Monday, December 12, 2011
Aside from Palaui Island, Callao Cave was also one of the reasons why I wanted to visit the province of Cagayan. And just before our trip to Palaui, we only alloted a few hours to see this natural wonder. I was skeptical at first because we were really on a time crunch and I wasn't even well that time but after seeing these magnificent rock formations for just a few hours, I say it was worth the risk. And with a smart and witty 10-year old kid to tour us around, it couldn't get any better.
There are two ways of going to the cave. You can choose to cross a river by boat or you can simply hire a tricycle for just a 30-minute drive from the city of Tuguegarao. We choose the latter and were able to hire one that would take us to Penablanca and then back to city for Php 300. It wasn't actually a smooth ride because my lower left rib was in pain and there were some potholes in the road so imagine my dilemma while traveling. You see I was suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection and I was sneezing like crazy so I had to take a leave from work a few days before this trip. In fact, I couldn't even walk and sit normally because my lower left rib was already in pain and I even remembered Ivy joking at the airport saying that she's traveling with a disabled man and she keeps on calling me 'lolo' (damn you Ivy!) Thank God for that small store that we chanced upon while heading to Callao because they sell over-the-counter medicines so I was able to buy a tablet of mefenamic acid and after a few minutes later, I was back on my feet again.
Just a few meters from the store was the tourist center where we paid a Php 20 entrance fee. This is where we met a 10-year old tour guide named Harvey. At first I thought this kid was shy and maybe he'll just show us the way to the entrance of the cave but he turns out quite to be a charmer. Upon meeting us, he politely introduced himself and started making conversation such as where we live, how long do we plan to stay and others that I can't even remember. He already warned us of the 180+ steps stairway that we needed to climb to reach the entrance of the cave. It's a good thing he was very accommodating so the long climb wasn't really that stressful and were even dumbfounded after he informed us of a certain 'oxygenated' area where the temperature drops a bit while we were on our way up.
This kid never ceased to amaze me. There was this instance where he was looking at my camera and he was guessing the model of it. He has an idea of the specs of several DSLR's and knows how to use them so we asked him to take picture of us most of the time. I got a good laugh from a side remark while I was taking a picture of the cave, "Ayan mailalagay nyo pa po yan sa Facebook!"
Located at the town of Peñablanca, Callao Caves feature seven chambers, some of which would require one to have a guide. The first chamber is the most famous one because features a natural cathedral which was turned into a chapel. There was an episode of Maalala Mo Kaya (starring Zaijan Jaranilla of May Bukas Pa) that featured the life story of a young tour guide and this is where most of the scenes have been filmed. I was able to watch a portion of that episode and was curious to know where he is right now but according to Harvey, that kid is now 16 years old and if my memory serves me right, he's already in Singapore.
Most of the chambers feature natural crevices allowing light to get into the cave that serves as illumination giving that dramatic effect on the stalactites and stalagmites especially in the deeper chambers. Unfortunately we weren't able to witness the famous spotlight effect on the cathedral from the cave atrium because it was already past 3pm. According to Harvey, the best time to catch this natural lighting effect would be around 9am with the sun's rays directly enterting the large crevice above the chapel.
It was past 5pm so we had to say goodbye to Harvey and thanked him for being such a great tour guide. I even remembered Ivy telling him, "Mag-aral ka ha. Malayo mararating mo." I support that very strongly and couldn't agree more.
We may not have witnessed that moment where the skylight illuminates the hall through the cave's opening but just a sight of the colossal limestone and rock formations was already rewarding. And to have a smart and intelligent tour guide like Harvey makes this short trip to Cagayan's top tourist destination even more memorable.