Monday, June 26, 2006

The mystical Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park in Basey, Samar

THE grandeur of natural resources of Samar Island and of Region 8 is being showcased by the Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park (SNBNP), known worldwide for its natural beauty expressed in its caves, subterranean rivers, waterfalls and unique limestone formations. Really, it is an idyllic place for recreation.

The 840-hectare park is located in Basey, Western Samar and it is just 45 minutes away from Tacloban. When we reached Basey pier, we rode a pump boat rented for R4,400 for 20 persons. The fee inclusive of pump boat rental, a small banca rental, tour guide fee, light men fee and entrance fee.

After an hour ride from the pier to SNBNP, we crossed a bridge whose railways are made of steel and floors made of wood, we reached the entrance of the park. Then it took us just a few minutes walk from the entry point to reach the cave. The opening is deceptively uninteresting, but once inside, the interior is an unbelievable fantasyland.

Our tour guide briefed us first before we entered the cave. That we should never touch any rock formations. Once these stalactites and stalagmites and calcite stones are touched, they turn black. And in respect to the "spirits" that hover around the cave, permission to go inside is done by tapping or knocking the entrance sideways.

After our tour guide, Francisco Corrales, Jr., knocked thrice, we all did the same. Once inside the cave, all of us expressed our mixed feelings of surprise and admiration. One of those who boldly expressed her feelings of amazement was Lalie de Leon of PAC Atlantic Holdings Co., Inc., who said, "My God! How did nature develop all these rock formations as if they were actually chiseled?’’

Easily conjurable are rock formations resembling the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Great Wall of China, a sitting Madonna, a platform with a King’s throne, a harem pavilion, amphitheater with natural built-in acoustical system and seductive courtesan’s boudoir refreshingly cooled by Mother Nature. Some chambers have rock formations suggestion of women’s breast and men’s phallus and other human appendages.

In my own assessment, I saw rock formations resembling the Crucified Christ, Mama Mary, the Three Kings, Seven dwarfs, Chocolate Hills, the moon crater, cascading chandeliers, an angel, the Statue of Liberty, a stairway to heaven, an eagle, ice cream cone and other awesome creations.

But truly, there is a magical world in these subterranean passages that takes one back to a fairyland of childhood years, there are sparkling stones that glitter like jewels in the impenetrable darkness of the caves and pools of clear water that reflect the lights of lamps into multi-colored dancing flashes.

The caves inside the Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park are a must-see. There are three navigable rivers that traverse the park namely: Basey; Sohoton; and Bugasan Rivers. Cabungaan Waterfalls, on the northeastern portion of the park, serve as a natural siphon for Sohoton River. The climactic condition in the area falls under the second climactic type: Wet from July to February; dry from March to June with an annual average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius and a humidity average of 82.4 percent.

SNBNP was proclaimed as a national park on July 19, 1935 by virtue of Proclamation No. 831 primarily to preserve its geological features and natural wonders.

Traces of early habitation dating as far back as the Iron Age and Stone Age have been found in the different caves. They are also believed to have been used as burial sites for the natives and mecca for medicine men that hunt and prepare their potions. The caves were also used as a hideout of Filipino insurrectos during the Spanish-American War. Because of its ancient beginnings, there might be "spirits’’ that hover around the caves.

It was late afternoon when we got out of the cave. We bade goodbye to the Spirits. Low tide seeped in that is why we took a banca, five persons per ride, towards the waiting pump boat.

We had ate lunch afterwards at the Caluwayan Palm Island Resort. Still mesmerized about what we saw inside the cave, the topic of our conversation bordered on the awesome creations we saw and admired. (Manila Bulletin, May 16, 2006)

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