Monday, June 11, 2012

Claveria Diving 3.0, We Find the Cave AGAIN

Sometimes a plan completely works out and that’s exactly what happened during our week long dive expedition to Claveria last month, 22-29 May. The most grueling and least enjoyable part of the trip of course is the 13 hour drive, but even that was mostly smooth, light on traffic, and completely incident free. As far as the diving; we were able to get in all of the 9 dives we had planned for and like every time I dive I saw new things each time we went out.

We had tried to make the same thing happen a month earlier during Easter Week but that trip fought us tooth and nail from beginning to end. During that April trip, even though we had left at midnight to beat the traffic we still had lots of cars to contend with, even throughout the wee hours of the morning and all due to Easter traffic. The lesson learned is that it doesn’t matter what time you do it, trying to travel during Holy Week is a bad idea in the Philippines. Avoid it if you can.

The other problem during that trip, THE problem in fact, was the weather. From the day we arrived in Claveria the hard rains and wind gusts of a major front blowing in from east to west across the top of Luzon continued to batter away at us until it finally chased us off, shortening our stay to only three days. In fact, the locals told us that they could not remember ever having such intense rain during Easter, so bad was it that it washed out at least one bridge on the coastal section of the National Highway between us and home, forcing us to drive the long way around Luzon back to Angeles City by way of Aparri, down the Cagayan River valley to Tuguegarao and over the mountains back to our home province of Pampanga.
Don inside the cave

By any measure that trip was a bit of a bust, but not completely so, because we were lucky enough to discover a massive underwater cavern. We asked lots of the fisher folk and boatmen about the huge cave but no one knew anything about it. We had a hard time believing that we are likely the first humans ever to see the inside of it, because of its location right on the coast and because it is in such relatively shallow water, but it seems that we are indeed the first. One thing was certain; one time in the cave was not nearly enough. It was a foregone conclusion therefore that we needed to get another trip up there in May before the annual monsoons arrive, usually starting in June.

Keeping a careful eye on the weather we made plans to make the long drive north, but once again it seemed that the rains had returned and threatened to end the trip even before it began. But, Don, always the optimist, shrugged it off, saying we’ll never know if it can be done unless we give it a go. So that’s what we did—we made our break, the weather be damned. Lo and behold, the weather broke on our way north, and to our great fortune, it stayed fair right up until the day of our return.

We showed up at the Claveria Lagoon right around 10 am for our first day of diving. We didn’t try to get a dive in on our travel day even though we probably could have, wanting first a full night of sleep for maximum alertness. We fully expected the same boat driver we had employed in April to take us out once again. He and his assistant had done a wonderful job so we looked forward to using them again. Based on his texts right up until the evening before, as far as we knew, everything was good to go; but we should have suspected otherwise when the guy, who had been so reliable and hard working just three weeks earlier, began to respond to our texts peculiarly. The weather was obviously fine, yet several times he referred to possible problems with it. It was all pretense because sure enough, he never showed up. After years of living here we shrugged off our disappointment and irritation, after all, that sort of thing has happened to us many times. I call it “the old last second no show.” Seeing it happen so often I’m thinking it’s a quirk of the culture. It doesn’t pay to get mad about it, just press on with a new plan.
My wife at The Claveria Lagoon
 Don’s girlfriend went over and spoke to the ladies who attend to the park. Those girls are great. They make sure we have water to rinse our gear between and after dives; they make sure our shed is reserved and ready for us, and when we need a boat and driver they find us one. And thanks to them, in ten minutes we had a new boat and driver.
Our boat drivers, Dario and Willie
In short order we were on our way. Our method is always the same—Don completely gears up so that all he has to do is drop over the side into the water while I lug my tank and BCD down to the boat so that the boys can drop it into the water to me at the dive site where I strap into it on the surface. I do it that way because fully geared it’s physically impossible for me to try to clamber into the little bangka boat or to safely fall out of it without damaging myself.  

Before the dive Don asked me for my inputs on the dive plan. I told him my primary goal for this trip was to try to find the cave that we had come upon the month before so that this time I could capture it in photos and video.  I was unable to take any pics or vids then because of an apparent leak in my underwater cam package. We knew where the cave was approximately and we were fairly certain we would find it again but I thought it might take a couple of dives to do it.
No idea what this thing is, but its in the cave
But no, we found it almost right off the bat. Basically Don took us on a tour of all the primary geological features that we've managed to discover during our two previous trips to Claveria. Well, anyway, all the ones we've found down at that point area located about a mile down the coast from the lagoon, since our first time diving there last June.

First he found the 50 foot high crack in the rock wall of the largest islet exactly one mile east of the lagoon. You can actually see the islet from the lagoon in fact.

We then dropped to the seafloor and from the bottom of the long vertical crack we followed the rock face to the left around the base of the little island through what feels like a narrow winding canyon. Ten minutes later we arrived at “the arch,” a very cool feature that we first discovered last June.

We passed through the arch into the circular depression at the end of the meandering canyon. A wall blocks the way forward so we ascended its rock face toward the surface some 35 feet up. With less than 10 feet of water above us we passed over the top of the wall and immediately descended into deeper water again and into a very large depression, more like a small underwater valley, bounded by a steep rock wall on the seaward side. A cascade of rocks and boulders marks the little valley's coastal side.

We slowly continued eastward up the coast, exploring and observing the sea-life and geology as we moved forward. To my left, no more than 30 yards from where we passed under the arch, I spotted an intriguing rift brimming with colorful fish and ascended it while Don continued to explore down in the depths of the valley like area. 

Near the top of the rift I looked back until I caught Don’s eye, at which time I pointed at myself and then up in the direction that the rift was taking me. He gave an okay and once I saw that he was following I continued up the rift until it topped out and spilled down into a semi-circular hollow. When I saw it I knew exactly where I was, I had found the cave!
"The amphitheater" at the base of the entrance

In the video, the layers of what I think must be igneous stone are easy to make out. I would love to know what caused these unique formations of layered rock, perhaps it was repeated volcanic eruptions of lava. The wanting to know makes me wish I was a geologist/marine biologist.

I am fairly certain that it is this geological feature of layering that led to the formation of the large cavern. I’m thinking that 10,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, that area was above water level and the cave was probably formed as the action of wind and wave hollowed out the large space, eroding away softer material between harder layers of what is likely lava rock.

Excited to see the cave once again I hurried toward it and then carefully moved inside with cam on video. The last time we entered it we had quickly silted up the interior with our movements across the cave floor so this time I endeavored to keep my buoyancy about a foot about the floor and then moved around by using my free hand to gingerly pull myself from point to point.

After a minute I began to wonder where Don had gone off to. I waited at the entrance of the cave looking down past the amphitheater-like depression certain that he’d pop up from below at any second, and finally he did. I was puzzled though that he merely paused without approaching, as if he expected me to come back to him. I knew then that he didn’t yet realize that I’d rediscovered the cave. I waved for him to come forward but still he hesitated. I then turned and pointed at the cave entrance and that’s when he started over.  ‘Dang, so hard headed!’ I thought chuckling.

Funny thing about that cave is that every dive after that first time that I located it again, we no longer had to try to find it, it just seemed to find us. It wasn’t so much me as it was Don. No matter where we dropped out of the boat he seemed to navigate us right to the danged thing. We dived that area seven times and all seven times we found ourselves back at the cave.
Looking out from cave entrance
The last time he did it I didn't even bother to go inside. Don made his final pilgrimage into its depths while I stayed outside to observe it from various points around it. Doing that, my favorite observation spot was from on top of the prominent pyramid shaped rock that sits directly out from the cave entrance. From there I could see the shoreline above the surface as well as all the depressions, valleys and ravines in the immediate underwater area.

All together I probably took more than a half hour of video inside and around the cave. I put together a compilation that runs about 11 minutes. I finally got it posted to my YouTube account but it fought me all the way, taking four complete download attempts before it finally took. I tried everything to make it work, exported it twice as per YouTube’s instructions, and even downloaded Google Chrome so that I could use its “incognito window” which is supposed to help in better downloading. I sure hope it doesn’t give me such a hard time the next time I try it.

So I’ll talk about the video:

It starts with a view at the bottom of the semi-circular amphitheater area that marks the cave entrance when approaching it from below. I remark about this odd geological formation when I posted about it after discovering it last April. See it here. The layers are fairly uniform and form a set of steps going all the way up to the gaping mouth of the cave. I have never seen anything like it.
Upon reaching the top of “the staircase” the mouth of the cave becomes immediately obvious. In the video it appears green but in real life it is black, as black as black can be. Take my word for it, the first time you discover a cave entrance underwater it is scary as hell, but also just as exhilarating. As you approach it and attempt to peer into the inky blackness your spine tingles and the skin on your arms gets goose bumps. I’m sure it’s why many divers go looking for caves, just for “that feeling.”
"The staircase"
THE special thing about that cave though, is the oodles of fish that reside in and around it. The first time I entered it last April I knew there were a lot, I couldn’t see them so much as I could sense them around me; but didn’t realize HOW MANY until I turned and looked back at the entrance and saw them silhouetted there in their thousands.

Don and I would find ourselves lying still in various parts of the cave just to experience the sight of these FISH. My God, SO MANY! And a strange phenomenon regarding these gigantic schools of fish, none of the individuals being longer than 4 inches, is their peculiar lack of any concern about our presence. We could move through them and they would not skittishly flit away from us, as you would expect, so much as they would just immediately backfill the space as we passed through them.
Oodles of fish
There must be something about the deep blackness of the place that causes fish to be so utterly fearless of humans. I say that because last April, way in the back of the cave, right next to the single boulder about half way to the back wall, we found a very large black-blotched puffer, usually one of THE shyest of all fish, that let us come right up on it and barely moved from its position on the floor as we poked our flashlights within a foot or two of it.  At first I thought it must be sick, but no, it simply had no fear or interest in us—very strange indeed.  

Another visually interesting occurrence is the way our air bubbles collect in the hollows of the ceiling. We noticed that there were still quite a few “puddles” of air left up there from our last visit a month before. The bizarre visual effect you can see in the video is the sight of upside-down puddles of what looks like water clinging to the ceiling. These puddles of trapped air, because of their bright silvery color and roiling nature, also resemble pools of liquid mercury.  I couldn’t help myself, I just had to play with these strange air puddles and capture it on video.

Throughout the various times I shot footage from inside the cave I continuously tried to capture how large the inside of it actually is, because it is huge, probably the size of a small house. Several times I pan from side to side in attempt to depict the scale of the interior. Unfortunately, the camera just does not do it justice. At just past six minutes into the video I pass the camera over to Don and he films me messing around at the entrance. I stand at 5’8’’, so using me for reference it appears that the ceiling near the entrance is about 10’ high. The opening looks to be more than 30 feet across. So this cave is very large indeed. I like to think that 10,000 years ago, when the seas were much shallower, that this cave was used by ancient man to shelter in. It could have happened!

Enjoy the video and stills. I recommend you watch all in full screen mode to truly appreciate.
Looking straight up from the cave mouth at the crashing waves only a few feet above


Ed said...

Caves always give me the willies. Every time I'm in one, all I can think of is the area between me and the entrance collapsing and me spending my remaining days sitting there in pitch blackness. In the case of Scuba gear, it would be my remaining minutes instead of days which makes it seem a bit better but not much.

Unknown said...

Awesome place...and cave! coming out fresh water that can indicate a conection with the shore line?...will be a nice diving spot for cave divers if the cave goes further!!

PhilippinesPhil said...

No, didn't notice any evidence of any fresh water in the cave. I agree it would have made for an even more exciting dive if the cave had been more extensive.