Posts Tagged ‘hinatuan enchanted river’

Filipino Cave Divers

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


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.

All rights reserved to the original photographer.

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!


Info made by: Jake Miranda


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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)


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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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!


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.


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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As a Filipino Cave Diver (FCD) member, I am privileged to meet, dive and explore with other like-minded, generous, hospitable and generally wonderful people!

The latest FCD Southern Philippines expedition was from June 20-26, 2013. And for the period that I was involved which was from June 20-23, I would like to say a heartfelt “SALAMAT” to the following people:

JAKE MIRANDA (FCD, Punta Bilar & JJ Dive Center)- as Expedition Leader for this trip, his excellent planning skills & logistics management made everything smooth, allowing us to maximize exploration time. We also declare his mobile diving van FCD exploration tested and certified! Thanks also to his attentive and helpful dive staffs.

LARRY WILLIAMS (FCD Associate Member)- for his valuable assistance in logistics and for welcoming us into his beautiful abode. Best of thanks to his wonderful wife, AYET and to her excellent cooking skills and warm hospitality.

LYNDON CUBILLAN (FCD, Surigao Dive Club)- for leading us to his discovery– the Lake Bababu of Dinagat, and for his videography skills, which allowed us to fully document the traverse from the sea to the lake. Thanks to his lady, Landz for the fine meals at Larry’s place.

FERDINAND BARRIOS (HINATUAN Municipal Planning Officer)- again, Ferdinand’s invaluable assistance and whole-hearted support shone through even though we had a change of schedule & was at his area 1-day earlier.

MAYOR VIOLA (HINATUAN Municipality)- even though we were not able to meet him on this latest visit, we felt his kind assistance and his generosity. And thanks also to the various folks of the HINATUAN TOURISM COUNCIL (Marlon & the rest) who gave us logistical assistance and showed us genuine hospitality.

MAYOR FELIXBERTO URBIZTONDO (BAROBO, Surigao del Sur)- for his willingness to help and for showing us the springs in his area. We hope that he will succeed in his endeavors to protect Barobo’s natural resources from illegal mining and illegal fishing.

LOURDES ALEJAN (FCD in-house Geologist)- for her enthusiasm and willingness to enhance our survey reports with her knowledge of geological compositions that create the tunnels and the underwater caves that we explore. Excellent road-trip companion too!

SURIGAO DIVE CLUB MEMBERS– for the wonderful dive at Cantrasa Shoal of which I declare is “currently my best saltwater dive for this year”! Special mention to JEANNE DUMLAO for the  topside hospitality. Thanks also to Ayesha Laurente, Vivian Chaplain, Clint Sia & Zati Orquina– nice meeting and diving with you guys!

DINAGAT ISLAND FOLKS– for their assistance in our Lake Bababu exploration. Without them, trekking up a hill and hauling tanks and other equipment after a deco dive would have been the kiss of death for us!

And last but not the least– to my cave buddy DOC AMORES, for injecting us the spirit of exploration and for setting the tone of the cave diving culture in this part of the country.

I look forward to more discoveries and explorations with Doc, Jake, Lyndon and the FCD Team! Cheers to the continuing growth of cave explorations and explorers in the Philippines!


FCD(Expedition reports will be posted at Visit the website to get the latest stories.)

Another expedition to the enchanting river head spring of Hinatuan was recently conducted by a team from Surigao del Norte. On March 20, 2013, Filipino cave diver Jake Miranda and his team were able to successfully penetrate past the sand blockage that restricted the MAD Cavers from getting into the Mayor’s Chamber. The sand barrier thwarted the trimix dive plans of the 2011 exploration team.

The following report is written by Mr. Jake Miranda, SDI/TDI Instructor and published from this blog with his consent. All pictures and diagrams are credited to Mr. Miranda and to his team.



Dive Team

1. Jake Miranda, TDI Full Cave Diver #495188

2. Ivar Almhjell, TDI Full Cave Diver #488306

3. Michael Allen, PADI Divemaster

4. Johm Rey Pingkian, SDI Divemaster

The Cave


Hinatuan Enchanted River begins as an underwater spring that spouts freshwater from a deep source in the ground. The source of the water may be from aquifers surrounding the area that collect the water from heavy rainfall common in Hinatuan . The exiting water makes it all the way to sea snaking along its own river bed. The river is in the municipality of Hinatuan, in the province of Surigao del Sur.

It is a five hour drive from Surigao City or a three hour drive from Butuan City. With better roads this year, it is now just a four hour drive from Davao City. It is already a tourist destination and has ample facilities like shaded cottages, restrooms and food stalls. It is managed by its own tourism staff.

As it is with water springs, there is an underwater cave in its depths. Through past explorations of Mantaga Adventure Divers led by Dr. “Doc” Amores and Bernil Gastardo, they were able to find the cave entrance and initially map the cave area to a max depth of 87 meters. The most notable find was a good sized-chamber at a depth of 50 meters. Diving deeper than 50 meters into a further passage is the realm of trimix gases.

Diving at Enchanted River


For any kind of diving activity in the area, one needs prior consent and expressed permission from the municipal government through Ferdinand Barrios.

Mario Tecson of the tourism staff will inspect your dive licenses and let you sign a waiver. They are quite efficient to the point that they will reserve the nearest cottage for your dive group.

For cave diving, the process is quite thorough but painless. You will also have to get in touch with cave pioneers Dr. Alfonso Amores or Bernil Gastardo for coordination of dive objectives. For this expedition our objective was to check the entrance which was inaccessible in 2011.


After an easy setup at the cottage we all headed to the nearest ramp. I was Diver#1 and Ivar was Diver#2. Michael and JR were our standby rescue divers outside of the cave entrance.


Dive#1 was made at high, slack tide. This was done to ensure easy access into the cave such that the flowing water from the spring would be slowed down by the rising seawater entering the mouth of the river. At least that makes sense in theory and proven so in past dives in the area.

Diving to the bottom of the pool, you will see a large log that marks the split into a right and left lane to get to Doc’s Door and the entry point to Mayor’s Chamber. The right lane, called Bernil’s Crawl is a crawling descent to Doc’s Door. The left lane, called Patrice’s Way is an easier access, because it hugs a cavity on the left wall lessening the current flow.

We tried entering through Bernil’s Crawl but there was substantial sediment deposit in the fissure, making the current flow faster than we can manage. We ended up switching to Patrice’s Way to get to Doc’s door.

After hurdling some meters at Doc’s Door we were finally in Mayor’s Chamber. It took us 11 minutes from dive entry to reach Mayor’s Chamber. This chamber was previously measured by Doc’s team to be 37 meters long and 31 meters wide with a max height of 8 meters. This time more sedimentation on the bed made the bottom closer to the ceiling. There were several fish swimming with us inside the chamber. We also found two lines laid during Doc Amores’ second expedition. The lines and the steel bar anchors were almost buried by the deposited sand.

We then explored the chamber up to Kelvin’s Knee Cap which was at 52M depth, made our turnaround at 20 minutes and exited again through Doc’s Door and Patrice’s Way. We surfaced after a total dive time of 57 minutes.

Dive Summary of Dive#1: Entry 11:12H, maximum depth at 51.4M, on 21%O2 and 50%O2 at 17M and 100%O2 at 4M. Exit 12:09H, 57 minutes.


This time Ivar was Diver#1 and I was Diver#2. We made the dive on the descending low tide. We knew from previous expeditions that the current flow of the freshwater would be stronger with the absence of an opposing force-the flooding seawater.


True enough the current was stronger. Even Patrice’s Way proved hard to enter. We were exerting too much effort and breathing more air than usual just to try to push into the cave.

Ivar called off the dive right before Doc’s Door. We made a difficult exit as both of us were trapped on several wedged rocks. We did not have time to recover our reels. It was a humble retreat back to the main entrance.

Dive Summary of Dive#2: Entry 14:44H, maximum depth of 39.0M on 21%O2 and 50%O2 at 17M and 100%O2 at 4M, Exit 15:18H, 34 minutes



There is an observed erosion of the surrounding limestone walls both at topside and underwater, possibly caused by swimmers in the pool, and tourism development in the area. The porous and softened limestone easily breaks off and then descends to the bottom. Most of this eroded rock gets deposited at the cave entrance.

While Patrice’s way is still wide enough for divers to enter the cave, the pile-up of sediment in Bernil’s Crawl will eventually divert the water flow into Patrice’s way, thus making it harder to overcome the outgoing flow. Further erosion could amplify the current through the restrictions. We suspect that depending on the month of the year, one or both entrances could be partially blocked.

The sedimentation is an issue for cave divers. While constant water movement and immersion will dissolve it through time, it will make the cave harder to access for cave divers. The entrance particularly the limestone sand and pebble bottom will always change depending on how the water flow will shape it.

Thus the door to this nature’s wonder is ever changing. <End>


1. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 1 (Feb. 19-20 2010)

Team members Gastardo, Guillermo and Amores

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

2. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 2 (July 2-8, 2010)

Team members Neilsen, Amores, Duncan, Ramos, Livingston, Laborda, Mak

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

3. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 3 (June 11-14, 2011)

Team members Amores, Holder, Gastardo

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

Thank you to Ferdinand Barrios, the tourism, planning, development officer of Hinatuan Municipality, and Mario Tecson, tourism operation assistant of Hinatuan Enchanted River Management, and to the discoverers of the cave, Mantaga Adventure Divers, led by Dr. Alfonso “Doc” Amores – NACD (USA) # 3042 and Bernil Gastardo – IANTD Cave Diver #95508, for their data from past three expeditions and their advice for our trip.

Jake Miranda, 2013

Cave diagram by Dr. Alfonso Amores, 2010

A national newspaper (Philippine Daily Inquirer) published an article about the Hinatuan Enchanted River last September 30, 2012.

The diagram of the cave made by Doc Amores from our 1st area expedition was included in the published images.

Unfortunately, the image credit bore another name instead of Doc’s. I was able to contact the author and he has apologized for the oversight (not really his fault). A miscommunication with the paper’s bureau chief was the reason.

I have requested a revision of the online version of the article and hopefully soon, Doc will be given credit where it is due.

I know this took a long time coming so here it goes! Best of thanks to Hinatuan’s Municipal Planning Officer, Mr. Ferdinand Barrios for the advice on how to get to his hometown using the regular transports that ply from Nasipit/ Butuan.

From Cebu

Gothong Southern Ferries sails every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm to Butuan.

Take the Gothong  ferry that leaves for Butuan at 7pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Check latest schedules via internet as this info can change without prior notice.

Accommodations on inter-island ferries have definitely progressed. The bunk I got in the Tourist Section featured an 18inch flat screen monitor that was connected to a media box with a multi-card reader. It allows one to plug-in an SD card or USB drive and it’ll play your pictures or movies right there while you lay back in air-conditioned comfort and privacy.

From Nasipit Port

Get one with a sunshade!

Option 1: From Nasipit take a tricycle to Nasipit terminal and look for the bus bound for MANGAGOY. This bus will take you all the way to the Hinatuan terminal. From there, you can contract the services of a “habal-habal” motorcylce transport to take you to the Enchanted River.

For tourists who travel heavy– especially divers!

Option 2: You can take a jeep from the Nasipit terminal and get down at the Gaisano- Nasipit. There are vans for hire near Gaisano and you can direct the driver to take you straight to the Enchanted River.

Places to stay and contact numbers:

Sibadan : 0927-393-6207/0935-257-6540
C Sand Bar: 0939-788-8801
CJ Hometel: 0947-443-2548

Enchanted River Management Office: 0920-259-5554

And if you see these friendly guys at Hinatuan, please tell them the MAD Cavers said hi!

Enjoy your trip!

Doc, Bernil, & Lou

Another invitation from the ever supportive Mayor Candelario Viola Jr. and Municipal Planning Officer Mr. Ferdinand Barrios brought us back to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

The team was composed of Doc Amores, Lou Holder and yours truly. The trip was conducted from June 11-14, 2011.



The strength of the water flow that hit my mask sideways half –flooded it when I turned to check on Doc and Lou. Hinatuan Enchanted River was coming at us extra strong and it took us all by surprise!

Clearing my mask quickly, I signaled to them the OK sign, and they gave me the same signal back.

29 meters/ 95 feet deep and 10 meters from the lip of the cave, the bubbles from my exhalation and the water rushing out and bouncing against the rock walls of the entrance sounded like traffic on a busy freeway. I did my best to lie as flat as I could on the gravel bottom, and with my arm muscles straining, I moved inch by inch deeper into the cave’s entrance as the strength of the spring water did its best to push me back out.

I had my 11 liter back-mounted twin tanks on and I left firmly clipped to the wooden log at the cave’s lip my 2 stage decompression tanks loaded with 50% and 100% oxygen. Doc was using his Evolution Closed Circuit Rebreather (CCR) and Lou had his Inspiration CCR.

Because the exhaled breaths of Doc and Lou were retained and reused by their life-support system, they didn’t produce any noticeable bubbles but I was pretty sure they were breathing as hard as I was with all the effort needed to maintain forward movement in the raging water flow.

The objective of this trip was to conduct surveys further into the Hinatuan Enchanted River Head Spring up to the depth of 90 meters/ 295 feet.

Hinatuan Enchanted River Head Spring Diagram by Doc Amores

We packed heavy on this expedition, anticipating the amount of required tanks and gas (Oxygen and Helium) to sustain us safely to the intended depth and back.

Similar to the first time we visited, the very kind Mayor Viola and the master organizer Mr. Ferdinand Barrios showed us their full support and the logistical challenges were easily managed.

Special mention and best of thanks again to Mr. Jake Miranda of Surigao Dive Club for lending to us a compressor and extra tanks. We would not have been able to complete our gas blending requirements without his help.

Click to the next page: VORTEX

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