Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016
The sump at the opening of Duba Cave
The opening of Duba Cave and Underground River

Across the Philippines, the tourism cancer that is communism is still perpetuated by the New People's Army after being formed in the dark by Bernabe Buscayno in 1969. Traditionally torching establishments for extortion, the local rebels have been holding the country hostage for decades regardless of who the elected president in Malacanan is. Where they are, resorts are forced to swap rustic fences for barbwire. Where they operate, travelers are pawns for misfires with local authorities. And, this has never been more real when I recently visited Cagayan for a week.

Past Tuguegarao, the coastal town of Sta. Ana is always the next destination of most tourists. Locals will even discourage travelers from venturing into remote places in between lest they know someone who lives there or there's an official business to be done. In my case, my business was finding the less explored attractions where most don't dare of going because of insurrections or rumors of such.

The scenery across Duba Cave
Young residents of Sitio San Miguel in Baggao
At the sump near the opening of Duba Cave
The narrow sump leading to Duba Cave

Detour For Duba 

I made a detour from the Baybayog-Alcala Junction to explore the sleepy town of Baggao. As soon as the well-paved road turned into patches of dirt, I found myself surrounded by endless fields of corn. They seem to be everywhere like how Negros Occidental has lots of sugarcane plantations. They're on vast plains and hilltops. Some are even in residents' backyards. Interestingly, what I set out for that weekday of February was not the town's main crop but its cave that locals call Duba.

San Jose Hotel Booked

I was booked at the cozy Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant of San Jose for the night and found it proper to hire a tricycle driver to take me to the attraction the next day. Since a female hotel staff recommended her relative, I no longer wasted time asking around outside. I might have been on intrepid travel mode -- and solo at that -- but when it gets dark in a place that has an unfortunate reputation, I hit the hotel bed which was exactly what I did. I guess my folks raised me that way.

Where we began crossing the river to reach Duba Cave
River-crossing in San Miguel, Baggao

Hired Tricycle and Visitor Registration

When I arrived at the hamlet of San Miguel with George, my hired tricycle driver and a village councilor of a neighboring sitio, I spotted a shallow stream which reminded me of my rural vacations in Quezon Province. We made a necessary stop at a small convenience store to register ourselves as visitors for a fee of P5 per person.

It was there where I learned that the cave is also an underground river and would need to be tackled soaked wet more than half of the time inside. More than just wading in cold water, one is required to swim or float as there are passages that have walls without handholds. As a result, I no longer hired a guide (prevailing fee is P500) and settled to just check out the opening of the cave because I can't swim nor float.

"... I learned that the cave is also an underground river and would need to be tackled soaked wet more than half of the time inside."

The irrigation intake where brave tourists and residents take the plunge for a swim
A local of San Miguel on a regular weekday routine (behind is my chartered tricycle ride)
The rock wall rising from the sump
Rock formation at the irrigation intake

Cave Details

I still pressed on and decided to miss out on seeing a wonderful skylight and a so-called Skyline Falls, plus the cave's icicle-formed stalactites and dripping stalagmites. And, since my visit was on an early morning, I was not on schedule to witness the circadian flight of bats that the place is famous for. These, however, didn't dampen my excitement to visit the attraction -- or at least part of it -- because I tend to dismiss as fantasy what my body can't deal with. My workaround was settling for what's outside the cave as I was told that there's an interesting river to cross and an irrigation intake structure with tranquil views of surrounding rock formations.

Tranquil Views of Nature

After parking his tricycle at the foot of a riverside pathway, George led me to take the short hike to reach the platform which visitors jump off from onto the turquoise waters of the irrigation intake structure. Since I was told that it's deep, I opted to just use it as a viewing deck. He added that every summertime, the area would be filled with residents and tourists. During my visit, though, everything looked undisturbed. It was just us there and a couple of kids nearby who were hanging out at one of the riverside open cottages.

Crossing The River

Soon, we were walking back to where we parked our ride and scaled down the side of the shallow river to cross it. He pointed towards the bank on the other side to inform me that past it was our target destination. What seemed an easy river crossing in the beginning turned out to be a dreadful 15-minute activity for me. George was tiptoeing on his bare feet like the ground was ridiculously flat. He could have breezed through it in 5 minutes, but he was kind enough to slow down to make sure I didn't slip and hit my head on a Cagayan Valley rock. It was not because I did not have callous feet, but it was because I'm just not really agile as I used to be in my 20s. I tried it barefoot and on slippers but I preferred the latter because some rocks were just stubbornly rough!

"George was tiptoeing on his bare feet like the ground was ridiculously flat."

A closer look at the opening of a small cave at the sump
One of a few riverside open cottages for visitors who prefer going on a picnic from a safe spot

The Scenery At The Sump

The opening of the cave is preceded by a narrow lagoon that looks like a sump but is opined by experts to have an underground connection to the river somewhere. On one side where we emerged from the shallow river, large trees were standing like pillars to a citadel. Across was a long stretch of rock wall where a small cave opening can be found.

The sump was deceptively shallow because a closer look revealed the water to be more intense in color as it touches the rock wall which means that a part of it is quite deep. For all we know, it can be where the underground connection is.

"The opening of the cave is preceded by a narrow lagoon that looks like a sump but is opined by experts to have an underground connection to the river somewhere."

Finally, Duba Cave

George pointed towards a prominent opening at the far end of the sump that indicates where the cave begins and where my visit ends. I took my time there as a result. With a few minutes left to kill for a soak, I braved the cold waters. Just like a summer fling, I lingered near my target, just close enough to be teased. The scenery there was not bad at all. It was awfully quiet to my delight. If I were alone, I might have even skinny-dipped.

"Just like a summer fling, I lingered near my target, just close enough to be teased."

After a few minutes of wading in the water, I finally decided to return to my booked hotel. Past the river-crossing, George segued to me about another attraction nearby called Laglagto River that he could take me to. This was perhaps because he felt I needed to get past the anti-climax of not being able to enter the cave. To this, I willingly obliged and proceeded to leave the place for the next attraction.

A lone farmer in the field of a neighboring sitio leading to San Miguel
The cornfields of Baggao
The view of the narrow sump from the opening of the cave

A Bite of Reality

Fast-forward to dinnertime back at the hotel, a series of sirens wailed past my table at the restaurant. I assumed the commotion outside to be a minor incident only. However, I was wrong because I learned from locals the next day that communist rebels ambushed six cops and seriously injured eight more in an encounter.

Looking back at my intrepid visit of Baggao and the unfortunate incident that happened right after it, I mulled on the strength of a town's beauty and the risks involved in seeing it. My epiphany lies in my happy memory of visiting Duba Cave and seeing the picturesque cornfields leading to it. I refuse to be held hostage to the thought that the risks are the only reality of the town. Its natural attractions and friendly residents far outweigh the manic ideals of a few wandering dissidents which makes it pointless to fear such places. What makes more sense is Filipinos seeing the Philippines one attraction at a time. And, I proved it to be possible in this side of Cagayan.

Travel Tips: 

• San Jose, Baggao is two hours away from Tuguegarao City and less than four hours away from Sta. Ana.
• There's a Baggao-bound van that leaves Tuguegarao City. Van terminal is along Balzain Highway near the University of Cagayan Valley.
• The hotel to book for a visit of Duba Cave is Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant in San Jose.
• Duba Cave is located in Sitio San Miguel, 20 minutes away from the hotel.
• Contact Village Councilor George at 0906-848-2142 for a chartered tricycle ride.

Check out other Cagayan-related attractions:

Sta. Ana's white beach island resort called Jerolynda
• Laglagto River and Rock Formation of Baggao
• Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant in Baggao
• Country Inn By The Sea in Sta. Ana
• Palaui Island: Cape Engano Lighthouse, Baratubot Falls and More
• Nangaramoan Beach of Sta. Ana 

More Photos Below:

The scenery on the way to Sitio San Miguel
George, my hired tricycle driver (also a Village Councilor)


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