Sydney > Manila > Tacloban (Leyte Island) > Catbalogan (Samar Island) – 10 & 11 January 2017
When MSS President, Jim C, asked if anyone wanted to go caving with him in the Philippines, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So, I booked my flight to Tacloban and Jim, who knows his way around the Philippines (after a few trips over there), did the organising … two caving trips on Samar. Jim’s sister-in-law, Monique, was to join us on the 12th January for the 2nd caving trip.
To give a bit of history, back in 1976, I lived just outside of Manila for 14 months, and did quite of bit of travelling on some of the islands, so I was looking forward to going back 40 years later to see the changes (if any).
The holiday didn’t have a very auspicious start … I had to stay the night before at the Ibis, then get up at 3.15am to check-in at Philippine Airlines by 4.00am for the 6am departure. I thought that was earlier than needed but found that the check-in line was very long when I arrived so good thing I didn’t go with a later start. Then, the food on Philippine Airlines was less than average and there were no in-flight movies (you have to download an app before you get on the flight, but no-one tells you that). This was a big disappointment for me, one of the joys of flying anywhere is the opportunity to watch back-to-back movies!
I got a birds-eye view of Manila and was astounded by the number of sky-rise buildings, the city is huge now, a lot has happened over the past 40 years!
I had a 5-hour lay-over in Manila sitting around the domestic terminal with nothing to read (I’d finished my book on the flight!), and the PA system was blasting away non-stop for the whole 5-hours. On the plus side though, I met some lovely people on the flight and in the terminal, Filipinos are really friendly.
Finally, at 5.15pm I arrived in Tacloban. Jim met me at the airport (the only westerner in a sea of Filipino faces) and we hopped in a van to go to our accommodation for the night.
Eventually, after a four hour bus-ride, we arrived in Catbalogan (Samar). We got off the bus with our luggage at the depot (amongst 30 or 40 buses and just as many tricycles) and wondered where we should go next. Two tricycles drove up to us and one said something unintelligible to Jim (at least to my ears) and Jim shrugged at me and hopped into the trike.
Then the trikes stopped on this corner and we were at our destination. We wondered how they knew to take us here, but then I figured that tourists were very rare in this town (I only saw one other westerner over the time we were here) and the trike drivers just assumed that this is where we were intending to go.
Joni is a one-man operation, https://trexplore.ph/. He runs caving and canyoning expeditions, has been caving for over 17 years (starting as a scout), and is a wealth of knowledge. As we were a small group (2 now and 3 tomorrow), for convenience we stayed in a room in his house (with air-conditioning and our own bathroom). Joni’s wife provided us with breakfast each morning we were there and we went out to eat at restaurants. Catbalogan* is definitely not a tourist town, it’s a very poor area with no apparent industry, however, in amongst all the run down buildings there were two brand-new buildings, both built as cafes or restaurants and this is where we ate, they were modern set-ups and obviously catered to the more wealthy Filipinos that lived in the town.
*Catbalogan is the capital of Samar, with a population of just over 100,000. The city was founded in 1596 by Jesuit priests that came to the area. The city was captured in 1900 by the Americans during the Philippine-American War and then during WW2, the Japanese forces occupied the capital. Twice the city has been destroyed by fires (in 1957 and 1969).
On November 8, 2013, super typhoon Yolanda (the deadliest typhoon on record to hit landfall) devastated Samar and Leyte. Catbalogan was one of the most badly hit areas. The city was flooded with 4m of water in less than an hour.
Our adventure was to start next morning with a visit to Lobo Cave.