I could not see my hand in front of my face. It was pitch black inside the cave. All I could hear was the sound of the paddle pushing through the water and the screeching echo of 40,000 bats as the sound reverberated off the rock and water.
The site was the longest underground river in the entire world, measured to be just over 8 kilometers. It is tucked away just out of plain sights on the northern coast of Palawan, Philippines.
I stayed just a few kilometers from the river, but actually getting to the site is an adventure in and of itself. You must fly into Puerto Princessa then drive about 2 hours on partially paved roads that leads you to a local boat ferry that drops you off at a beach. From this beach you walk through the rain forest for about a kilometer before stumbling upon a bamboo stand that serves as the reservation desk.
This is where the real journey begins. You step into a canoe with up to 10 other people. Each person wears a life jacket and hard hat. I didn't understand the purpose for the hard hat at first, but after just a few seconds inside the cave it made perfect sense. Rocks dangle overhead by slivers of other rocks. They can and do at times fall into the river below, thus the reason for every person wearing a hard hat.
At the front of the canoe is a car battery with a handheld light connected by jumper cables. If it was not for this small light, you would not be able to see in the cave.
The tour guide/canoe paddler does all the work while you simply sit back and take in the majestic scenery around you. At the highest point, there is 65 meters difference between the top of the cave and the river. Looking up to the top can be nerve-racking. Not only are giant boulders barely hanging, but the constant movement of bats inside the cave can scare even large men. They fly inches from your face. I may or may not have screamed out of fear.
A strong word of warning was given to us to always keep your mouth closed while looking up because bats, well they have business to take care of and don't really care where it falls. Overall the experience was great. It is very unique and unlike anywhere else I have been.