“Where are you girls going?” we asked curiously as three girls young girls, ages ranging from 10–12 were going down a trail almost unnoticeable from the dense vegetation just below the famed. “Down to check on our goats by the cave?” one said. A cave? I thought for a moment and probably she was referring to the Sagada Underground River Cave found deep into the valley. “Let’s follow them!” My newfound towering Russian companion excitedly suggested our group. In the many times I have visited Sagada, I don’t remember having visited the cave before so we just followed the young girl’s footsteps.
Trek to the Sagada Underground River
I was back in Sagada partly for work but with a couple of companions who were first timers in Sagada. Owell was a fellow photography enthusiast who always dreamt of visiting this highland town, Ilya, the young Russian I met in a hostel in Baguio was travelling the country for only two weeks. With little English and occasional conversation via Google Translate, he asked if he can tag along when I go to Sagada which was fine with me. Being new to the place, I thought of guiding both of them to Echo Valley and the distinct Sagada Hanging Coffins. We actually already met the three girls earlier at the Echo point of the valley who obliged to be interviewed by me for a project but didn’t expect to see them again.
Traverse back to the Road
The girls served as our unexpected guides (though Sagada local government discourage hiring kids as guides and recommends accredited guides). They were swift on their feet but occasionally stops to make sure they were on the right direction. The trail was a gradual descend on a narrow unpaved lush trail. We reached the first cave with a stream flowing through the cave. Old Sagada maps call this the Latang Cave where the Sagada Underground River flows. It was a small opening with huge boulders by the cave mouth that seemed to be neatly cut. I could tell no had entered the cave recently as the spiderwebs remain undisturbed. I also noticed some ferns thriving by the river which if I’m not mistaken are the edible ferns pako which goes to some of the salads here in Sagada.
We climbed the boulders, followed another stream leading to Matangkib Cave. It has a widely spaced cavern but was said to be already closed. I remember a decade back that this cave goes all the way to Bokong Waterfalls but was closed since water levels could rise unexpectedly which isn’t safe for visitors. The rest of the way was pretty straightforward. We’re climbing up the valley again and emerged through large rocks where a jeepney was parked. I’ve always thought where this rock fissure leads whenever I pass by Rock Valley Inn. We said good bye to the girls. We never saw a goat, I guess they didn’t find them. But we were thankful for guiding to the Sagada Underground River and all the way back to the road.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.