I have observed during my previous online research that there is a deliberation on which part of the Cordillera is the best place to visit. Is it Banaue (Batad) or Sagada. I figured that the reason may be strictly geographic as these two places are sitting far apart from each other. Now that I’ve taken the trip, I realized that it was more than that. The Batad trek is physically taxing and would leave you sore the next day. If you are planning to go spelunking in Sagada on the same trip, it’s like subjecting yourself to torture. And subjecting ourselves to torture we did when we went exploring to the caves of Sagada.
Our second day was spent on sightseeing and traveling from Banaue to Sagada. Third day, we devoted to visiting the caves of Sumaguing, Lumiang, and Sugong.
Sumaguing Cave also known as the “Big Cave” can be found in Suyo, one of the barangays of Sagada. The cave is best known for its impressive stalactites and stalagmites formations and natural pools. Tourists come here to experience spelunking (the practice of exploring caves). For this adventure we were assisted by two guides, each was carrying lanterns to light our way. It all began with a descent down this rock stairway. Because my body was still sore from the trek to Batad, all sights of stairs made me cringe. So imagine my reaction when I saw this.
Notwithstanding the pain that kept shooting up my legs, I dutifully followed the rest of the crew to the mouth of the cave. The fact that it was my first time to try spelunking fueled my excitement despite the fact that my body was complaining in every step that I took.
The cave reeks of that musky and foul smell, which I figured was coming from the thousands of bats. A chorus of bat squeaks served as our background music. I could not help but be a little freaked out but thankfully, not a single bat bothered us during our spelunking.
As we were starting to descend in the darkness, one of the guides looked back and said,
“Kapag may tumulo sa inyong malamig, holy water yun. Kapag mainit, holy shit,“ (When you feel something cold, it’s holy water, when it’s warm, it’s holy shit)
I had to laugh in spite of myself.
We walked in a single file, taking on the slippery rocks, and crossing the small pools with ice cold water, one at a time. There was a part when we were asked to leave our foot-wears before we proceeded to the deeper area of the cave. I had a hard time taking decent photos given the fact I was just using my camera phone and I only relied on the minimal lighting provided by the lanterns. Thankfully, we came with a real photographer, Ram, who had to subject himself in life-threatening, uncomfortable situations just to document our adventure.
It entails imagination to fully appreciate the rock formations. Like in the picture below, it’s called the turtle because it looks just like the said animal, when the head is in hiding.
To explore the cave, it involves some balancing skills, focus, patience, courage, determination, and a bit of bargaining with the lord. There are many rocks that are wet and slippery so you need to be real careful if you don’t want to leave the cave a paraplegic. There are some parts that would you require you to rappel, some to climb using a rope, at times, to use the guides as the ladders to hoist yourself up or to venture down the small sleek spaces.
The strenuous activity seemed to have stretched our muscles because our body pain became manageable somewhere along the way. See, we even managed to smile genuinely for the camera. Note that we went spelunking with empty stomachs. That was the only frustrating part for me actually, that we didn’t eat breakfast.
You can go swimming in this big pool found in the furthest part of the cave. This is strictly optional, maybe for those who are unafraid to catch hypothermia. The water in this cave is bitterly cold. If you’re curious at how cold it is, take some water from the fridge and then pour it all over yourself. Or… just take my word for it.
Since we survived Sumaguing Cave without a scratch we were able to proceed to the next stop, the Lumiang Cave. This, we no longer dared to explore. We just satisfied ourselves checking out and photographing the mouth of the cave where the coffins lie. In Sagada, they have a traditional way of burying their departed loved ones, either through hanging or by leaving the coffins in a cave.
Some coffins were so small I thought they were carrying corpses of children. Our guides were quick to correct us though, that the corpses were posed in a fetal position. This is based from their belief that humans should return in the same state, the way they came into this world.
I noticed that some coffins had gecko carvings on the lid. In the Cordillera region, gecko symbolizes rebirth and is also believed to bring good fortune.
The last cave that we went to is Sugong where the famous hanging coffins can be found. This involves another trek down the hill of the Echo Valley. On why it’s called echo valley is self-explanatory. Just to prove the case, I shouted and was amazed upon hearing the reverberation of my voice. The Echo Valley offers a view of spiked and rugged limestone formations. To get there, you will pass by the Sagada Cemetery.
This time, only half of us pushed through. There was no way I’d let the opportunity pass even when I was already exhausted. My reasoning is that I was there already why waste the chance? After all that I’ve been through that day, I would have given myself a disservice if I backed down. After like a 10-minute trek, we finally reached the place. There, by the foot of a huge rock formation hang 18 coffins.
I am fascinated as much as I am perplexed by this tradition. Imagine the difficulty and the challenge that it takes just to put those coffins up there. You also need to remember that the trek down there wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. I can only imagine the brunt one must endure just to bring those coffins down the hill and then hang ’em up on the side of the wall. Just thinking about it humbled me, surely my effort to go down there was nothing compared with those exerted by people who carried those coffins.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling my struggle as well as those of my companions. In fact, I admire everyone’s willingness to sweat, walk long, and skip meals just to explore the beauty of Sagada. I never heard anyone complain and they did it all with a smile. If I’d been with hard people, the trip would surely be a disaster. Which led to another realization, a task no matter how difficult is achievable if you are in the right company.