It is usually a lazy Sunday for me who just graduated from college last April. But that Sunday was short of voluntarily killing myself. Worse, I brought four friends with me who unknowingly signed up for a dangerous adventure of their lives – an extreme adventure of river trekking and spelunking in Bonbon, Cebu.
Looking back, I would not do it if I had the chance backing out. The only sheer motivation I have had left hanging on to dear life was: I could never go back. Turning around is twice as dangerous as moving forward, and I wanted to find out what the fuss is all about in Binuthan Cave.
So I just had to shut down all my thoughts about safety and tune in into one instinct: SURVIVE.
We started out to Bonbon 8AM from JY Square. We rode a jeepney, walked, rode another jeepney, and walked again until we reached Biasong, the starting point of our river trek.
When we reached Biasong, we asked around for a guide to get us into the cave. Sineng, one of the locals, was enthusiastic and got his rope and flashlight. Once he fully realized that we wanted to get into the cave, he backed out. He was afraid. Along with the other people who gathered around us. Five hours later, we would find out their fear holds water. Literally.
Adolescents were more daring. They wanted to go with us provided that they will have to find a certain kid named Patrick who has been to the cave. Once. We agreed, but told them we could only pay for four, not the whole baranggay who seemed at this moment eager to tag along.
So we went on with four teenage guides, no first-aid kit, almost-zero food and water, and our high-level of excitement. The first part of the trek was easy, as you can see.
Our first stop was the waterfalls where locals and tourists like Koreans usually make their final destination. It was past 11 AM when we got there, an hour after leaving Biasong. If we had food, we could have eaten our lunch by this time. GOAL: trek + caving = noon. REALITY: 1/4 of the trek = noon.
For about half an hour, we took a break and swam in the falls. We relaxed and had fun. Little did we know that this is the beginning of the most difficult trek in our lives. Climbing over mossy waterfalls with no ropes, going over and under huge boulders, hopping from one slab of rock to another – all these seemingly unending.
As we went on the trail, we were just amazed at how agile and adept our guides were. They could stand upright even when the incline is over 45 degrees not to mention slippery!
For the next hours, fatigue was setting in. We have covered hundreds of meters of difficult terrain. Rocks and more rocks to be climbed, crevices to be passed through, gushing current of the creek we needed to wade, and beautiful yet treacherous waterfalls we needed to scale. But on we must go, for we cannot forgive ourselves chickening out what Bal and Christina and company easily accomplished.
As we were nearing the mouth of the cave, the ground became more steep and more difficult to overcome. During this part of the trek, we were almost always on four; we called it change to “four wheel drive”.
One of the more difficult climbs involve relatively short waterfalls. They’re traitors; I slipped ascending one good thing I was holding a rope. I rolled sideways and banged my entire body to the side of the waterfalls. You would have to hold on tightly to the rough surface of the wall, slowly lift yourself up aided with the rope (and sometimes without it), and pray that you will never fall.
Almost to the top, we have to conquer this 50 foot cliff on our own, for at this point, the guides left us completely to our devices. They must have been annoyed since we were slow and we were dragging them down. I kept repeating to them not to leave us, but it only fell to deaf ears.
After we reached the clearing, we found the mouth of the Binuthan cave. It was yawning a little bit, inviting us to get in and explore it.
We needed to swim about 50 meters of unknown depths, zigzagging deeper into the cave. The light slowly dissipating as it cannot reach the deeper recess where we headed. At this point, my camera’s battery was low. It ran out a few minutes after when we entered the cave.
A few minutes after resting in this clearing, about three in the afternoon, we got in. We did not rest long for we do not want to be still inside the cave when nightfall comes.
Immersing into the waters at the entrance of the cave made us all shiver. It was very cold. We only had two flashlights – one of which was a flashlight from a cellphone. The guide up front was bringing the bigger flashlight and my friend with his cellphone at the back of the file. There were nine of us in total, so us in the middle part of the queue had scant vision. We kept bumping our head against stalactites and hitting our shins and body against jutting rocks from walls.
Our progress was slow as we had insufficient illumination. Worse, we got lost. Not once, but twice. First, we arrived in an elevated and sandy ground, but we stared a stone wall. I learned later that the “guides” were exploring that way if there was an exit. We traced our steps back to the last turn we took and went for the other turn. The second time we got lost was we took the wrong turn. We came back to the branching point and inspected the ground for our footprints; where we were supposed to go next. We noticed some sort of animal footprints, but we did not mind it. We dismissed it as dog footprints.
There were times that the passageway was narrow; only a single person could fit inside and you need to crouch. There were also times that you need to wade across and even swim unknown depths, and a lot of times feeling the walls so you will not bump into it.
After the second time we got lost, I almost had a panic attack. I experienced shortness of breath, faster heartbeat, and paranoia. I was supposed to close my eyes, but it was pitch-black already. I wanted to stop and relax, but we heard thunder multiple of times; the guides panicked and told us to quicken our pace as we might get flooded inside the cramped passageways.
We finally found the exit after almost two hours inside wandering like the first people who got inside the Binuthan cave. No words could express our relief when we finally saw the light. Some of us ran towards it and shouted at the top of our lungs in thanks.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
The following stories are true, as true as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
I was the last one to swim into the cave. I saw my friends swim one by one and disappear from my view. The last one I saw dangerously sank and looked like he was pulled down and was frantically holding on to anything. Good thing there was still somebody whom he managed to cling on. I witnessed it, but shrugged off any illogical idea.
When it was my turn to swim in the dark waters, my Spyder barrel watch slowly unraveled itself. I saw the strap slowly opening up and my precious watch floating down. I could not get it in time. I did not mind losing my watch anymore, I wanted this punishment to end.
The rope we brought did not have an end knot. We purposely did it so it will not get caught in the rocks. When we got deep into the cave, the rope got stuck. We traced it back and saw that its end was in the water. We tugged it, but it would not budge. As we tugged it again, we felt that something or somebody was pulling the rope at the other end! For a few seconds, we had a tug-of-war with whatever-it-was down there in the water! We hurriedly cut off the rope and went on our way forward.
Something happened to me the night when I was about to sleep. But I would like to keep that story mine.
We were very much thankful and relieved the adventure turned nightmare was over. After we got out, it took us about 10 minutes to get to civilization. It took another two hours to walk, this time on a wide road, downhill to reach the place where we could ride habal-habals to get back to the city.