Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ecotourism Adventure in Cagayan’s Grandiose Callao Cave

Welcome to the caving adventure capital of the Philippines: the Pearl of the Orient--Cagayan Valley!

Cagayan is home to more than 300 cave systems, which are mostly unexplored, and the most famous of these caves is Callao Cave, named after the native bird frequently seen in the vicinity. 

Callao Cave, about 30 minutes ride from Tuguegarao City, is a seven-chamber cave system located in PeƱablanca, Cagayan Valley. But, it is not simply a cave of stalagmites and stalactites. It has a chapel for religious activities and its awesome dome-shape chambers are like cathedrals with penetrating skylights, especially at noontime, adding more grandeur to this wonder of nature. Moreover, the cave had been home to prehistoric humans. In 2007, a human foot bone was unearthed in this cave. This relic, dated at 67,000 years old using the uranium-series ablation method, was named Callao Man, after the cave’s name, and predates the Tabon Man in Palawan by 20,000 years and the Mongo man of Australia, 17,000 years. As such, Callao Man is the oldest proof of human existence and civilization found in Asia-Pacific Region.

Before exploring the cave, you have to register at the tourist center, which will provide you a guide as needed. The center has facilities for the visitors’ immediate needs while affordable overnight accommodations are available in Tuguegarao City.  Then, you have to climb a stair with 187 steps in the mountainside before you can get in. The chapel is in the first chamber illumined by skylight. Stay awhile in this chamber and savor the cool air to refresh you after climbing the stairs.  As you go on traversing every chamber to the next, observe dripstone formations that look like a lion or an elephant’s head or a praying angel or any look-alikes limited only by your imagination.

River cruising, bat-and-bird watching and fresh-water swimming in Pinacanauan River, which is just by the side of the cave, complete the visitors’ experience of spelunking in Cagayan.  

For boating escapade, motorized boats are for rent and each is good for 10 persons.  The river, clear and moss green, is flanked by limestone cliffs partly covered with emerald vegetation. Rock islets and bars of sand and polished stones serve as docking areas for you to luxuriate in its cool waters. While waiting for the dusk and the thrill of watching live demonstration of the food chain between bats and hawks, leisurely swimming is the most relaxing must-do. Or, enjoy watching brown hawks soaring high and low near the cave at the side of the limestone wall waiting to fest on their prey, the bats, to fly out in multitude.  At twilight, get awed by the circadian flight of millions of bats, which are being snatched by swooping hungry hawks. These bats are supposed to look for insects, their prey.

In the month of July, when I visited Cagayan Valley, the weather each day was unpredictable. Luckily, my spelunking adventure in Callao Cave was blessed with perfect weather—clear and blue sky.

Of course, before or after caving, never to be missed in Tuguegarao City is indulging in its own version of noodles, the delightful pansit batil-patung. The name of this famous noodle cuisine is coined from the pansit, the beaten (batil) egg soup and another sunny-side up egg as a garnish on top (patung) of the mound of noodles—this, I missed in this journey.

For a seamless ecotourism spelunking adventure, contact Tourism Promotion Officer Fanibeth Domingo of Cagayan Valley Region, Department of Tourism, at her email address or contact numbers: cell phone 0917-6990796 and landline (6378) 844-1621.