I spent my 26th birthday last May 3 inside two major caves in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. In the morning, my friend Girlie and I explored Ugong Rock Cave to go spelunking. That one was actually a pleasant surprise because I didn’t know it would be part of my itinerary for the Underground River tour. I would have brought shoes at least.
Just before reaching the top of the cave, we reached a part where the cave walls sparkled whenever we shone a light on them. I immediately remembered episode 2 of the second season of Avatar the Last Airbender where Aang and Katara were guided by shining rocks when they got stuck inside a labyrinth. That alone gave my birthday the great start it needed.
The second cave actually wasn’t just a mere cave. I always thought that the Underground River just led to a relatively small hole beside the mountain. It turned out that the whole mountain resembled an upside down cone—it was hollow inside! Riding a canoe, we saw that the giant cave contained bats, birds, and big mosquitoes thriving on water puddles. Good thing we put on insect repellant beforehand.
Gazing at the peak of the mountain from the inside, I understood why the Philippines’ Underground River joined six others in the World’s Seven Wonders of Nature.
But what really interested me were the stalagmites and stalactites that lived in that mountain. I say “lived” even though they’re rocks because of what the guide shared to us. “Please do not touch the rocks. The oil from your hands would react with the chemicals on the rocks and that would change them,” he said.
Change them forever. Just one touch from my finger would leave such a permanent mark. It dawned on me that that was how human ties worked. People come and go, passing us by and sometimes staying for a time, and they touch us. They leave their marks. And our memory makes sure that we are never the same after the experience.
Those rocks were no different. They had memories too, albeit a kind that had a physical manifestation. How many things has humanity learned about the earth’s past just by studying rocks alone?
I had just turned 26 and already, I’d met so many persons that helped me turn into the person I am today. Some of them were still in my life. Others, like old friends, had drifted away.
But their marks remained.
All photos taken by Raydon L. Reyes