Passions go deep inside Calbiga CavesBy Vicente S. Labro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
CALBIGA, Samar—Amazing stalactites, stalagmites and other natural formations, bats, spiders, snakes, blind fishes and crabs. What more can be discovered inside the Calbiga Caves complex in Calbiga town in Samar?
For nearly a month, some of the best European speleologists and cave divers led by Matteo Rivadossi, accompanied by local spelunker Joni Abesamis Bonifacio and three other Samareños, explored the Calbiga Caves in April.
The expedition aimed to confirm an earlier theory that the municipality of Calbiga, and possibly the whole Samar Island, is crisscrossed by underground rivers. Organized by Odissea Naturavventura, it was a team up of two Italian caving associations, Gruppo Grotte Brescia.
It had permission from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the municipality to explore the caves.
The team included geologist Guido Rossi, filmmaker Alessandro Gatti and Gigi Casati, both cave divers; Panizzon Stefano Lillo and Merigo Davide, both cave explorers, all Italians; Frenchmen Tristan Godet and Jean Paul Sounier, both cave explorers; Belgian Marc Vandermeulen, cave diver; Slovenian Rok Stopar, cave explorer/doctor; and Russian Maria Tikka, cave explorer.
Rivadossi, Rossi, Sounier, Godet and Lillo had been to the Calbiga Caves in 2009. They discovered the 6-kilometer Camparina-Ludi Bito-Burabod Cave, which has many branches connecting to a long and beautiful underground river.
Also in 2009, a three-member team of foreign cave divers—Americans Bruce Konefe and William Hudson, and German Thomas Bodis—found the Lurodpon Cave after diving into a submerged cave passage through the Langun-Gobingob cave system.
A favorite destination of cavers, the Calbiga Caves can be reached in one and a half hours on a foot trail from the town proper. The system covers 2,968 hectares and is said to be the largest karst in the country and one of the largest in East Asia.
It has 12 caves, including Gobingob, Langun and Bitong Mahangin that boast of giant columns of stalactites and stalagmites, unique rock formations, underground water courses and springs.
A team of Italian speleologists, who first explored the cave system in 1987, said that Langun, the main cave, has a chamber that is 270 meters long and 160 meters wide at its largest area, which can easily fit three football fields.
Gobingob, on the other hand, has a huge hall with beautiful stalagmite, stalactite and flewstone formations, while Bitong Mahangin has a single dry tunnel at the bottom of which lies a lush forest.
A protected area, the Calbiga Caves complex is the habitat of rare species of blind crabs and the 7-centimeter hypogean blind fish. At dusk, hundred of thousands of bats hover over the cave entrance.
The Italian cavers also noted in 1987 that the Calbiga has a “truly exceptional hydrogeological karst,” swallowing more than 20 watercourses.
Farther east, near Barangay Caamlongan, is another cave system called Canyawa Cave (Devil’s Cave), which was discovered and explored in 2002 by a team of French and Italian cavers. It consists of 15 galleries of distinctive features and underground rivers.
The latest expedition targeted the Langun-Gobingob, Camparina-Ludi Bito-Burabod, and the Lurodpon caves, as well as the Calidungan and Balogo springs. But bad weather prevented it from achieving good results.
“Sadly, 45 days of rain caused the river to become murky with zero visibility. It was then impossible to check in Calidungan,” a lake fed by the Magtingol River, according to Rivadossi.
He says the final result of the trek was “the reconstruction of the underground hydrographic net(work) from the inlet of Palaspas River into the 10-km cave system (Langun-Gobingob) to Balogo Spring.”
While waiting for the weather to improve, the experts went to other caves in Pinabacdao and Matuguinao, both Samar towns.
Still, Rivadossi says the adventure had been a fulfilling struggle “to pass through caves and enter into the vast world of nature’s magnificent phenomena!”
He explains that the team sought to see the unexplored side of the earth where no satellite or robot can ever do.
“The cavers are not paid for their extraordinary curiosity. The intrigue on the magical possibilities and the search for new discoveries in the underground river (from the top to the spring) have become their passion for years,” Rivadossi says.
With the exploration, he adds, it is possible to make a deep investigation about the biology, hydrology or geology of the Calbiga Caves.
Mayor Melchor Nacario recently received word from American researchers from University of Texas that they wanted to study the complex in relation to climate change. They did not give details, however.
In studying climate change, some scientists are said to have explored caves to inspect stalagmites—known “archives” of the climate history dating back to tens of thousands years—in a particular area. The caves hold records that may give clues to climate change.
Stalagmites are formed as rainwater, mixed with calcium carbonate and other elements, makes its way through the ground and onto the cave floor, creating in time a column of rock.
Scientists would cut open the stalagmite, study its chemical content to determine the relative moisture of the climate at various periods in history, starting from the the oldest layers at the bottom to the present at the top.
If the American scientists push through with their plan, the Calbiga cave network may also tell what happened in the past in relation to the present.