I'm a big fan of using Rough Guides as my guide to the country I am traveling in. Sarah prefers Lonely Planet. However Rough Guides have been proving pretty hard to find while we are on the road and I've been loosing the battle. Alas, for the last few countries we have had to resort to the ubiquitous Lonely Planets to get by. So while passing through Cebu City a few weeks ago I spotted 'The Rough Guide to Evolution' on the shelf and snapped it up. I now can't put it down. It's a pretty engrossing read, especially if you gloss over a few places where Latin seems to have gotten the better of the author. And it has left me thinking how incredible the many facets of evolution are.
It was was while I was halfway through the book, that I visited the Langun-Gobingob cave system near Calbiga in Samar and met these little critters at the bottom of the cave.
Caecogobius Cryptophtalmus in the Langun-Gobingob cave system near Calbiga
What your looking at is a cave fish, the Caecogobius Cryptophtalmus which belongs to the Gobiidae family. It has no eyes, no colouration (unless you count pink!) and it is the first cave dwelling fish to be found in the Philippines. Unbelievably its the only eye-less Gobiidae known in the world and it is only found in one river/pool of Langun-Gobingob (Calbiga) cave system. Along with some blind shrimps and blind white cave crabs, they eek a living from a pool at the bottom of the cave, I guess, from eating insects that get trapped on the waters surface or from debris that is washed into the cave from time to time.
And now, with my new found knowledge of evolution, I can tell you that this little beauty of a fish, not only has evolved from a sea dwelling species ... the Goby family ... but has also lost its eyes through the 'use it or loose it' principle of natural selection. Its the same reason why my skin is white (with my forefathers originating from a cold and not-so-sunny Europe) and that you and I no longer have tails (we don't need them). To think how these little critters survive in just one place and to think of the evolutionary process of how they got here, over many thousand of years ? Incredible.
The cave also happens to host the third largest chamber in the world, cathedral chamber, which is large enough to house a few dozen football pitches. I was simply awestruck with the place, having to walk a full 20 minutes across the chamber, with my Petzl headtorch giving off no-where near enough light to see the walls. It was a small shame that the local Barangay (Village) have cemented in a bunch of poles strung together with a rope to mark the way across the chamber, thanks to three guys who entered the cave and inadvertently spent three days inside as they only took one rechargeable light with them, which promptly failed.
Looking up and out of the entrance doline of the Langun-Gobingob cave system
Not surprisingly, the Langun-Gobingob cave system is taking off as one of the top adventure caving destinations in the Philippines, in no small thanks to a glowing report in the Lonely Planet. This cave is special and its rightly a great place to generate tourism dollars with the right eco-measures in place. But some trips now run for three days in the cave, including a night spent inside the cave. I was aghast to find that the camping spot, some 30 minutes caving from the entrance, is just a few meters from the pool where the Caecogobius Cryptophtalmus live ... that's just a piss away from destroying many thousands of years of evolution. Is it really necessary to camp only 30 minutes from the entrance and risk such a unique species all for the extra bit of adventure-tourism buzz ?
To visit the Langun-Gobingob cave system we stayed in Tacloban on Leyte, which is near the MacArthur Landing Memorial. The monument marks the spot where General Douglas MacArthur landed with the American Liberation Forces in October, 1944 starting the Battle of Leyte. MacArthur previously fled the Philippines when the Japanese invaded three years earlier to the woefully unprepared US and Filipino forces. General McArthur fled the Philippines and made a promised to return. He did three years later in October 1944 and following months of fierce fighting, the Philippines were liberated.
1944 ... today
"I shall Return" ... and he did. General MacArthur stepping onto Palo Beach, Leyte
The memorial is one of the most striking war memorials I have seen. Its beautifully sculpted, larger than life figures emerging from the sea gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling about the nobler things in life. Its a proud testament to all Americans and Filipinos of a promise kept. Just around the corner is a 50th anniversary memorial, with a set of plaques donated by visiting dignitaries on the occasion. But what a complete sham to see a plaque laid by a certain Senior General Than Shwe, the Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council of Burma (Myanmar) with some comment about eternal peace and human rights. This has to rate as the highlight of hypocrisy...
As we enter December, one note about Christmas in the Philippines. Christmas started at the beginning of November, at least it felt that way. Its a big thing here, with all the Barangay Halls, Churches, Malls and many houses decked out in full Christmas regalia. Christmas tunes are being piped out everywhere (in between Lady Gaga) and most Filipinos are getting ready for Christmas. Some of the decoration feature snowmen, which I find slightly amusing as we are in tropics. But by now, I've had enough of jingle bells running through my head. I'd rather go back to Poker Face by Lady Gaga, the usual Videoke feature in the Philippines.
As I left Calbiga, I saw a Tricycle (Filipino Tuk-Tuk) laden with 12 people. OK, they were mostly school children but it breaks the record to the question I posed in my first travel blog "How many people can you fit in the back of a Indian tuc-tuc ?". That beats India and is a record in my travels.
While Sarah has gone to get a bit more diving in south of Manila, I am off to Sagada, a mountain town a days drive north of Manila to have a few days of chill-out before our trip in the Philippines comes to an end. Next stop is Hong Kong for a few days, then New Zealand for Christmas and new year.