Aran Cave (Benguet, PH)

Spelunking or caving is about exhilarating exploration, discovering a furtive underground landscape of stalactites and stalagmites, caverns and crevices where seemingly creepy silence echoes. The ghostly feeling these concealed wonders, and all that it keeps like the delicate formations growing inside them and surprising finds like waterfalls and natural pools — are enthralling natural phenomenon.

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I trace my first caving experience wayback May of 2008 in Sagada. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but it definitely was one of a kind experience. The following year (January 2009), I got to explore the then unknown Aran or Tukang Cave. 10 years after, who would have thought I would get to explore this very same cave again. During the 1st time I went spelunking in Aran, I was with a good friend, Jelaine and some other new found Korean friends. We did some high-angle rappelling, rock climbing, river trekking and airsoft range shooting before we culminated our day then with a caving adventure. Those moments are still pretty vivid in my memory.

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Left photo was taken in january 2009 during my 1st Aran Cave exploration while the photo on the right was taken last February 03, 2019. A 10 year gap for these two captures! 

Last weekend (February 03, 2019), I joined a group (a big one) for an Aran Cave exploration at Camp 3, Tuba, Benguet. I was on tenterhooks the past days having come from a surgery a week ago. I was bound to resume work the following day following more than a week of bedrest. The required rest of just staying put at home made me bored and feeling uneasy. If you know me as a person, you will definitely say that staying put is a very challenging state for me. That is why during that weekend, I went on to search for an event I could join. Luckily, there is the Aran Cave trip.

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So how was the experience during this trip? I always have had a soft spot for extreme adventures. The adrenaline rush it gives me is just great and invigorating. Just like my previous caving experiences, it remains to be exciting. Caving in Aran is pretty unique since the cave boasts off several levels of waterfalls. During my 1st visit, we managed to go up to the 3rd level. This time though, due to the aftermath of a strong typhoon last year, some of the ropes going to the 3rd level were damaged hence visitors are only limited to visiting upto the 2nd waterfall. Nonetheless, the adventure inside is nothing short but amazing!

The moments I love the most during this experience includes the rappelling part, the worming-squeezing our way in and out of small crevices (really super exciting), and the freezingly cold dip into the cave’s natural pools. The part I most appreciate is when we reached a certain portion of the cave and our guide asked everyone to turn off their headlights. It was pitch black and the coldness inside felt a little colder. Kuya Arthur, our guide, shared some stories about the cave (like how the story of a giant named Aran lived inside these caverns). He also told us that the very narrow portion we had to go through was symbolical as we go out of the cave. It was like a form of rebirth.

That thought had me thinking. True enough, there are some experiences in life that would make us feel we are born again. Challenges in life (just like those we encounter inside the cave), will test our patience and determination. There are moments when we are close to giving up but we have no choice but to go on. And that if we do not endure these struggles, we will never know what would be instore for us at the end of the adventure.

This is the itinerary we followed during this trip:

0630: Call time at Jollibee, Lakandula near Shoppers Lane (here in Baguio City)
0700: Expected Time of Departure from Baguio to Camp 3
0730: Expected Time of Arrival at the Jump off of Aran Cave in Camp 3, Tuba (which is part of Benguet)
0730: Preparation and Registration of Payment.

A short orientation was also made wherein do’s and don’ts were given as reminders for everyone’s safety. Also, our group was divided into smaller group of 10 (since we were 40 something), guides were designated and a warm-up exercise was even initiated.

0800: Trekked our way to the Entrance of the Cave. Another short talk was given here wherein a bit of Aran Cave’s history was shared by one of the guides.

0815: 1st group entered the cave. I joined the 4th/ last group so we had to wait for a while. A 20-minute interval was given every after a group enters the cave (which is good so that it wouldn’t be too crowded inside). So this signaled the start of the spelunking adventure.

1100 The expected time of exit for the 1st group. I wasn’t sure if this was followed. Nonetheless, once the spelunking is over, the participants could shower back at the orientation area.

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1200: Lunch was supposed to be served but our group (the last group) managed to eat at around 14:00 since we were the last ones to exit the cave and arrive at the lunch place.

Side trips were made that included visiting two waterfalls along Kennon Road. These are the Colorado falls and the popular Bridal Veil waterfalls. It was a quick visit where we only took photos. I have a separate blog for these waterfalls along Kennon Road.

1630: We left Camp 4. A bit late than the original itinerary but it was fine. We arrived Baguio at around 17:30.

The trip costs Php650/ person and it included the following: transportation (back and forth), a really sumptuous lunch (pinikpikan, adobo, and the oh so delicious dinuguan + drinks), a deadlight and skull guard head cap were provided (which I so appreciate), entrance fee, tour guide fee, and environmental fee. No fees for the waterfalls.

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Activities like this usually require the following: the use of non-slippery footwear (whether shoes or slipper/sandals), the use of dri-fit clothes (preferably long-sleeved and maybe leggings since some of the rock formations inside are sharp), extra clothes, your own water/ energy drinks, some trail food, ziplock or dry bag for your valuables (since there are instances when you have to cross some pools inside), kneepad and gloves (since some parts require crawling and rappelling).

Life, as Helen Keller would say, is a daring adventure or nothing at all. The things we choose to do with it defines us and make living extra beautiful. So have the courage to squeeze your way through narrow caves, climb over slippery mountains and boulders, and explore all possible adventures out there. Along the way, you will get to learn more about life and the many things you are capable of.

***Grabbed some photos from Sir Clifford of IBenguetTourGuides2018.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy. Follow me on Instagram: @nojuanisanisland

 

Sulvec Beach & the Grotto by the Sea (Ilocos Sur, PH)

The province of Ilocos Sur is primarily known for its capital city – Vigan. Hence, most people would spend their time in this famous Spanish-inspired “ciudad” (city). While it is true that the Heritage City of Vigan offers a lot to see and experience, the towns one gets to pass by on the way to Ilocos are also worthy of being visited.

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The coastal town of Narvacan (one of the largest in terms of land area and population in the entire Ilocos Sur) would actually capture a traveller’s attention as it imposes a stunning seascape. One particular spot is a rocky beach and a grotto by the sea called Paraiso ni Juan at Sulvec Point. The striking beauty of these vistas would often prompt a traveller to drop by the area. I suggest though that you stay until sundown because the sunset view is just stunning at this side of Ilocos.

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The grotto built by the sea was named after Captain Juan de Salcedo, whose fleet was shipwrecked in this area. Besides the sand dunes of Laoag and Paoay, this spot is also famed for being one of the places where the late Fernando Poe Jr shot his movie “Ang Panday”. TGoing to the grotto may require wading into the water and crossing some coralline rocksduring low tide as it is located several meters away from the beach line. The beach area (Sulvec Beach) is lined with some rock formations, and brown rocky sand. A few huts can be found making it an ideal place for picnic with friends and family.

As a person who loves sunsets, waiting for the sun as it immerses into the horizon at the end of the day, is the one thing I enjoyed the most. Just heart-melting!

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How to Reach Sulvec Beach (Point) and Paraiso ni Juan:

From Manila ride an Ilocos bound bus from Cubao (some in Pasay) Terminal. Bus lines like Genesis, Partas, Viron and Florida have regular trips to the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and La Union. Ride a bus that is Vigan or Laoag-bound then inform the conductor to drop you off at Sulvec point. Just cross the national highway and you will immediately spot the grotto.

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Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’.