It has been awhile since I last set foot in Argao. This town in the southern part of Cebu island holds a special place in my heart. So when I decided to revisit it this time, I wanted to do something that I haven’t done yet – caving. Specifically in Balay sa Agta cave.
Although I have been to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (which is home to a massive cave system as well) technically a few years ago, we went there aboard a small boat. I have never tried trekking inside caves in my entire life. So this one was a first for me.
This cave had been in my travel journal for months so when I finally found the time to go, I immediately called the Argao Tourism Office to start my inquiries. I was assisted by Jotham, one of the Tourism officers in Argao Tourism office. He was very accommodating and has patiently answered all my inquiries.
Jotham said that the best time to enter the cave would be in the morning, preferably around 8 or 9 as streams of sunlight are best seen at the center of Balay sa Agta cave.
On our way to Balay sa Agta
Argao is two hours away from the city and my friends and I arrived at the bus stop at exactly 8 AM. We decided to eat breakfast first at one of the cafeterias near the market before we proceeded to the Tourism Office. When we arrived at the office, we had to wait for awhile for our designated habal-habal drivers and guide. We also had to wait because it started raining right after we got our gears.
Thankfully, the rain stopped which prompted us to finally hop on to our designated motorcycles to start the adventure. The travel time from the tourism office to the location of Balay sa Agta which is in Barangay Conalum is about an hour. It was like Cebu City to San Fernando minus the decent roads. It was one hell of a motorcycle ride. My legs were numb before we even arrived at the destination.
Start of the trek
You will have to trek for about 20 – 30 minutes on a steep and dangerous trail before you will reach the cave’s entrance. If you have fear of heights, trekking towards the trail to Balay sa Agta can be a little daunting. The right side of the path is a cliff that is about 500 meters deep, according to our guide. You’ll have to be very careful when trekking on this part. I read somewhere before that a mountaineer already tripped and died in this treacherous trail. Yikes.
This is the reason why you have to coordinate with the tourism office in Argao if you are planning to go caving in Balay sa Agta. You will not only be provided with a local guide, but also proper gears such as straps, harness, headlamp and hard hat. I wouldn’t advise going there on your own because the trail is dangerous.
Our guide, Kuya Nasser, gave us a quick briefing at the entrance about what to expect, what to do and what not to do inside the cave. The trek towards the dead end takes about an hour.
As soon as we turned our headlamps on and started moving towards the darkness, a sudden breeze of cold air welcomed us. It was total darkness! Less than 5 minutes, I could barely see the light at the entrance. Upon entering, I immediately smelled bat guano but I would say the smell is so much better compared to Puerto Princesa’s Underground River. Bats there shit bombs.
It was a first for me but I was not terrified of the idea. I never had any issues with going to dark and enclosed spaces so caving is something that doesn’t scare me. However, I was wary every step that I took because I tend to stumble a lot. Blame it on my wobbly legs.
The trail is also slippery since there is water inside. You will have to rely on your headlamp to see what you are stepping on.
Stalactites and stalagmites are clearly visible along the way. There’s one stalagmite that looked like a bao or turtle.
About half-way through the trek, we reached the center of the cave that has an opening which means – SOURCE OF LIGHT!
At one point, we reached a portion at the left side of the cave where there is another pathway going up. Kuya Nasser told us that only experienced cavers and rock climbers are allowed to go there since you will have to swim to cross to the other side of the cave. Nah, thanks. The idea of swimming in the dark, not knowing what to expect on the other side is something I didn’t want to risk.
Balay sa Agta
At the end of the trek, there’s a small opening in the cave. It gives you a tiny vie the of light outside. When looking up, there this rock formation you will not clearly identify immediately. In order to understand the shape of that rock formation, our guide told us that we need to turn our headlamps off. And so we did, and the moment we turned our headlamps off, there was total darkness except for the small opening above us. We then realized that the rock formation looks like a human form holding a tobacco. In Philippines mythology, it is believed to be the Agta called Mangao who was Maria Cacao’s husband. Maria Cacao is the mountain goddess associated with Mount Lantoy in Argao.
- To get to Argao, ride a bus bound for Cebu south (Bato-Oslob, Bato-Oslob via Liloan Port or Cebu-Dumaguete) at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Inform the driver you will be stopping at the Argao bus stop.
- Since going to Balay sa Agta cave requires a guide, you will need to schedule the tour with Argao Tourism. You may call them at 4858063. Their office location is just walking distance from the bus stop. It’s located near the St. Michael Archangel Church.
- Wear trekking shoes or any closed shoes in general that is good for trekking.
- Pack light. It’s best not to bring a big backpack to avoid tripping en route to the cave.
- Bring extra clothes, slippers or shoes and drinking water.
- Bus fare from Cebu City to Argao cost around 100 pesos. The tour package costs 600 pesos inclusive of round trip transportation (habal-habal) from tourism office to the cave’s location, a guide, gears, entrance fee, permit and, snacks.
Photo Credits to Joel Maghuyop
Also read: Langun Gobingob: Exploring the Philippines’ Largest Cave System