Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Liz and the group at the mouth of the underground river. Bet you can't guess which one's Liz!
Have we mentioned how much we love the Philippines? Seriously, this place has more hidden treasures than a forgetful pirate. We’re particularly loving Southern Leyte, and the town of Maasin.

Yesterday at breakfast, two Filipino kids fascinated with Liz crawled up in her lap while she checked her email (side note: things like this happen to us a lot; not many light-skinned people, plus the average height of a woman here is 4’11”; Liz is 5’10”). This led their father, no doubt glad to have them occupied, to start up a conversation with Kip, where we learned of a mountain town not far from here with a waterfall, cave, and underground river.

Although we'd already seen “the” underground river in Palawan (one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World), we were hoping for less of a Disneyland experience and decided to try and find this one. Our only directions were to go to the town of Maria Clara and turn right at the elementary school. Seeing as how turning right would put us directly into the ocean, we figured he meant left, and started up the mountainous dirt 

It was steep. And rocky. And we were on a mo-ped. This proceeded for about 45 minutes. We twice discussed turning around, but finally we saw some locals walking the trail and asked directions. Since Liz still only knows how to say “Thank You” in Tagalog, that didn’t help much. Then we met three little boys, one of whom carried a cage of sparrow-sized brown birds with white beaks we later learned were chestnut munias. The kids clearly thought we were nuts but pointed us in the right direction anyway. Ten minutes down the road, we saw a hand-painted sign for ‘the cave,’ and soon we were at the Cagnitoan “barangay hall,” a meeting place that virtually all towns or "barangays" have, no matter what size.

Out of the cinderblock and wood barangay hall came four giggling, barefoot women, and eight curious kids (all the men were in town for a meeting). Turns out it was our lucky day, as all the ladies and the children decided to be our guides for the day.
As we walked through a coconut plantation, across a river, and over rocky hills, our group gradually became larger. A couple of stray dogs joined, as did four more kids. Soon, we rounded a curve in the trail and came to a beautiful waterfall. Kip, being Kip, just had to take a jump.

Just upstream was the mouth of the water filled cave. Our guides asked us if we were ready to go. They flipped on their flashlights, pointed into the darkness and, hand in hand, we all walked into the icy river.
There were no other tourists. No boats. No signs to lead the way. Just us, the ladies, and happy kids holding our hands as we stumbled, swam and crawled along upstream through the cave. There were incredible stalactites, and thousands of bats. It was a little scary, somewhat challenging, and a lot amazing. Liz even got pooped on…by a bat. On her face. No one told her for a long time, which gave Kip and the kids a good laugh. After wiping it off, she decided to assume it was good luck.

On the way back, Kip even got a lesson in palm tree climbing. He was no match for his eight-yr-old instructor, who graciously tossed down enough coconuts for the group. 

One of the ladies had a machete (naturally), and she skillfully sliced open the cocos, handing us one each to enjoy.

Palawan can have its Seven Wonders. We’ll take Cagnitoan any day.

We realize we missed volunteering last week with the sailing trip (does voluntarily not mutiny-ing count?)...considering how much plastic we saw and Kip caught fishing during the trip, we've joined and are supporting the Surfrider Foundation, which works to protect the world's beaches and oceans, among many other things. 

We head to the island of Samar tomorrow, where we'll be looking for our next opportunity.

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