Cave. Saw, Conquered.
they asked us to wear leech socks and shoes. cover up, head and hands. there will be guano everywhere, you need to protect yourself, they said. i wore the leech socks, but had no shoes. sandals would have to do. no full-sleeves, hands would have to be exposed. ditto for the head. no hat. how bad can it be? just a little bat poop on me. OK. nothing a nice shower cannot take care of. right?
an innocuous huge entrance hid behind it the huger Gomantong cave. extending upwards to some 90m, it was high and wide. the cave we accessed was the black cave (home to the black saliva swiftlet nests). the white saliva swiftlet nests are more valuable and that sits in the white cave, high above the black cave and needs special permission to go to.
limestone caves, like the ones we were in, in Palawan, i thought to myself. wrong again. as soon as we entered, it was as though someone suddenly switched off the lights. the cave was pitch dark. there was a shaft of light in the distance, extending to a roof opening there. we could see and hear the rain pattering down. the wooden walkway was slippery and wet. a gutter ran along one side and guano was piled high on the other. crabs, cockroaches, everywhere there. flashlights were swinging this way and that, catching nesting swiftlets in small holes and nooks all along the walls.
large, really large cockroach-eating centipedes sat still on the cave walls. if nudged, they could move extremely fast. somewhere close to them but out of reach were the cockroaches. winged, non-winged, albino, colored, big, small. we cut across and stepped on to the guano. soft, softer than sand, dark brown and piled high, our feet sank in with each step. stop, and your feet sink deeper. keep shuffling, i told myself. and then i shone the torch on my leech-socked feet. cockroaches were all over the guano — they eat it, some crossing over my feet on their way someplace. swiftlet eggs were fallen and falling on the guano — food for the creatures living in it.
back on the wooden plankway, the railing was covered with cockroaches as were the planks. i was probably crunching a few as i walked. no tripod, no light, cockroaches everywhere — couldn’t put my camera on a surface, my hands shaking as i tried to click, the photographic endeavor was a disaster. the rain was making the planks so slippery and nothing to hold on to, i was half afraid i would end up with a thud, giving the cockroaches company on the ground.
45 minutes of this later, i wondered why i suddenly felt tired. ha! i had held my breath the whole time. exhaling slowly, i found myself walking out on to terra firma and into the sunset-kissed air. my numb brain willed a weak smile as i took in a deep, fresh non-guano lungful.
the only living being i actively stay away from is a cockroach. that cave, for me, was fear factor on steroids. i’d survived. no screams, no squeals.
nothing a good shower could not take care of, right? you bet.