Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sohoton Park Caves & Natural Bridge in Basey

On our 3rd day in Eastern Visayas, we went to the town of Basey in Samar, to see the caves and natural bridge of Sohoton National Park. This amazing 840-hectare park contains many caves, rock formations, underground rivers, as well as rockholes or sinkholes.

From the new bus terminal of Tacloban City, we rode a Basey-bound jeepney with fare of Php 25 per person. After crossing the beautiful San Juanico bridge, the vehicle stopped on Samar side to load farm goods on its roof. In 45 minutes since leaving Tacloban, the jeepney dropped us at the Basey Tourism Office near the public market and wharf.

We paid Php 2,684 for the usual Sohoton Park tour, which includes the caves and natural bridge. It consists of the boat rental (P1500), guide fee (P400), lighting fee (P400), entrance and other fees (P384).  The boat has a capacity of 8 passengers excluding the 2 boatmen, while they require a guide for every 10 visitors. So the bigger the group, the less expense per visitor. 

The tourism officer Carol patiently answered all our queries regarding the tour, as well as where we can buy food and banig (woven mat products). Cut off time for the Sohoton cave tour is 1:00 pm. If visitors would like to see the Balantak Falls, visitors should start the tour at 8:00 am, and add Php 748 if the four of us availed it. Carol be contacted at (63) 915-4377188 for inquiries and booking the cave tour.

After few drinks and washroom break, we boarded the motorized bancas on the wharf. We put on their clean life vests, before we started our 1.5 hours voyage to the cave. From the wide mouth of the Basey Golden River that leads to San Juanico strait, we went inland passing through mangrove forest and under a long concrete bridge. We saw lots of birds, including a wild brown duck that flew over our boat path, before landing at the river.

There are lots of communities living on the riverbank. A banca crossed to the other side, loaded with a motorbike. There seems to be a fiesta, as lots of people are preparing food along the river. We even saw a pig carcass lying on the riverbank. Lots of kids swimming on many parts of the river. On the upper left side of the photo below, there is a signage leading to Rawis cave for the serious spelunkers.

We crossed underneath a smaller bridge. The nipa palm trees seemed endless, until they were replaced by coconut and other trees.

Arriving at the Sohoton cave kiosk area, tourism officer Ebot gave us a short briefing about the cave system's history, as well as the prohibited actions inside the cave system. He advised us to use the washroom on the kiosk area, prior to the 1-1.5 hour tour of the cave. After wearing the required hard hats, he led us to the cave entrance while the lantern person served as our sweeper.

The cave has many chambers with high-ceiling, some could easily fit a 3-storey house. There are lots of stalactite and stalagmite formations, the most I've seen among the caves I visited. If visitors would use their imagination, they would see these formations and their shadows resemble various people and objects.

Below are stalactites that resemble women's breasts. The right photo is a column or pillar, which forms when a stalactite (from the ceiling) and a stalagmite (from the ground) meets and connect. Experts say that an inch of stalactite or stalagmite needs about a hundred years to form, which is why there is preservation law prohibiting the removal of those cave formations.

Inside the cave is eerily dark, some with slippery portions, as water drips from the ceiling. We only saw a few bats, and the odor of their guano dung is almost unnoticeable.

The upper left picture on the collage below has the slim, brown, and hollow type of stalactite. They can be touched without destroying its color. There was a part on the cave with longer and wider type of that stalactite, which produce different sounds like Do-Re-Mi musical notes when tapped gently.

Some stalactites form bead-like formation. On one area where a water sink was formed, we saw cave pearls or naturally-formed round limestone marbles.

The dazzlingly-white part of the stalactites on the middle of the 2 photos below reveal crystal formations. The right photo resembles the holy family, where some local visitors hanged their rosary above it.

Left photo below resemble a bouquet of flowers or an ice cream cone. Right photo seems to have a lady with long hair hanging upside down.

The cave part with nice crystal formation. The middle and right photo is one and the same, resembling a king's throne. Unfortunately, irresponsible visitors stepped on it, leaving dirt on the crystal. It should have been much more beautiful, with the crystals bouncing our lights.

Photo below seems to have mini waterfalls in many layers.

Ebot says that the 2 photos below depicts the male sex organ, while the right photo resembles a pata (pig's foot).

As we got near the first cave's exit, a unique stalactite formation greeted us on the left photo of the collage below. Instead of usually pointing downward due to gravity, it did a horizontal left turn leading to the cave exit. Ebot said that it was probably formed by the wind direction inside the cave.

Later, we entered a second but shorter cave on the left side. It has an opening to a dock on the riverbank.

On the top mouth of the cave, it leads to a wooden & steel pathway commissioned by an Italian priest before, who explored the cave system many years ago.

For the history buffs, this part of the Golden River was an ambush site by Filipino guerrillas, as they drop large rocks to the American soldiers on bancas who are pursuing them, a retribution attack related to the Balangiga massacre on a nearby eastern town. This is why these caves are named as Panhulugan caves, where hulog means "to drop".

The view from this cave mouth is simply enchanting. See below the limestone cliff and the serene river, with our boat docked on the right side.

After a short break back on the kiosk, we returned to the boat to see the natural bridge.

The river is clear, despite the current underneath. It mirrors the views above it.

Below is one of my favorite shots on this trip, the rocky formation perfectly reflected by the river, like a face in a kaleidoscope.

After about 10 minutes, we docked near the above area and started our short hike to the natural bridge. It would have been a longer hike, if the tide is low and the boat would not have been able to get this far. We passed a foot-wide sinkhole (middle photo below), where I cannot see the bottom due to its depth. Later, there is a pair of rock walls with crevice on the middle, on the right photo below.

Below is the upstream part of the Basey Golden River underneath the Natural Bridge, a natural arch-shaped rock that connects two mountain ridges. With vertical clearance now of 23 feet, the river dug a hole on this rock over thousands of years. The top of this natural bridge was formerly a trail by illegal loggers, but the heavy growth of trees and bushes now make it inaccessible. 

Some rock formation and cave mouths are present on this area as well, giving credence to geologists' claim that the Samar island is 30% made of limestone, thus forming many caves that are yet to be explored. But due to natural fear of the dark and unknown, coupled with superstitions, we Filipinos usually leave it to foreign spelunkers to explore and map our caves. On the left side of that protruding rock on left photo below, I spotted another cave.

I gave Php 100 tip to our guide Ebot and to the boatmen. We arrived back at the wharf by 2:30 pm, where we've had lunch at one of the carinderias. Viand prices range between Php 25-40/serving. We checked the banig stores and the old Basey church, before riding the ordinary vans that go back to Tacloban City for Php 30/person.

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