Filipino Cave Divers

The Filipino Cave Divers team. L-R: Lyndon Cubillan, Doc Amores, Jake Miranda, Bernil Gastardo

RED HOT START

It was another day in paradise on June 23, 2013 as we made our way to Larry Williams’ banca for the trip to Dinagat Island at the break of dawn. We left from Jake Miranda’s Punta Bilar Dive Shop in Surigao del Norte. The sea was flat and the sky was clear.At the break of dawn.

It was the 3rd day of our Southern Expedition that started in Butuan. But we were supposed to start the trip from Davao. My research showed that there is an area in Davao Oriental that may have the same potentials for exploration like the Hinatuan Enchanted River.

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Lake Carolina, Davao Oriental

The prospective site is called Lake Carolina  and the photos I found on the internet showed a blue pool of undetermined depth, nestled among coconut trees and jungle foliage.

It was 2 days before our flight to Davao to meet up with Jake, Larry (driving from Surigao del Norte) and Lourdes (flying in from Manila) when news broke out that a couple of government soldiers and civilians were shot at and kidnapped by insurgents in Davao del Norte.

We wavered a little on the decision and the possibility of not changing plans but we definitely changed our minds as soon as Jake informed us that his military contacts have positively identified the sector in Davao Oriental leading to the Lake Carolina as “Red-Hot”!

Jake is featured in the airline magazine.

Jake is featured in the airline magazine.

The new itinerary was to fly to Butuan, then drive to Barobo to assess a potential site and then proceed to Hinatuan to continue the exploration of the Enchanted River.

Our muses

Lourdes Alejan & Jeanne Dumlao

Ok, but the  interesting thing was that Lourdes Alejan, our seemingly fearless geologist thought that she might as well meet us at an area on the way to Barobo.

When we saw her mid-morning of June 20th, she told us that she took the overnight bus from Davao. Surprisingly,  the bus route went through the “Red-Hot” zone we were trying to avoid! What the …!!

All is well that ends or starts (?) well and so there we were on that fine day, healthy, alive and all accounted for, headed out to Dinagat to traverse the Lake Bababu. The tunnel that starts from the sea and ends up in a freshwater lake was initially explored by FCD Lyndon Cubillan on August 28, 2012 and first traversed by FCD Jake Miranda on September 7, 2012. Jake wrote a fine article about the awesome experience of diving from the sea and coming out to the lake.

With an approximate length of 2, 200 ft/ 650 meters, Lake Bababu Underwater Cave is considered the longest fully-submerged cave in the Philippines!

bababu8

Info made by: Jake Miranda

DINAGAT

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Peaceful scenery Dinagat and SurigaoDinagat Island is an enchanting area with an allure that may remind one of the top-side beauty that Coron, Palawan offers—minus the sight of other tourists.

The eastern coast of the island fronts the Pacific Ocean and the south-western side faces Surigao del Norte. Travel time to the site took 2 hours.

Picturesque white-sand coves and uninhabited islets along the way served as icing on that sweet day. We anchored the outrigger boats on a still and calm cove beside a high limestone cliff.

Directly above the cave’s entrance are warning signs placed by Jake and Lyndon.

The tunnel starts at a depth of 9 feet/ 3 meters and the tidal current was predicted to gently flow in from the sea to the lake on that certain time. We expected to have the leisurely condition of being carried through the tunnel. A more relaxing cave dive could not have been envisioned!

Getting ready for an epic traverse!

Jake was the lead man with Doc as his buddy. With our cameras, Lyndon and I teamed up to document the traverse. Each diver was equipped with 4 units of 80 cu/ 11 liter tanks to fully cover any issues with gas requirements. Total expected time from start to finish of the dive was 70 minutes with 20 minutes of possible decompression obligation.

Filipino Cave Divers

L-R: Lyndon (twin tanks & 2 stages), Doc (4 sidemount tanks), Jake (twins tanks & 2 stages)

READY, SET, FLUSH!

Underwater, Jake signaled OK and everyone responded the same. Poised near cave’s mouth, Jake started to fin forward and was swiftly carried in. Doc followed suit, next was Lyndon and the last to go was me. The current started with a gentle push, slowly nudging—but when we were fully inside the cave the push became a shove and then we got flushed into the tunnel! Imagine a water slide—yep, something akin to that but in this ride, you are in a long, dark, enclosed space with jagged things out to cut you and your equipment if one is not careful.

Touch and cry.

Stinging hydroids on the rocks. Nasty.

“This is going to be one hell of a roller coaster ride!” I thought as I sailed past stinging hydroids growing on the sharp, coralline sides of the cave. The floor was covered with a collection of small shells from bivalves long gone. Perimeter clearance was less than a meter on each side and a meter from the ceiling to the bottom.

5 minutes into the dive, we came to a 30° right turn that required us to slow down but the current won’t allow us that privilege. I could hear tanks banging as the 3 guys made contact with the sides of the cave and with each other. I dropped down closer to the bottom and positioned my left tanks to prepare for collision. Shifting sideways, my left tanks slammed into the wall jerking me upward and making my helmet scrape the ceiling. Ah, thank God for helmets!

Interesting rock formation

It went on like that for 30 minutes, more or less. Turn! Bang! Scrape! Repeat. I started to get a good idea of how the ball in a pin-ball machine might feel while being played.

A respite from the wild action occurred whenever we found ourselves in larger spaces where the strength of the water flow was less.

Bottom crawler

Speaking of large areas, there is a Cathedral-like chamber where I found rock formations rising from the bottom and coming down from the ceiling. Stalagmites and stalactites? Perhaps…

Another interesting experience was the challenge of maintaining buoyancy whenever we came to a point where fresh and saltwater mixing occurs. I’d be trimmed and neutrally buoyant for saltwater and then suddenly I’m dropped to the bottom as the water density changed.

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FROM BLACK TO GREEN

Tired but happy and alive.

Doc resting with “souvenirs” on his back.

We rounded another corner and we observed several small yellow sponges on the bottom. The current was slowing down and in a distance I could make out a faint greenish hue. We have reached the end of the tunnel, we are in the lake!

Congratulations!

Near the exit, I saw Doc on the bottom having a rest after the adrenaline filled ride. The back of his Hollis carried “souvenirs” — parts of the tunnel that dropped loose as we passed through. Jake came up and we all shook hands, congratulating each other for the successful traverse!

I tasted the lake water and it was fresh, which was interesting because I then saw 2 big trevallies (jack fish) swim past.

MoonscapeWe had incurred 19 minutes of decompression time which we had to clear at a depth of 6 meters before we could ascend to the surface. We used that time to swim slowly towards the lake shore.

The surreal landscape enclosed in greenish water lent more mystery to the tangle of fallen tree trunks. I noticed small sea urchins on the rocks and again, the trevallies.

selfie!My dive computer cleared of the decompression requirement and I slowly made my ascent. The first surface image I saw was enthralling! Tall limestone walls surrounded me with trees and foliage bordering the water’s edge. The water was flat and still and everything was peacefully silent. I saw small transparent freshwater shrimps and silver half-beak fishes swimming among the tree branches & leaves overhanging into the water.

Can't beat the view.Larry, Lourdes and Jeanne were waiting at a small shore. From the beach, they had to follow the trail up on a hill and then down to get to the lake. It took them approximately 30 minutes of good hiking through a path cut out from the jungle that covers the island.

The team was tired. We rested and lunched on the fine packed meal prepared by Larry’s lady, Ayet. Good food, great ambiance, fine company—ahh, such is life.

After a relaxing hour or so, we decided to pack up and head back to Jake’s shop. What awaited us between our current location and the boat was the trek up the steep hill, through the rocky forest path and down to the beach. And boy, was that a trek!

Thank God for the local porters because without them we would have died. No pun intended, really! Imagine making the trek carrying the tanks and other stuff after a decompression dive. The porters did an excellent job of maneuvering through the rocky uphill and downhill path while carrying such heavy equipment.

Life-saver

My hero!

I wore my sidemount harness with lights and reels attached, and I was panting all the way up and all the way down. The guys carrying our tanks were passing us with smiles on their faces. I tell you, they are God’s gift to explorers.

After 30 minutes of trekking, we came upon a sight for sore eyes. The secluded beach was impressive!

The beach!

We met up with the caretakers of the site and we showed them the videos we took of the traverse.

Smiling locals, happy to see what's the hidden beauty of their island.

On the way back to Surigao, we passed by areas of immense beauty. Dinagat Island and the Lake Bababu are so awesome that I silently promised to myself, I will be back.

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