If you’re an extreme hipster-traveler When in Manila who likes to soak in an uncharted place before the whole world barges in, the caves of Dingle, Iloilo may offer you a refreshing take on adventure and a kind of blissful isolation from the rest of humanity.
Caves of Iloilo
The Caves of Bulabog Putian is an hour and a half ride away from the heart of the city, in the outskirts of a small town called Dingle. It’s a favorite stop-over for road trips across Iloilo because of its 18th century Baroque church, picturesque plaza and an old hanging bridge traversing the Jaro River. It is also near to La Paz, the home of Philippines’ traditional Batchoy, thus the name, La Paz Batchoy.
To get there from Iloilo City, ride a “Dingle” jeep in Tagbak Terminal, Jaro. Once you arrived in the city proper, proceed to a tricycle terminal near the Dingle plaza to take you to the area.
Bulabog Putian is a unique landform in its own. It is the only limestone rock formation in all of Panay island. With 13 explored (and unexplored) caves, it also stands out as a silent witness during the Katipuneros’ revolutionary battle against Spain by serving as their hide-out.
Since it had been raining mildly, there weren’t any other trekkers willing to conquer the mountain when we got there. Being ignorant city bums who had no idea how slippery the terrain could get in that gloomy weather, we continued anyway, sealing our fates to the mountain. We were greeted by a playful dog named Putol, attributed to his cut-off tail caused by a minor accident during his birth. Putol seemed to be very excited when he saw us, probably because the weather made us his first and last customer.
The climb to the nearest cave was about 1 kilometer in distance. The terrain was as unforgiving. It has cobbled with sharp and big lime stones, so a good pair of hiking boots or at the very least, rambo slippers, are a must.
Putol acted as a kind of tourist guide for us, leading the way and waiting for us to catch up when we were already on our knees and all we wanted to do was to roll downhill and sleep. For some reason, he kept on barking at certain points along the way, especially as we got closer to the top. Maybe he was just an energetic dog that kept on yapping at every interesting thing he sensed, but being a pessimist, I couldn’t help but think if he was barking at something to stay away from our group. Regardless, I liked Putol. We felt safe around him and he seemed to enjoy accompanying us, no matter how excruciatingly slow we were.
The first cave we came across was the Tuko Cave where dozens of our tuko friends used to reside. Unfortunately, years of human intrusion drove them away to the forest canopy, leaving the cave empty, except for some creepy insects and goodness knows what. Our guide insisted there were no snakes inside, but I begged to differ. The cave is dark and damp enough to attract snakes as how flowers are to bees. You don’t want to disturb a happily slumbering reptile, so you better watch your step and follow closely where the guide tells you to step on. Look up once in a while for rocks in the way. I managed to get out of the cave with two minor bumps AND a sore ego for being laughed at by my fellow climbers.
The next cave hid a colorful history. As mentioned earlier, the caves were used as headquarters for revolutionaries fighting against Spanish oppressors. The Maestranza Cave remains as one of the country’s underrated historical sites for sheltering Filipino guerillas during the Spanish, American and Japanese period. Somehow, it turned into a famous religious destination where devotees troop into during Lenten season. Because of this, three wooden crosses are enacted at the center of the clearing, surrounded by the caves.
Caves of Iloilo: Katipuneros’ Hide-Out
The caves of Maestranza are enormous. In some parts, they resemble primitive forms of amphitheaters lined up with rocks. I can almost imagine the Katipuneros planning on their next big attack against the Spanish sugarcane landlords. It’s a good thing this natural wonder is preserved, but I wa a little disturbed by the vandals and scribbles on the rocks. There’s nothing more painful than seeing a “JENNY LOVES JOHN FOREVER XOXOXOXX” scribbled on a historical or natural wonder.
The next and last stop for our spelunking was the Guizo Cave, the largest and longest cave. It’s about 450 meters long, and is a favorite spot for bats. The trek to Guizo had the hardest terrain among all of the caves. There was even a trail there that was so narrow and steep that thin bamboo fences were laced along the uphill path to guide us as we climbed. Guizo offers the best rock formations. Unfortunately, we never got to see them personally. The sun was about to climb down and by the time we got out of the cave, it would already be nightfall.
By the time we were beginning to descend, our tour guide cupped his hands around his mouth, howled and clapped his hands two times. He did it every once in a while during our trek down and I thought he was calling some birds or summoning Putol, but Putol was by our side every step of the way. One of my companions, a local herself, whispered that it was the tourist guide’s way of giving respect to the forest after our clumsy raid. Standing in the middle of its belly miles away from the city, listening to the wild cries of distant animals and being surrounded by towering Dao trees, I found myself agreeing: Yep, the mountain’s are definitely alive and we ought to be thankful that we didn’t come out worse than we did.
We escaped the mountain in one piece, except from slight bruised toes and tiny scrapes. It was an exhausting climb, but the experience was nothing short of amazing. I look forward to visiting the place once again and exploring more caves. I heard there are even mountain springs that we didn’t get the chance to see.
So, When in Manila and feeling a little adventurous and unpredictable, why not try to escape the concrete jungle for awhile and try to take on the real one? The jungle caves of Iloilo, and an excited and energetic tour guide dog with a cut-off tail, is waiting for you.