The sound of water splashing beneath the bridge welcomed us after that long, rocky, brain-jarring tricycle ride. The air that blew on our faces was getting even more sultry and humid. The sun was already glaring high above the cool shady trees. It was already late in the morning for we had left late from Manila. There were already other hikers who came before us. But I guess we were quite on time. I was glad to feel the countryside again, far away from my home yet close within my territory.
Welcome to Mt. Manalmon, one of the mountains belonging to the rocky terrain of Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. An
easy trek to go through, it would only take about thirty minutes to get to the top (almost an hour if you have countless rest periods. So, better eat a banana first). It stands at 196 masl (meters above sea level ). It may not compete with the other giants we have conquered, but as always there’s having the price of having a good view, a memorable experience, and an achievement after getting to the top.
I felt like a stranger in my own province. Living in another town in Bulacan, I did not know this little piece of adventure myself until a friend recommended it to me. From my hometown in Sta. Maria, it would take about an hour and a half to three hours to San Miguel. However, a bus ride from Cubao is faster, taking only about two hours. Since there is no direct transport system from my town to San Miguel, going to Cubao would be my best option. Just drop by Baliwag Transit or Five Star Liner and take the bus going to Cabanatuan. Bus fare is only P117.
My friend and I took the trip on a weekday since most tourists flock in at weekends. As I watched out for the road signs, I felt like being transported in time. The roads took us to quaint little, farming villages, knowing that the air outside was scented with newly planted palay (rice) and fresh soil. But our destination is more than rice paddies and farms. We got the first knack of adventure when we had taken that bumpy tricycle ride from Camias, San Miguel which was supposedly at P240. But, we were given a deal of P180 on this ride.
Given the name, Biak-na-Bato, or “split rock” in English, is a valley-like terrain divided by a long winding river. Looking at the crystal clear waters, one might think that these are too shallow. However, this tourist spot is notorious for the sudden rise of its currents during rainy days. It would be better to arrive here on a dry, summer season to enjoy more of its place.
Once we treaded the path to the peak, I suddenly had to battle again the feeling of falling over. Although most parts of the trail are easy, there are some really steep places. Most of these areas are covered in limestones, which spike out on the edges of the mountains. I always had the difficulty of getting a good footing on such trails, but I took them slowly but surely.
The sun was already getting a bit harsher on us. We had to stop occasionally for water breaks and banana snack time (still a lot of them in my bag). Upon reaching a smooth rock on top, we reached the first part of the peak. At that point, we could see the peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga inviting us to give her a visit sometime soon.
A few minutes more, we moved on and reached its top. The sight below was a treat. On the other side, there’s the peak of Mt. Gola, another mountain in Biak-na-Bato. Way down below is the Madlum River, winding all the way through this terrain. But from beyond, the rain clouds came and loomed over us.
It’s funny how we had to open our umbrellas as we descended down the mountain. I advise you to bring raincoats all the time when trekking. It’s better to keep your hands free so you can hold unto rocks on steep portions. The weather is even more moody than our emotions; it can suddenly change in a minute.
It was not a dangerous downpour, but the mud heavily stuck on our shoes and sandals so we had to walk barefooted. Our tour guide knew where the rain would fall, so he led us to a safer route. Fortunately, it did not rain upon the Madlum River, so we spent the time washing our shoes and feet upon the clean, crystal clear waters.
We initially planned to go into the Bayukbok Caves since we’ve heard that there are more activities in it. But because the
rains had fallen on that portion, our tour guide said that it might not be wise to go there at that moment. The path in that cave, riddled with more jagged limestones, can become dangerously slippery, especially for my round, little feet.
Instead, we explored the Madlum Cave. From the Kapampangan word, the Madlum Cave, which means madilim or dark, is eerily dark and silent inside, save for the tiny screeches of the fruit bats living there. Even if I tell you that this cave became a production set for the television fantaserye, Mulawin, you will not find any superstars in there. This small cave has nursed glittering stalagmites, stalactites, and history. From its hushed walls, I learned that San Miguel was once a part of the province of Pampanga. And from this cave, the image of their patron saint was found. Thus, this was how San Miguel was given its name.
So much for the history and the little magical chant that we had inside (I won’t tell you because you have to discover that). We had to try one more escapade before going home: the monkey bridge.
To cross the other side through merely two thick wires suspended over water might seem to be a horror story to you. Don’t.
Think of it like you’re playing monkey bars in a playground. One wire balances beneath our feet and the other is held by our bare hands while crossing it sideways. I’m sure this looks familiar to you if you’ve seen that milk commercial of two small children crossing such a bridge while going to school.
And our tour guide was right. That crossing over was the longest ten minutes of our lives. Scary? Not anymore when you get to the middle. The wires can become wobbly in that journey, but I’ve been fascinated by the river and the view before me. I love the idea of being suspended on air, while being cautious of myself and being conscious of the water and the rocks below me *gulp*. It was very
exhausting though, because I exerted my weight on both my hands and feet while balancing myself. Besides that, my friend and I did it with bare hands. (Whew!) It’s an achievement once you get to the other side. Go, monkey, monkey, monkey bars! (Now, where’s that banana? Gimme more, gimme more!)
The afternoon sun was cooling down a bit. It was a short, fun-filled,
and wacky trip (add it up with those silly anecdotes from our tour guide). If we have stayed a bit longer, much more could have been explored. Still, it was very meaningful, knowing that this tour is just right for our budget. I’d suggest don’t go alone on these trips and
have a trusted tour guide with you. That would make P300 for the tour guide and P200 for every cave visited. The bigger you are in a group, the better you can budget and share in these expenses.
If you’d ask me, I’d like to return to Biak-na-Bato. It’s ironic how rare I’d get to visit this part of my province. After this third visit I’d like to add more, and drop by other portions of Biak-na-Bato that I’ve not explored yet.
See you again, Biak-na-Bato? Of course. 🙂