alternate route.

There is not a chance this kid is gonna make it out of this cave.

We had all gathered in Sagada for our annual Peace Corps Thanksgiving. Which was an incredible relief- we were rounding off our 17th month of service and were feeling the pressure of stress and the lack of home comforts weighing us down. Typically, we are able to handle the intense amounts of work and the shortage of sanity, but with this being our second Thanksgiving away from home, we were glad to have our second “Peace Corps family” to spend it with.

The mountain area of Sagada is known for it’s breathtaking landscapes- rolling with green and flowers. It’s also known for the spectacular caves. I had heard a great deal about these caves from other volunteers and travellers over the months, but was only aware of the brief treks and Crystal Cave excursions. When a friend asked me to join the “alternate route” I was in.

Not until we were 5 hours into the cave did we find out. “We actually don’t do this tour very often. You’re maybe the 20th group we’ve taken?” Jolly, our guide casually said. My eyes shifted back to Trevor, who stands at 6’5’’, who had for the past 5 minutes been trying to squeeze underneath a crevasse that even I had difficultly lodging through.  Is he stuck?

I have mentioned caving in the Philippines before- the absolute contrast from our “exploring” a cave back home. This however, was more extreme. What you’d call spelunking back home. What you’d have ropes for back home. You’d have helmets back home. You’d have lights back home. You’d have proper footwear for back home (not flip flops)…we had little to no gear.

I was the first of the group to climb up the ledge. As I sat, holding one of our two kerosene lamps, I felt an ever so slight breeze. I felt relief. After seven hours of exhilarating climbing, swimming in frigid cold water, balancing across ledges, wading through waist high mud, squeezing under rocks, and rappelling down cave faces, I could feel a breeze. Did I hear noise too? Was that light?

Tom climbed up the ledge next. Such an incredible experience, what we just saw, what we just did, what we had just experienced. As our group looked towards the direction of the exit, he said “it’s just one of those things we won’t be able to explain.”

And he was right. Experiences like that can’t be explained. They don’t need to be explained. I didn’t want to explain it. The expedition was something special- not because we did it, but because of the natural, practically untouched and mysterious character of the cave itself. Too often while telling stories, we try to explain too much. As if we can adequately sum things up in words. Putting words to it would be a disservice.

That experience was our own. Some stories- some experiences are not to be shared. Maybe things that are so beautiful in nature are purposely meant to be that way- impossible to explain as to preserve its sacredness.

“but you couldn’t pay me enough to go back through right now.” We laughed and dragged our feet towards the exit.

freeeee at last.

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