I recently had a realization and it’s one that will always stay with me for the rest of my days.
In the final moments, when you are aware that you may die, you don’t actually think of the things that you still want to do. You won’t even be able to think of yourself. In those moments, you will hear your own heartbeat, and you can’t help but think of what’s gonna happen to the family and loved ones you will leave behind.
Sliding down at a particularly steep rock formation inside Sumaguing Cave in Sagada, Mt. Province, that was exactly what was crossing my mind as bit by bit, I was losing my foothold and the two tour guides who rushed to assist me, are feeling the strain of my weight.
I was in a state of panic and my body was moving on its own, totally ignoring my guide’s urgent orders to lean forward and maintain my balance.
I slid further a bit more, and my right leg couldn’t even touch the foothold. I panicked even more and this time, I had to vocally plea for help, telling them that no, I don’t wanna fall.
I yelled at myself and steered myself forward to adjust my balance and I told myself that I won’t die that day. In order for me to survive, I had to overcome that steep slide. There are no options. It’s either that or I fall 200 to 300 meters down to a collection of jagged rocks that would have instantly broken my bones.
After a few intense minutes, and through the help of my awesome guides, I was able to reach the bottom safely, ready to spelunk further down the cave.
After about three to four hours of spelunking from the small opening of Lumiang Cave towards the big cave that is Sumaguing, I was able to complete the ‘Cave Connection” adventure in Sagada even with my near-miss.
Despite the terror I felt, I had to soldier on because in doing this particular adventure, there’s literally no turning back. You have to move forward in order to reach the exit found at the other end of town.
The Cave Connection is definitely one of the toughest sports/adventure activities not only in Sagada but anywhere. It tests your agility, balance, stamina and determination. Even with the level of difficulty or perhaps because of it, it is the most popular thing to do in Sagada.
Those who avail of this activity will have to pay P800 for 1-2 visitors and P400 for every additional visitor. Another fee you have to pay is P400 for the vehicle, the site is only 40 minutes away from the Sagada center if you decide to just walk.
It starts simply enough by proceeding to the viewpoint of the Sugong hanging coffins native Igorots prepared hundreds of years ago in order to protect their deceased loved ones from enemies. After the viewpoint, you then visit the coffins located near the entrance of the Lumiang cave. That’s where the real test begins.
It’s challenge after challenge descending from the Lumiang caves as each passage requires you to squeeze into tight rock formations, or sliding through them. At one point a few minutes into it, there is a six meter drop that’s quite difficult to execute, without the tour guides. They will literally offer their shoulders and legs to be your landing spots.
In the middle of the connection, you will encounter a small water fall. Then you have to swim across shoulder high cold waters to reach the other end. There is also a portion where you have to climb a storey-high rock formation through the assistance of some ropes.
Along the way, you will marvel at awesome rock formations, including one that resembles an alligator (scary, I know), an umbrella and, one that suspiciously looks like a vagina.
Talking about my ordeal, one of the my travel mates, said I must be exaggerating. They suffered through the same hardships in crossing the caves but were never in danger.
To my defense, there’s a big difference between them and I. For one, my travel mate is a 21-year old guy from London who’s about 5’9, and 135 lbs. The other two are Filipinos of average weight and height. Both are in their early twenties as well.
In contrast, I am a 30-year old guy. About 5’7 and 200 lbs because of my big bones (wink, wink)
Looking back, I could have been a poster boy for someone who shouldn’t try spelunking in the first place.
Aside from the limitations mentioned above, I had a sprained left foot. I’m deaf in the left ear, which severely jeopardizes my balance. I am also a bit claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, and definitely scared of heights.
To be fair, the handout given by the Sagada tourism office has a disclaimer against those people who are afraid of heights, closed spaces and those who are not physically at their peak. But I learned this disclaimer after the experience and not before.
One other important thing we missed is to stretch and do some exercise before doing the cave connections. For adrenaline and adventure junkies, this is no problem but for common travelers who spend lots of hours in front of PCs, this is a must.
The last part of the tour is the arduous climb towards the opening of the Sumaguing cave and then to the roadside section of the cave. You will have to support yourself with huge boulders in a place that starkly resembles Mordor from the Lord of the Rings saga.
The climb towards the entrance, the final stretch, was the most challenging since you’re already fighting against gravity.
According to my guide, there are “only” about 120 steps towards the highway but the steps were made for giants and during the middle of the climb, I completely stumbled down, gasping for breath. I would ask for separate 5-minute breaks every 20 steps until the reached the roadside section.
My travel mates congratulated me for completing the task and even I would acknowledge that it was definitely a feat.
But I knew right then and there, that it was something that I would not do ever again. Not because I am afraid of the challenge, but because I am aware of the dangers and I don’t wanna push my luck.
No thanks to two bumply plane rides, my tall of near-death moments are now up to three and I don’t wanna have another one (hahaha)
So if you ever want to try Cave Connection in Sagada, you have to arm yourself with the right know-how in order to determine for yourself whether you are up to the task or not.
Note: Our cave photos are yet to be developed (we took shots using a lomo camera) and I am using pictures from www.tripadvisor.com in ther meantime. Photos are probably from tripadvisor members so if you own them, no copyright infringement intended. Will post our photos asap.