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By Roderick dela Cruz
It all started when our group arranged a trip to Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. Biak-na-Bato is at the edge of Bulacan and is about a two-hour drive from Metro Manila. I went there without any idea of what's in store for the group. Being a Bulakeño, I thought I have already seen the best of what the province has to offer.
I was wrong. The moment I stepped on the ground of the 330-hectare Biak-na-Bato National Park, I was greatly fascinated. The sight was beautiful, alright, but the feeling was even more spectacular. I could not explain how such feeling came over me. Maybe because the place is historical, in the sense that it was here where the first Philippine Republic was proclaimed. Or maybe because of the wonderful scenery, with young pretty Bulakeñas frolicking in the crystal-clear water of the river amidst the background of lush green forest.
My one-day saga began with the visit to Aguinaldo Cave, which has an underground river. The water in the cave was refreshingly cool. As I moved into the darker side of the cave, the memory of the historical past seemed hiding between the stones. I tried to go even farther into the deep but someone reminded me I could not swim.
From the Aguinaldo Cave, I followed the long stretch of the river, which is partitioned by large rocks and boulders scattered around the area. One is given the choice to frolic in the shallow sections of the river or swim in its deeper parts. I chose the shallow sections.
A hundred years ago, Katipuneros fighting for freedom chose this area at the foot of Sierra Madre as their headquarters. They drank from its springs and took shelter in its caves. That gave me a rewarding feeling as I inspected each spot in the park.
My tourist guide said most caves in the area (there are more than a hundred) remain unexplored and continue to evolve naturally. I tried to conquer one cave, of course with the help of my tourist guide. I was lucky to view with flashlight some stalactites covering the ceiling of "Cuarto Cuarto" cave, which is actually a branch of the vast network of Aguinaldo Cave.
Out of the cave, I followed the concrete trail which made sure I would not go astray into the woods. After an arduous walk uphill and downhill, I was greatly relieved at the sight of "Bahay Paniki Cave", whose mouth could swallow the largest church there is. The sight left me a sense of awe which I have never felt before. It made me think of the great power responsible for digging and designing this giant cavity on this part of the Earth.
I climbed up a giant rock to get a closer look of the cave's ceiling. A group of bats were circling endlessly on the upper part of the cave, about 50 meters from where I was standing. At the rear part of the cave is another opening where sunlight passes through.
After moving out of the cave, I again walked along the stretch of the river and tried to trace the source of its water. This led me to other fascinating sites. I found groups of students camping along the river bank. I kept climbing across large boulders until there was no other person in sight. I gave up the hunt.
Later, I was told that the water comes from numerous springs around the area and from the grand Sierra Madre group of mountains. The geological base of Biak-na-Bato forms part of the Angat watershed that supplies the water requirements of Metro Manila. Biak-na-Bato's natural springs serve the needs of local communities surrounding the park.
The trek back to the gate of the park allowed me to enjoy the sight of old trees and birds. There are about 30 species of birds endemic to the area. I went home richer in experience. My sense of history and appreciation of nature have never been stronger.