Remote caving in the Philippines

PART 2 – GIGANTES ISLAND, RP – 4 – 8 October 2023
The next part of our Philippines trip would be on Gigantes Island, and a week-long “expedition”. Rough translation for Gigantes … Island of the Giants – located north of the Island of Panay, one of the West Visayan Islands. Local legend describes coffins found on Gigantes inside Bakwitan Cave that contained gigantic human bones.     
To get to Gigantes, from Samar, at 6am we caught a local bus (ie no air conditioning, pigs and chickens cargo) from Catbalogan to Tacloban then flew from Tacloban to Manila, then caught a flight to Iloilo (at the southern end of Panay), arriving at our hotel around 8.30pm (a long day lol).  At the hotel, we met up with our Pilipino hosts, Venus, Adore and Precious (members of the Western Visayas Caving Association), and made plans for our transfer to Gigantes. The next day, we left Venus’ house around 1.30pm and drove north, arriving at the Bancal Bagsakan Center (the port) at around 5.30pm.  Anna and I headed off to buy some fruit whilst Venus negotiated with our boat captain (and the Coast Guard) who none of whom were keen to take us over to Gigantes because the captian would be returning to the port in the dark.

Negotiations completed, instead of paying P4,000 it was going to cost us P6,000, but what can you do?  Unpacking Venus’ ute with all out gear.

Jim on the Boat and Anna about to embark, because we were the only ones, all our luggage wasn’t a problem.

Looking back at the port, it’s by now getting quite dark. I can’t say I was happy about a 1 hour trip across the sea in the dark.

L-R – Jim, Ross-Boy, Venus an Anna.

Half-way there are darkness is descending – in the distance are fishing outriggers.  Eventually it was fully dark and we landed at the Port on Gigantes and then took tricycles to our “Resort”.

Next morning, breakfast in one of the picnic shelters.

From our resort, looking down over the beach at low tide.  Whilst the sea looks inviting (particularly if you’re sitting sweating during the heat of the day), but alas, the temperature of the water was like a hot bath, you would have had to swim out a long way to deeper water for some relief.

Our first day was a “rest day”, and then on the Friday, at 6am a small outrigger picked us up from the beach in front of the resort at high tide to take us over to the island where we’d be doing our caving for the day.

Coming up to the “port” at 7am, we’d be landing next to the building on stilts, which turned out to be the remains of a home. The government wants all these buildings that are over the water demolished. The whole building is concrete, demolishing it is going to be interesting.  We hung around in the house for an hour or so drinking coffee.

A closer look at the house that’s supposed to be demolished – you can understand why. Believe it or not a family lives in that house, and the left side of it has a “shop” where you can buy stuff. We figured that the structure was maybe 20 years old. (image: Jim C)

Unloading the boat.

At 8.30am, we headed up through the village and then into the jungle to get to the cave.

Then the porters (village kids), man-handled (or kid-handled) our gear down into the cave.

Further into the cave now, we had about 3 of these barrels with all the gear in them including our lunch.

From the passageway, looking back to the cave entrance.

Looking towards the right hand passageway – where everyone else other than Venus and I would be going.

Venus and I went into the left hand passage to have a look around, this was more decorated than the right hand passage which was a giant stream passage.

Nice rim pool section (we took pains to skirt around this so it wouldn’t get muddy).

More nice formations.

We’re now in the right hand passageway, it has a number of passages off to the right hand side, all of which involve abseiling down into another passageway. The blue tape on the right is the anchor for the abseil, the biggest natural anchor I’ve ever seen (lol).

The porters sitting at the top of one of the passages, watching the others abseil.

Venus with some of the porters explaining about graffiti (of which there was a lot) and telling them how it was bad to write anything on the walls (the villagers can easily get into the caves and in fact there’s a few “excavations” in this cave where villagers have been digging for “treasure” – possibly gold bars left by the retreating Japanese at the end of WW2.

All except Venus and I went down the pitch and looked around, then prussiked back up.  Apparently it was extremely hot and humid down below and when they got to the top of the 13m pitch, most were covered in sweat.  This was enough for Anna to decide she wasn’t going down again.  I too thought that it wasn’t worth my effort to do the abseil and so we stayed back at the Resort for the next two days.  Jim joined the group again, they were planning to do some surveying with my DistoX but couldn’t get it calibrated, so gave up.  After 2 more days caving though, they did find more passage than they knew existed, so the trip was worthwhile.

At 1.50pm we headed down to the shore to our boat, going through the village.

Back at the port, chatting with some of the village kids, they didn’t know much English, but did know their age(s). Cute kids.

On day 2 the boat arriving to pick up those that would go back and do more caving.  Anna and I just lazed around at the resort for the day.  Too hot to do anything else.

The following day when the others went back to the cave, Anna and I chose to do a walk into the village and find (a) a lovely tree house that Anna had found on another sorte into the village and (b) the lighthouse. Here’s the treehouse.

Rose-Ann had joined us in our walk. She had a little English and just walked along beside us. She was happy to have her photo taken at the treehouse.

It took us about an hour to get to the lighthouse – and have photos taken.

Apparently the lighthouse was built by the Spanish in 1893. It’s a very attractive building and has stood the test of time.

Inside the lighthouse, in the “coffee shop” which had lovely tables and chairs but no coffee. We were able to buy some water for Rose-Ann though as she had walked all the way with us without water.  Always a sucker for old buildings this was one of the highlights of my trip.

By now Anna and I had had enough of walking in the heat, so we flagged down a tricycle and the three of us got a ride back to the resort … with another passenger who had a big tub of freshly caught fish.  Rose-Ann took herself back home while Anna and I retreated into the air-condidioning for a nap.

After our nap, it was low tide so we decided to do a walk via the rocks/beach around to the port, which was probably a 1k walk.  The most memorable things were the amount of garbage in the water/on the beach, and the banded sea snake that paid us a visit!  I was keen to head back to the resort after that but we persevered and made it to the port and were offered beers (and who knows what else) by a band of teenagers who were having fun with beer out of sight from the port (LOL).

We hired the boat we’d been using for the past few days to take our luggage and us around to the port, it was a logistical nightmare to organise tricycles to pick us up with all the gear that we had.

When the outrigger arrived that would take us back to the main island, it was already pretty full, and our group and our luggage filled it to capacity – the trip back was P200 each, much cheaper than the trip over.  However, given the boat was so overloaded, I’ve never been so happy to reach dry land in my life!

The port – nothing but outriggers.

We bid farewell to Precious (who’d arrived on the second day – Adore and AJ had left earlier), and headed off to our next adventure, heading south to Suhot Cave and Spring.

Whilst the accommodation had been pretty basic, it did have air-conditioning and the manager of the property almost waited on us hand and foot.  I really enjoyed the food they provided, a wonderful fish dinner and scallops for two nights (not suitable for Jim and Anna though!).  The stay on Gigantes had been very relaxing, thanks for organising this Jim and a big thanks to all the WVA cavers!

This entry was posted in Caving, MSS, Philippines. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.