trip was simply like following a road to nowhere. nevertheless, we pressed on and, finally, arrived. whew!

a not so rough part of the road to balobok in brgy. lakit-lakit, tawi-tawi

looking back, i think it took us about an hour to reach the place and the fruit of our perseverance tasted sweet. however, i also remember the bitter aftertaste of my realization that i savored it too soon. haha. we were at the right stop, yes, but we could not find the balobok rock shelter!

we were expecting to see a boardwalk leading to a natural rock arch. we looked around and did not see any boardwalk. what we did see was this shed and, close to it, a barely defined footpath leading to a beach some challenging steps down the cliff.

our "welcome marker"-- a waiting shed at the cliff

we carefully made our way down expecting to eventually stumble upon a hidden path that would direct us to what we were looking for. errngk. no such luck.

we explored the beach and enjoyed the moment. the feel of the place was very rustic. with driftwood here and there, it seemed to me that nobody ever went there -- nobody except for time and the waves.

the beach at the bottom of the cliff

on the very irregular surface of the cliff wall, there were several natural openings and some make-shift footbridges that gave us hope would lead to a cave or cave-like structure. we followed those and, again, did not find what we went there for. at one point, i thought, "could it be that we are already looking at it but just couldn't recognize it?"

searching in vain for balobok cave and/or rock shelter

after encountering a few dead ends and accepting our lack of reliable knowledge of the place, we gave up exploring and made our way back to where we left ismael's tricycle. up the slope, kuya jan saw another make-shift footbridge. he followed it and the rest of us didn't. we just waited for him to return.

searching for balobok cave and rock shelter
kuya jan's path to his brief solo adventure

we watched kuya jan as he crossed to the other side of the planks. he walked on and we soon lost sight of him due to the vegetation and the highly uneven terrain. a few moments later, he called out to us because he saw a cave-like opening. since he had my point-and-shoot camera with him that time, i asked him to just take pictures of the place for me.

when kuya jan rejoined our group, i checked the photos that he took and, indeed, there were snapshots of a huge limestone chamber which looked connected to somewhere else. no doubt, what he saw during his short solo exploration was, indeed, a cave -- perhaps, one of the many caves (or, maybe, a part of a complex cave system) in the massive karst that makes up part of tawi-tawi's brgy. lakit-lakit and nearby areas.

i took photos of the surrounding areas where ismael parked his tricycle. should some of you want to go to the balobok rock shelter, too, these photos will be of help to you: these landmarks will tell you that you already went past and, therefore, missed the turn for the boardwalk and the balobok arch!!! ^_^

a giant tree and the integrated agricultural research center for marginal areas
brgy. lakit-lakit, bongao, tawi-tawi

yes, we were in the right area but we actually stopped too far and missed the boardwalk and the natural rock arch by several hundred meters! haha. hahaha.

thanks to an act of hospitality, we experienced a great turnaround. a local going about his late afternoon activities took time to exchange pleasantries with us. when he learned that we were looking for the balobok rock shelter, he went out of his way to show us the path. we had to walk many, many, many steps back on the road! no wonder then why we initially did not see what we were looking for.

kat (left) walking with the kind local who showed us the way to the balobok rock shelter

the boardwalk and the balobok natural rock arch

the boardwalk which i got to know through the pictures shared in www.ironwulf.net was barely recognizable. a lot of planks were missing and some sections were in various stages of decay. it was sad to see that wooden walkway leading to the arch and to the rock shelter in such a state.

the boardwalk to the balobok rock shelter

despite the already really run-down appearance of the boardwalk, the balobok natural arch remained a mesmerizing sight to behold. it framed the cove fronting the rock shelter so perfectly. with parts of the boardwalk passing through it, there's a striking contrast that registered well in the several pictures that we took -- the robustness of nature's sculpture and the vulnerability of modern mankind's work.

the balobok natural rock arch

the balobok cove

beyond the massive circular rock arch and at the other end of the damaged wooden walkway, is the balobok rock shelter -- a shallow cave-like opening fronting the sea. it does not look impressive in the picture but it is, in fact, an important archeological site which, according to researchers, was "occupied during the mid-holocene (5000-8800 years before present), a period of neolithic (new stone age) culture expansion in the philippines."

the balobok rock shelter

the cultural and geological layers found at the balobok rock shelter are represented by the balobok column (or "haliging balobok"), which is displayed at the the national museum of the philippines. the column is a layered sculpture and looks like a short totem pole of hardened mushroom heads.

the balobok column 
national museum of the philippines

this is the english version of what is on the tablet:
"This column is a reconstruction of the cultural and geological layers uncovered in the excavations at Balabok Rockshelter in Tawi-tawi which dates to the Neolithic Period. Three cultural layers were identified by researchers, all of them being shell middens -- dumps filled primarily with shells. Each of the layers is slightly different in color. The artifacts and ecofacts found in the various layers were shells broken by human beings to extract the meat; bones of fishes and pig*, some of which indicate charring due to cooking; flaked stone tools; polished stone adzes; a bronze socketed adze; a red opaque glass bead; fragments of polished shell adzes and knives; earthenware pottery, and human teeth.  The shell and animal bone remains indicate the dual source of food available to the inhabitants of Balobok -- brackish water for shells and the forested land for a variety of animals."

*the Filipino version of the tablet states: "mga buto ng maliliit na mga hayop tulad ng ibon, paniki, baboy at usa" which translates to "bones of small animals like birds, bats, pigs, and deer."

there's definitely more to tawi-tawi than just being the philippines' last frontier in the south. tawi-tawi's balobok rock shelter is significant not only for the prehistory of the philippines but also of southeast asia. because of the neolithic period items found at the rock shelter, we know that tawi-tawi cradled the early inhabitants of the region and also preserved in her folds tangible records of their existence and cultural development. as early as thousands of years ago, there were already people who had this place as their vantage to view the rest of the world from.

up next: breathtaking tawi-tawi, truly breathtaking tawi-tawi

breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier | the series

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