Goin' Underground

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January 29th 2008
Published: January 29th 2008
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Pictures: Sabang & The Underground River 1 Sabang & The Underground River 2

Last weekend, as previously hoped, me and two others from the base went to the Underground River in Sabang. When we hopped off our tricycle to Brgy, we faced the option of riding the top of a jeepney or taking an air conditioned bus. Without a moment’s hesitation, I chose the natural A/C atop the jeepney. The others wanted the adventure too, so we climbed the ladder and found a spot atop the metal racking. The ride was a wild one, even though it made our butts sore from all the bumps and potholes we drove over. Of course there was a bunch of other cargo and people on top, which made it all the more interesting. The guy I was sitting beside bought us some peanuts and I initiated some conversation with him, while my air flapped ruthlessly in the warm wind. We got to Sabang around 9:30am, ready to start enjoying the place.

After scooping up a permit, taking a much-needed pee break and buying something to throw down our throats, we headed towards the bangka dispatcher to get a boat ride to the underground river. We debated some time about whether we should share a boat to lower our costs or not, and wandered in search of people. Eventually we gave up and were about to take one ourselves, and then an English couple who were sitting besides us agreed to join us. A little more waiting and off we were. The boatmen pushed us into the blue with large sticks, and then started the engines. The boat bounced across the pure blue waves that rolled past us as we headed to the much-acclaimed Underground River.

We approached the shore about 20 minutes later, which was absolutely gorgeous. Many bangkas had anchored about 40 meters from shore and were riding the waves humbly as they scampered underneath, bound for the immaculate light brown sand spread out in front of us. We hopped off and went for pee breaks. The boatman spotted me as I came out and led me to the river, where I waited for the two girls, slightly worried that the girls wouldn’t find me. I was supposed to just wait on the beach for them, and I would have, but when I asked the boatman if my other two companions were there, he thought I mean the English couple. Whatever, we had time to kill before our tour would go through the river anyway. I ate a bag of corn ships going by the name of Chippy, which tasted more like a bag full of salt than anything else, and before I could finish them, it was our turn to hop into the bangka and meander our way into the gaping mouth of subterranean discoveries.

The inside was huge. I was expecting a narrow passageway, which =honestly= would have been better yet, but the caves were actually massive, probably 8 meters wide at the narrowest. And there was much head room. At one point, there was a cave that we could hardly even see the top of with a high-powered flashlight. There were many stalagmites and stalactites, very few of the sharp variety that I imagined, and most of them had really unique shapes. In particular, on the right side of the extremely large cave, there was a formation that resembled the nativity scene with the characters kneeling around the manger, etc. There was also a butt-load of bats hanging from the ceilings, way at the top. I hoped they would fly a little lower so I could get a good glimpse at them, to no avail. Too bad there was nothing to throw at them but my camera and backpack.

After our exit of the river, and pulling back onto the small shore where we first boarded, we walked back near the beach where I saw the hugest monitor lizard one could possibly imagine. I thought it was a young komodo dragon, that’s how big it was. And it lazing its way amongst people, probably searching for food, not really too worried about the attention it was getting. That was awesome. The girls flaked out on taking Monkey Trail back to Sabang, so they went bangka while I walked the trail alone. I asked a young Norwegian couple who had walked it if they had seen the alleged monkeys, and they said they hadn’t, but that they were thinking there would be more on Forest Trail. So, I walked down Monkey Trail until I saw the turn into Forest Trail.

No monkeys. That was a serious disappointment. The monkeys that try to steal stuff from you are probably some college kid’s homemade urban legend. That was going to be my highlight, and ended as a lowlight. Anyways, I did have a good time trekking through the woods on my own. About halfway, there were some really awesome caves that I made sure to explore. They weren’t very deep, but big enough to possibly house some animals. I fantasized monkeys would come out of them, but I found not a living soul within its entrails. Wearing only flip-flops, I bounded through the second half of the trail at a quickened pace. With all the photo snapping and exploration (every hole in the rock was a potential snake pit), the girls would be wondering where I was. I saw a small (but likely poisonous) snake jump from plant to plant across my path, but he scuttled away in terror before I ever could.

Emerging from the trails, I was in some seemingly distant village. Not realizing how close I was to the strip of resorts in Sabang, I asked some guy sitting in tall grass, doing heaven knows what, where Sabang was. He pointed me down a very narrow path trampled in the tall grass towards my aforementioned destination. Eventually I hit the beach and walked until I saw Jocelyn and Stef having a beach party. I joined them and we had fun running into the waves and having them wash us away.

It is late right now and I’m hoping to post this online tomorrow, so I have to cut it short(er).

We got more snacks to hold us over until late supper. We went to Tribal Restaurant and ordered chicken curry adobo, vegetable chop-suey in coconut milk, and fresh buko (coconut) juice out of the shell. Then we went back, I set up my thin fleece sleeping bed on the front patio of the hut and slept it out. In the morning we went to some other restaurant and then rode the jeepney back home. I took the opportunity to ride on the top again, because there was only one other person up there. Let me tell you, being white, bareback, and at the very front of the top of a jeepney attracts a lot of stares. Stef and Jocelyn, who didn’t want to get more butt soreness, stayed inside this time, and they purportedly could tell whenever kids saw me on top, because they would wave and shout greetings. At one point, some young boy named Rafael jumped on top and sat beside me. He was friendly enough to make small talk with, but that was about it. I lost my headband in that windy expedition down the highway while laying flat on a spare tier and some bags of charcoal.

This weekend was a good time, but it felt a bit too resort-y for my likes. My highlights were the rooftop jeepney rides, exploring the caves on the trail, being waited at the restaurant by the same cross-dresser we met earlier at the sari-sari store, and sleeping outdoors to the constant white noise of the waves rolling in, in a very small sleeping bag and only a pair of jeans a t-shirt as a pillow.


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