Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Joe Philippines Part 5: Smelling Like... Well... Guano

After my butt had been firmly pounded up into the vicinity of my lower neck by the bouncing of the jeepney over the last few hours, we arrived at the famous Sagada caves in northern Philippines. My then fiance, her best friend, myself and a local Filipino holding a rusty lantern older than all four of our ages combined, headed down a steep path towards the entrance of the cave. As we entered into the throat, the warm breath of the cave flowed over us as we stopped and waited for the guide to bring the flame of life into the lantern. A small, feeble flame, debated whether to burn bright and decided to just stay small and feeble, guided us as we entered the bowels.

Our walk down through the cave boulders quickly turned into something that I liken to trying to walk on greased marbles. I slipped but prevented myself from falling by pressing a nearby boulder only to discover that it wasn't algae and moisture making them that way but bat guano. Shit! After an eternity, we finally exited the range inhabited by bats into good old rough and dry as a bone rocks. I tried cleaning my hands by rubbing them on the rocks but only succeeded in coating them with a chalky limestone coating, which didn't make them feel any cleaner but at least cut the smell.

The lantern that had the ability to light up an area approximately three feet on either side of the guide stopped moving forty feet in front of me. Stumbling through the dark, like a moth to a candle, I finally crowded into the lighted circle with my fiance and her friend to see what was the matter. In the lighted three feet on the other side of the guide, water appeared from nowhere and trickled down into further depths of the cave over rock that appeared to have the same frictional properties as snot. One step and I was sure that I would end up miles below in the stomach contents of the cave along with thousands of other unsuspecting non-Filipinos that the Filipinos brought here for sport. "There goes another Americano! Man, look at him fly!" I imagined them saying as I slid screaming to my doom.

The guide motioned to my shoes and socks in a gesture that I was sure meant that I was supposed to take them off and leave them here. Looking around I saw other piles of shoes scattered here and there and all of a sudden my fears were proven correct. Never the less, I took them off figuring that I might be able to run faster through the guano covered rocks up above should they attempt to try and push me down below. The guide however, wasn't interested in my escape route planning and instead, stepped off the dry rock into the moving water and headed deeper into the cave. The other two women in my group headed off after the guide and as the three feet glow of light started to leave me in the dark; I too stepped out into the water.

The cool water trickled around my feet, which amazingly enough, felt like they had been glued to the rock. I took another step forward with the same result, another and another. For the first time since leaving the surface, I was able to keep up with everyone walking on this smooth water covered surface. As the angle increased, my traction stayed the same until I felt like Spiderman clinging to the insides of this cave. Over waterfalls and down near vertical drops, I walked, savoring the feeling of being adhered to the rock. I was stuck to the rock like a fly is to... well... guano!

Deep within the bowels of the cave, we came to an area covered with shallow craters of water that spilled over and funneled their contents down through a very narrow portion of the passageway in a white frothy fury. The guide spoke to my fiance who translated to us that we could continue down or stop here for a while before going back. With no hesitation, both my fiance's friend and myself opted for the waiting and going back part, both feeling for sure that this was the point of no return. While my fiance and her friend washed their guano slimed hair in one of the pools, I wandered around outside the three feet circle of light pretending to be Spiderman on the look out for Dr. Octavious.

The way back up through the water covered rock floor was just as fun as coming down only better since we were heading in what I thought of as the "right" direction. Our group stopped briefly to slip into their shoes before leaving me behind in the dark frantically trying to lace up the boots I had worn. I had almost caught up before they lost me again in the guano rock garden section of the cave. I slid, crawled, begged for a quick death, and pulled myself up through them and to my freedom. Staggering out into the light, I gave my thanks for having been delivered from this womb sunk into the earth, and smelling like... well... guano, I walked up to the jeepney whose seats never felt so plush.

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