DESPITE BEING haunted by claustrophobia I faced the challenge of exploring a cave inhabited by bats and a flock of balinsasayaw (swiftlet) in Purok Bagong Buhay, Mabuhay, General Santos City. Let me tell you the tale of a reluctant spelunker.
It wasn’t part of the plan. We only talked about dipping in the cold water of Kalaja waterfall, but our guide, Dodong, suggested that before going home, we pass by a cave to take a look at the nests of balinsasayaw. The idea sounded exciting but I worried. I hadn’t been inside a cave. The closest experience I have had about caves was during our educational trip to the Japanese tunnel in Davao City several years ago. I know, it wasn’t even a cave.
Not many people knew about the cave in GenSan. Most of the people who visit the place know only about the waterfall. Another group of teens heard us talk about it and they decided to go with us.
We trekked to the other side of the hill to reach the opening of the cave. When we reached the area, some birds were already alarmed by our presence, they started flying out of the cave. A few even flew past me that I could feel wind on my face due to their swift movement. The balinsasayaw are small and didn’t look spooky unlike the bats.
In the back of my head I wanted to tell the group that I will wait for them outside. I was hesitated to get inside the cave. I realized that I was there for adventure, so I fought back my fear and decided to get in. I was the last one to enter the cave.
It was dark inside the cave, given to its small opening. It was a good thing that I brought my headlamp with me. I also wished I was wearing a hard hat as there were stalactites hanging on the cave’s interior. It was cavernous inside the cave. On the walls, I was able to spot a few swiftlet nests.
The nest of the balinsasayaw is made out of the bird’s saliva. The nest could be made into a soup, for which El Nido, Palawan is known. The balinsasayaw in the cave we explored is probably the Black-nest swiftlet (Collocalia Maxima). I have heard, their population is dwindling.
The teens were noisy at first but they were told to keep their mouth shut. The silence that followed, however, elevated my fear as I could hear the footsteps of the people inside the cave and how they cause the walls of the cave to vibrate. Someone yelled to watch out for a hole on the floor. When that reached that point in the cave, I realized that I had to go jump down the hole into a smaller tunnel.
I had to stoop down to get inside. I wished the tunnel would only be very short, but it wasn’t. It was about 30 meters long. After a few minutes of agonizing in fear, I was relieved to see the other end of the cave.
On our way out, I spotted a bird curling up in its nest.
I believe, the cave is part of a private land but I don’t know if the owner of the land regularly harvests the nests. Before we entered the property there was a signage by a certain Atty. Flores warning the people not to take any nest. Dodong also reminded us about it. Well, being respectful to nature, I had no plans of taking home a nest. I am curious about the taste of an authentic balinsasayaw soup, of course, but I can put off that curiosity for the sake the continuity of the birds’s population.