[PHOTO AT LEFT - Samar calls: The beautiful limestone cliffs along the Sohoton River in Samar]

MANILA, JUNE 5, 2009 (STAR) C'EST CEBU By Honey Jarque Loop - For many years, Samar, Eastern Visayas was a quiet province waiting to be discovered. Accessibility was difficult, quite close to impossible. Accommodation was limited, almost non-existent. But attraction was plentiful, sadly, never harnessed.

Progress and development have finally come its way. With the increasing popularity for adventure tourism, spelunking in the Sohoton Caves offers a unique experience to commune with nature, explore the area’s wonders and promote cultural exchanges.

Through a grant from the Department of Tourism’s Grassroots Entrepreneurship in Ecotourism
(GREET) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) we attended the launch of the
Sohoton Eco-Adventure Tour (SEAT) product. It is managed and operated by the Sohoton Services Association (SSA) and the Basey Tourism Services Association (BATOSAN) composed largely of community-oriented out-of-school youths, hardworking farmers and innovative housewives. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Local Government Unit of Basey likewise provide support to the associations.

After crossing the famous San Juanico Strait in Barangay Binungtuan in Basey, we took a relaxing river cruise to Barangay Inuntan where was saw kids wading in the banks, women washing clothes and doing their daily chores while the fishermen were fixing their fishnets and boats — sights too endearing to forget. Smiling local residents both young and old waved at passing visitors.

Upon reaching the jump-off point to Sohoton Caves, we registered at the Visitor Center where orientation of dos and don’ts was provided. One had the option to take a kayak or a pump boat to reach the actual cave. A trail led us to a hanging bridge where magnificent lime stones and overhangs come into full view in all its splendor.

The Sohoton Caves is an 840-hectare park blessed with fascinating geological features such as rock holes, underground rivers and numerous flowstones and dripstones. Imagination comes to play where lots of creativity assisted us to interpret the various rock formations that resembled the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Great Wall of China, Philippine Eagle, among others.

“Finding a balance between conservation and tourism depicts the important role of stakeholders to ensure utmost protection of the environment,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano. “Proper mechanism should be ensured for their preservation while at the same time giving opportunities for local communities residing around the cave system to benefit livelihood and employment generation.”

Basey Mayor Wilfredo Estorninos added, “Entrusting the Local Government Unit (LGU) with conserving the natural resources of Sohoton is a challenge. More than this is to look for opportunities where communities can generate livelihood and employment without destroying the environment The partnership between the LGU and the DOT, including the DENR and UNDP have made is possible to improve the current physical and human conditions of Basey.”

Dave Smith from the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation said, “Sohoton and its cave systems provide a multitude of adventure for varied types of tourists. Improvements are necessary to make the experience more educational and interesting.”

Joining the trip were DOTundersecretary Eduardo Jarque, Jr., director Ma. Victoria Jasmin and director Rolando Cańizal together with technical experts is set to introduce some enhancements to ensure that Sohoton Caves become a must-see attraction.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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