Tandag, a very small coastal town in Surigao del Sur, is hardly the most exciting destination in Mindanao. There are no ziplines here, no white sand beaches, no waterfalls to draw hordes of tourists. A sleepy and quiet place, I loved its tranquility, looking forward every year to go back to its small-town charm.
When I came home for a few days last month, I went around and took pictures of Tandag as a tourist would, and I realized that it was more beautiful than I thought it would be. The best thing, however, was that I learned that there are several cave systems in my town that had remained unexplored and unexploited. As an avid traveler, the prospect of an adventure was something that immediately made my heart beat faster.
The caves are located in the rocky islands across the seaport in the barangay of Bongtod. Called Bat Island and Linungao Island, those were off-limits to us as children, as people believed that Linungao is haunted by spirits who regularly claim human lives to serve them in their kingdom. Stories abound of people drowning on knee-high water, or young women getting lost for days and found disoriented in Linungao.
When I went there with my cousins last month, though, Linungao took on a different aspect. According to a local, Dodong Dayao, he discovered three caves there, and he had kept their presence private (his family holds the title to the property). He guided us to the nearest unnamed cave, accessible only through a small hole in the ground, bringing only a length of rope, some candles, and a headlamp.
To reach the cave, we had to climb through balete roots, holding on to and squeezing through the thick and fleshy roots of the banyan. When we saw the small entrance, we had slight misgivings; would we fit inside? It seemed too small for us. When Manong Dodong made it through, though, we all excitedly followed, my Nikon D3100 wrapped securely in plastic.
The way down was muddy and a bit dangerous for those who are not used to physical activity but the rock formations inside were breathtaking. The light from our candles and headlamp made the crystals sparkle, and the pools of water were cold and deep enough to make for a very refreshing swim. One end of the cave was a bench-like rock formation where we stopped to take pictures.
When I asked Manong Dodong for the name of the cave, he only took a moment to think. Seeing all the banyan trees around it, he gave the name “Danakit,” which is the local name for balete.
After around an hour, my cousins and I went back, all tired and hungry from our impromptu adventure. Still, we couldn’t wait to go back next time to explore the other two caves!
How to go to Danakit Cave in Tandag: The cave is in Linungao in Bongtod (same island where the Grotto is). It is best to go there during low tide, and you can look for Dodong Dayao to guide you—don’t forget to compensate him for his time and effort in taking you there. Leaving your waste inside the cave is strictly prohibited, as well as defacing the site by writing on the rocks or cave walls. Let us all protect our natural resources; leave those markers and spray paints at home!
Tandag is accessible by bus from Butuan City (5 hours) or Surigao City (5 hours). There are direct flights from Manila going to Butuan or Surigao daily.
UPDATE (August 2011): This may be closed to the public at the moment, as per the 01 August 2011 comment below.