Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘hike’

Breathing Adventure: Achieving High Walls at Climb Central

 

We always itch for adventure but the rains always quell our thirst for the heights. Adventure, however, is not limited to the outskirts of the city. Sometimes, they can be found lurking within the city walls.

Rock climbing is one activity I’ve been planning to do for a long time. There are plenty of rock climbing centers in Manila but it’s in Climb Central where I have had my first taste of this indoor adventure.

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Located at The Portal in Greenfield, the Climb Central is an easy access along EDSA and MRT’s Shaw Avenue station (and a good place to kill time while waiting for rush hour’s traffic and long, boring queues to subside). This adventure center is recommendable to beginners like my friends and me. But if you think rock climbing is easier than mountain hiking, think again.

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Once register, you have this tag. Always bring this when going there. 🙂

This venue gives everybody a chance to unleash their climbing power. Huge and quite spacious, everybody had the chance to get a climb to the top. There is a regular section, a children’s section, and a section for professional climbers (you need to get a certificate to try that one).

Adult registration is only Php600 (this includes a one-time registration fee and equipment). Don’t forget to bring any valid ID when you register, more preferably a government ID since it’s your lifetime registration. They would give you a short briefing on how to belay with a friend and how to climb alone. After that, you’re free to go.

 

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Almost reaching the top!

 

And there’s so turning back.

When we thought our hikes already had steep trails, these 8 to 12-meter walls are 90 to 110 degrees steeper. Each section has its own challenge, ranging from huge close rocks to small, separate stepping stones. Some of them are even tricky, causing me to deliberate how to take the next step higher (yes, this activity includes a lot of thinking).

Those who were already used to the activity would challenge themselves further. The stones are color-coded and

 

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Another achievement. 🙂

 

they would step or climb on one particular color only. That I could not achieve for now as I struggled halfway the wall with my then-numb fingers.

I realize this activity needs the strengthening of the arms, wrist, and the fingers for gripping rather than focusing power on the legs for support. After a few climbs, my arms felt weak and they were trembling. Even though we had rested for about 30 minutes or so, I felt my hands couldn’t grip well anymore.

 

I did not get a chance to finish most walls because my fingers were not too powerful to grip anything (and even combing was a struggle then). For the rest of the day, I’ve had cramps and spasms. But I realized I’ve conquered new heights and gained a new experience. Since I got a lifetime registration, this is not the end of the feat. Rather, I need to practice more. Besides, this is a new skill that I might use when going on hikes. More push ups, then? Yes, I need to begin that soon…hopefully.

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Experiencing adventure won’t be complete without friends like Lans, Tina, and Larry. 🙂

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Breathing Adventure: Lounging On Mt. Daraitan’s Treacherous Assault

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My heart was at my throat while I was listening at our tour guide’s orientation. For the first time, I felt a little apprehensive against a planned hike. We were told this would not be an easy one but that fact did not dawn on me until that morning. We were about to conquer an assault we have not yet conquered. I never thought my limits would be tested at Mt. Daraitan – at least a portion of it.
With the world still numb in darkness, we were already bustling with excitement as we waited for the van at 2 o’clock in the morning. I was excited on meeting new friends as well as catching up with old buddies. Because this was the first time we had rented a van, I thought we’d be cozy for the rest of the trip.

 

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Riding the raft in pitch darkness

Arriving at Tanay, Rizal two hours later, we were surprised to find a wide river separating us from the jump-off. There’s no other way to get there but to cross the six-feet deep waters through a makeshift raft that was able to carry the ten of us. We had to bring all of our things to the summit because shower was also at the other side. But nature’s whimsical charm had made its way to brush off our little disappointment. The smooth rocks beneath the river peered at us when our lights pierced through the clear, pristine waters. It’s going to be a beautiful adventure.
A short tricycle ride carried us to the registration area. The registration area, which

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The team with their headlights still on

was actually the baranggay hall, was jam-packed. Weekends do make terrible hike dates sometimes, even at such a cold Sunday like this. Though hikers were told an assault would meet them ahead, nobody dared to turn back and let us take the rest of the mountain’s space.
Existing blog posts told us Mt. Daraitan’s difficulty was at 4/9, which was a notch higher than the usual 3/9 level mountains we have visited frequently. Our tour guides, Delo and Marquez (because he said his first name was hard to memorize), told us there are two routes to the top – the hard route and the easy route. The first, which was everybody’s usual way, would take 2 to 3 hours. The other one, which might have been a leisure to most of us, would take about 5 to 6 hours. Forget that one. We have became willing advocates of the tougher road.

 

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A steep ascent ahead

As the pathways were still dark at 5 am, most of us have to rent headlamps for 30 pesos (secretly vowing I will buy one on the next payday – next month). After we huddled to pray for God’s guidance and protection, we immediately trudged off with the long line of tourists. Soft drops of the early morning drizzle were already pelting on our already cold faces.
The ascent was a bit more arduous because some of the pathways were at 80 degrees. Most of the muddy path was littered with huge limestones that either slipped us down or helped us up. Around us were sturdy trees that kept our footing sturdy, shielding us from the treacherous cliffs that lingered on one side. The daylight rendered our headlights useless after an hour. Gray clouds have not been cleared from the skies I expected to be blue that day. The wind then howled like mad above our heads.
We were refreshed as it blew horrendously above us, resonating like a typhoon about

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The sign at the summit

to make a landfall. But at that moment, we were not threatened by its howling angst, because it enlivened our weary muscles. But I could sense these kinds of blustery gusts would soon bring rain. While I welcomed the cool winds, I hoped to have a little bit of sun warm me up for the rest of the day.
The sea of clouds were gone and the fog was lifting up, but the wide, green view welcomed us at the last resting point leading to the summit. The little caves that were hidden in dense rain forests have been left behind. The pain of clutching those sharp limestones was forgotten as we stood before the picture-worthy spot that was about to be blurred by the rising fog. It was beautiful, wondering how green and vivid it would have been without the fog. Still, the view appeared to be a dreamy haze that might be stomped eternally in the minds of campers. It was just 8am in the morning and I had this inkling this sight was better than at the highest point.

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Upon arriving at the summit, it was even more crowded than we expected. True enough, the fog has already covered the view. I would have loved to stay and watch the clouds dissipate but more and more tourists were flocking in the area. If there would be anything memorable there, that would be our group action pose on one of the limestones.

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When superheroes unite on the top of Mt. Daraitan

And this strange plant that was hidden behind other plants at the edge of the summit. Can anyone know what it is? I would gladly appreciate your help.

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We proceeded to descend to the Tinipak River. Not yet halfway there, the rain started to fall. In a short moment, it became a downpour that slowed a few of us down. We held onto sturdy trees to keep us from rolling down. This was a crucial part of the trek because it still involved steep pathways and edgy rocks. I was irritated because of the seemingly endless rain that only stopped when we arrived at the foot of the mountain (to which the rest of our group clapped when we came there dripping wet).

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Gazing at the current of the Tinipak River

The rains have subsided after we took lunch in a hut beside the river. Not wasting the moment, we went to see and wade our feet into the sandy waters of the Tinipak River. From its name (“tinipak” means “chopped off piece” in Tagalog), huge rocks towered along the river’s meandering path. The murky current slices through the verdant Mt. Daraitan and another mountain, sleepily looking down at us as we frolicked on the sabulous riverbed. The roaring sound of the hasty current was memorable, as if its waters were washing away our wp-image-1656096907jpg.jpgtired souls.
The pathway back to the jump-off was lovelier. The captivating landscape garnished with lush, green grass and tiny, yellow flowers seemed to have transported us to a portion of Middle-earth. At our left side, the river’s current became stronger and louder. Some portions of the pathway were danger zones though because of the falling rocks ahead. We needed to hurry and to be alert especially that many are

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The pathway back to reality

crossing that path. Horses carrying loads of goods would rush past us. Ahead, the tricycles were waiting to ferry us back into reality.

 
Instead of crossing the river through a raft, we crossed the hanging bridge. It was sturdy but my head nearly spun as I wobbled while walking on the metal steps. Seeing the river below, the pristine waters

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Collecting guts at the hanging bridge

 

were already replaced by murkier waters caused by the wild current. At the other side where we came from, people were flocking for the next boat ride that has not arrived yet.
I turned back to the mountain which is now shrouded by rain clouds. Hiking season has almost come to a close because of the rainy season. But I guess no season would be able to dictate when we should stop. I bet the bad weather did not dampen our enthusiasm in this adventure and the mud did not spoil the fun we had in our visit to Mt. Daraitan.

 

 

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The whole adventure team posing after another adventure at Mt. Daraitan

Breathing Adventure: Sun and Rain Affray at Gulugod Baboy

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Jumping high on Gulugod Baboy was Lans (far left), Brian (left), the author (right) and Mommy Gemma, Brian’s mom (far right)

The smell of the sea filled the morning air as the jeepney skidded across the almost lonely road winding along the mountainside. Our eyes were fixed at the resorts that went side-by-side with their assorted names and offers. But we would not be setting our foot on either one of them for this trip. We were about to trek Gulugod Baboy which lies near the diving paradise of Mabini, Batangas.

Gulugod Baboy is one of Batangas’ “chill climbing” destinations. It is called so because it was shaped like a pig’s spine, from which its name has been derived from. Because we have heard of its scenic views, we were willing to pay for that long trip from Mandaluyong City to Batangas that costs about 157 pesos ($3.30). As it was a holiday, we were expecting less traffic. Still, it seemed that traffic has always been a part of our everyday living, even those living southbound. It took us about two hours to reach the Batangas Grand Terminal.

Since we were just groping about with the help of other itineraries found in the internet, we looked for jeepneys that lead to the city of Mabini. But it seems that everything was ready for us. The driver offered everybody going to Gulugod Baboy that he could take us straight to the jump-off point of the mountain, provided that each will pay 100 pesos ($2.10) for the trip. Originally, hikers drop by the Mabini market and take tricycle rides going to the mountain. But I find travelling by jeepney a better alternative as the trip to the jump-off site is also a lengthy one.

The jeepney took us straight to the registration site. Registration is only 35 pesos ($0.74). The tour guide fee, which was at 500 pesos ($10.50) can be divided depending of the number of people in the group. But our group of five decided not to share the tour with another group because we’d like to have a good chit-chat with Jericho, the young tour guide. Besides, we’d like to enjoy the tour ourselves and we’d surely be left out by the large group of young strangers.

The first leg of the trail was covered by a cemented road. With the trail going too steep for IMG_20160225_101558motorbikes and other two-wheeled vehicles, I wonder if this was a wise idea. It can get too slippery when the rain pours. Good thing that the drizzle that welcomed us at our arrival did not last too long. We were hoping for a good clearing ahead…and a good, rough road that will keep my shoes on the ground.

There were a few motorbikes passing through the steep trail and ending up in some far end of the road. From the main road, there’s another road branching out from it. Our guide said it leads to another town. Now, I know where these motorbikes would be going. Not unless they would be going to the nearest store just near us.

Nah, maybe it was meant to be at the next store. Or to the other one…just over there! I find this a commercialized hiking destination as there were stores lined up in nearly every meter of the trek. They offer buko juice, sodas, and even halo-halo (which was only 30 pesos or $0.63) to every weary traveller that passes by. But not now. We’ll reward IMG_20160225_102601ourselves later.

Though having a cemented road for a mountain trail looks sumptuous for the tired tourist, I’d prefer the old, dirt road where I can have a good footing. Just as we thought the commercialized trail would go on forever, we found the sign pointing at the beginning of the classic dirt road some of us were looking for. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the improvised road sign, a white board doodled with the mountain’s three peaks. It looked clear, wasn’t it?

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This sign is translated as, “The way going to the Pig’s Spine”

As we went up the trail, we could feel the heat of the sun trying to beat us down. But the refreshing winds came blowing at our tired muscles. Then, in just a few minutes, another drizzle comes again! Gladly, there were a lot of trees around us that protected us from both sun and rain.

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One of the tiny communities in the mountain

Just as I thought we would be far from civilization, there was booming, party music coming from a few meters ahead of us. Another house! Within the mountain was a tiny community, and some of them had stores selling water, buko juice, and even walking sticks. People here sure knew how to have a good business on tourism.

We’d find houses after a few meters, perhaps about two more. Passing by the last house to the top was a sign that we were at the last leg of the hike. The sun was beating us even more by then. But upon coming to the three peaks, there was an outpour.

We stayed beneath the tree and decided to take lunch there. The clouds looked gloomy and

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Dark clouds hover over Peak 2 and 3

threatening enough to spoil the view. Yet, things suddenly changed in a while. The moment we came upon the second peak, the weather was sunny again.

The clouds suddenly gave a nice cleaning. At once, we were jumping and posing for pictures like never before. Then, we ran towards the third and highest peak. At that point, I was tempted to stay forever.

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The sea opens up behind me at Peak 2

But as I ran towards the last stop, I was surprised to hear a bell clanging on the top. Ice-cream! Wasn’t this mountain so commercialized? But I ignored it and looked at the view below. This was the reward I wanted all along: the sight of a beautiful world while standing on top of it.

I tried to sleep for a while and so did one of my friends. I couldn’t though and just mused at the scenic view before me. I felt the privilege of looking at a wonderful world made by a wonderful Creator. Sometimes, one has to struggle through heights to appreciate the beauty of things.

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Trying to jump high on Peak 3!

Another rain cloud was approaching us. Soon enough, it was drizzling again. I wished to

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Another scenic view on Peak 3

stay longer, but we had to leave immediately. Now, I have to face another waterloo…the art of descending.

I always had the trouble of descending mountains. Until now, I still couldn’t find my footing. I’m always careful to keep myself from rolling face down. But I also had the trouble of keeping myself from sliding backwards. To keep that from happening, I had to take a slow step-

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Looking down at Peak 1 and 2 from the highest peak

by-step descent. But this time, I had to be more careful, because the dirt road has the tendency to become more slippery due to the drizzle.

The weather really is a weird thing. Here comes the drizzle, and then here comes the sun. It’s like it has been on a ruckus on who’s to rule the sky today, the weather is just confused, or it would like to play a trick on me. Nevertheless,

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Halo-halo, anyone?

it’s surprising that we were faster at our descent. The nearly two-hour ascent was slashed into thirty minutes!

Upon the end of the dirt road, we arrived at one of the little stores by the cemented road. There, we rewarded ourselves. Who would resist a nice, cold sweet halo-halo after a strenuous hike?

We would have loved to go to the beach after the hike but time was too short to enjoy the quiet sea. Besides, the 100 peso entrance fee would not be worth the short time we would be spending. I guess we’ll go back there another time. I guess I have to take scuba diving lessons when I return, don’t you think so?

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Breathing Adventure: Friendships and Sunsets for the Lone Trip (Benguet Tour Part 2)

My two-day Baguio getaway was brief yet blissful, momentarily pulling me away from the reality that nearly freaked me out of my sanity. What came after my first BenCab Museum tour was a visit to a missionary friend I have not seen in years, a short walk in the night-cloaked city outskirts, and a moment of fellowship at my friend’s church the following day.

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The city lights glitter on the hilltops at night. Baguio is just one of the places where you can safely stroll at night

I emerged once again in the homey ideals that these lovely people hold, while vainly trying to understand Ilocano dialect. Competition was unlikely to begrudge the existence these people delve in; too far with what we Manileños strive for everyday. Little by little, urbanity has been setting in Baguio City for years. Yet, the unyielding purity of the city’s outskirts is just one of the million things that amazes me in this place.

The main reason for going up alone to Baguio was a small mountain my friend was telling me days ago. On the day I was to leave Benguet, I had the chance to go on a short trek on what they named as Mt. Jumbo. It was located at La Trinidad, a city beside Baguio, also best known for its strawberry farm. We planned to start the trek right after lunch. But due to the slow, incompetent service of a diner we came upon, we were able to leave for La Trinidad at past 3pm, a few hours before the sunset kicks in.

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Part of the view while going up to the summit of Mt. Jumbo

It was an easy trek, but my legs became easily strained after ascending a number of those small but steep man made steps. This is the consequence of not jogging for a long time. The cloistered trees, fresh air, and clear blue sky refreshed me though. Upon coming near the summit, the trees became fewer and the air became crispier.

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Going upward

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Racing towards the sun

I was surprised to find a few tourists clamoring upon the nearly bare, green, rolling hills of Mt. Jumbo. Some of them had tents set up, anticipating a clear, star-studded sky soon. A group had even taken horseback rides to the summit. We walked passed them as we clamored to the west side of the hill. The vast, industrial fields of La Trinidad opened wide before us, the golden sunshine painting it in bright orange.

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Beyond the rolling hills was part of the view of La Trinidad.

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The sunset gleaming over La Trinidad. This area once called the “salad bowl of the Philippines” as it used to be an agricultural area. Now, it is replaced with houses and industrial buildings, striving with the urban shift of the country.

I did not mind my short stay on the summit. In an intense moment of freedom, I did not dance, I did not run. All I did was flap my arms to feel the wind beneath them and watch the sunset descend behind the mountains in awe. But that moment of awe was broken when we tried to catch the sunset with our cameras.

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The sun giving us a final breathtaking view for the day.

The sun’s majestic exit was interrupted by the thick silver clouds that canopied over the mountains. Still, the view was breathless, for a sea of clouds surged over the adjacent mountains. It was a phenomenon that no city-dweller could experience everyday. Twilight was not far behind by then. The first sparkle of stars began to blink the moment we left the spot.

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The sea of clouds just behind me

It was a breathless moment. Though part of me knew I had to go straight to the bus terminal right after that trek, I strongly felt that my Baguio experience would not be complete without experiencing a known restaurant at Session Road. With that, I capped my stay with dinner with friends at the fine but affordable Solibao Restaurant. Should you end up hungry at Session Road, this is one of the places you should you drop by.

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Capping my trip with a great dinner with my friends Lans, Marian, and Angie. This Pinoy/Chinese group meal at Solibao Restaurant was too much for four ladies and yet it was very affordable.

The bus terminal was jampacked with people leaving for Manila. I was one of them. With me were jars of lengua, choco flakes, and strawberry wine — just some of the Baguio goodies I can’t leave without. As I waited at the line, I just realized that I have the capacity to travel somewhere far without a definite plan and still enjoy good memories of this place. Next stop? I won’t plan it up. All I know it would sure be better. 🙂

Breathing Adventure: The Hills Are Alive at Mt. Batulao

12105885_10153646083967708_6014320311900404317_nIt’s been two weeks since I have not visited the outdoors as it’s quite rare for us friends to get together. The last time I had gone to the mountains was with a lone, close buddy. Still, every journey is memorable. Though it took me some time to put it into writing, I could still vividly recall how I breathed the fresh scent of the rain-drenched earth while anxiously waiting for the mist to clear at Mt. Batulao.

My friend, Lans, and I planned to leave for Nasugbu, Batangas at 4:30am on a fair-weathered Saturday. I had to stay at her boarding house in for the night so as not to come late. But since one alarm did not ring and the other was snoozed off a number of times, we left the house late, prompting us to go straight to the bus terminal at the Coastal Mall at Parañaque. This was the only sure place where we can get a bus that would take us to our jump off site at the Evercrest Golf Course.

It took a distressing hour before the bus left the terminal and a marathon of two and a half Resident Evil movies before we got to Evecrest. The sun, already high at 10am, signaled that we were late. A number of hikers had gone before us, already enjoying a refreshing trek earlier.

It’s remarkable how tricycle drivers immediately recognized us as hikers, directly offering us a ride to the registration site of

The twin peaks of Mt. Batulao at a distance

The twin peaks of Mt. Batulao at a distance

Mt. Batulao. Our huge bags, sleeveless shirts, and travelling pants gave them clues where we were going. It was a bumpy ride getting there. The rocky, yet mud-ridden track reminded me that I am in another home far away from home.

It is required for every tourist to register and have a tour guide lead the way. This protocol was only instilled a few months ago. Mt. Batulao was an easy trek that tourists could opt to travel on their own. But due to safety (and business) measures, new rules have to be set.

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My friend, Lans, and our tour guide, Reijel.

A number of our friends would have joined this trek if it not for our conflicting schedules. I guess it’s fortunate that only the two of us were ushered by our guide that day. Reijel (if I got his name’s spelling right), was a thin, ruddy, young man who amazingly volunteered to carry my bulky bag. I would not have

Not only were horses were the main trade deliverers in this area, but sometimes carabaos were used in crossing this muddy track

Not only were horses were the main trade deliverers in this area, but sometimes carabaos were used in crossing this muddy track

obliged if I had not been wobbling on the muddy track.

The horses that occasionally trample that path caused it to be heavily muddied even in sunny days. These beasts would

carry trading goods from the mountain, their hooves digging deep into the soil everyday. The path was so slippery we had to walk at its edges, checking if the ground was solid enough to walk on. But don’t worry because this muddy path ends before getting at the foot of Mt. Batulao’s first peak. The road going to the green, rolling hills was a bit rockier, drier but denser.

Just seeing the twin peaks of Mt. Batulao at a distance made my heart sing. It was12143153_10153646083957708_5354685601593218194_n getting more scenic the moment we got nearer every peak. There were eight peaks to conquer, the highest summit at the last peak. Our guide lead us to the new trail, which he said was easier than the old one. True enough, it was easy. I felt like a little girl jogging downwards after every upward struggle.

One of the steep and narrow ways going to the summit

One of the steep and narrow ways going to the summit

These bare but scenic heights are reminiscent of Mt. Balagbag and Mt. Pulag mixed together. Mt. Batulao has become quite a favorite among those who wanted an adventurous weekend getaway and first-time hikers. However, the influx of tourists had encouraged commercialism. Almost every peak had a little sari-sari store offering shade and buko juice for every weary visitor. I would have loved to buy from them, but I rather not encourage them to do business in this part of nature.

The final ascent was the mountain’s crucial point. Some of the pathways become steeper and narrower; one wrong step can bring you plunging into a steep ravine. Towards the summit, there are two roped portions. You can climb those parts without the ropes though. I had to rid of the ropes at that moment. Reijel was strong enough to lend me a hand while I tried my best to get through that steep point.

"Rain, when are you going to stop?"

“Rain, when are you going to stop?”

Though the skies were becoming gloomier, I kept quite a slow pace as we got closer to the summit to catch my breath. But soon enough, it rained. The sunny morning was quickly drowned by an angry outpour.

Hikers cramped together under a little shelter made of tattered tarpaulin at the summit. Now draped in my raincoat, I silently waited for the rain to stop. Yes, it will in fifteen minutes…thirty minutes more…nope, it’s about to stop after an hour…oh, c’mon! Just a peak of the scenery below!

I had to give up waiting, eat peanuts and fruits with my friend, and chat with some of the stranded tourists who soon decided to descend while it was still raining. We were the last to stay on the summit, which was not in vain since we soon had a glimpse of Mt. Batulao’s rustic, green heads. We decided to wait a little more to clear the mist away, though we apprehended the slippery path.

Ironically, the weather cleared when we descended from the summit. Oh well, we

The clouds covering the other hills adjacent to Mt. Batulao is also a sight to behold

The clouds covering the other hills adjacent to Mt. Batulao is also a sight to behold

had been staying there for about an hour. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to get more pictures while the mist tried to cover us from the lens.

I just realized how the rain can make one’s body refreshed and revived. The smell of freshly drenched grass and the cool air made me feel even more alive. I became a bit quicker on our descent and I was able to catch my companions who had been faster than me at the first leg of the trek.

But the biggest challenge was the road going back to the registration

Lans being helped by Reijel walk on the side of the muddy path

Lans being helped by Reijel walk on the side of the muddy path

site. Remember the muddy path? Lans and I looked at each other with perturbed looks when we saw newcomers approaching us with mud reaching to their knees.

Our guide helped us walk at the side of the road, trying to keep us from the knee-deep portion of muddied path as much as possible. Mud was heaping beneath our shoes and sandals as we daintily took one step at a time. One had to wait while the other was guided to a safer point. We held on sturdy banana trees lined along the road while Reijel held us on the other hand. It was a tiring walk, much more to our guide who tried to hide his smile while we said jokes along the way.

The rain might have had its spoilers, but it also had its share of beauty. I guess adventures like this one made my trip to Mt. Batulao more memorable. As long as we do our best to be careful, these little irritants would not spoil the real fun behind it.

Too bad, there are no bulaluhan restaurants around the mountain (although they offered halo-halo in such a cold weather). Right after we washed and changed our spoiled clothes (and futilely cleaned my shoes), we took the bus back to Manila. It was going to be a long ride back home, which surprisingly was longer than the two-hour trek going up Mt. Batulao.

Lans and I tarried in our love affair with the mountains, mindless of the road that took us back home. Soon enough, we were already missing the outdoors as we are being brought back to the city filled with artificial lights that pierced the night sky and the smog-filled air.

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Breathing Adventure: Why Is It A Mistake Not to Wear Raincoats at Pico De Loro?

At the base of Pico de Loro

At the base of Pico de Loro

Hikers flocked at the registration area at the base of the mountain. While the other tourists had their raincoats, I was convinced that we were insane enough to trek this mountain in our summer gear. The strong rains had forced us to take the beach as our Plan B. But we later had second thoughts as the tricycle drivers assured us that many hikers had already gone up to Pico de Loro.

You read it right. We hiked Pico de Loro on a Sunday while a storm was brewing in Philippine shores. In a desperate attempt to bring all our friends on a weekend, we met on the day rains were raging in an isolated province two hours away from Manila. Still, it was a memorable hike, as all our other adventures were being unique in its odd fashion.

The rainforest along the trail

The rainforest along the trail

Pico de Loro became immensely popular these months as yuppies in my generation have dared to take hiking travels not found in Manila. Rising at 664 masl (meters above sea level), this mountain sits in the boundary of the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. The Spanish conquistadores who came to the Philippine Islands named this as such for its peak looked like a parrot’s beak from afar. For one to get there, we had to take a bus to Cavite, drop off at a remote point in the town of Ternate, and take a long tricycle ride to Pico’s base.

In every hike we took, we made sure that we had enough budget to survive. The tricycle ride, which was at 200 pesos, was more expensive than the approximately 80 peso bus ride. Registration at DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) at the base was only at 25 pesos. But since we were first timers and the weather was bad, we decided to have a tour guide with us. If there are five people in the group, the tour guide would only cost around 1000 pesos. Even though a tour guide is not mandatory, I’d really recommend that you should have one whenever you visit this mountain. Especially when trekking on a slippery road to the top.

They lent us walking sticks. I felt miserable not to have a raincoat in my baggage but I was relieved to have a walking stick with me. This helped me have a good balance and it kept me from skidding down the trail. I purchased trash bags to cover my bag and my head and shoulders. Although I tried to hike with an open umbrella, I tucked it back to my bag so as not to disrupt my balance in this rainy trail.

Our tour guide, Marvin, as he held on to the bamboo shoots and sturdy trees against the slippery trail

Our tour guide, Marvin, as he held on to the bamboo shoots and sturdy trees against the slippery trail

No matter how I tried to keep my feet dry, I was compelled to sink my feet into the cold waters as we crossed the currents

The creek near the base of the mountain

The creek near the base of the mountain

of the rocky creek at the start of the trek. We were walking deeper and deeper into the foresty path. The tall, flourishing trees were covering the skies. The rain kept on pouring and the winds were howling loudly. I came to the point wondering what we were doing in the heart of a rain forest in this rainy season.

The guide, named Marvin, helped us to keep from slipping on the steep and slippery parts of the trail. The rains had made the trail even more dangerous, as mud had already made it quite precarious. I commend him for being gracious enough to make sure that none of us would have accidents in this journey and for carrying my immensely, heavy bag. Unfortunately, he had slipped on the trek a number of times when we descended back to the base.

IMG_20150705_112318Fallen trees, steep trails, and bamboo groves. These littered in the forest, giving us an enchanted feel. Add that up with torrents of rain, we looked like going into a jungle war zone. But coming upon the bamboo groves near the first peak, it gave me the feeling of entering an elfin kingdom. A sudden change of scenery mystified us for a while. But the heavy mist held back the wonderful scenery which everybody was talking about and posting in social media.

The elfin magic was demystified by stalls and stores that were set up near the

A few stores sat on the peak offering for tourists coffee or food

A few stores sat on the peak offering for tourists coffee or food

peak. Plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable trash thrown by irresponsible tourists littered near these stores. Marvin told me that authorities are going to take action to remove them from the site. It was already mandated that these were already banned in order to avoid trash on this mountain. I just hope they would take this action soon. I just even hope that more tourists would be considerate enough to bring home their own trash.

No one dared to climb the monolith at the very peak. That was supposedly the “parrot’s beak”. Although there was still remaining trail to reach the top, we decided not to go through it, since the sightless view would just be equally disappointing.

That structure beyond the mist was where the famous monolith sits upon

That structure beyond the mist was where the famous monolith sits upon

Instead, we posed for pictures in the cold, cold rain.

The trail going down was becoming more perilous as the rains would

The slippery trail going down

The slippery trail going down

not stop. The plastic bags on my head and shoulders were slowly being ruined so I ended up being drenched all over. We had to climb down carefully, holding on to trees and our walking sticks with care. At that point, I appreciated our trek on this mountain even more. Perhaps, because I became quite faster in trekking mountains despite of this unsafe path. Maybe because I was confident to put my weight on this walking stick. Or maybe because I had trekked a few mountains already.

When we came to the creek, I knew it was almost over. I felt like I’ve conquered more than the peak or the monolith. I guess, I have conquered my fear of losing balance over a perilous trail. I have survived a dangerous trek in such a bad weather.

See you again soon, Pico de Loro :)

See you again soon, Pico de Loro 🙂

But because we have not been on the top of the monolith, I swore to myself that I will come back again the parrot’s beak. I knew it will just stay and wait for me. But, let me wait for the sun to shine again.

We had to eat something hot before taking a shower in an apartelle quite far from the mountain. We wanted clean, warm water to wash with but we ended up having cold, tap water. At almost 7 pm, we were able to take a bus back to Manila. The rains still have not stopped even as I got home.

Back at home, I wondered if I could ever dare to climb that monolith when I return. I tried to imagine the scene that I might find at the top of the peak. But at this moment, I had to enjoy that warm cup of coffee and let my feet bask in that hot tub of water after surging through that long, chilly ride home. 🙂

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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