The wonders of Mother Nature astound even the most jaded person. More so if those wonders are in the superlative. The feeling of awe and reverence when seeing the biggest, widest, deepest, and most beautiful natural treasures is indescribable. That’s exactly how we felt when we went inside the unearthly Langun Gobingob Cave system in Calbiga, Samar, the largest cave system in the Philippines.
After a 1-hour bus ride and a 20-minute habal-habal ride up the hills of Panayuran, Calbiga, Samar, we arrived at our jump-off point at the end of a concrete road. Our porters who seemingly emerged from nowhere hauled our equipment onto their strong shoulders.
Our adventure started with a one-hour trek across isolated farmlands nestled deep in the mountains. We penetrated a lightly-wooded jungle before we stood on an old concrete viewing deck overlooking an immense limestone cliff half a kilometer away. Dominating the cliff was the titanic maw of Gobingob Cave, which looks like a forest-eating monster. Teeth-like stalactites that hung from the cavern were as tall as four-story houses although they looked tiny from afar.
15 minutes of further trekking brought us to the entrance of Gobingob Cave where we geared up and listened to a final briefing by our guide and cave master Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures. We left the world of daylight and entered into what seemed to be a gigantic chamber with a length of at least a hundred kilometers! We walked on a huge field of rubble marked by out-of-place metal poles.
Joni said we were walking along the remnants of a mining operation. Taiwanese businessmen once contracted locals to cut off precious stalagmites to be used as home decors. Yes, man’s destruction of nature is sad, but thankfully, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stepped in and ordered the closure of the operation. However, the closure of the operation devastated a once pristine, stalagmite-filled area over a few square kilometers.
Fortunately, Gobingob Cave has started its healing process. Every now and then, we would see growing stalactites and strange rock formations. Wet calcite and glittering crystals were everywhere, which are signs of rebirth.
Farther down was an immense flowstone which Joni called The Stage as it resembled a theatrical stage with a huge background. Tiny gypsum crystals made the flowstone glitter at the merest touch of illumination from our headlamps. We were careful not to touch The Stage as the slightest touch can brush off those fragile crystals.
Behind The Stage was a huge expanse of packed mud which Joni dubbed as the Football Field. Solitary stalagmites, muddy pools, and a small stream that surrounded the Football Field were the only ground features here. The packed floor makes the Football Field an ideal place to set up camp. Yes, you can camp inside the cave! We set up our gear and ate our packed dinner in the eerie darkness, broken only by the few small electric lamps that we brought along.
We took a short rest before going back out towards the side of The Stage. Shallow natural pools pockmarked the cave floor, suggesting that water once entered here. The trail began to go up along a cave wall adorned with rock formations that vaguely looked like ever-watchful gargoyles. Dead boulders slowly gave way to glittering crystalline formations, which became grander the higher we ascended.
Mountain inside a mountain
The climb went on for a few hours, and we suddenly realized that we were on a mountain inside a mountain! We kid you not–there’s a mountain inside the Gobingob Cave! Specifically, we were climbing a massive rockfall that is now adorned with crystal formations. This meant that sometime in the past, the cave’s ceiling collapsed. Thus, Gobingob Cave is the remaining shell of what was once a limestone mountain!
Climbing the rockfall was like climbing a mountain during a starless night. But its majesty could not be denied. The rock formations on the upper part of the rock fall were as white as snow, covered with fresh layers of calcium carbonate. Delicate helictites along with globular cave popcorns jut out of the walls. All around us were crystalline stalagmites with some as tall as multi-story buildings.
We reached the summit of the rockfall, but we still couldn’t see the ceiling, which was still more than a hundred feet above us. In fact, the cave’s roof was so high that the light of our headlamps could not reach it. The bats and swallows, however, didn’t seem to be bothered by us as they busily flitted about.
Setting up camp
After a few hours of exploring the area, our team went back to our Football Field camp to rest and get some sleep. But before that, we had a quick dip in the cool water of the stream to wash away our sweat. The cave system is so big that it has its own climate. We needed to wash off because the high humidity inside the cave prevented our sweat from evaporating. We noticed later that we shared the stream with some blind cave fish and albino crabs who kept a safe distance from us.
Our sleep was anything but restful—for newcomers like us, at least. Pesky cave crickets came over to investigate us. They’re harmless, but the light, tickly touch of their long antennas was absolutely annoying. In addition, the sound of water dripping down from stalactites above us was loud and eerie, echoing in this enormous cavern. The drips sounded like gongs or laughing children, and we often woke up to these echoes.
Time has no meaning in the darkness, and when Joni woke us up for breakfast at 7 AM, it felt like it could have still been night time. After a delicious breakfast of sausages and eggs, we left the Football Field then headed towards the opposite side of the rockfall.
Impressive stalagmites and flowstones decorated the way to our exit, which was still a few hours away. But to get to it, we had to go through a major obstacle. We needed to descend a 100-foot cliff in total darkness. Joni set up a safety line, but we still needed to be careful. One slip would have sent us tumbling over the rocks. Once everyone in the team got down safely, Joni announced that we were straddling the border of Gobingob and Langun Cave.
30 minutes later, we reached the Tita Chamber which contained another geological wonder. Huge and impressive stalactites called chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling. Each one was easily the diameter of a large tree we usually encounter in mountain forests. We weaved through the chandeliers, being careful not to touch the rock formations.
As we exited the Tita Chamber, the chamber began to expand. Soon, it seemed like we were walking on a huge field that was as expansive as the tarmac of an airport. At the end of that field was our first glimmer of daylight, a pale but warm ray of morning sunshine coming from a small, jagged hole.
Leaving the cave
However, the size of the hole was an illusion. As we got nearer, it gradually became bigger until it soared high above us. This is the Mother of All Cave Chambers and the entrance to Langun Cave, which was also our exit point. At a length of 400 meters, width of 90 meters, and a height of 120 meters, it definitely earned its name! The cavern is so huge that three helicopters flying side by side can easily fit in. With the thousands of stalactites hanging above our head, it looked like we were coming out of a forgotten monster’s throat.
Walking to the exit was a real challenge although it looked like we could walk easily on the packed earth. Far from it. The ground was very soft, and in some places, our feet sank to the bottom—the mud up to our knees. The soil smelled strange—and bad—too. Well, it turned out that it’s not mud at all but guano. Yes, we were walking upon layers and layers of coagulated bat poop!
But we persevered and laughed despite the relatively smelly walk. Soon, we arrived at a flat, mossy clearing which served as a second campsite. Beyond the clearing was a verdant tree-covered slope, most likely the remains of an ancient landslide. Above us, thousands of swallows noisily flew about, perhaps feeling uneasy over the little group of humans far below them. It looked like we exited to a lost world!
The energy provided by our heavy breakfast waned so we enjoyed a snack of biscuits, small cakes, and cheese. Feeling replenished, we prepared to exit the cave by climbing up the landslide and up to the adjoining mountain. It tooks us 3 long hours of strenuous climbing and trekking before we got back to civilization where we had our first real bath in three days.
If you want to renew your wonder of Mother Nature, then book a caving adventure in Langun Gobingob Cave. The activity will push you past your limits, but it will also give you a profound sense of awe and pride for being inside one of the world’s largest cave systems.
In an alien environment like caves, accidents can easily happen! Rescue is difficult and sometimes, impossible. To lessen the chances of accidents happening, always follow the right caving protocols.
- 1. Be aware of your own capabilities and limitations.
- 2. Give a person who is close to you your itinerary, estimated schedules, and emergency numbers.
- 3. Never go caving without an experienced and skilled guide.
- 4. Never go caving alone. Do not separate from the group.
- 5. Watch your step and check if handholds are firm.
- 6. Never swim unaided. Do not swim underwater to explore a tunnel.
- 7. Do not remove your personal safety equipment without the instruction of the guide.
- 8. Use the safety gears and lines that the guide provides.
- 9. Always inform the guide if you have problems with your equipment, if you feel sick, or if you are having a difficult time overcoming an obstacle.
- 10. Your guide will bring safety equipment and emergency supplies. However, it is good practice to bring your own such as an extra waterproof headlamp, flashlight, first-aid kit, and personal medication.
Take a flight from Manila to Tacloban. Once you arrive at Tacloban, ride a tricycle or taxi to the bus station. From there, you can ride a van or bus that will take you to Catbalagon. Do book with Joni in advance so that he can fetch you when you arrive in Catbalogan.
Joni Abesamis Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures is the guy to approach if you want to visit Lobo Cave and other caves of Samar. Trained by top Italian and French speleologists, he is an extremely skilled and experienced cave master. For caving guideship services, contact Joni using the following details:
Mailing Address: Abesamis Store, Allen Avenue, Catbalogan City, Samar, Philippines 6700
Cellphone Number: +63 919 294 38 65 / +63 927 675 00 62
Landline: +63 55 251 23 01
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Website: Trexplore the Adventures
Trexplore Facebook Page: Trexplore the Adventures