The beams of flashlights cast flickering shadows across the damp rock surface of the cave. Once in a while, a blinding flash would go off as someone took a photograph. Then, it was back to the gloom as our group stumbled through the winding caverns.
You know you’re off to an epic trip when your first activity for the day is spelunking in a historic cave. Pinagrealan Cave in Norzagaray, Bulacan was the first stop in our Lakbay Norte 3 Media tour, an eight-day media familiarization tour to several provinces in the North earlier this year.
According to local tourism staff, Katipunero Revolutionaries used the cave as a camp in 1896 during the war against Spain and again during the Filipino-American War in 1898 as the hideout of General Emilio Aguinaldo (the First President of the Philippines). It was also used as a sanctuary by the Japanese Imperial Army when the Philippines was liberated by American Forces. The subterranean network of caverns extends more than a kilometer deep. Its terrain is marked by 85% limestone walls whose colors vary from pink, brown and white, shallow sinkholes and crystal-like formations that make some parts of the rock surface sparkle.
Our cave exploration was relatively slow because of the size of our group and the darkness. Not everyone had flashlights and taller people in the group had to keep crouching to avoid hitting the low hanging stalactites. The group slowly fell in line to clamber from one edge of the slippery surface and squeeze through the rock crevices to get ahead.
A section of the cave tapered into a narrow water-filled passage, and we had no choice but to plunge into the pool of water to advance. Our guide warned us that the water was waist-deep. For someone my height, that meant the water was closer to chest-level. It was a bit tricky to keep one’s balance and navigate the dimly lit passageway.
At the other side of the pool was a large sinkhole that serves as a swimming hole for visitors. We were told that the passageway still led to inner cave chambers ideal for expert spelunkers, but unfortunately we had to head back to the entrance keep to our tight schedule. On the way back, we passed an air vent, which brought in a cool breeze from outside.
Music from the marching band could be heard as we emerged from the cave, where a feast of sweet and savory Bulaceno fare awaited us. There was kakanin like bibingka (rice cake topped with grated coconut), suman sa ibus (glutinous rice snack steamed or boiled in banana or coconut leaves), kalamay (sweet sticky dessert) and puto. In my excitement to eat, I forgot to take photos of the generous servings of Norzagaray’s Best crispy pata (deep fried pigs legs) and bahay itlugan (a local chicken dish which was described to me by a Bulaceno journalist as “chicken with eggs in its stomach cooked as adobo.”) It was a filling breakfast to start the day and a sign of the food to come on the rest of the tour. (How can you beat crispy pata for breakfast, right?)
(Photos of Bahay Itlugan and Crispy Pata by Ivan About Town)
Though not as popular or extensive as Biak-na-Bato, local tourism officials are eyeing Pinagrealan Cave as a potential tourist destination in the area. For inquiries, contact the Bulacan Provincial Youth, Sports, Employment, Arts, Culture and Tourism Office (PYSEACTO), email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +63 (44) 791-6604