Just like exploring a new dungeon in a video game, there’s something so fulfilling about spelunking or exploring caves in real life.
You have to navigate through small tunnels and chambers, find the best route so that you don’t hurt yourself, come face to face with creatures like bats and snakes and overcome all the obstacles in the dark to find the cave exit. It’s not as glamorous as Lara Croft makes it look, but it’s one of the most fun and exhilarating adventures you can do. Particularly if you’re in Samar, the Caving Capital of the Philippines.
Of the three caves in Samar I’ve visited (the others being Langun Gobingob in Calbiga and Central Cave), Lobo Cave in Jiabong, Samar is the most beginner-friendly. This 3.2 km long cave located at Brgy. Tagbayaon, Jiabong, Samar was discovered by Cave Master Joni A. Bonifacio on August 15, 2005 and mapped by an Italian speleologist in April 2006. Because special equipment and professional guides are needed to access different areas, it’s best to avail of a caving tour. Caving trips here are handled by Trexplore, a professional outdoor company based in Catbalogan City, Samar.
Before you can start caving, you first have to find the entrance. You start with a mostly downhill hike through a community and into the mountains that can be a bit challenging for those not used to hiking. At a moderate pace, it can take an average of 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach the cave entrance, which looks a bit small. But don’t be fooled, this cave is pretty big, hiding secret caverns behind its unassuming exterior. In the Philippines, there are still a lot of superstitions surrounding caves. In fact, locals rarely venture inside because many believe caves are inhabited by enkantos or creatures from the underworld. But in fact, this secret realm hides beautiful rock formations and flowing underground streams and canyons beneath its tough exterior.
After an orientation on what to expect, my companions Mavic, Rhea and I had to equip some safety gear including coveralls, helmets with headlamps and safety gloves for protection while navigating the caves. The suits are a bit large and heavy which made it kind of hard to walk in especially when it got wet, but they’re vital for protecting your legs and arms from the sharp rocks that you have to scramble over and around. Proper footwear is also vital to avoid getting cuts, scratches or bruises on your feet. Later on, we also had to put on harnesses for the rappelling portion and life vests when we reached the waterways.
Skyrim reference: “Oh, look, a cave. I wonder what’s inside.”
Even if you haven’t had any caving experience, you will really enjoy visiting Lobo Cave, which is considered one of the most beautiful caves in the country. The cave’s route has a very satisfying flow to it that makes it great for a day trip adventure. But that’s not to say that it isn’t challenging. We walked through tunnels with bats and just flying by and our guide Arnel pointed out a small pool which they usually avoided because the cave’s resident snake usually slept there. One of highlights was the first obstacle, which required us to rappel down a small crevice in the rocks to a cavern more than 10 feet below. The hole can only fit one person at a time. Fun!
After scrambling over to get to the next cavern, we emerged at a chamber with underground streams and waterways. The water is so cold here and it was just refreshing to be able to just sit back and take a dip. Next, we had to crawl through a muddy chamber to get through, and my shoes and socks just got soaked with mud.
The highlight of Lobo Cave is having to swim or tread through all the winding underground waterways to access the different chambers. Some areas are just ankle or knee deep, but other pools are really deep, which is why it’s necessary to have a life vest if you don’t know how to swim.
When heading back up to the main chamber, we encountered Joy, Emily, Myrna and Rosario, who were doing the same caving tour with Cave Master Joni. Since it was fiesta time in Catbalogan City, the former high school classmates who are now based in different parts of the country got together and decided to trying caving just for fun. For some of them, it was the first time they’d ever hiked or tried extreme activities but from the looks of their photos, they also had a blast. We’re now all friends on Facebook. 🙂
After enjoying a filling lunch of chicken adobo and veggies, we resumed exploring the second level of the cave. We were allowed to shed the cavesuits since the rest of the route no longer had sharp rocks, only more waterways.
The thing about caves is that you tend to lose track of time while you’re inside. In some larger caves like Calbiga, you can spend several days just exploring every chamber. Time just stands still here. If not for the light of the headlamps, we’d all be swallowed by the darkness. While floating in the water in the dark going from chamber to chamber, I felt just how small and insignificant I was in the larger scheme of things.
After doubling back, we passed through another winding waterway that lead out to the cave exit. Lobo Cave cleared!
After a short hike, we reached a river where locals were picnicking and cooking adobong tahong and met up with the ladies from the other group.
Instead of having to hike back, we all rode together on 2 traditional wooden canoes through a scenic river flanked by canyons, passing through mangrove forests and emerging at the riverbanks near a bridge lined with traditional mussel farming communities.
We ended the fun caving exploration by toploading on a jeep heading back to the city.
You have to face a lot of fears when you go caving. If you’re afraid of the dark, of heights, of enclosed spaces, of getting dirty, or of bats, crickets and snakes (to name a few), caving might not be for you. But if you never try, you’ll never know, right? If you’re open to new adventures, you might find yourself hooked and wanting more. If ever you’re in Samar and want to try something new and exciting, I highly recommend you get in touch with Trexplore (details below).
All visits to Lobo Cave should be booked ahead of time to prepare necessary guides and permits. The jump off point for Lobo Cave is Samar Outdoor Shop in Allen Avenue, Catbalogan City, Samar, Philippines.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- From Manila, take any flight to Tacloban City.
- From the Tacloban airport, ride a jeep to the downtown area and get off at SM Save More. Look for the Grand Tours Van Terminal at the back.
- Ride a van going to Catbalogan City, Samar. Travel time is about 2.5 hours. Fare is P100 per person.
- When you arrive at the van terminal in Catbalogan, walk to Allen Avenue, where Samar Outdoor Shop is located.
- From Catbalogan City, you have to ride a jeep then transfer to a habal-habal to the jump-off point in Barangay Tagbaya-on in the municipality of Jiabong.
- The hike to Lobo Cave takes roughly 45 mins to 1 hour (depending on your pace) to reach the cave entrance. Trexplore can arrange guides, all transport and porters to carry safety gear to and from the community.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Lobo Cave is full of underground rivers that you have to swim through. You will be issued cave suits & gloves for your safety, so you can wear outdoor clothes you don’t mind getting wet over swimwear for the trek. Wear strong hiking shoes or trekking shoes for the cave instead of sandals to protect your feet.
WHAT TO BRING:
Small packs, dry bags, hat, cap, sunglasses, sun screen, water container. Trexplore provides all the suits, harnesses, helmets, headlamps and gloves to all guests.
NOTE: Lobo Cave has many underground waterways and passages that make bringing an SLR and tripod very difficult. If you do bring one, be sure to have a proper dry bag for all your gadgets. Wide lens recommended. Part of Trexplore’s services includes photo documentation with a handy point-and-shoot camera (most of the photos I used in this post were part of their photo documentation). I also brought a Smartphone (which can be put in a waterproof case carried by the guide) and a GoPro.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT:
I stayed in the Trexplore guesthouse above Samar Outdoor Shop, which has affordable fan rooms with a common CR for P200/night. Aircon room costs P1000/night (good for 2). All Trexplore day tours include delicious onsite camp meals.
Visits to Lobo Cave cost P3,000.00 per person which includes all permits, caving gear, transportation, food (breakfast & lunch), local porters, Trexplore Cave Guide and photo documentation. A minimum of 2 people is required to organize a caving trip, which can be done all year around except if weather is really bad. NOTE: This is the most beginner-friendly cave in Samar.
ADDRESS & CONTACT INFO:
- For inquiries & caving trips, contact Joni Bonifacio at Trexplore the Adventure
- Address: Samar Outdoor Shop. Abesamis Store, Allen Avenue, 6700 Catbalogan Samar, Philippines.
- Contact numbers: 0919-2943865 / 09276750062.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.trexplore.weebly.com
- Facebook: Trexplore the Adventures