AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Sagada: Day 2

The main activity to do in Sagada is the Sumaguing Cave and today we decided we should do it. We had breakfast at The Yogurt House, our favourite place to eat in Sagada. The yogurt for breakfast (anytime really) is delicious. Annemarie had the yogurt with strawberries and muesli and I had it with local honey. A delicious way to start the day.

We went up to the information office to get a guide for the caves and a quick spur of the moment decision also asked for the guide to show us around Echo Valley, which contains a few hanging coffins.

The hanging coffins are from the Pre-Christian era. After a person died the family would seat them in a chair, which would then be carried to the burial place. As part of the ceremony the local people used to carry the empty coffin into the valley and place it on a cliff edge (usually in a precarious position. The family (friends too maybe?) would then form a line and the body, which was tied to the chair, would be handed from person to person until finally the body would be placed into the coffin and sealed. The coffins were very small because the person would be buried in the foetus position. When the Catholics came the practice of hanging coffins continued with a small change, now people were buried lying down. The coffins are hung on the wall so that they are closer to heaven. The reason they were buried in the foetus position was due to the belief that in order to go back to your maker you must leave Earth as you entered it. In the burial cave the coffins were stacked up on the edge of the cave. Apparently, after big earthquakes the coffins sometimes fall down and have to be carried back up to the ledge or location from where they fell.

Our guide raced on ahead while we struggled to keep up with him. As we went down to the Echo falls. Aptly named because your voice carries for the valley. Down the hill into the valley we sped. Once in the valley floor it was only a minute or so to the coffins. We took a few photos then we were led back up the hill at a slightly reduced rate. Whereas on the way down we had been able to keep up with the guide coming back we didn’t stand a chance. We had to stop twice to cool down, rest and drink some water. Although we don’t have outright pace we do have a pretty good recovery time, so a short break is enough for us. We didn’t really need a guide for the short section but he did give us some basic history of the local people and the reasons behind why the coffins were placed in those locations, and it was only P200 (£3) extra so not exactly breaking the bank.

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After our quick detour we walked down through Sagada and through the next village about 1km past Sagada. Here we took another detour to see more hanging coffins in another valley. This was fast down the steps and almost as fast back up. Somehow our guide did this wearing jeans, without sweating or drinking anything.

Back at the top we walked the final few hundred meters around the corner to the cave. The cave was one of those where the entrance goes diagonal down into the ground. First we descended a lot of steps just the the mouth of the cave. Here our guide lit his ancient looking lamp and we headed down on some very steep and very slippery rocks (slippery because they have been worn smooth by the number of visitors to the cave). After about 5 minutes of clambering and slipping (only by the light of the lamp carried by our guide) we stopped on a flattish rock and were told to remove our shoes and socks. The rest of the cave would be done barefoot!

Oh hell! My feet have never been exposed to the ground more than maybe 10m, usually on a beach, or hopping into the car with muddy feet. As a result they are very sensitive, which means that I’m less inclined to go barefoot, which makes them stay very sensitive. So this was very bad news. But there was no turning back, that would be silly and a total waste of money. So I took my shoes off and grimaced at the feeling of the cold, wet, sharp rocks under my feet.

I could immediately see why we needed bare feet, the stone we were walking on was very smooth and sloped down and had water running over it. Our feet had very good grip but our shoes would probably get us killed.

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We walked down slopes of smooth stone, through many ankle deep pools and a couple of knee deep pools. The cave looked fantastic. The water had deposited many minerals into the cave creating huge formations of smooth stone and ripple effects. One such example being the supposed ‘birthday cake’.

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Then we hit an almost sheer drop of about 3-4m. There was a rope hanging down the the slope and we were told to go down the rope. I’ve never abseiled, nor do I know the technique. I have little strength in my arms because I don’t do any manual labour. So this rope worried me a bit. Been the gentleman I let Annemarie go first. She did fine and as I held onto the rope and started moving backwards towards the drop I hoped I would be too. Again, my feet had very good grip and the cold water had semi numbed them so they didn’t hurt, but I manly used my arms to lower myself down. Good fun though and some unique photos (you’ll not see me walking barefoot, hanging onto a rope in a cave again, probably).

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We continued further down the cave through many interesting shaped rocks and formations. Then we reached another section with rope. This was only about 2.5m but it was a vertical drop and only one place to use as footing. This was far more terrifying and difficult than the first slope. I had to hold into the rope then put my foot on an almost vertical slope and swing round so I was facing the rock face; a manoeuvre which I struggled to force myself to do. This slope was tough, I got my foot onto the ledge but it was too far to the ground to do in one go. Luckily the guide allowed his leg as an in between step. Also, there was a really sharp rock at the bottom, which would have severed our feet!

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We were now near the bottom of the cave. A short walk and we reached as far as this tour would take us. The water which had been running through the cave was funnelled into a short waterfall and into a crystal clear and very deep pool at the bottom. We sat here for a few minutes resting and admiring the view.

The walk back up was a bit faster but OK. My feet felt like they were cut and some pain was starting to kick in. I used the cold water to try and numb them as much as possible. The rope section was difficult coming back up but the guide gave me a good shove and I made it up without any issues. The longer but not so steep section posed no problem, my feet had good grip and I was able to easily pull myself up. We dried our feet and put our shoes on ready for the long uphill walk out of the cave.

Our shoes were wet and we found that we had ZERO grip on the smooth shiny stones. Coming back up was proving to be very difficult. We stopped a couple of times to rest but on the whole made good time. Only the steps out of the cave to the road left us out of breath and sweating.

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We walked the couple of kilometers back to town and spent the rest of the day relaxing. This had been a very good day, we really liked the cave and even the walking around barefoot hadn’t been as bad as I was expecting.

Photos from Echo Valley can be seen here.
Photos from Sumaguing Cave can be seen here.

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