Back in 2010, I spent my Holy Week in Marinduque. I originally went there for the Moriones Festival but come Easter Sunday, I found myself going to Bathala Caves to experience spelunking for the first time.
Honestly, this was not part of my vacation itinerary, I was content with shooting pictures of the festival and taking leisure walks around town.
But my companions were insistent about visiting the caves, and even the townspeople say that a stay in Marinduque wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Bathala Caves, and so I agreed.
The Caves of Bathala is actually a network of numerous caves, most of which are still unexplored. Open for tourists are the Church Cave, Python Cave, Cemetery Cave and the Secret Cave. More experienced spelunkers can also see the Underground Cave and River Cave among others.
It’s located in Barangay Ipil, Sta Cruz and sits on an estimated 19 hectares of land, about 700 meters above sea level. The place has so much history and many religious sects have made it a place of worship for it was believed to be the home of Amang Bathala, the Supreme God of the Tagalogs.
Lesson #1: You can’t prepare for everything in life, so you’d just have to do with what you have and do your best.
I foolishly thought we would simply trek inside the caves. If this was a tourist attraction, then I’m sure it would be a nice and scenic walk, I assumed.
But I was wrong. Nobody told me that going through the Bathala Caves meant walking on steep slopes and squeezing yourself through sharp rock edges.
I was wearing flip-flops and brought a heavy DSLR camera with me, things you shouldn’t really have if you’re spelunking. I should have listened to my thoughts to wear sneakers and bring a point-and-shoot cam, but I was stubborn like that.
So what was I to do? I was already there. And so I took a deep breath and prepared to wing it.
Lesson #2: Fear is really all in the mind.
One slip from a wrong foothold and you could get yourself a serious injury. That’s how risky it can be out there.
Come to think of it, there were several occasions where I could have twisted my ankle, pierced my head into a stalactite or even plunged into a boulder, but I didn’t. Why? Because most of the time, I had my mind on my DSLR camera.
I was so focused and careful not to accidentally swing and smash my DSLR into the rocks that I didn’t have time to be afraid for my own safety. It’s really interesting to see how much we can do if we can learn to manage and channel our fears.
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t know what to do.
Our cave guide were two boys, who were also wearing flip-flops (which means me wearing one isn’t that bad). And I was glad that these kids really knew the caves inside out.
I would usually ask them to go ahead of me so I could see where and how they would descend and ascend through the rocks. And whenever I find myself at a loss where to step next or where to hold for support, I’d immediately seek their advise.
That’s something I learned many years ago. If you don’t know what to do, ask the experts, seek advise and learn from them.
Lesson #4: Life can be full of crap and things you don’t like, and and sometimes the only way to get past it is to go through with it.
I didn’t ask much about what to expect in the first three caves for it was pretty self-explanatory – Church Cave, Python Cave and Cemetery Cave.
But the last one definitely got my curiosity – the Secret Cave. Our guide told me that it’s because the cave is almost hidden and the exit is something you won’t expect to be. But I think he was wrong because the real secret of the cave is what’s inside.
Thousands of bats flying around and the stench of their excrement filling the air are something I expected. But literally seeing thousands of cockroaches crawling on the wall and on the floor is something I will never forget.
We were too deep into the caves to go back and there’s no other way out but to walk through. It was a hair-raising experience which me and my companions was able to survive unscathed.
Lesson #5: Live life at your own pace.
Before going into the caves, I asked how long it will take for us to go through them. The guide told us that it’s up to us and we should really take our time and enjoy the experience.
And perhaps that’s the best lesson I’ve learned while spelunking in Marinduque – to realize that no matter how slow or fast life around us is going, we should always live it at our own pace.
Others will always be ahead of you, some behind you, and you shouldn’t live life as if you’re out there to win a race. It’s a journey you should enjoy.
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