I was but a tiny entity, a speck, in the caverns of Callao Cave in PeÃ±ablanca, Cagayan province, 24 kilometers from the capital Tuguegarao City, as I was dwarfed amidst the stunning stalactites and stalagmites as among unusual rock formations that made me oohed and aahed.
Last January 2010, I was invited by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau to join a media tour of travel writers and bloggers to experience North Luzon for seven days starting in Cagayan province all the way to Pampanga to sample the various local cuisines and experience the attractions offered by the various provinces along the route. It was my second time to visit this place, the first, almost a decade ago that ended with a cruise along the Pinacanauan River. This geological formation, part of several in the area, has been developed affording better facilities to the tourists with knowledgeable guides. In this visit, I got to explore it closer and appreciated more its wonders.
It was a steep climb over a flight of cement stairs, 184 steps to be exact, from the starting point to the mouth of the Callao Caves. Exhausting but kind of refreshing also as one goes under a canopy of vegetation that renders the path cooler. As the way is almost tunnel like with the trees and bushes, a breeze of air rushes. At one point, a panoramic view of the area unfolds.
The cave’s mouth is just stunning. A white limestone cliff with vegetation growing on top or clinging vertically, precariously. Moss has also made its home while swiftlets flying overhead and suddenly homes in on a nest camouflaged on the rocky face or some crevices.
The seven chambered Callao Cave complex is just one of about 300 in the area. Much remains to be explored but there are still quite pristine ones like Sierra Cave, Odessa-Tumbali Cave System, to cite a few. These not so visited ones are quite interesting as visitors sometimes need to crawl, to be submerged and come out muddied and wet. Of course, entering is limited only to a few persons to lessen the impact but you are witness to cave building that has been ongoing for millenia.
Callo Cave is making headlines right now, especially in the scientific community. Just lately, it has dislodged the Tabon Cave complex in Palawan as the site of the earliest Filipino ancestor by as much as 17,000 years. This 67,000 hominid (it’s still not sure what humanoid species) attests to the importance of this area in the peopling of the country.
The familiar sight of a chapel near the entrance doesn’t enthrall anymore. It has been seen in countless photos and have been written in countless pages. It also symbolizes the encroachment of man into nature, imposing his will and sometimes destroying it. Beyond this, however, the natural appeal of the cave through its rock formations still amazes.
Callao Cave is said to be dead. Graffiti has marred its walls, disturbed. But perhaps, it is also the best place to educate tourists about what we are doing to our natural environment. It is also a geological showcase that will introduce visitors to the subterranean world.