Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘Bulacan’

Breathing Adventure: Going Back to Mt. Manalmon and Mt. Gola

The rain has passed but the mud was all around my shoes and my pants. I struggled around the slippery rocks that littered the trail. I have returned here for the second time but everything seems to have changed at Mt. Manalmon.

 

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The almost level but muddy path at Mt. Manalmon

It’s been more than a year since my friend and I hiked Mt. Manalmon at San Miguel, Bulacan. This time, we came back with a bigger group and we went on a twin-hike from Mt. Manalmon to Mt. Gola.

 

Since both mountains have an estimated height of nearly 200 MASL, it should be the easiest of all easy climbs. But without proper exercise, I have quite struggled on the way.

The path, still damp from the two-day rain, was sodden and muddy. Our tour guide, Winter, began the trek on the safer side of the trail, opposite to the one we had taken on our first visit. He cautioned us a twin hike is impossible if the river remained too high to cross. Arriving before 6am, the still grey sky would not give a hint if it would rain or not.

Gladly, the assaults were not steep enough to add to my burden. Most of the trek were on an almost level path. The initial part of the trail was covered with man-made stairs. The trouble with this kind of trail is that this would become dangerously slippery during rains. I was in bigger trouble because my shoes were designed for the muddy trail, not for the rocky path. Even though the trail would lead us to the muddy path, most of it constituted of rocks – huge ones mostly.

The very summit of Mt. Manalmon itself could be reached by scrambling on a gigantic boulder sitting atop of it. Despite the struggle, there is still romance in every second chance. Thin wisps of clouds playfully hovered over the vast beauty of Biak-na-Bato National Park before they completely shy away from the rising sun. The winding Madlum River was sparkling beneath the fresh, golden sun rays. On the other side was Mt. Gola, a mountain I have wished to trek the first time I reached the peak of Mt. Manalmon.

 

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The view on top of Mt. Manalmon. Mt. Gola is the one covered by clouds.

 

Mt. Arayat, one of Luzon’s highest peaks, could be seen on the opposite distance. Seeing its silhouette stirs up the hope in me that soon enough, I’ll be ticking this mountain off my bucket list.

 

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The silhouette of Mt. Arayat saying hello from afar.

 

After a breakfast of eggs and boiled bananas, we headed to Mt. Gola. I did not expect bigger challenges going there.

To reach the other side of the mountain, we had to cross a portion of the Madlum

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Crossing the river.

River. It is important to have tour guides on this trip because they could judge if the waters are safe enough to cross. The river was almost reaching our waists. We had to hold on to one another to keep each other from being carried away by the current.

 

We kept on walking on level ground until we came upon a roped segment that welcomed us halfway to Mt. Gola’s summit.

 

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Struggling at the roped segment.

This walkway, covered with another gigantic boulder, has become more slippery because of the rain. The key here is to step on the rougher portions of the ground to ensure footing. Taking time would be a better idea because racing with other hikers would only mean trouble. But going up and down on this portion made me completely exhausted, partly because I was battling the thought of falling down.

 

By 9am we have reached the tip of Mt. Gola. The sun was already glaring on the bare side of the peak. Completely tired, I just stared at the blue skies and the green horizon.

We have taken the same trail upon our return to the jump-off. We ended the traverse by 12nn but there are still plenty of adventures to try.

 

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The view on top of Mt. Gola.

 

Let me re-introduce to you the monkey bridge.

 

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Crossing the monkey bridge.

This is the same hanging bridge we had crossed a year ago. If this reminds you of a milk ad where schoolchildren are crossing a bridge made of thin wire, this is the exact spot where the commercial was shot. This time, tour guides required tourists to put on harnesses. Now, I’m proud of myself for crossing it last wear without such safety gear. There are still no fatal accidents at the monkey bridge yet but the tour guide told us they have to put safety measures to ensure zero fatality.

 

The key for crossing the bridge is to hold onto the wire. It gets wobbly in the middle but I kept myself entertained with raucous tourists splashing into the river while whistling a silly tune to call the wind.

Once we have ravished at the sight of fun at the river while crossing the bridge, wp-1480254088080.jpgit’s our turn to dip into the waters.

Maybe not.

I just wanted to watch the others while I tried to remove the mud off my shoes by dipping them into the water. But a small brown butterfly kept on bothering me as it kept on landing on my cellphone which was covered with a bright red casing.

wp-1480254107478.jpgI tried to lure it to land on my friend’s phone covered in black casing. The little fellow ignored it. Instead, it kept on dancing around me and my cellphone.

And so I let it land on my finger.

I have a theory it must have been attracted to me and my phone because of the bright colors we’re donned in. Maybe, it thought I was a gigantic flower sitting on the riverbank with lots and lots of nectar. Sorry little, fella. Try a real flower.

I’m glad to return to this place again. I am thankful because the Lord answered our prayers for fair, rainless weather. I am looking forward to exploring more of my hometown next time. 🙂

 

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The whole team posing on top of Mt. Gola.

 

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Breathing Adventure: Flaunting the Worn-Out Sneakers at Maranat Falls

IMG_20160115_094909The tall grass scratched my bare arms and legs as I marched along the narrow, nearly faded trail. The heat of the sun was making me more exhausted as the trees were becoming fewer along the way. I was already lagging behind my friends though we were not yet halfway there. But I was not worried about getting lost. I was worried that my sneakers were about to give up.

These shoes have been my companion for quite some time. I bought them so I could have a nice comfty footwear in Ireland three years ago. Though this pair has been with me in a few adventurous moments, I rarely bring them along at hikes. Only lately, the signs of wearing out were seen on them. Despite of this, I thought it was safe to bring them along to Maranat Falls.

We have heard so much about these falls after visiting Mt. Balagbag. It was located at Mt. Maranat, between the provinces of Rizal and Bulacan, which was just beside Mt. Balagbag. In order to get to that falls, we had to take the same trail going to Mt. Balagbag, expect that we had to take a detour in the middle of the way.

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Walking among living stones

I was expecting Heidi, the friendly dog, to tag along with us again. But since we arrived quite late in the morning, she must have accompanied other hikers who came earlier.

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Though most of the area along the mountain was almost bare and isolated, it was slowly

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Seeing Norzagaray, Bulacan beyond the mountain

being developed as a habitable place. A few cottages can be seen, surrounded by landscape and little vegetable gardens. As the trail elevates, we could view the town of Norzagaray in Bulacan opening before us. Going further, the trail becomes more isolated and grassy.

Catching up with my friends, my shoes could not keep from being totally worn-out. At last they gave in, like twins crying out with their tongues sticking out. I tried to reach the waterfalls still wearing them but I could not keep them on my feet soon enough.

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When my shoes cried, “Stooop!!”

Fortunately, my friend Riza had slippers to lend me. Not wanting to leave my faithful sneakers behind, I tied them on my backpack. These slippers I was now wearing can have the tendency to become slippery when wet. Good thing the ground then was nearly level and dry. But when we were near the falls, that’s where I had to be extra careful.

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Mt. Maranat can be seen behind me. Almost there!

Lans and Rozi had already reached the falls by then, as they were quicker than us. Riza was also being extra careful while using a sturdy stick to support herself, as it was her first time to hike. Our tour guide, Mang Macoy, who was quiet most the time, had to assist me going down. I feel

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The falls! The falls!

pathetic at this, especially I am the one always assisted by tour guides and most of them were thinner than me. The trail downwards was becoming steeper and slippery. More thorny plants were clinching on my clothes and bag. I felt more exhausted, thinking that it would take an eternity reaching those falls.

But part of me wanted to jump off those rocks at the sound of trickling water. The falls! The falls! I can’t wait to dive into the cool water. Upon coming there, I had a sigh of relief. It’s better than discovering hidden treasure in a clandestine jungle.

We ate our lunch beneath the lush, green trees upon reaching the falls. I suddenly felt sleepy when the cool air surged on my tired muscles. Putting my backpack beneath my head and stretching my legs upon the cold, bare rock, I was lulled to sleep. The rest of us did the same, invibing nature into our souls. Oh, this is a dream come true!

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Such is the view when you lie beneath the clear, blue sky

When we woke up, I lost my urge to dive into the pool. I dipped my feet into the cool waters for a while, washing the tiny scratches on my legs. But I couldn’t bring my whole self into the water as it was too cold for me. Riza also watched from afar, too tired to bring herself down into the pool. We just waited for Lans and Rozi who had jaunted nearer to the falls to take more pictures.

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Posing at the brook near the falls

It was time to go back home. Once again, I was lagging behind. I was slower than before, perhaps because I did not have the time to work out. We’d have short breaks one at a time. But at one of those breaks, we noticed that one of us was missing.

Since we were already quite distant from one another, Rozi walked along the wrong

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When power ladies survive the hike 🙂

detour. She struggled to find a way out, which was already a dangerous trail. In the end, she cried because of the possibility of being left alone at night. By then, Mang Macoy was able to find her and bring her back.

Weeks after this hike, Lans and I discussed that we need to have training on first aid and other survival management skills. We realized it’s time to discard that tourist mindset when going on a hike. There’s always the possibility for the need of survival at these kinds of travels.

Towards the end of this hike, Riza and I lagged totally behind the group. Twilight was already there, and we could already see the stars peeking on the open, purple skies. It was totally dark when we came at the little baranggay hall at the quiet town of San Jose Del Monte. The town was almost completely covered in darkness. The light from the lamps looked like distant stars tucked away in those small houses.

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When dusk comes

I felt that we were in twilight zone when we rode in the tricycle. The road was eerily dark as we chugged along the rocky road. Yet, as the tricycle driver said, the people here are contented with their state of living. As long as they have food to eat and live well, there’s no need to strive for more. It’s a reality too far from the reality I know. I will surely miss this place again.

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I have to return the slippers to Riza. My worn-out sneakers are back on my feet. But I still felt comfortable wearing them again. No matter how worn-out something may be, if they carried good memories with you, it’s not easy to throw them away.

Breathing Adventure: The Doggie Trail to the Top of Mt. Balagbag

Meet Heidi, our reliable tourist guide...er, tourist dog

Meet Heidi, our reliable tourist guide…er, tourist dog

In every mountain adventure we’ve had, there were always dogs trailing along with us. I always wonder if these dogs are the mountain’s watchdog, the forest’s secret agent, or a fairy disguised by walking on fours (be nice to them or they’ll turn you into a dog, too!). For whatever their doggie reason is, I find it cute having them with us. Sometimes, their presence is worth the furry adventure we would be looking for.

Leaving the noisy, crowded, urban atmosphere in Manila, we crossed two rustic provinces to take the trek on Mt. Balagbag. Standing at more than 700 meters above sea level (some say at 777 masl), this mountain stands in the boundary between the provinces of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan and Rodriguez, Rizal. In that two hour ride from Cubao, Quezon City, the roads became more isolated as they winded along the mountainous pathway painted with green hills and lonely huts and houses.

Alighting from the bus at Tungko, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, we took a jeep going to Licao-Licao, Rodriguez, Rizal. Almost alone in the road, it skirted along a long, winding path patched with that seemingly endless, foresty scenario. It gave me a feeling we were going to a point of no return. It was a packed ride. Passengers only began

Part of Sierra Madre can be seen along the trail to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

Part of Sierra Madre can be seen along the trail to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

alighting at the end of the journey where small communities were thriving and sari-sari stores were mushrooming quietly.

The tricycle ride from Licao-Licao to the Veterans was really an intensely rocky one. In no more than twenty minutes, we arrived at the baranggay hall to register our names and give a “donation” for the mountain. At that point, I was expecting that they had tourist guides ready to assist us.

But there was not one tourist guide.

We decided to trek on our own. The trek was easy as there was a trail already made. The only hostile thing against us was the fierce heat of the sun. In order not to make the same mistake again, I had brought myself two liters of water and spread

Heidi grinning at me at one of our breaks

Heidi grinning at me at one of our breaks

sunblock abundantly that my skin turned white.

As we were breathing heavily on the slowly steepening trail, a dog suddenly jumped out of a hut and followed us. We first thought that it was only walking with us up to its destination. Soon enough, it became our friend. And we named her Heidi.

Why Heidi? My friends were reminded of somebody who was not of an appreciable character to them.

But we liked Heidi very much. She instantly became our tourist guide…or tourist dog. She was the one leading us, marching the rising pathway easily on her four legs. She’d even arrive first at a shade as we were pondering on taking a break. And then, she looked at us with those beady eyes when we pulled out our canisters and biscuits…

She was a lovely dog, even though she seemed to be an aspin (short for “asong Pinoy” or Philippine street dog in English). This kind of dog is a mixed breed of sort. But whatever she was, she was dependable and adorable. And I could say, she knows the area better than us.

A few meters toward the peak, we passed by another sari-sari store, an open gate, a tractor seemed to be used for

The gate going to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

The gate going to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

clearing the path (and new pathways on the mountain), and a lonely house on bare fields. That was the second point where we had to register and pay the “registration fee” at twenty pesos. There, we met another mountain biker going up the peak. Mt. Balagbag is recommendable for mountain biking as the path is wide and clear for this kind of activity.

We did not discover the shortcut to the peak though the lady at the second registration area said that it comes at the point where three rocks stand. Rocks? They’re everywhere! We might as well take the long cut.

IMG_20150626_103814What we did not realize was that Heidi was already showing us the shortcut, as she ran between big, odd rocks before us. But seeing us take the long cut, she followed us. That’s the desperate thing between humans and dogs. She did not have the human language to cry, “SHORTCUT!”

At last, we came at the helipad, the peak of Mt. Balagbag. Again, we met the mountain biker who no sooner became our friend. There were no extreme activities at our trek, but what was worth was the view, the cool air, the fun chatter, laughter, and new friends to keep.

An enchanting stunt for our "magic image"

An enchanting stunt for our “magic image”

Add that with the fun of making magic image with our phones.

Heidi again looked at me with those beady eyes. I was horrified when I realized that my bread was made of chocolate. While talking at the dog, I pointed at my friend. Heidi then turned her beady eyes to my friend who gave her some of her lunch.

Beyond the peak, we could see the mountains of Sierra Madre. Mt. Balagbag is just one of the peaks towering along this mountain range. But the disappointing sight was that a few mountains were being quarried. On the hindsight, to develop land for housing and every commercial industry might help for the town’s economy. But I believe that we can develop the land more by tourism and preserving nature. Adding urbanity on such environment can made one forget what nature and real beauty looks like.

At the top of Mt. Balagbag

At the top of Mt. Balagbag

We stayed on the top for hours, enjoying the crisp, clean air. Unfortunately, the phone signal was bad (we had to add each other on Facebook when we got home). We left the peak by taking the shortcut, trailing the wide and dusty road, and back into the foot of the mountain.

Surprisingly, Heidi automatically returned to that same house where she jumped off to meet us. As we were calling her name and saying goodbye, the owner of the house called in a loud voice, “HEIDEEEEE!!”

We were stunned. Now, we know why the dog kept on turning at us whenever we called her Heidi!

Towards the end of the our journey, we eased our tired feet by dipping ourselves IMG_20150626_115538in a pool at an almost empty resort at the foot of the mountain. We soon trudged the pouring rain in order to catch up the last ride to Tungko, which was supposedly at 6 pm. Fortunately, we took a jeep by 5 pm. Upon reaching Tungko, the sense of urbanity returned upon us. The roads were packed again with countless buses and jeeps; the city was flocked with those popular and affordable fast food restos.

At the end of the day, I realized that my prayer of having a tour guide had been answered. In a humorous turn, it turned out to be a dog. More faithful than I expected, Heidi kept a close watch at us, making sure that we human visitors enjoyed her mountain. But I guess the trip became more enjoyable because of her charming canine company in it. And oh, whether you might have a chance to trek Mt. Balagbag, don’t be surprised if Heidi jumps along the hike. 🙂

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Breathing Adventure: That Brief But Wacky Trip to Mt. Manalmon

IMG_20150611_113249The 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

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

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 peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga saying "Hello!" :)

The peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga saying “Hello!” 🙂

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.

Mt. Gola on the other side

Mt. Gola on the other side

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.

The rain approaching the peak. See how the other side is not showered upon :O

The rain approaching the peak. See how the other side is not showered upon :O

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.

The clean waters of the Madlum River

The clean waters of the Madlum River

We initially planned to go into the Bayukbok Caves since we’ve heard that there are more activities in it. But because the

Into the Madlum Cave

Into the Madlum Cave

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.

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

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.

Want to join me to the other side? :)

Want to join me to the other side? 🙂

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

See you there! :)

See you there! 🙂

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,

My friend, Lans, and I had a fun time with this equally wacky and trustworthy tour guide, Michael. I assure that you can rely on these guys. :)

My friend, Lans, and I had a fun time with this equally wacky and trustworthy tour guide, Michael. I assure that you can rely on these guys. Never go alone in your trip to the top. 🙂

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. 🙂

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Pedring’s Aftermath

Scattered leaves, broken trees and branches, muddy roads – such greeted me as I left in my clad formally for work. Pedring left almost everything in disarray, its results feared next to Ondoy’s. Somehow, I was glad to see that most of our trees have been “trimmed”. No need to reach those high branches. 🙂

So much of my province, Bulacan, was affected. My mom said it was a blackout before noon yesterday and electricity just flowed back sometime after midnight today. Talk about getting home in pitch darkness. At least, the winds were not as threatening as that yesterday morning.

However, as Pedring was worse than any of this year’s former typhoons, I was thinking that this was a warning from the Lord. Right after Pareng Pedring, another storm is coming tomorrow (who was already named “Quiel”, by the way). The whole of Luzon has not yet recovered from Pedring’s blows and another potentially strong typhoon is looming towards the country. Besides, whenever such an issue on Israel arises and the nation goes with the rest of the world to vote against it, an unusually powerful natural calamity, or an intense tragedy strikes the nation. Now, who says voting against Israel is a nonesense issue?

Coincidence? I don’t think so. But, there are things that move in the spirit that the naked eye cannot see. It manifests in the physical realm but only the spiritual man is able to discern it, as the Apostle Paul said.

Now, I don’t know what’s next for the Philippines. We should continue to fight and pray. Still, I claim that God is in control. And He forever is. Typhoons, calamities, you name it…He knows why such are being allowed. If we are willing to be sensitive to His Spirit, He will let us know…and will give us the wisdom on how to go against it…even if the world says you can’t.

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