Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sagada's Fear Factor

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I visited Sagada in Mountain Province two weekends ago. On Saturday morning after a cold, sleepless night, Ata Becky informed me we would be going to see the caves with our friend, Sarah. I pictured Luray Caverns style – a simple hike down into the caves to see cool stalactites and stalagmites. 

We walked down to the information shop to receive our guide. He turns to us and says, “Are you ready for Sagada’s Fear Factor? Repel down cave walls? Swim in water as deep as your chest? Slide through small holes?”

Wait, WTF?! I thought. He simply must be kidding. I turned to my companions and said, “wait, I don’t know if I can do this.” They reassured me that it’d be fine. Ata Becky had done it before and said it’s great. 
Walking about half a mile to the top of the cave entrance and then descending into the opening, I still don’t think I had quite wrapped my head around what we were about to encounter.

At the entrance to the cave, we stopped to admire the coffins. It used to be a burial cave of the Igorots. The small size wasn’t due to the ancestors being shorter people but the bodies were positioned into a fetal position. They entered the world that way and so they believed they should return in that position. Also, they believed their spirits returned as animals. If they were buried six feet under ground than it would hard to return but in the mouth of a cave it’s easy to walk back into nature. It’s quite amazing to see how they tucked these coffins, over 100, high into the crevices. The oldest are believed to be about 500 years old.

We paused as our guide stooped to light the gas lantern. As he did this he asked if we were ready for the 4 hour excursion. 4 hours?! I don’t think I’m ready for this. My companions asked if I wanted to continue. I said no but at the same time I wanted to do it. I was going to do it. I warned them this was going to be a huge leap for me and I’ll have to take it slow. They assured me they would go at my pace. I still don’t think I’d quite mentally pictured all that laid ahead. And if it had been anywhere but the Philippines I probably would’ve gone and waited in the car or sat in a coffee shop. 

But how do we grow or learn about ourselves if we do not push past the limits of our comfort zone? 

While this became the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life mentally and physically, I came away stronger. I came away a survivor. 

This was serious caving! All the swimming and sliding and repelling, that was no joke. I slid through most of it on my butt so I wouldn’t fall on my face. Every time we did some extremely difficult part, I would say “ok, that was the worst part, but I did it.” Then we would get to another part and I would be like, “no, THAT was the hardest and worst part!” and on and on.

I had to slide and repel through a small hole while holding onto a knotted rope, but my shoes slipped and I just kind of fell while tearing up my hands and almost dislocating my shoulder. Next was repelling between two rocks simultaneously twisting your body. Then I basically widely hugged a huge rounded rock while crisscrossing over it. All I prayed was that I wouldn’t fall into the darkness below. 

The most challenging part after all that was sliding down another tiny, tiny hole to swim into freezing (like polar bear swim) water about 15 feet across to a platform. The only way up into the next part of the cave was about 12 or 15 feet above your head. There was a rounded rock overhang with a knotted rope hanging over it. There were two tiny footholds to use and then pull yourself up with the rope. I watched other people do it and just kept repeating “shit, shit, shit.”

There was no other way. I couldn’t turn back. I was already over an hour into this. My guide kindly reassured me that I could do this and he was going to help me. I stepped up into the crevice of his hip (cheerleader stunt style) then put my right foot onto his right shoulder, grabbed onto the rope, found my center of balance. Put my left foot on his left shoulder then he stood up to give me height. Then I put my left foot into the foot hold of the rock and lost my balance and started to sway. I thought, I’m going to die right here and at least it’s a cool story. Ashley died in the Philippines while caving.

It all happened so fast but I found the right foothold and pulled myself through the hole and into a tiny flat space where I sat on this rock and just breathed. I couldn’t actually believe I made it through!

That wasn’t even the halfway point! From there I hiked the majority of the rest in my bare feet, which was liberating. I could feel where I was stepping and get a better grip of the rocks.
Me soaking wet after getting through the hardest challenge.

Over 2 hours later with a shaking body, a white shirt turned completely brown, soaking wet from sweat and water, I made it out of that damn cave! I think the worst part was after making it to the opening you had to climb another 275 steps up to the road! 

While I wouldn’t describe the experience as fun, it was once-in-a-lifetime. When you have a moment to sit and take in the beauty of the earth around you, it’s spectacular. All of this exists under the earth, a breath-taking underworld. When all I could hear was sizzling of the burning lantern, tranquility and peace fell over me as I looked around. 

I did it!
On top of that, the cave taught me about trust, belief, and fear. Trusting in those around me to help and guide me. Trusting in myself, my strength and willpower. Trusting in God to see me through this experience.

And belief. If I could see myself doing it, if I believed I could than I could. Every time we hit a roadblock, I would say, I can do this. I did it, time and time again.

And fear. Well, more so I learned about saying “no fear” as my former boss, Buck, would always say. If I let my fear take hold of me then I became paralyzed. Let the fear go in order to move forward.

If someone would have told me I would do this before leaving for the Philippines, I would have laughed in their face. No way. But I did it. I conquered that cave with every ounce of strength in me only to find out I had more than I ever thought I did. 

So, what’s next?

My reward afterwards, scrumptious chocolate chip pancakes topped with bananas, mini marshmallows, and white and milk chocolate chips!

Thanks for reading!

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