“Love at first sight,” while this phenomenon occurs once or twice in a person’s lifetime, the chance of experiencing this with nature can happen multiple times. I have multiple love affairs with nature and the places I visited in the past. There was that time I fell in love with the mesmerizing sunset of Double Six Beach in Bali, the hypnotizing, turquoise water of the beaches in Cancun and Coron, the towering, magnificent boulders of Mt. Pinatubo, and the fiery sunrise of Mt. Pulag and Mt. Apo. The sweltering heat from the sun, the body ache, and the obstacles I experienced to get to these places were thrown out the window the moment the unsurpassed beauty of these nature was displayed before my very eyes. My spontaneity has recently led me to another first love. This is the modest municipality of Tublay in Benguet. Aside from the hospitality of the locals, the captivating sceneries, majestic caves and invigorating rivers found in the area especially in Ambongdolan, these are more than enough reasons to visit this place if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Having few more days to spare before I left the Philippines, I decided to join another event organized by 18degrees outdoor club. This time, it did not involved hiking mountains but rappelling, swimming in the river and exploring the Bengaongao and Paterno caves in Ambongdolan, Tublay. With twenty-three strangers along with a few members of the 18degrees, we headed to the barangay hall of Ambongdolan at 8:30 in the morning. This was where we registered, did our orientation and met our guides for the day. I got excited when I saw Manong July, the “kagawad” who was our guide during our Mt. Pokgong exploration. With my excited and high-pitched voice, I said my “hello” while giving him the most vigorous handshake. Seeing a familiar face on that day definitely brought a smile on my face. Being the person who always stuck like a gum with the locals who guided us with the hikes I joined in, I was pretty much acquainted with all of them. It has always been interesting listening to their background stories, their vast knowledge about the place they grew up in, and their perspectives of their cultures and traditions.
It was around nine in the morning when we started exploring Paterno Cave. According to our guide, Paterno Cave was named after General Paterno who used the cave as a hideout during the Filipino-American War. Being shameless to volunteer to go inside first, I was welcomed by a narrow hole where crawling was the only option if you want to go in. Raising your head is not an option either because it means bumping your head against the rock formations above you. As we trudged our way inside the cave, we were welcomed by stunning rock formations in various sizes and shapes. We took photos and marveled at the stalactites displayed in front of us while trying our best not to touch them. As these things are still growing, they will easily get destroyed by a mere touch according to the guide. We spent about an hour inside the cave until we finally decided to exit the cave and head to Bengaongao Cave.
The attractions found inside the Bengaongao Cave are different from Paterno Cave such that the former has less elaborate rock formations and stalagmites. However, you can still admire the high ceilings and various scenic pillars of rock formations found inside the cave. Another difference is the massive entrance going to the cave covered with sand and rocks. This made it less challenging because it did not involved dragging your body into narrow spaces like the first cave.
After devouring our sumptuous lunch of “pinikpikan” with “etag” prepared by Manong Jey-m and his team, it was time for us to embark on the thrilling adventure of rappelling down the steep rocky walls surrounding one of the pools of Ambongdolan river. With Kuya Rhei, Tanya and another person’s superfluous rappelling instructions, they did an excellent job of making sure that each of us descended to the ground safely while still getting the most amazing experience of conquering our fear of heights. While a few opted out from the experience, most of us had to do it twice because it was the easiest and fastest way to go down if you are coming from the second pool. For me, it was either a choice of slithering my way down a cliff with my slippery “Sandugo” sandals and risk breaking my neck or rappelling with the safety of a harness. I chose the latter of course.
The highlight of the adventure is probably swimming in the refreshing pools of the Ambongdolan river. The deep green colour of the water gives the river a very breathtaking sight worthy of pictures. The temperature of the water might be a little cold for some, but once you get into the water, you will be surprised how refreshing it is to just float and swim. I don’t know how to swim, but I was the first one to get in the water because I was wearing a life jacket. Aside from the life jackets provided to us, there were also ropes anchored to the rocks installed by the team which we used to propel ourselves from one spot to another. This made it easier and safer for people who did not know how to swim such as myself. You can also climb your way up the crevices surrounding the river and have a break while having the most awesome view of the pools below.
Again, thank you 18degrees Outdoor Club for letting us experienced the undying beauty of Tublay. Thank you Tublay for letting this adventurous soul experienced what it meant to fall in love again. 🙂
Photo credits to Shalom and Yuri.