Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There and Back Again

We were looking for hotel accommodations on the internet for someone recently when we wandered onto a Cebuano website about a tropical rain forest. Hmmm. Most interesting, especially since 95% of the island has been deforested. (Don't panic--there's an ongoing reforestation effort; all may be well eventually.) We had to find this place. What is a tropical rain forest like? What is a tropical rain forest?

FYI, A tropical rain forest is usually found within 10 degrees of the equator either way, and Cebu is 12 degrees north. Minimum annual rainfall is between 69 and 79 inches, and the mean temperature is over 64*F. year round. Any forest on Cebu would definitely qualify as a tropical rain forest. In case you have something in mind like a deep dark, movie-set-looking place (The Jungle Book?), it really looks like a regular tropical forest. We walked on a trail the whole time and a machete was only used later in the day, but not to clear the trail.

Step one in this investigative adventure was finding the rain forest, which was within walking distance of a village called Catipla up in the mountain range that divides Cebu east to west. It was less than an hours drive from our apartment, so we struck out one Saturday to find out what was what. We wanted to know where the rain forest was, and hopefully hire someone to take us there on another Saturday.

All you do if you are interested in something near a village is go find the village barangay captain, who will gladly help you with whatever you need; it's part of his civic duty. In our case, a guide to the rain forest. He invited us to call when we were ready to go and he would be happy to take us.
The day of our actual adventure had the barangay captain elsewhere, but true to his word he found a couple of guides to take his place--Richard, a 20-year-old who had been to the cave before, and his 16-year-old cousin who hadn't been before, but was willing. And how about four more friends just because? Great! This is exactly the kind of adventure we like.

As you can see, they're all young and energetic-looking. We thought we were a match for them--oh pain to our egos when they skipped along, romping like mountain goats, never tiring, and had to stop and wait for us as we huffed up the steep hills. Sigh. They were a lot of fun to spend the day with.

We headed out into the countryside via a dirt road without any fuss or fanfare. Slippers? (That would be flip flops to you foreigners.) No water bottles? Hmmm. They did come prepared with flashlights though. This ought to be interesting.

We were greeted by an amazing flora as we rounded the first bend in the road:

Of course I had to stop and properly greet it; stroke it, study it a bit; photograph. I don't think our guides had anything like this in mind; "what are they looking at plants for when we've got to do a rain forest, a cave and a lake before dusk?!?"

The bloom--as big as a cantaloupe.

We trooped up hill and down through open countryside for most of an hour:

Are we there yet? Is that the rain forest ahead? (Remember, The Jungle Book.) There were old, gnarled trees, plus younger trees that had grown up in the past 20 years. Also, plenty of lush, tropical undergrowth and fabulous rock formations. (Sorry, no pictures of those.)

The girls that came along were bright and happy and cute. Sadly enough for me, they didn't think they knew much English so they mostly talked to each other. I would have liked to have known more about their lives--their thoughts--their dreams.

The did like having their picture taken!

In spite of the language barrier (not as bad as they thought it was) they acted very excited to be the experts, guiding two foreigners through their territory, yet shy at the same time. When we stopped to catch our breath I'd ask them questions and they'd giggle and give a short answer. Rats! I remember feeling that way when I was growing up; wanting to talk to adults but not knowing exactly what to say. I know you can't believe that now.

When the forest was deep and thick, we came to an opening in the ground--our cave. This was obviously not just a dished out spot, but a real cave. Here were our greeters:

We didn't know if this was one "room", or what, just that as soon as we were inside the flashlights came out and what a relief to be down in the cool earth.

That would be cool--literally and figuratively. Most plant people like rocks as well, me included. Oh this was a great spot to spend some time! There were very excellent ancient formations rising from the bottom and hanging from the top:

and bats!

I guess you know my day was made. We heard their clicking more than saw them--capturing their image was tricky. They swooped at our heads, I'm sure out of curiosity. We had invaded their territory and awakened them after all.

Cave venturing was where I was most curious to see how our guides would do in their slippers. Now mind you, we stopped and took pictures at the scenic, convenient places, but there were some places we were too busy paying attention to our movements to take pictures.

Okay, most of us were too busy to take pictures. And what about the gorges? I didn't look down into the bottom of them; just knew that if we didn't jump successfully it would be a wrecked outing. Kevin and I had sturdy light hikers on--grippy soles, etc. I think the kids did it as easily in their slippers as we in our hiking shoes. Now that's a marvel!

Finally it was time to go. We had traversed the deep dark crevasses and crawled through the small openings and walked with bats swooping and chirping at us. We had tested the echoability of the chambers--talked--laughed. What a great outing.

Our last cave shots--Kevin loves stretching his arm out there and getting everyone in. Sometimes he's too busy making the shot to make the smile. I know I can't do both.

Our guides seemed disappointed that we thought we should turn back (it was 3:30ish and it's dark by 6:00) instead of hiking on to the lake. Maybe another time...

It turned out our adventure wasn't over yet though, and this next experience was completely not-American-and-richly-Philippine. I think we could have similar experiences to our cave hike in the states, but not what was yet to come.

We walked along on a trail through several farmlets until Richard stopped at a hut and came out with a machete. Then he proceeded to climb a coconut tree. Wow! I mean wow, not so much out of excitement, but wow in great respect for his physical prowess. Granted, there were notches going up the tree, but still, to be able to climb it, harvest coconuts (one for each of us) and get back down without even being winded or falling or getting scraped was impressive. Man I sound old!

(Sorry--look sideways for a minute.)

It was very entertaining...

Back on the ground he proceeded to cut the tops off so we could drink the buko juice.

Now I know how they can go for an all-afternoon hike and not carry a water bottle!

While he was preparing our refreshments I asked him how old he was when he first started using a machete. "About five".

Fresh buko juice is very delicious and refreshing.

It's sweet, but not sticky; how can that be?

That wasn't the end of the refreshments though. More fine machete work -- a spoon created and we dug out the fresh coconut. Mmmm.

The finest hiking energy snack ever!

Geologists, this is your only rock formation picture other than the cave. Thinking of our beloved Idaho basalt, this was pretty familiar, but oh so rough! You'd leave skin on the rocks for sure here.

The drive home is satisfying after a good outing. We paid the kids for their time with us--probably an outrageous amount for them, but for us it was a great deal. A foreigner would never be able to go where we went without a guide. This was definitely a Philippine memory treasure.
See you in the next adventure!
Kevin & Ann
aka Elder & Sister Reed