In the past, people were afraid to go near or inside caves because of the belief that these were inhabited by bad spirits, hairy monsters or fierce wild creatures. Today, caving is gradually becoming popular in the Eastern Visayas region, which is mainly composed of Leyte, the seventh largest island in the Philippines; Samar, the third largest; and the smaller island of Biliran.
Samar, being the largest island in the region and with a rugged terrain, has many of these caves — from small caves like the Sohoton Cave and Rawis Cave in Basey, Samar and the big ones like the Langun-Gobingob Caves, popularly known as Calbiga Caves, in Calbiga, Samar or the deepest caves like Km. 3 Cave in Las Navas, Northern Samar, which is about 190 meters deep.
It seems that the popularity of caving as an outdoor activity started in Samar after the Calbiga Caves was explored in the late 1980s by Italian cavers and speliologists. Since then, hundreds of the people in Samar had already explored the Calbiga Caves.
Calbiga Caves is the Philippines’ biggest karst formation and said to be the second largest in Southeast Asia. It is a 2,968-hectare cave system composed of 12 caves with wide underground spaces, unique rock formations and sub-terreanean water course.
I have gone inside the Calbiga Caves twice or three times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I have seen the huge stalagmites and stalactites inside the caves, and they are really magnificent.
Many foreign cavers of different nationalities – Italian, Australian, Austrian, French, Belgian, Slovenian and Russian, among others – have already explored Calbiga Caves and some other caves in Samar island. Some of them came alone in pairs, threesome or in a small group. Those in groups had always brought along their caving equipment.
Some of the experienced foreign cavers had mapped the caves and shared the data and maps with the locals. They also teach some locals the basics of caving.
Among the other caves explored by foreign cavers were Macatingal Cave and Canyawa Cave in Calbiga, Samar; Sulpan-Maleho Cave in Matuguinao, Samar; Talubagnan Cave in Borongan, Eastern Samar; Km. 3 Cave and Robins Cave in Las Navas, Northern Samar, and the Lobo Cave in Jiabong, Samar, among other caves.
My friend Joni Bonifacio of Catbalogan City seems to be among the early Samarnons who showed interest in caving. An adventurer, he first started as a guide and interpreter during caving expeditions of foreigners. He said he did not ask for payment for his work but he was usually given caving equipment by his new found foreign friends before they left for abroad.
Joni then founded his caving group, the Trexplore, and organized caving events for locals, which he categorized into caving for neophytes and extreme caving. He also provides caving guide services to Filipinos and foreigners, including dive caving and adventure tours to places where there are caves,waterfalls and other natural wonders.
Aside from the locals who sometimes explore caves in small groups just for fun, there is an emergence of caving clubs whose members do not only share the same interest but also undergo seminar and trainings on caving, like in Borongan City.
And villagers are also aware of the importance of caves that they inform authorities about the existence of such caves in their place. Cora Basadas of the local government of Borongan City has led several cave exploration activities in Borongan City, to see the potential of these caves as tourist destinations.
Among the caves Basadas and her group explored were the Kalipayan Cave in Barangay Calingatan, the Ganap Cave in Barangay Cabongaan, the Linal-an Cave in Barangay Can-abong and Talubagnan Cave in Barangay Bato, all in Borongan City.
Several caves can also be found in the region like the Guinogo-an Cave in Calbayog City, the Cambaro cave in Macrohon, Southern Leyte, the Lintaon Cave and Balao Cave in Baybay City. Underwater caves can be found in Taft and Guiuan towns in Eastern Samar.
Caves attract caving enthusiasts not only because they exprerience adrenaline rush exploring the unknown in the dark – walking in an unknown territory, climbing rocks and crawling small openings – but also for the beautiful sights of glittering stalactites, stalagmites and other rock formations, in unique shapes and sizes, along the way and for the refreshing dip in cool underground water.
In Samar alone, there are around a hundred caves waiting to be explored, each with different length, width and natural wonders to behold. Caves in Leyte also show a different kind of beauty, whether these are cathedral caves or caves with underground rivers.
Guido Rossi, a geologist and caver from Verona, Italy, who was with the group of foreign cavers that explored the Sulpan-Maleho Cave in Mauguinao, Samar this summer, said they would probably come back to Samar next year because there are still many caves to explore.
Exploring caves is really more fun in the Eastern Visayas!
NOTE: Except for this last photo (Sohoton Cave in Basey, Samar), which was taken by me, the rest of the photos were made available through the courtesy of Joni Bonifacio, Guido Rossi and Matteo Rivadossi.
For more information you can visit Joni Bonifacio’s website :