Thursday, April 17, 2014

SAGADA: Sumaguing Cave Connection

An Enchanting Underground World
Sagada and the Lumiang - Sumaguing Cave Connection

By Heinz Lopez Alvarez, Jr.

A light through the darkness
I have realized it long time ago, but this is the first time that I am putting it in writing. Certainly, it is an idea that is most welcome among groups that have higher level of adventure appetite, but I would like to convince everyone to try it at least once in his life!

The most common answer that you would get if you ask people what comes first in their minds when they heard of "summer" is "beach!" But if only they have felt how it's like submerging in its waters, how more refreshing the air that comes out from its mouth is, and how more exciting it is to explore, they will come to realize that summer does not only mean "beach". BUT, as I have mentioned earlier, only those who are more adventurous will be the ones to try it. I am referring to "SPELUNKING!"

So far, I was able to go spelunking with my Group in Bayukbok, Biak-Na-Bato, Cagnituan, and Pinagrealan. They all satisfied my craving for adventure. But to be underground for four hours, exploring these two enchanting caves in Sagada gave an experience that brought my love for caves to the highest level.

Read on and virtually join us, The BACKPACKERS, as we course through Lumiang - Sumaguing cave connection.

BP Vice Ralph and her Sheryl, BPs April, Liz, Heinz, Angel and BP Lead Ivan

I forgot to mention in "Sagada and Its Treasures Within Reach" that before we started walking around Sagada, we actually prayed and it was BP Liz who led that short but meaningful prayer. She included "... and, please help us find Lee again..."

Lo and behold! We found Lee on our way to see our guides for our cave activity! She was with her other new friends she had just met as well in her trip. We excitedly approached her for a quick chitchat and it was a delight when she invited us for some drinks! She was even willing to wait for us after our Lumiang -  Sumaguing exploration. Time agreed - 8:30 PM.

Trained and authorized guides are required in order for one, a couple, or a group to be able to navigate through Lumiang and Sumaguing caves. Interested in spelunking in Sagada must drop by SAGGAS (Sagada Guides Association) Office first to ensure proper record of the visit and for the association to provide guide/s who knows the ins and outs of this cave connection.

Our underground  journey officially started after some photo ops and a briefing from our guides right by the entrance of Lumiang Cave. The fine blow of the wind or air that was coming out from its mouth was cold and refreshing and we all enjoyed it.

The guides continued to give reminders and tips but to be honest, i almost could not understand what the guides were talking about because my mind was preoccupied of what could possibly be happening once we're inside the cave. I was so excited, yet my heart was also pounding real hard. Actually, it was not only me. Ralph was vocal that he was also having butterflies in his stomach; and the rest as well but were just silent about how they actually felt.

Lumiang Cave is a 30-minute walk from Sagada. It should not be taken literally, but it is referred to as the "small cave" when compared to Sumaguing. Natives consider Lumiang as a sacred place as it served as a burial place since hundred years back. People who get to see the pine wood coffins piled one on top of the other on the right side of the mouth of the cave are usually left wondering why the practice, then would just keep the mystery as part of their Sagada cave experience.
Ralph by the coffins

Just because we were able to literally see and experience this cave connection, we would describe that spelunking course as having three phases; in this writing we would name them as "the descent", "the walk", and "the ascend" respectively.

The Descent

It actually felt like we were endlessly going down, which started immediately right from the entrance, continued through the twilight, and through the passages that are already part of the cave's dark zone. It was as if we were trying to reach the core of the earth.

Another little surprise was when we were still in the entrance zone of Lumiang. We saw Lee once again with her with her other new friends and a guide! We actually thought that she would be doing the cave connection also, but we realized she had planned to see just the burial ground in the outer part of the cave.  

We were all first-timers in Lumiang except for Ivan, and we found the course down very difficult. Hanging by the ropes then stepping on our guides shoulder blades facilitated, but there were parts when it was very scary to let go because we could not see where we should be landing in. In between rope courses were the need to do the duck walk, to move sideways, and to lie down with bended knees while moving sideways. No kidding... it was a challenge to be very flexible just to fit into the hole to be able to move forward. 

A drop challenge

As expected, our sight could not reach beyond what was lit. Good thing our guides brought three pressurized paraffin lamps (in Bicol we call them by the brand, Petromax), which provided us with good amount of lighting all throughout this journey inside and underneath the surface of the earth.

The Walk Inside The Enchanting Lumiang Through Sumaguing

After those series of drops and pushing our bodies though holes we could not believe we fit in, we finally reached the part where we could already walk upright. But of course, everybody was extra careful so as not to slide down and fall. The need to for us to climb and to slide on our butts down slippery surfaces of huge rocks seemed unlimited, but the thought that at least we were already navigating through the "tunnel" felt as a great progress we have made.

It is called Lumiang - Sumaguing Cave Connection because literally, these two caves are connected to each other.

We passed by parts where there was icy cold knee-deep water. According to our guides, waters inside this cave can go deep especially during the rainy season. Then the display of amazing rock formations started to appear in front of us one by one.

Sample challenges

It was like walking around an amusement park. We were just required to have our creative minds turned on to see Lumiang and Sumaguing's surprises.

Sumaguing is refered to as the "big cave". If Lumiang is famous because of its incredible labyrinth through unbelievable rock formation, Sumaguing boasts for its spectacular chambers and beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. It is most probably the reason why many, who do not try the four-hour cave connection expedition, prefer to limit their cave experience into Sumaguing.

Most of the awesome cave rock formations that we saw were in Sumaguing. They have formed and appeared like animals. We saw crocodiles, snakes, frogs, elephants, and etcetera. But, just because our guides happened to have naughty minds throughout this journey, we also saw human sex organs! hahaha!

Other rocks have appeared to look like a chocolate cake and a curtain, while some cave walls displayed an image of a Mother and Child and of a woman.

We are riding on what kind of animal?
What do you see?
How about this?

Seriously speaking, inside Lumiang and Sumaguing are magnificent rock formations. They shine when hit by a single ray of light. They look like royal curtains and elegant pieces in a palace. Lumiang and Sumaguing are undoubtedly enchanting. Sagada's caves exceeded my expectation. 

By a giant pumpkin
The Royal Curtain
Hello... Where are you?

The Ascend

Noticing that we were already ascending towards exiting the cave connection made me look forward to breathing the air outside of the cave, and made me ask myself "will i be able to experience these caves again in the future?" at the same time.

We realized that we were not the only bigger group that explored Lumiang - Sumaguing Cave Connection that day when we were nearing the exit (but actually is the entrance zone of Sumaguing). Or maybe that other group just entered Sumaguing Cave. Anyway, they did looked like Christmas lights scattered in a Christmas tree from our vantage point.

The ascend towards the exit was actually very manageable. We did not even notice that we were already in the final phase of our spelunking.  And the final part of the ascend was made to be even easier for visitors - Sumaguing cave does have stairs.

And when we tried to glanced back, we saw a whole dark dome. A dark dome that will always be unforgettable for all of us. 

We experienced Lumiang - Sumaguing Cave Connection in the threshold of summer. For those who have the right level of appetite for a good kind of adventure, spelunking is definitely a great idea.

We checked the time as soon as we got out of Sumaguing - 9:30 PM. Too late to expect seeing Lee, we thought. But we were all wrong... our good new friend waited for us! We had dinner and we had some drinks at Kimchi Bar.
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