Foreigners delight in Samar caves exploration
TACLOBAN CITY – The underground of Samar is fast becoming the new playground of some foreign nationals. They would fly hundred of miles to the Philippines just to explore the magnificent caves of Samar.
“Already, some 50 foreigners had arrived during the first two months this year to explore the caves in Samar,” disclosed Joni Abesamis Bonifacio, a caving guide based in Catbalogan City in Samar.
Joni, in a brief interview here in Tacloban City early this March, has expressed confidence that the number of foreign cavers who visited Samar the whole of last year – about a hundred – would be surpassed this year.
Cavers from Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon also go to Samar for cave exploration, he added.
Joni, a master caver himself, was here in Tacloban City early in March to personally meet his guests and friends -- French spelunkers Marcel Paul, his wife Catherine Paul and the couple's friend Gilles Jovet -- and accompany them to Catbalogan City where they would be based.
Except for Gilles, who was on his first trip to Samar, the Paul couple had already been caving in Samar in the past years. Marcel had been in Samar for about seven times already and his wife, a couple of times.
The couple are experienced cavers, with 52-year-old Marcel having 30 years experience while his wife, Catherine, has been caving for about 20 years already, mostly in caves in France and nearby places. The couple, however, does not belong to the same caving club in France. Instead, it is Catherine and Gilles who belong to the same club.
The French cavers said it would be hard for them to be coming to Samar every year because “travel is very expensive.” They disclosed that each of them spent around a thousand euros for the plane ticket alone in coming to the Philippines.
They revealed that they have to save money first before they travel. This time they would be staying in Samar for about a month -- exploring caves and going to some other tourist destinations.
“It's a holiday for us. If we can visit caves, it's good; if it's a new cave, it's better,” Marcel said, adding that
caving “is a hobby, a sport for us. Only for pleasure.”
GUESTS COMING FROM DIFFERENT NATIONS
Meanwhile, Joni said that almost all of his guests come here for a vacation cum adventure. He disclosed that his foreign visitors are either Americans, Chinese, Germans, Australians, Norwegians, Czechoslovakians, French, Saudi Arabians, Italians, Austrians or of other nationalities. The Filipino guests were either from Mindanao like Davao City, the Visayas like Cebu City and Luzon like Manila, he said.
According to Joni, his foreign guests had known his name, address and work though his websites, through word-of-mouth from satisfied guests or through the Lonely Planet website where, according to Joni, he is listed as cave guide in Samar. They made contact with him through the Internet.
According to Joni, the guests either come in pairs, in groups or alone, but all have the same goal – to enjoy the experience of going inside a cave and see for themselves the unique rock formations inside, which took thousands of years to form and are irreplaceable. The also got to see some cave creatures like bats, spiders, birds, blind crabs and sightless fish, he added.
Going inside a cave is not an easy task, and many of Joni's guests are first-time cavers. According to Joni, aside from the absence of light beyond the entrance cavers also have to negotiate some slopes, squeezes and water hazards. He added that before entering a cave he first have his guest/guests don the proper caving attire and give them a lecture on the do's and don'ts of caving.
These cavers, however, seem to feel safe in Samar, where they had Joni, a competent cave master, on the lead and assisted by expert cavers as aides. Capable porters also accompany them inside the caves.
Aside from caving, Joni would also bring his guests to some of Samar Island's tourist destinations such as the Biri Rock Formations in Biri, Northern Samar; the white-sand beaches in San Antonio, Northern Samar; the Torpedo extreme boat ride in Paranas, Samar; the beautiful Pinipisakan Falls in San Jorge, Samar; and for canyoning at the Bangon Falls and Wacat River in Catbalogan City.
Here are the comments made by some of the guests, which Joni shared:
Hani Alammuuudi from Saudi Arabia: “Great day to go to Lobo Cave. Nice trip for full day. I enjoy with my friends for Lobo trip, nice one. I like swimming inside the cave, long trip for nice exploring. I wish everyone experience that trip and enjoy.”
Timon Verschace, a Dutchman: “Had an amazing 3-day cave experience. Saw some awesome rock formations and even animals. Swimming in an underground rivers and sliding through the mud. Joni is a great guide and he makes sure you've got everything you need. Thank you very much for the experience!!! Best caving ever!!”
“This 3 day trip was no walk-in-the-park. The first day, when you see the mouth of the cave, was exciting. Massive boulders, remnants of destroyed stalagmites litter the ground but those that evaded Asian reap were magnificent. Thank God this place is protected now for future generation. Two nights camping - The first in total darkness. A well-run camp with gear good. The 2nd day we saw daylight - even more welcoming than i would have thought. Some truly superb formations - well worth trekking to see. Thanks to Joni & the super fit porters!!!” said Sarah of the United Kingdom.
“I really recommend you to go caving with Joni. It was an amazing adventure. I managed to conquer my claustrophobia. This guy is true professional!” said Petr Knapp of the Czech Republic.
Brian of the United Kingdom said: “Great day! True Adventure! I don't expect it to be so good. Will come again. Really something different and exciting. Thanks very much!”
“This is an experience that is a must to do for everyone with no experience required for an amazing day you will never forget. And will be telling your friends about for ages,” said Mateo of Australia.
Sarah of Australia said in 2014: “Today absolutely BLEW MY MIND! I was privileged to be in the second team of explorers to ever go inside Central Cave (a virgin cave until earlier this month when discovered by Joni and Huplag) which involved a scary 18m free-hanging descent into a dark hole! I'm the only foreigner and the only female to have ever gone inside the cave, rep-ra-ZENT!The cave was ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR. Giant stalagmites and stalactites, massive pure white crystals, formations that looked like melting wax, hanging curtains, fish gills. the only damage to it was from the roof having fallen in. But we saw the cave and its incredible decorations in the process of forming. almost everything we stood on had been previously untouched by humans. and then, to top it off... We discovered a NEW CHAMBER. The five of us saw things that no other human being has ever seen. can you imagine?! I'm so lucky to be a part of this and have such a great group of adventurous friends. But the thing is that ANYONE CAN DO THIS!! Joni will take you on a tour of this pristine cave if you rock up next week. if anyone is interested let me know, here in Samar Island, the Philippines, the adventures are seriously out of this world.”
According to Joni, the favorite cave destinations of his guests are (not necessarily in that order) the Langun-Gibingob Caves in Calbiga, Samar, located about 50 kilometers south of Catbalogan City; the Lobo Cave located in Jiabong, Samar, some 10 kilometers away from Catbalogan City; and the newly discovered Central Cave in Catbalogan City, located about 8 kilometers from the city proper.
The Calbiga cave complex is about six kilometers from the town proper of Calbiga. The cave system covers 2,968 hectares and is said to be the largest karst in the country and second largest in Asia. It has 12 caves, including Gobingob, Langun and Bitong Mahangin that boast of giant columns of stalactites and stalagmites, unique rock formations, underground water courses and springs.
A team of Italian speleologists, who first explored the cave system in 1987, said that Langun, the main cave, has a chamber that is 270 meters long and 160 meters wide at its largest area, which can easily fit three football fields. Gobingob, on the other hand, has a huge hall with beautiful stalagmite, stalactite and flewstone formations, while Bitong Mahangin has a single dry tunnel at the bottom of which lies a lush forest.
A protected area, the Calbiga Caves complex is the habitat of rare species of blind crabs and the 7-centimeter hypogean blind fish. At dusk, hundred of thousands of bats hover over the cave entrance. The Italian cavers also noted in 1987 that the Calbiga has a “truly exceptional hydrogeological karst,” swallowing more than 20 watercourses.
The Calbiga cave complex is now popularly known as the Langun-Gobingob Caves.
On the other hand, the popular Lobo Cave is in Jiabong, Samar, located about 12 kilometers from Catbalogan City. It boasts of an underground stream, a waterfall and an array of glittering cave rock formations in unique shapes.
In going to Lobo Cave, cavers must take a south-bound passenger jeepney in the city proper of Catbalogan City and disembark at the crossing of the highway and the trail going to Barangay Tigbayaon, a village of Catbalogan located about seven kilometers away from city proper. Then walk a few kilometers towards Tigbayaon, and near the village descend the mountain down to the site of the cave.
In going back to Catbalogan, the cavers would take a boat ride on a river in going to the town center of Jiabong. In Jiabong, they would wait fro a passing passenger jeepney or bus that would take them to Catbalogan.
Meanwhile, the Central Cave is located at the outskirt of the city proper of Catbalogan. In going there, cavers will take a motorcab-for-hire that would take them to Barangay San Andres, an upland village, and then walk the rest of the distance to the cave site near the upland village of Kawayan.
In going inside the cave, cavers must first make a vertical drop or have to rappel down about 18 meters, then walk inside the cavern. Inside Central Cave, the caver will experience a world of natural splendor – glittering stalagmites, stalactite, columns, etc.
For more stories on some caving adventures and images of these caves in Samar, visit Joni's websites and Facebook accounts:
1. Joni Abesamis Bonifacio
2. Trexplore The Adventure