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[Part 2] British backpacker’s PH adventure: Caving in Sagada

Will Hatton

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[Part 2] British backpacker’s PH adventure: Caving in Sagada
'I have been inside over thirty caves; this one topped them all thee times over.'

This is part 2 of British backpacker Will Hatton’s travel diary documenting his first trip to the Philippines. Follow along with his Philippine adventure right here on Rappler.

Read Part 1: Pulag sunrise 

Part 2: Caving in Sagada

Part 3: Tattooed by Whang Od, the living legend 

Part 4: Street food in Manila

Part 5: My Pinoy guardian angel 

Part 6: Lonely island and Mr GaGa

Part 7: Leaving the Philippines

Exhausted, I rolled off the bumpy bus and bid my fellow passengers goodbye. It had been a long day, I had traveled from dusty Baguio to the small town of Sagada on a whim after a couple of Filipino backpackers said I simply must visit.

It was in the right direction, it would slowly take me closer to Whang Od and my coveted tattoo. I booked into a lonely guest house perched high amongst a jumble of spiky rocks, took a shower, answered about 100 new comments from enthusiastic Filipinos on my site,, and crashed out for the night… tomorrow would be a new day!

Exploring Sagada

7am, an early start. A refreshing breeze in my face, the morning sun already beginning to heat up the ground. I began by simply wandering around. I followed hazy trails, a crumpled map in one hand, and searched for the ultimate viewpoint. I instantly became lost in the tangled forests surrounding the main town. It didn’t matter; I climbed, higher and higher, to the top of the hill and turned. Luminous green paddy fields spilled away from me as far as the eye could see. (READ:The Baguio, Sagada tour inspired by ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’)

 All photos provided by Will Hatton

I sat, I took in some sun, I pondered the life choices that had brought me to the Philippines, that had kept me on the road for seven years. The morning sun rose higher in the sky. (READ: Baguio City: Your complete weekend itinerary)

Refueled and refreshed, I headed out into the Echo Valley with a local guide, Daniel, who explained to me that the reason the hanging coffins were so short was because the body was placed in a fetal position so that a spirit can enter and leave life in the same position.

This seemed like a beautiful idea to me and stuck with me throughout the day as I stumbled after Daniel, a bona fide hiking god, and built rock towers in the river.

In England these towers, known as cairns, are used to mark the way for passing trekkers, I had always considered them lucky, and I needed some luck because the very next day I would be descending into the depths of the earth, surrendering to the darkness and the wet and the cold and visiting one of Sagada’s most famous attractions; the infamous cave connection trek!

The following day

The first rays of the sun crept under my door, a rooster saluted the beginning of the day enthusiastically and I rolled out of bed: I had a mission. An hour later and I was marching to Lumiang Cave with a Filipino student, John, and a German missionary, Marcos. We descended a thousand steps and gazed in awe at the mouth of the cave. It stood there, a portal to another world, ready to snap shut on those who did not give it the respect it deserved.

Around us, dozens of wooden coffins and some scattered bones decorated the walls of the cave. Every nook, every cranny was filled – how the heck they got them up there, I do not know.

Our guide, a jovial chap in a yellow tank top lit up his gas lantern and we began. The cave seemed huge, surely this would be a walk in the park? I followed our guide into the murky darkness, turning one last time to glimpse the open sky slipping away from me, the light growing fainter and fainter.

Up ahead, we could hear faint voices in the darkness – were they perhaps spirits, guarding the cave’s secrets? We descended, I slipped and slid, grasped and grabbed, inching my way down slick walls of rock and past hanging stalactites.

I grabbed a rope hanging from god-knows where and worked my way down, further into the earth, hand over hand, army style.

The voices grew louder. I slid forwards, stepping over rocks, turning to take a couple of snaps of my caving-mates. We rounded a bend and met with a group of friendly Koreans. How many people had this cave swallowed, I wondered? How many of us were down here, groping in the dark?

We continued onwards, skirting sheer drops and sliding on our bums down slick rocky slopes. We traversed narrow passageways, squeezing through the most impossible of holes. How on earth had people worked out where to go here, I thought. Surely the first explorers here were juggling with death? I nearly got stuck on several occasions, my orange backpack scraping against the rock, my shoulders refusing to fit through the smaller gaps.

We reached the bottom of the cave, 50 or so folks milled around, taking photos, singing, shouting, it was kind of like a party – all we needed was some beers! Our guide pointed out rock formations that looked like, well, all kinds of things. There was a turtle, an elephant, an old man and several others I shall not mention! I paused, sitting in a quiet corner, soaking in the silence, the darkness, the flickering lamps illuminating hidden crevices of this gigantic underground cathedral.

There was something very real going on here; some sacred presence, an ancient power that demanded respect. The cave was beautiful, more so than I had dared to hope. I have been inside over thirty caves; this one topped them all three times over.

Slowly but surely we regrouped and began the hard climb back out of the earth. We hoisted ourselves upwards with ropes and willpower, hungry and tired but happy and inspired. Gradually, like the rising of the sun, I began to notice a subtle difference in the air; it was getting lighter.

I stumbled forwards, craning my neck and spotted it – the exit to the cave.

We had made it! I whooped out loud, making a couple of nearby guides laugh, unable to contain my excitement – we had done it, we had braved the darkness, battled with our demons, and emerged unscathed!

An hour later, I sat, rice fields yet again spiralling away from me on all sides. I sipped my beer and watched a lone farmer tending to his fields. The clouds raced across the sky, the wind made the paddies dance; ethereal fingers stroking a carpet of green.

Adventure, beauty, friendship… I could get used to this. –

Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if you’re really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint. 

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