XXIII – Going on a spelunking adventure in Sagada!!

Sagada, a small village in the mountains.

Sagada, a village in the mountain province of Luzon (up North of Manila), is famous for its caves, hanging coffins, rice terraces and pine forests. It’s the place to trek (and fill your lungs with fresh air), rest, read a good book and sleep. Sleep?!? Yes. Sagada is definitely not the place with exciting, vibrant nightlife because there’s a curfew at 9:00pm! All restaurants, bars, stores, hotels,… close their doors. So, basically there’s nothing to do after 9pm, but get a good early sleep! Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I went to bed at 9pm…but in Rome Sagada, do as the romans sagadans do!

Sugong Hanging Coffins.

You might wonder what I meant by “hanging coffins”. Sagadans believe that the deceased should be buried above ground in order to be closer to heaven and to allow their souls to wander near loved ones! And, of course, another very practical reason is to keep the body away from wild animals. Thus, coffins are carved from pieces of pine wood and then hanged on mountain cliffs. It’s really impressive to see all these caskets suspended on the mountain rocks. Some of them are thousand years old! I actually wondered how they did to put them up there…

The entrance to Lumiang Burial Cave.

The small caskets piled one on top of the other.

Feels weird to be among the deceased...

The next day, I was really looking forward to our 4-hours long caving adventure. We chose to do the “cave-to-cave” connection, which implied starting at Lumiang (also known as Burial Cave) and ending at Sumaging (also known as Big Cave). Since I didn’t want to get lost (bound to happen with my legendary sense of orientation), and eventually die of hunger in the caves (what?!? A scenario a bit dramatic… not at all 😉 ), we decided to hire a local tour guide, named Norvi. He spoke perfect English (but no Spanish, so I tried my best to translate to Rosa), and was eager to explain everything one should know about these caves. He loved my camera and wanted to take a lot of pics with it, which was perfect for me since he was a really good photographer! He was hilarious, kept making jokes along the way! Thanks to him, I had an AMAZING time!!

The Lumiang Cave a.k.a. Burial Cave is another very sacred place for locals because it’s an ancient burial ground full of coffins piled one on top of the other. First thing I immediately noticed was the size of these coffins. They were very very small for a full-grown adult (even for Filipinos). Norvi explained to us that the dead should be forced to a fetal position in order to fit in the coffin. The deceased “should rest” in the exact same position as he came into this world. And, if the coffin was tucked in one of the highest corners, it meant that the deceased was a dear loved one, whose family made a great effort to bring him as close to heaven as humanly possible! Quite interesting traditional believes…

Twisting our bodies to pass through tiny holes...

Going down with the help of ropes...

We started the climb down, which was quite steep.

And to increase the difficulty of the climb down, I was wearing flip-flops in the complete dark. Why!?!

Well, we only had one hurricane lamp carried by Norvi, our guide, so there were times where I couldn’t see where I was going. Moreover, deciding to go spelunking with flip-flops (as the locals do) was not my brightest moment! Bad bad decision!! Some rocks were quite slickly and my flip-flops were not gripping too well! I eventually went barefoot, it was much easier 🙂

Me and our funny guide, Norvi.

Inside the caves, we saw many rock formations, and Norvi kept asking us what we thought it looked like. Honestly, you need a good imagination to see the turtle head, the chocolate cake, the cauliflower, the King (or the reason why the lady got pregnant), the elephant head or the pregnant lady.

Me in front of a very strange rock formation that looked like a big mushroom...

The chocolate cake.

The pregnant lady...

The reason why the lady got pregnant...

Closer pic of the turtle head...

The elephant head.

Can you see the frog?

The cauliflower...

For four hours, we had to crawl, twist our bodies to pass though tiny holes, go down on our butts, escalate bare handed some rocks, use ropes for the steep parts, step on the tights and knees of Norvi (our tour guide), and walk through the cold underground river.

Norvi kept saying “No one ever died in these caves… yet. You just need to trust me, trust the rope, and never never let go of the rope no matter what”. Okayyy…!?!

Norvi screaming 'We made it, we are alive'.

I loved every minute of it, and if feeling really sore the next day was the price to pay, I would still do it again! It was an experience that I will never forget. Going on a spelunking adventure is one more item that I can check off my bucket list !!

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