Caramoan Series

Caramoan | Umang Cave (A Photo Essay)

Monday, December 10, 2012Ryan Mach

There's a nice little cave in Paniman called Umang Cave (umang means 'empty shell', or 'the hollow sound an empty shell makes' in Bicolano). To access this cave, one has to wade through a chest-deep brackish water or ride a kayak/raft/small banca, whichever is convenient and available. I've learned about this cave a few months ago during my first trip in Caramoan, but I haven't had a chance to see it because of the bad weather condition that time. Although Umang Cave was squeezed in our full-packed itinerary, we didn't know when to schedule the visit.

We were supposed to start our second day in Caramoan early. There were about 8 islands to hop or so we hoped to hop. Call-time was 6:00AM but due to some unwanted hangover and fatigue from the previous night, we woke up a bit late. At least some of us did. We arrived at the jump-off point - a small resort bar at the far end of Paniman Beach - at around 7. While having breakfast (hot sopas and biko or rice cake),  the owner of the resort told us that some of our companions who got there much earlier had gone to check out the cave. So the perfect time to see the cave was now, we thought. She asked her assistant, a woman named Fleur, to accompany us should we decide to follow suit.

Never wanting to miss out a trip to Umang Cave, we asked Fleur to show us the way. She led us to the nearby river leading to the inner part of the swamp which serves as a trail to access the cave. It was still low-tide and the river was pretty much safe for walking. The cave isn't that far anyway. Besides, with the low water level, a raft would have a hard time passing through.
 The sun was out and the river was too calm it hardly made any ripple. The first few minutes of the trek was a walk in the park, quite literally. Only we were walking in the river.
The leisurely walk became more of a challenge when had to cross the river to get to the other side.
The water was just chest-deep but for a short guy like me, it was almost neck-deep. Haha!
Then the trail got a little difficult to trod on because the river bed was mostly composed of slippery mud. It really slowed us down big time. We were sort of dragging our feet and every step was a calculating one because we're afraid we might step on something pointy. Since the river was muddy, we couldn't see what was lying underneath.
But the walk was enjoyable. It was a good exercise. We were all getting warmed up and sweaty.
We realized that it was much easier to walk barefooted so we removed our footwear. The riverbed was all soft and gooey.
The trees were bathed in a golden morning glow. In the distance we could hear the shrill sound of birds.
We spotted a few flying above the trees. Proof that the forest is well-preserved.

After several minutes of walking and wading through the water, we finally reached a dead-end. Our guide told us that we're almost there. But we had to do some climbing.

The rock formation reminded me of the Underground River in Palawan.
Climbing our way up was the most challenging part. The rocky slope was damp which made the trail slippery. There used to be a wooden stairs because the cave was used by Survivor for their tribal council but they were nowhere to be found.
We were all sweaty when we reached the cave.

The cave was discovered by locals who were looking for a place to hide during the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines.
It is believed that the Japanese had left some treasure inside the cave.
It's mostly dry inside. The stench of bat dung overpowered the place.
Light passes through the large opening and crevices, so it's never dark in most parts. But the walls and rocks are not very stable. Our guide offered to venture the innermost part of the cave where a large supply of guano could be found but we told her we're good. We've had enough spelunking for the day. Beside, it's getting late.
Going down was equally difficult. But we all emerged at the base in one piece.
We saw two fishermen on our way back. We asked if they had caught anything, but they only smiled and shook their head.
The water level was on the rise. If we had stayed long enough inside the cave, we could get stuck there because we wouldn't be able to walk in the river anymore.
We were fetched by one of the guides who rode on a small raft.
Apparently, we couldn't all fit on it so only those who were short and weighed less were allowed to hop on board. I fit the bill so I scored a spot. Lol.
Photo by Nat.
All in all, it was an enjoyable adventure.

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