Tag Archives: caving


I was not sure what to expect when Martijn led Maddie and I onto a dirt road, inland and away from the ocean. I had been told we were going to an underwater cave, which I expected to mean a short cliff jump into the ocean and free diving down along the coastline to peer into an ocean cave before returning to the surface. I did not expect to leave my bicycle locked to an inland gate and hike through the shrubbery down to the mouth of a cave.

Martijn and Maddie Emms at the mouth of the cave

The descent into the cave required a bit of rock climbing. We lowered our bags, turned on our flashlights and carefully climbed down, finally reaching the water. Freshwater. This dark inland cave seemed narrow and small but as we donned our masks and snorkels for a swim one room led to another. Most of the water was shallow enough to stand but some pools were much deeper.

“Don’t pee,” Martijn instructed. This was a significantly challenging task. As a scuba diver, peeing in my wetsuit is usually my first step to getting warm when I hit the cold water. (Don’t worry the pee diffuses away. If this sounds gross you are clearly not a scuba diver. The longer you dive the more unavoidable it becomes.) Additionally, cold water actually increases your urge to pee. Your blood vessels constrict in cold water, which increases blood pressure. An easy way for the body to lower this pressure is by peeing. The official term for this phenomenon is cold immersion diuresis. Despite this increased urge, I did my best to refrain. The freshwater pool received only periodic circulation after intense rainfalls so I heeded Martijn’s advice.


Swimming further into the next room the water was deep enough for free diving.

“There is an underwater tunnel here. I will check it.” Martijn stated.

“Martijn!!!” Maddie and I exclaimed in protest. “Are you sure it’s here?” I asked.

The underwater tunnel was a 15-20 second breath hold and swim into another separate cavern of the cave. Martijn had done it before, but agreed to swim a practice dive down and back just to look for the exit to ensure his memory was correct. I followed him in a quick dive down and we shined our flashlights deeper into the tunnel.

“I’m going for it.” Martijn announced once we returned to the surface. Seconds later he dove again and kicked through the tunnel and out of view. ‘Did he make it?!’ I wondered. Only a few seconds after he left I saw his light shining back, confirming his success.

With a deep breath, I dove down and followed. Kick, kick, kick. I could see the walls of the tunnel all around me. As I cleared the midpoint I could see the shimmery surface of water with air above it. Martijn’s feet were also visible standing in the water. Made it!

Maddie opted to stay behind and shine her light to mark the proper way back. In the next cavern I was in for another surprise. This room had deep free diving well too. Diving down I couldn’t tell where the cave let out but it clearly connected to the ocean, because we could see the blurry swirls of salt water meeting freshwater once we dropped down past 10ft. After a few more dives to explore we swam back through the tunnel where Maddie was waiting.

“You have to try it!!!” I exclaimed as soon as I surfaced back on the other side. After a detailed recap of the tunnel swim and salt water well Maddie was convinced. This time I stayed behind as the light to mark the way.

It was entirely silent waiting there by myself. But I was not the only living creature in this cave. Shortly after they left, I started to feel little nips from cleaner shrimp or small fish on my toes. As the fish continued my pedicure, I closed my eyes and tried to imprint the tunnel passageway into my memory in case I returned again with another group of friends. When Maddie and Martijn swam back, we made our way to the exit.

“I have to pee so badly,” I admitted. My urge had grown increasingly noticeable while I was standing by myself and waiting.

With a guilty smile Martijn confessed, “I already did.”

“Martijn!!!” I admonished.

“I did too.” Maddie divulged.

“You guys! I’ve been waiting so long and you both just went ahead and did it,” I said. Perhaps the cave should have a warning sign that says, ‘Scuba Divers Not Welcome,’ because it seems we just can’t help it. My bladder was also significantly less full by the time we climbed back out. There will be more rain and all in all this adventure was a big success.

A few weeks later I went on another caving adventure. No water involved this time, but I ended up saving the day by rescuing our car keys that were dropped into a smaller hole.

Sagada Caving

“Malayo ang hospital, mas malapit ang mga coffins.” The hospital is far, the coffins are closer, our guide joked to us as we entered the Lumiang Cave for our “Cave Connection” tour. The sight of these historic coffins paired with the immense cavern whose floor disappeared mysteriously to some vast depth was enough to convince two of our party to turn back. This 4-hour tour is not for the claustrophobic. It required a significant amount of physical athleticism and finesse to traverse. As we crawled multiple kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface, our guide’s initial joke gained validity: this was not a place to get hurt.

If you search online for caving recommendations, most suggestions emphasize sturdy, heavy boots with solid soles. Exploring Sagada taught me that caves vary based on region and environment thus local knowledge is best. And proper foot ware in Sagada Philippines meant – Surprise: Flip Flops!!! Despite my initial skepticism, I was quickly convinced. Wearing flip flops meant suitable basic traction and protection from sharp rocks, but also flexibility to feel the rocks beneath your feet, to weight your body appropriately based on the surface at hand, and most importantly the ability to bend and adapt to small rocky footholds. Luckily, I had packed a pair of flip flops in my backpack. My Danish friends were not so lucky and opted for bare feet versus their large clunky boots.

Our guide Jimmy fixing the lantern which proceeded to break several more times throughout our trip. We all forgot to pack matches and our lone lighter was very temperamental. We thought we’d make the trip more exciting with the constant threat of total darkness.
Note to self: pack a headlamp with fresh batteries when going caving. The one on my forehead was more for show than illumination.

If you travel to Sagada and are looking for an adventure “Cave Connection” was a highlight experience for me. I would return and do it again in a heartbeat!! Php 400 pesos or about $8.80 USD per person bought an extremely essential local guide. Bring a headlamp (and a spare or at least spare batteries), water, a small pack so your hands are free while you walk, flip flops, and your municipal tourism registration card. Trust your guide, the hospital is far, but these people are experts!