Tulaob Cave: Home of the Dumagat Gods

(Part 1 of a Series)

In today’s world where people could easily “shop” for the places of adventure online, and where travel could easily be guided by Google Maps or Waze, the town General Nakar will remind you that truest level of thrill and joy come on personal discovery.

I know no one from General Nakar when I set my course towards this northernmost town of Quezon province last Friday. The excitement peaked to the highest level when Google and Waze can hardly find ways to map the route. I said, this is adventure in its purest sense.

I crisscrossed the mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre on a midnight trip towards the town of Infanta. From there, I started asking for directions to the village of San Marcelino. Destination in mind – Tulaob Cave.

Towards San Marcelino

It was 6am when I found myself at the facade of General Nakar Municipal Hall. After a breakfast on a rustic roadside eatery, I continued my quest for adventure. San Marcelino, I just learned, was 90-minute drive from the town center.

Following rough and rocky roads, I crossed two river lines and nerve-wracking wooden bridge. For countless times, I closed my eyes to listen to the cracking of my car’s engine support rubbing on roadside boulders.

At times, I stopped to ask for directions. I shared the roads with bikers and hikers. But habal-habal dominates the rugged highway.

Greeted by a huge road sign “Tulaob”, I knew I arrived at my intended destination. Time seems to stop in this sleepy coastal village of San Marcelino. It has untamed and dynamic landscape made up of lush woodlands, beautiful coastal areas, and wild hiking and biking trails. But it is shy of development.

Sacred and Holy

Reading few raw articles online, I thought “Tulaob” was a tourist destination. But I was wrong. The sign at the entrance of the village gave a quick snapshot of what I am in. It reads –

“Paunawa sa Lahat: Ang Tulaog ay isa sa mga sagradong lugar na nasasakupan ng lupaing ninuno ng mga katutubong Agta o Dumagat. Mahigpit pong pinagbabawal ang ano mang uri ng mga gawaing nakakasira sa kalikasan at nakakagambala sa kasagraduhan ng lugar na ito.”

I was standing in the most holy ground of the Dumagat people.

The roller coaster emotion kicked in. Knowing the indigenous people, securing permission to access Tulaob Cave is vital. Being an outsider and stranger, I doubt if they would open their most holy place to me. But it would not hurt if I give it a try.

I drove all the way to the coastal village, as far as my car can take me. It was the children that first noticed my arrival. Running towards my car, they kept themselves at a distance with their curious looks. From their built, I know they were of the Dumagat people.

I befriended them and asked to whom I can ask permission to go to Tulaob Cave. Right there and then, they ushered me to “Tatay Nestor” one of the elders of the Dumagat people.

Test of Faith

The query started on what’s my purpose in coming and how I knew the place. Surrounded by Dumagat people, including the inquisitive children, our serious conversation was interrupted by jokes as they were amazed on the story of my passion to visit the place despite the odds along the way.

Then I asked if I’d be allowed to visit “Tulaob Cave” and fix my tent at their beachlines.

“Ang kweba po ang mag-desisyon nyan, Sir. Sila po na nagbabantay dyan – mga nagbabantay na di nakikita, mga nagbabantay na hayop sa dagat at lupa, mga nagbabantay na espiritu, sila po ang magde-desisyon nyan,” said Tatay Nestor.

I pressed as to what he means.

“Maraming gusto pumasok pero hindi nakakapasok. Maraming nakakapasok na hindi na rin nakakalabas. Kung makikita ng aming mga ninuno na ang iyong kalooban at pakay ay malinis, papayagan ka nilang pumasok at manatili sa aming lugar.”

He then instructed to start the rituals of my journey. But he reminded me to prevent from exploring deeper into the cave. He said the rest of Tulaog Cave remains restricted to the Dumagat people — to pray and pay respect to their god Makedeppat.

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