June 7, 2023

Who would have known that there’s an adventure better than Disneyland and just one-hour drive from Baguio City?

This one is for the bucket list in these Covid-19 times but highly recommended for those who like a good hike, a dip in a stream, camping at the mouth of the cave, and venturing into the caverns of the earth.

We hired a jeep to bring us straight to Ambongdolan barangay hall from the Dangwa Station in Baguio. The road to this site used to be a little rough but after eight years, it ought to be paved.In those years, visitors to this barangay had to register at the barangay hall and pay the necessary fees before heading to the riverside. This process allows the officials to assign the tour guides to the group, the ratio being 1:3 because of the children, we had about four, two ladies and two gentlemen. The fees paid per head also go to these community experts who are duty bound to ensure safety while enjoying the natural facilities.

We had a briefing about the do’s and don’ts in using the river and the area near the caves. I don’t remember much of the other details except having to bring our garbage back up. But one wonders why there are no legends and stories about how places are named. This could add more details to the place, similar to the Tiwod Spring of Lubuagan, Kalinga where a white lady deity bathes in the water at dawn. Could Bengaongao Cave have been one that echoes or where echoes are heard?

The jump off point to the caves is a short distance from the barangay hall and a number of steps down to the river’s level. We brought our bags down to where we would camp out and the children couldn’t help but get into the water the moment they could strip off the jackets and kick off the shoes.

In those years, it was a treat to get out of the smoggy city air and the littered roads for trees and pebbled walks. The warm weather in the lower elevations saw us in sleeveless shirts and shorts and ready for the cool water. We, kids, spent the first hours in the water and adventuring along the riverside. Pictures were plenty for everyone interested in the new vista. We used upthe rest of the morning to acclimatize before eating our packed lunches. We were allowed to cook but be mindful of our surroundings, and I am not sure if we did use some portable stove for hot water and heating food.

We ventured into Bengaongao Caves in the afternoon, making sure that there was no chance for rain in the afternoon. These caves get flooded with a little rain according to people here. Having been to the caves in Sagada, Mountain Province, I expected to experience the same long walk and slippery stones along the way. Available literature says that there are no bats in this cave like Sagada’s. I also expected gas lamps similar to those used there too, but to my surprise, flashlights were good. The main cave’s floor was full of colorful stones. Not all caves share this characteristic. Unlike Sagada’s Sumaguing Cave, this did not need a descent on slippery jagged rocks.

My memory is that of seeing and feeling the smooth surface of the mineral formations in many parts of the cave. There were narrow sections where you couldn’t help but brace yourself from damaging the surface and wide sections where you had a good view. The awesome section was that where a white mound almost four feet high was like a ceramic plate with an intricate repetitive floral pattern. The white lace like design was embedded in a transparent film. This reminded me of the patterns of snowflakes. One is awed by the symmetry in nature.

“Do not take the stalactites as mementos,” the guide reminded us as we entered a passage where we could touch the protrusions overhead. This brought back memories of the Crystal Cave and the lessons learned a little too late.

Indeed, the minerals from water took centuries to form into crystals and only a second to disappear forever. These suspended drops or drips looked like spines of an animal or hair in some parts. In others, they looked like jagged teeth of an alien ready to devour. The whole 200 meters of the caverns were of these mineral deposits in different shapes, sizes and colors. It is no wonder why there are no bats in this cave, the roof is constantly wet and dripping.

Give it to the Ibaloy humor to have named the sections into vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli because of the formations. There are also parts that have the reddish-brown hues and look like the lion’s mane. 

The wildest imagination can make out different aliens and creatures in the caverns. The creative writers can whip up a story line or two in this visual adventure. The total span of this slow and pleasant walk is some 300 meters total.

In the evening, we settled down with a small campfire that we were allowed to make and set our sleeping bags on mats on the floor of the cave. Surprisingly, there were no annoying mosquitoes to feed on us or was it the insect repellant that urban dengue paranoia that kept them at a distance. We slept well with a full view of the stars and the moon in this 2012 escapade.

I do not suggest this for those with knee problems or those who are not so agile because there are some parts that are tricky. As the stairs descend some 40 or more feet, this is the same height that one must scale to return to the main road. This is highly recommended to set some teenagers free but not for seniors and those who are similarly abled.