Waist Deep in Nature’s Last Frontier Part 2

If you haven’t read the first part of our adventure yet, click here for Waist Deep in Nature’s Last Frontier Part 1 where we climbed and rappeled inside a huge, majestic cave that could only be accessed by a freezing cold river, and how we counted down the New Year together in Random Road Trip Apayao!

And now, the adventure continues on our final full day of adventuring!


Manacota Underground River

The rain let up last night, and this morning was gloomy but at least it wasn’t raining. The tourism officer warned that our being able to do today’s itinerary was dependent on good weather. This was our chance to go to some places Apayao had to offer, and we were up and ready an hour before dawn. It was a long drive, and it was a really cold day. As we waited for the local guides to to take us the Manacota River, we sat huddled at a nearby resident’s porch.

Huddled on the Porch

Not long afterwards, our 6 guides came. I wondered why we needed 6 guides as there were only 9 of us. Our trek has barely started and we are already ankle deep in mud. Footwear had to be removed as it would have stuck to the mud.

Trekking Through Mud and Beautiful Scenery


After walking through some of Nature’s Last Frontier’s beautiful countryside, we came upon a river crossing. We would at least have the chance to clean ourselves of the mud! Just like on the first day, the coldness of the water sent a jolt through our bodies and shivers to our spines! As we made our way upstream, crisscrossing this river at several points, you would notice that while a lot of the terrain seem to have been damaged by rising waters fairly recently, you would also notice an edible fern-like plant called pako sometimes used in salads.

The pako is a type of edible fern that can be used in salads


The water was incredibly clean, and knee-deep in it you would really feel the force of the river pushing against you! Adding to the mystique of the place was what I thought were voices–some large leaves got caught on a boulder, creating a disruption in the river’s current and the resulting sound was like murmuring people!

We had to crisscross the Manacota River several times on our trek!


After about an hour of walking and wading, we finally reached our goal!

Manacota Underground River

Now at the mouth of the cave, we discovered why all 6 guides were needed for just 9 of us. We would have to go in two batches, so half of us boarded the makeshift raft that was so narrow it could be easily toppled over. The water current was rushing very quickly. There was one guide on the front and the back of the raft. The rest of them were in the water, pushing the raft or pulling on the rope attached to the raft.

Against the current at the mouth of Manacota Underground River


Once our raft was inside, it was pitch black. We alighted onto one of the rocks, after which the raft made its way back for the rest of our group. Meanwhile inside, the rest of us climbed more rocks, similar to the ones in Lussok Caves. Though the climbs here were even higher, the guides’ legs became foot holds while a lot of other hands pulled us to safety. Now we saw why all 6 guides were needed.

Manacota Cave Interior

Inside the cave, aided only by our lamps, we were treated to a spectacle of rock formations!

Going deeper into the cave, we come to the edge of an 8-storey precipice, where you can see the other side of the cave as well as the other end of the Manacota River.

Inside Manacota Cave

We headed back down just as the rest of our group arrived inside the underground cave. While they would be discovering the inside of the cave as we had, we were going to push forward to the end of the river. After navigating our raft through dark, narrow corridors with floating logs and driftwood brought about by rains, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, right below the precipice where we stood not 10 minutes before. Unfortunately, our progress was blocked by 2 snakes that found refuge on the rocks just at the narrow pass where we were supposed to exit the river. As our guides didn’t want to risk their lives, and neither did we, we decided to head back out. Meanwhile, the other guys were enjoying diving from the rocks into the subterranean river while we made our way back.

The thing that sets Experience Philippines is where other groups will just take you to the destination, we don’t stop there. We dive headlong into adventure and take you with us out of your comfort zone. Going out of the cave, some of us had foregone the raft for something extremely unconventional–one of the floating logs.

Hanging on to a floating Log. Because we’re random like that!
We swam around in the cold waters, and some of us jumped off the small waterfalls. Soonafter, we had to go as we had more ground to cover. After a filling lunch of a single tuna sandwich (our breakfast also consisted of a tuna sandwich and a boiled egg, and we packed the rest of the sandwiches as there obviously aren’t any places to buy food), some shared chocolate bars, and trail mix, we started our trek back. It was also now drizzling, and the river had risen by a few inches.


Marag Rock Formation

The trek back from Manacota Underground River left us once again left, and very cold as the sun was now hidden behind clouds, and the rain, while just a drizzle, was constant. The mountain air offered no consolation either. But after a quick ride on the van, we were now at the foot of the Marag Rock Formation.

“Let’s take on Mother Rock first, while we still have the strength. If we feel we can’t do it, we can head back to Baby Rock”, suggested Evie, the oldest member of our group at 52, but certainly not the most incapable. And in this instance, she was leading the way and we were her followers.

Marag Rock Formation is composed of two areas, distinguished both by their enormity and scale, and the difficulty of their ascent.

The climb up Mother Rock required upper body strength, as the shape of the rocks meant you couldn’t push yourself much with your legs and you would have to pull yourself up or wedge your body with your arms.

Mother Rocks

On the other hand, getting to Baby Rock meant clambering onto slippery slopes without much foothold. For most of us, we found this to be more challenging, not the other way around.

Baby Rocks

After the descent, we cleaned ourselves up at the river and got rid of most leaches we picked up (some were only discovered at the hotel later on), Bong told us we had a few more stops to go before our day was over. But by the time we got to the Marag hanging bridge, the sky was so gloomy and the windchill was so cold that halfway on the bridge we just froze huddled to each other then decided to head back, but not before taking one last look over Marag and the Marag shrine.

View of the rainy countryside from a viewdeck near Marag Shrine.

Marag Shrine. This was built to honor the soldiers who fought to remove the NPA (New People’s Army) militants from the area.

During dinner we learned that it was a mere 20 degrees celsius in Manila, and only 11 degrees in Baguio. The coldest I have experienced was -7 degrees in Mt. Pulag (incidentally, the coldest I’ve been in Tokyo was only zero degrees), and this was much colder than Baguio. I’d guess it would have been around 5 degrees!

And so we were faced with one of the coldest nights many of us have ever experienced in the Philippines. We huddled up in our blankets, and got our well-deserved rest until morning, when we had our final fill of Frank’s Burgers for breakfast.

One didn’t want ketchup, the other one didn’t want mayo. Yes, it’s as good as it looks.

The APAYAO Random Road Trip has been our MOST EXTREME ADVENTURE YET!

There were many first experiences, and a lot of challenges. And bringing people away from their family on New Year’s Eve certainly didn’t help. The weather, the place, even nature itself challenged us all the way, and it was a truly ONE OF A KIND EXPERIENCE that only those who DARE will get to experience.

We salute all the old and new Random Road Trippers who joined because it’s never the perfect time to travel. And you traveled with us anyway!

A big thank you to Cielo, Tom, Gab, John, Evie, Richelle, and LA. And to Jeff and Gian for organzing such an extreme adventure trip.


Interested in our Random Road Trips? Check out our 2015 Road Trip Schedule. Come, and let’s travel differently.