Conquering our fears

Trip Start Nov 24, 2008
Trip End Oct 21, 2009

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Sunday, December 7, 2008

Another very tiring few days, especially for Rachel who is particularly sore and stiff. We started off yesterday at 7am. We met the tour guide from Sagada and planned the day out. In the morning we had a trek to a waterfall and in the afternoon we would be doing some spelunking in the caves around the area. There was me Rachel, Jeanne and two girls from Singapore. We had a local jeepney hired for the day which brought us out as far as we could go before we had to start the hour long trek to the waterfalls, it ended being more like 2 hours because we kept stopping for pictures along the way. It was a very scenic walk down through some rice terraces, the path was fairly steep as it led us down and there was some near misses but we finally made it.

Its not very warm up here in the mountains, around 17 degrees on average, was still warm enough for us to swim in the waterfall. Our guide Erwin was very reluctant to get in though, he said it was freezing! After about an hour of swimming and messing about we trekked back to the pick up point and went to village for lunch. I rode on the roof of the jeepney as the locals do, fun but like pretty much every form of transport here it was agony on the ass!

We hadn't really been told much about the spelunking so we weren't sure what to expect at all. Looking back now I think if they had told what was involved we wouldn't have done it but we are glad we did all the same. It didnt start off too bad as we made our way deeper and deeper underground. When we hit the first rope section it all went a bit pear shaped. There was no harnesses, clips or any safety equipment at all! We had to ease ourselves down deep crevasses with only our own strength and spacial awareness to support us. The two guides with us were very good though and talked us through and even physically helped us through most of the tough sections. There were one or two highly stressful moments where one wrong step could have meant disaster. As we started to realise what we had gotten ourselves in to the suggestion of turning back was brought up once or twice.

It got even crazier, there were parts where we literally had to crawl through tunnels where there was only enough room for our bodies. Rachel did really well in fairness considering her slight case of claustrophobia. After about 2 hours we had reached the half way point and the largest open space in the cave system, it was a huge cavern. The roof was covered in bats and the noise they made was deafening. Also there was a 'Graffiti Wall' where people who had done the caves in the past had signed there names and the dates. There was some signatures going back as far as the 30's and even our guide Erwin pointed out where his mother had signed her name in 1963!

As we moved onto the second part of the cave system it got a bit more interesting, there were lots of rock formations that had names like 'The Cauliflower', 'The Dancehall', 'The Mini-Terraces' and even an entire section called the porn palace. So named because of the rock formations that look like parts of the human anatomy. I'll let you figure out for yourselves from the pictures which is which! The very last part of the caves were the toughest as we had to crawl and wade through some very narrow tunnels.

At around 8pm after over 4 hours in the cave we finally reached the exit on the other side of the mountain. The guides had decided to put on a big bonfire and bbq for us, a few more guys from the tour guide company came along as well. They had cooked up a serious feed for us. We were wondering why there was a live chicken in the back of the jeepney as we were going to caves earlier and we soon figured out where it went when we were told dinner was a local recipe of chicken and pork stew, it was delicious! We spent the rest of the night sitting around the fire drinking gin and listening to the guides playing us some traditional Filipino songs on the guitar. Its a pity none of us could play the guitar to return the favour but we did give them a rendition of the rattling bog.

The next morning was serious pay back time for the previous day and nights activities and Rachel had to be rolled out of bed and I wasn't too fresh myself. We grabbed some breakfast, settled all our bills and then caught the bus to Baguio. We were thinking this bus trip would be a doddle compared to our 12 hour ride from hell the other night but we were wrong. This bus trip made the last one look like a pleasure cruise. We were only going 130km but it was over the highest mountain roads in the Philippines, a lot of which were unpaved and bumpy as hell. Rachel got her head bounced off the roof a few times! 7 hours of ass numbing torture later and we arrived here in Baguio. Its a fairly big city and a lot like Manila in some ways. Our plan is to stay one night and then head back to Manila tomorrow morning where we should hopefully be able to sort out some transport down to the south of the Philippine and the famous Boracay Island for some R&R. One more thing about the Philippines that we should mention, everything is dirt cheap! For example the last 4 days from Manila to Sagada has only been about 50euro so far. Thats including  transport to Sagada, tour guides, accommodation, food, drink, souvenirs etc. Also 20 cigarettes are 30 pesos which is about 50 cents and a beer in a bar/cafe is around the same! We could definitely get used to this.
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