The island of Palawan is one of the most uncontaminated paradises of the Philippines where the choice is embarrassing between beaches and awesome beauty bays. Carla and I remain on the island after the expedition, as always held by a long list of wishes not least the caves.

With Johns the President of La Karst Group of Puerto Princesa we have long fantasized on the exploratory possibilities of this island, while surfing through the Underground River, lying on the Bancas, small rowing and paddles boats, observing the ceilings of the great galleries that run over us, while gently we were transported to the exploratory zones.

The desire to know the rest of the group and charming places becomes indispensable and we arrange an appointment soon to Tagabinet near the small tourist Hundred Cave at 17km from Sabang, where we find the perfect Filipino hospitality. La Venta here is almost a magic phrase to pronounce, we are known everywhere and sometimes it's really embarrassing this reverence for us the only representatives of the group still remained on the island, none of them wants to miss the opportunity to to know these "mythical" Italian explorers.

The first objective is the Dinosaur Cave, one of the many caves discovered by an expert swallows nests hunter, very common activity in these places. A large descending input on the side and a comfortable gallery on the bottom leads into the depths of these Mogotes, limestone heels prominent on the landscape more or less isolated and typical of this area close to the Karst of Mount St. Paul. The interesting thing is the presence of an underground river that we are about to go under a never came down pit. We connect the ropes on two stalagmites and I go down first, the gallery extends upstream and downstream, what to say? Unbelievable! We wait for the rest of the group and soon we will be traveling and swimming in long lakes upstream with the hope that does not make the typical downpour, especially when I meet the usual apnea passage. Unfortunately upstream levels do not allow us to go beyond this point and we go back in this curious zig zag set into tectonic fractures. The whole group is already divided between several active branches leading off from the main way. The river continues downstream on a wide and straight gallery of at least two hundred meters up to a deep lake, with the roof full of bats, we swim in vain looking for an opening below the level of the lake but it is not the best season for aquatic explorations. Wet and cold we go outside to gain another impressive rain under the usual tropical storm.

A few days later with La Karst we go further south in the municipality of Quezon, a long journey from Puerto Princesa to the rural areas. Farmers tell us about various cavities in the area and after long dialogues in the outposts encountered, in a different language from the Tagalog, we start finally walking through huts and meeting friends of the group La Karst. At a house after a short dialogue an introverted kid accompanies us barefoot. This is a hilly area close to a evident mountain range which is also unexplored. So we walk steep ridges between cultivated fields and virgin forest to descend to a rushing river that affects the well-stratified limestone visible now at the bottom of the valley. The cave has been reported nearby, the river meanders down the valley between huge blocks collapsed to river erosion edges, the environment is truly sensational, we calculate at least two cubic meters of water per second. The titanic blocks now shows all their majesty forcing the river to sail tall jungle-covered walls up to slip with great strength into the darkness of a tremendous and noisy flooded underground, which opens behind front blocks chaotically arranged. With water in the legs and then in the chest, we cross a straight gallery for within a hundred meters, the force of water draws us and we go quite careful testing the stones of the fund that yields at every step, various trunks are embedded here and there, the signs of very recent floods are visible to quotas that bring anxiety. The current pulls us inward and we decide to stop over a slight curve, it would be dangerous to be carried away swimming over there where the gallery continues between the reels. We do not even know the upstream basin and the sky outside is quite menacing, better to go back as soon as possible, we could not give up this short adrenalinic visit. We go up the river against the current, a large crossing tunnel testifies an ancient underground course now collapsed. Nearby a large fossil cavity shows interesting evidence of the past but it is almost dark and we have to start the journey back.

The group La Karst is composed of a dozen cavers very well together and loyal to each other, an atmosphere that we like immediately and that we well know in the small cavers world. Their limited financial capacity does not allow a warehouse of equipment and ropes as our but the approach to the study and the enthusiasm with which they devote to exploration is extraordinary. A simplicity that reminds me of the first explorations in caves and the charm of ending up in adventures greatest of us without an objective awareness. This is perhaps the real soul of the exploration that we still carry inside us. Soon we will return to Palawan, await us new adventures to write together: La Venta and La Karst!

Vittorio Crobu

Special thanks: Municipality of Puerto Princesa, Italian Embassy in Philippines, Tagbalay Foundation, Puerto Princesa Natural Park.

Sponsors: Leica Italia, Laserscangst, Eragest di Tiziano Conte, Lifesaver, Amphibious, Ferrino, Dolomite, Scurion, De Walt, Allemano Metrology

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