TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte?A pristine cave with an underground river has been discovered in Calbiga, an old town of Samar province, by a group of six Italian and three French spelunkers.
The cave, about six kilometers long, is at the upstream section of the Langun-Gobingob Caves, the largest cave system in the Philippines and reputedly the second largest in Asia, and the third largest karst formation (an area of limestone rock formation characterized by sinks, ravines, and underground streams) in the world.
Its many branches connect to a ?long and beautiful underground river,? said Guido Rossi, 53, a veteran spelunker from Verona, Italy, and team leader of the Italian-French Expeditions ?Samar 2009.?
The water may be coming from the Palaspas Sinosohotan Cave which sinks the Palaspas River, he said. It passes through the cave and flows into a river branch of the Langun-Gobingob through an unexplored sump, Rossi said.
Aside from its hydrological importance, the cave can also be tapped by residents for tourism ?because it is not a very difficult cave,? Rossi said.
The team calls its find Ludi?s Bito-Camparina Lungib-Burabod cave system. From March 29 to April 26, it explored more than 13 kilometers of the Calbiga karst, including smaller caves. It left the country on April 28.
Other members of the team were Matteo Rivadossi, Claudio Castegnati, Massimo ?Frizzi? Benini, Lillo Panizzon, Lorenzo Caratazza, Jean Paul Sounier, Tristan Godet, and Alain Jasmin.
The cave had been unexplored until its recent discovery, said Joni Bonifacio, an experienced spelunker and the only Filipino in the expedition.
The locals only went to the Bito Cave to fish, he said. They had not dared to explore the new cave because they had to swim to reach its entrance and that the area easily gets flooded, he added.
Last year, the Italian-French team visited Calbiga and, together with Bonifacio, explored several caves near the interior village of Buluan.
Calbiga is 48 kilometers south of the capital town of Catbalogan and 59 km northeast of Tacloban, the premier city of Eastern Visayas.
The Calbiga Caves have 12 caves covering 2,968 hectares. Three of the caves?Gobingob, Langun, and Bitong Mahangin?have unique rock formations and underground watercourses and springs.
The surface area of the cave network is a ?mid-mountain? forest and freshwater ecosystems teeming with diverse floral and faunal species.
Rossi, who has visited the Philippines 15 times, had wanted to explore the Calbiga Caves in 1985 but this did not push through due to uncertain security conditions. His group instead went to Mountain Province in northern Luzon to explore the Sagada Caves.
In 1987, Rossi finally reached the caves in Calbiga as part of an Italian expedition to the Langun-Gobingob Caves. It was the first time that the caves were explored by speleologists (those who study caves), who were awed by its beauty.
The experts also found the habitat of a rare species of blind crabs and the seven-centimeter hypogean (underground) blindfish. Many bats have also made the caves their home.
In a published report, the Italian explorers said that Langun, the main cave, has a chamber that is 270 meters long and 160 m wide at its largest point, an area that could fit three football fields.
Gobingob has a huge hall with beautiful stalagmite, stalactite, and flow stone formations, while Bitong Mahangin has a single dry tunnel at the bottom where a lush forest is found.
Rossi has been exploring caves since he was 15 years old and has gone to almost every nook and cranny of the world. Last year, he went three times to China for cave exploration.
In 1989, Rossi wanted to revisit Calbiga, but this did not push through because of the presence of communist guerrillas. Instead, his group went to Palawan and explored the St. Paul?s Subterranean Park and River.
Rossi said the team had gone more than 15 km through the St. Paul?s Underground River in two years, aside from 8 km earlier explored by Australian speleologists.
Last year, Rossi said his team had explored the caves in Mt. Guintuble in San Rafael, Taft, Eastern Samar, and in Barangay (village) Buluan in Calbiga. ?We were able to explore a total of 2.5 kilometers of caves.?
Why does he keep coming back, especially to Calbiga, to explore caves?
?The Calbiga karst is one of the most, or the most important, karst areas in the Philippines,? Rossi said.
He explained: ?When I came here in 1987 (to explore) Langun-Gobingob Caves I knew that there should be much, much more caves (waiting to be discovered in Calbiga) ? The place is still rich in natural resources; good environment.?
He said many caves were still unexplored in Calbiga and around it and in other parts of Samar Island.
?I would say I like very much Samar, that?s why I come here so many times,? he said. Moreover, he said, ?Filipino people are so lovely, friendly.?
He thanked Calbiga Mayor Mechor Nacario and the residents for their hospitality, particularly Felixberto ?Bebeth? Dacut, whom he described as a ?friend and helper? who helped make his group?s undertaking a success.
Rossi said that after every exploration, he and his team gladly shared their information with the locals.
?The data we collected there (in Calbiga) are very useful for hydrological purposes, for tourism. It is for the Calbiga people to develop these kinds of things (caves),? he said.
Asked if he and his family would return to Calbiga next year, Rossi said: ?We are (still) thinking ? so many things to do, so many new caves to explore.?