Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘hiking’

Breathing Adventure: Touching the Heavenly Abode At Mt. Ulap

There’s no other place like Benguet. Sitting beside Baguio, many have fallen in love with this place because of its fresh air, scenic views, and alpine-covered slopes that resemble a bit of Europe’s fairy-tale forests. Besides that, Benguet boasts of giant mountains that defy the deities by touching the heavens. Among these is Mt. Ulap, which lives up to its name because it welcomes its visitors into the cradle of the heavenlies. 

Is it a deer? Nope. It’s a cow hiding as a deer. How’s that for an enchanted forest? 🙂

We left Cubao at 10pm to ensure we’d arrive at Benguet by 4 or 5am. First-timers are estimated to take an 8 to 10-hour trek on the mountain. 

The glorious sunrise was a wonderful opening to this long hike. Ever since my old phone has been damaged due to this poor writer’s absent-mindedness at the beach, I never imagined I would be able to catch again a momentous moment that actually happens everyday.

The hike was not as tiring as I first expected. It was one of the most refreshing hikes I had since I had my first taste of wonder at Mt. Pulag in 2015. 

The wind was cool enough to lessen the sting of the rising sun. I was surprised I did not consume a liter of water as I only brought a small canister with me. I decided not to tire myself with a backpack. I wanted to have the liberty of freeing my back from such heavy load. Besides, I enjoyed having my own stick, which I had bought at the registration area. I can be a good memorabilia after the hike.

There are three peaks at Mt. Ulap. The first peak already has amazing views itself.

Stone markers that tourists would like to build as proof they were once here.

Along the way, I took a moment to listen to the bird that was singing its praises to the Creator, who had artfully sculpted the beauty that I saw all around.

The Gungal Rock, which was the second peak, has been the most challenging one. One has to be loaded with guts to cross the sloping rocks to pose for a rocking profile pic.

Most breathtaking of them all is the last and highest peak.

Mt. Ulap would never be called as it is without the clouds that had slyly curtailed our wide-eyed, sun-kissed faces. The evergreen slopes beyond was playfully peeking behind those rising white pillars while we pranced and jumped around to get that perfect, perfect shot!

After going down a short but very steep portion of the mountain, we were finally relieved when we dropped by Mt. Ulap’s 7-Eleven. Oh, yes! More ref magnets to collect!

The descent at Mt. Ulap has been developed by installing makeshift wooden stairs. Lans, my friend who organized this trip, told me there were no manmade steps when they first trekked here in 2016. Mt. Ulap has just been officially opened in 2015 so it only took only awhile to improve the more dangerous path.

What I’ve appreciated most in this trip was the camaraderie that has been developed among the group. Most of us were unknown to one another at the start but most of us have became clingy to one another at the end of the trek. That’s why hiking is more enjoyable than beach. The challenges we face in the mountains are actually refining us to become stronger individuals and to make stronger bonds of friendship. 

​Breathing Adventure: Flying To the Rocky Summit of Mt. Paliparan

My chocolate bar has already melted. I set it before the air conditioning vent so I can bite that sweet piece that would replenish me from that 11-hour hike (which included 2 hours of picture taking). Still, its sweetness is nothing compared to the joy of being in the outdoors again.

We were back in Tanay, Rizal to explore Mt. Paliparan. Standing at more than 500 meters above sea level, it was one of the newly-opened hiking sites that’s fit for beginners and weekend warriors like me. But this weekend warrior had to strip off her title for a while because her little adventure army has chosen Monday as a date to conquer new land. Weekends would attract endless crowds that are likely to clutter the mountain, the view, and our photos with photobombers. 

The grassy trail

Brgy. Cuyambay would be accessible through public transportation (jeep from Cubao to Cogeo, another jeep to Bary. Cuyambay, and tricycle to the baranggay hall where registration takes place). Since we have to reach the place before sunrise, private transportation would be more convenient and safer to take. 

We originally planned the Maysawa Circuit because we wanted to see the sea of clouds. But the tour guides gave us Mt. Paliparan as another option. They suggested Maysawa Circuit would be best visited in August because the rains would make the sea of clouds more visible. Besides, they warned us of the abundance of limatik (leeches) in that trail. Since Mt. Paliparan looked more adventurous, we decided to take their advice.

The trail to the summit is reminiscent of almost all of the mountains we had visited. The vast farmland leading to the trail reminded us of Mt. Talamitam and Mt. Maranat, the grassy slopes was like the trail at Mt. Maculot, while the assault leading to the summit brought Mt. Pamitinan to mind. The rest of the trail was easy except for the last trail leading to the summit.

The first peak

Mt. Paliparan has four peaks. All of these are marked with huge, towering boulders that were challenging to climb. The tour guides have told us the mountain was called as such because it was a site where small Japanese planes used to land during World War II.

The second peak

A small cave can be visited along the way. It is a perfect place for hiding from the nasty heat of the sun. 

The trail was littered with flowers and colorful berries that seemed luscious but not edible. Small amorseco (hitchhiker plants) have annoyingly clung onto our clothing. The tall grasses were not helpful in giving us shade as they managed to annoy and tickle our sunburnt faces. We relieved ourselves with the sight of Laguna Lake, the old cement factory and the wind turbines at a distance.

While the rest of the trail proved to be easy, the assault going to the summit was challenging and quite dangerous. This is the time when gloves are highly needed. The sharp and jagged rocks, though may be helpful in providing footing, can be relentlessly unforgiving on bare hands. 

It requires rock scrambling and rappelling to get to the very top of the boulder that sits on the mountain’s highest peak. It was tempting to give up because I was struggling to carry my body’s weight on the rope. But I was challenged when the tour guides told me, “Since you’re here, you’ll regret it if you don’t do it.”

I felt like a champion when I have scrambled on that rock. Once I got hold of the pink flag that mightily fluttered in the wind, I felt like I have conquered the cowardly giant in me. Everybody was a winner that day. We had to reward ourselves by resting in the Dumagat village which would take about an hour to reach.

The Dumagat people are one of the nation’s indigenous tribes living in Luzon. If you were lucky, they would cook tinola or pinikpikan for you (these are local chicken dishes, one is made with soup). However, there were no chickens available that day. We ended up with buko juice and pansit canton. 

The adventure would not be complete without visiting Tungtong Falls. The trail, which would take another hour from the Dumagat community, lingered around giant, dark, round rocks and cool streams. The waterfall was small but refreshing. Instead of diving, I took a short nap because I was so tired from the trip. 

The tour guides were wise enough not to bring us to the highest falls which required rappelling again. We were so exhausted from the very, long trail. One of us had sprained her knee and ankle. We enjoyed the final stretch of the trail by taking our own slow paces back to the starting point. 

Despite the strenuous journey, I was revitalized with the beauty of nature. Experiencing this is a privilege because it is a gift from the Greatest Artist in the universe. Seeing, touching, and feeling such immense creation is like seeing the very heart of God who made these things because He loves us greatly. It’s something you won’t find everyday in the mechanical jungle called Manila.

The river trail

As I closed my eyes to sleep in the van, I kept a clear picture of the pristine waters, the warm summer heat, and the vast sights from the summit. The memory I had treasured that day was the ability to conquer my secret fear of heights. That instance made me dare for more. I hope that little courage gained would not abandon me on my next adventure. 

The adventure team

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.

 

Breathing Adventure: When the Heavens Come Down (A Twin Peak Adventure At Mt. Cuyabo-Mt. Maynoba)

I felt like entering into twilight zone as the tricycle bumped into the pitch-black road at Brgy. Cuyabo in Tanay, Rizal. This is the first time our team were able to set out very early in the morning. It was almost 5am and the three of us did not have a bit of sleep the night before. All of us booked for a tour group for Mt. Batolusong, which disappointingly, did not show up at our designated meeting place.

But we were determined to set out into the wilderness again. Packed with our heavy bags and a reliable data connection, we reviewed directions from travel blogs and soon found ourselves at Mt. Cuyabo and Mt. Maynoba.

This twin peak is an almost-new hiking destination in South Luzon. Surrounded by other popular mountains like Mt. Irid, Mt. Cuyabo and Mt. Maynoba are relatively small. However, they boost this one sighting that would only be seen when you arrive there at the right time.

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Past 5am and we were beginning to trudge along the damp trail lined with dew-covered grass. The trail became suddenly steep at the foot of Mt. Cuyabo. But that was just the beginning.

We could hear the birds singing their wild but glorious morning call among the dense forest leading to the summit. There was a faint fog that brought a slight chill over my face. This made the hike lovelier, although the initial trail was bringing pressure to my legs. Almost halfway, I was sweating too much and nearly dead-tired. It was tempting to rest for long periods, not until I turned around and saw the sea of clouds.

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This is heaven on earth! I thought I could only see such a sight on Mt. Pulag. The mountains surrounding us shyly covered themselves in the pure, white blanket of clouds from a distance. However, they were beginning to fizzle off from the morning kiss of the great, golden sun so we have to get to the summit as quick as we can.

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It was a sight to behold. The Great Artist had lovingly stroke different hues of blue and faint yellow on His favorite sky blue canvas above our heads. The sound of birds seem to cheer gleefully at His masterpiece while they flitted around His watercolor palette. But it’s a fleeting artwork, because He’s planning to create a new one soon. And because we love keeping memories, we have endlessly made selfies beside His work. This is the moment when we would love to pull out a guitar and sing a heartfelt song of praise. I hope we could do that next time.

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We rested and ate breakfast for a while at Mt. Cuyabo. There was still another mountain to conquer. Sherwin, our tour guide, told us we would try our best to see the clouds on Mt. Maynoba’s summit. But 8am and now sleep-deprived, we missed a better view of the sea of clouds over Mt. Maynoba.

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The sun was a bit crueler by this time. Her rays had finally fizzled the rest of the clouds that once covered the sleepy mountains. Yet, Mt. Cuyabo appeared greener as we viewed it from the peak of Mt. Maynoba.

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Our adventure does not end here yet. If you think the sea of clouds is the only highlight of this place, there are more to see beyond this twin peaks. There are eight waterfalls to visit before the trail ends.

But we need a shut eye first…or I’ll end up clawing the damp soil towards the falls.

Our tour guide led us a to a corner where the tall grass has been cleared away. This is where campers would set up their tents for an overnight stay. We spread our jackets and raincoats over the still damp grass to finally have the sleep that we’ve been craving for.

I opened my eyes to see gray clouds hovering over me. My friends have also awakened. I felt like napping for about a few minutes but I was surprised we had dosed off for an hour!

We had gained enough strength to continue the trek. Since it was a Saturday, the tourists were almost closely lined up at some parts of the trail. Fortunately, we don’t get to bump into each other at the steeper portions, especially at the roped segments. More fortunately, we had a good sleep before that or I might roll myself downwards until I reach the falls.

The sound of gushing water could be heard at a near distance as I slowly balanced myself at the rock-laden, downhill trail that had my head spinning for a while. When we got to the falls, we sat down and took lunch.

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It was not a huge waterfalls, but it’s still refreshing to stay before it was kept hidden among the hills and the tall trees. The waters were cool and refreshing but we were just to tired to dip into it. Instead, I waded through these waters when we began our trail back.

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Curious little creatures and insects hovered over the pristine waters of the stream the flowed from the falls. Giant blue dragonflies rested on the enormous green leaves that flourished beside the waters. One huge, dark-colored butterfly covered the sunlight that inched itself between the dense little forest of greens. This is the kind of place I would want to wake up to in the morning, but also the one that can’t be carried back to the tainted and crowded suburbs we knew as home.

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We passed by the other waterfalls that were smaller than the one we stayed. It was noon and the trek was about to end. Small rice paddies that cradled a

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little hut on its corner were already looming as we hit the last leg of the visit. Houses could be seen lined up along a cemented road at a distance. The paradise was already far away. We were already back at the registration site.

It’s an achievement that we were able to come and end the tour early, without having the troubles of being late. The disappointing meet-up turned out to be a blessing in the end. Besides, we saved much on our expenses when we had our own tour. The travel group had charged us with a bigger fee.

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It’s great when these little unexpected circumstances bring you to more awesome moments. It just takes that determination to shove off the disappoinment and breakaway into the wonderful unknown.

Breathing Adventure: Grazing On Mt. Talamitam’s Greener Pastures

The city was still dark when we left. In the wee hours of the morning, the serene orange glow from the streetlamps seemed rather apprehensive against the nearly empty streets. My eyes, still dank from lack of sleep, seemed to weigh heavier than my backpack. As we took a cab to the array of bus terminals at Cubao, it felt like déjà vu. The van that was supposed to carry us to Mt. Talamitam did not come.

A miscommunication nearly gave us a misadventure. But we’re used to it, and just like our last adventure at Mt  Maynoba-Mt. Cuyabo, we are ready with a bag of options that would lead us to the unknown. The internet had been a good source in leading our all-girl group to rides going to the mountain. But it became more accurate when we asked questions, costing us more cab rides just to get to the right bus terminal.

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Crossing the creek

From Cubao, only San Agustin buses could take us straight to Mt. Talamitam’s jump-off at Brgy. Bayabasan in Nasugbu, Batangas. I find the trip rather easier because there is no need to take bumpy tricycle rides after getting off the bus. After three long hours, erratic catnaps, and countless of nameless passengers sitting beside us, we found ourselves dousing in morning light at the registration area encamped beneath huge fruit trees and beside a classic sari-sari store. It’s like a scene our old barangay used to have when I was a child, the smoke from freshly burned pile of leaves (which we called siga) creating a mystical forest effect on our backyard.

But there was no burning of of leaves was being done to create that magical feeling. The quiet, clean barangay was a welcome treat for the newcomers while ants spoiled it along the way. The cheeriness of the hike was added up with that ready smile of our tour guide Kuya Dante, who was ready to laugh at our silly jokes and antics.

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The dense forestry trail

The first part of the trail was cemented and rather muddy. The rains last night had it covered with thick mud, some parts quite deep enough for the foot to sink. We have to cross a small creek after crossing a bridge. This then led us to a dense foliage of greens, which was reminiscent of the one of Mt. Talamitam’s neighbor, Pico de Loro.

It’s not all forest. In the middle of the hike was a huge plain with grazing cows, mud-bathing carabaos, and grass-eating horses. I thought I heard the theme of Sound Of Music playing when I saw this vast, green space basking in the wide, blue skies.

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Mt Talamitam just behind me

(I should have twirled around and sang, “The hills are alive…”) It’s like gaining freedom after that quite arduous hike at the rainforest trail. But that’s not yet all the strain we need to receive to reach the summit.

We bought buko juice kept in plastic cups from a young lady sitting beneath one of the lonely trees. As we drank the cold, fresh drink, we also

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Buko juice break

drank the sight of Mt. Talamitam’s twin, Mt. Batulao behind us. Moving forward, we could see Mt. Talamitam eyeing us from a near distance, waiting for us to touch her very peak.

 

Stopping again at a makeshift store of an old lady, we consumed fresh buko juice from the real fruit this time. I realized I have not yet taken any breakfast that morning. Yet, the fresh coconut juice and meat were enough for me to survive the steeper trail awaiting us.

We met the campers who stayed for an overnight who were descending from

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Mt. Talamitam’s twin, Mt. Batulao at a distance

the peak. I guess it could have been better to stay for an overnight to catch the sunrise we had hoped to catch that day. On the other hand, coming very early is good to keep us from struggling beneath the afternoon sun.

The portion we ascended was even more challenging because it was steeper and the tall grass covering the trail was cramming on our faces. The rocks were relentlessly huge and we have to use our hands to ascend over them. I could have stopped to rest of a little longer until I saw the other climbers behind us clammering to get ahead of us.

At last, I could hear laughter and giggles. Some of them even cried, “Picture! Picture!” The struggle is real. But the reward is here.

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Sitting on the mountain’s edge wasn’t so bad at all. 🙂

At last, fresh air blew on my nearly burned face as I nearly kissed the summit’s ground. The view was even more spectacular. There were a few vendors waiting to serve us with Mountain Dew and bottled water. I thought of getting a rest on the mountain but I couldn’t because of the soil beneath the little nipa shade was too damp to lie on. The ground covered with grass was seething under the scorching sun.

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The little makeshift shed on the mountain’s peak.

But the heat did not last long. So did the vendors staying at the mountain. Kuya Dante said that they would close shop at noon every Sunday when tourists go home early. True enough, we were the last ones to leave the peak. The clouds were getting dark as we left. A downpour roared halfway upon our descent.

The rain was never a spoiler of fun. We’d get a few slides and bumps along the way down, but I loved the feeling of trekking in wet weather. We could have had a side trip to the river. But now was not a good time.

One thing I enjoyed with Mt. Talamitam was that it was cleaner than its other neighbors because there were less vendors. Besides that, the trail was a complete chill except for that

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A rainy return

steep end point. It’s sad however that the mountain is not living up to its name. Trees called talamitam were not growing on he mountain anymore and I did not get to know why. These trees are growing instead on an adjacent mountain smaller than Mt. Talamitam.

 

We’d love to come back but this time with our tents and sleeping bags. Perhaps at that time we would not be chasing the sunrise anymore. It would be surely a surreal moment not because it’s a déjà vu, but because it’s living in a dream.

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Our all-girl group from the left Rozi, Lans, Tina, Nancy and yours truly with our cheery guide, Kuya Dante

Breathing Adventure: Jumping Into the Crater’s Mouth at Mt. Pinatubo

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I woke up to a very chilly morning as the van sped across the bucolic, quiet roads of Tarlac. Sunrise was already breaking through the dreamy fog that shrouded the seemigly endless, narrow road. Amidst the cheery laughter of the people in the van, I wanted to have more of that shut eye. I only had an hour of sleep after coming from an overnight work. But I have to tuck that comfty nap for a while because that long-awaited adventure at Mt. Pinatubo is about to begin.

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I had been longing to hike this dormant volcano that peacefully rests on the border of Tarlac and Zaambales. Though this tourist destination boasts of being a fun and friendly, chill hike, this mountain has carried a very violent past. Its 1991 eruption has been considered as one of the strongest in history, causing extensive damage around the area and affecting distant regions and countries. I could still remember my old nipa hut playhouse being covered in white ash days after that disaster. Still, beauty had risen from beneath those ashes. This was what I had been anticipating for this trip.

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We had to take a bumpy ride on a 4×4 truck before reaching the hike’s jump-off site. The vast, almost bare, but scenic, rocky terrain opened wide before us as our heads bobbed along the ride. Our tour guide told us how this place would be changed into a pseudo-war zone when Filipino and American soldiers train here for the annual Balikatan exercises.

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The place looked like one giant, crushed highway. The small pebbles and huge boulders littered on the jagged pathway were remnants of that deadly lahar flow that came with the eruption more than twenty years ago. Cliffs and ranges that have been scraped by the molten lava loomed at our sides as we were about halfway to the jump-off. Some of them have been precariously and fantastically molded by a more previous lava flow a hundred years ago. Our tour guide proudly told us that this area would be used as a

 

favorite shooting site for film and television productions. He reiterated countless stories of actors and actresses seen there, with him once taken as an extra for the wp-1464373136615.jpgshoot!
There are no dense forests or elfen-like jungles but the green little hills and the carved valleys were enough to awe me as we tip-toed over the rocks from the beginning of the jump-off site. I believe this area can be a good geological study. However, this valley is slowly eroding because of the little streams that flow from the top of the mountain. One area even had a minor landslide as the soil had become loose.

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Groups of Aeta children waved and said hello to passing hikers. I find them amusing because they were making makeshift houses from any thing they can find. Our guide said their parents would work as guardians of the mountain. They are the ones who check out the weather conditions of the place as well as making sure whether the mountain is safe to climb or not.

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At the last leg of the trail was the original jump-off point. A sign told us the estimated time we can get there. Young adults, it said, can reach the summit in 18 minutes. But our tour guide warned us that’s not the case.

True enough, the path became even

 

rockier. The rocks were definitely a challenge to my two left feet. Still, this is the wp-1464375493942.jpgeasier path, said our guide. The other that would come from Zambales is the more challenging trail. But I would not ask for that for now.

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Reaching the summit was a relief from the stone-filled pathway that almost zapped half of our energy. The rocky terrain was way behind us as we arrived at a well-developed garden-paradise that was draped with lovely landscape.

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The memory of the chaotic ash rain and molten fire brand that nearly destroyed the mountain was wiped away by the stunning blue green lake sitting at the very crater that now lazily yawns before the clear blue skies. I curiously touched the waters and found out it was cold. But no one is allowed to dive into it because no lifeguard can save you from its deep abyss.

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For now, the steam from this volcano would go out at the other side of the mountain, our tour guide said. I breathed in the fresh air until the tranquility that fills the place lulled me back to the sleep I’ve been longing for that day. Mt. Pinatubo may release its rage again into another time and era, but at this moment, she lets her weary visitors rest at her bosom.

imageSince this was a two-hour trek, the group I’m with decided we take a side trip to the falls before we go back. But we had to scrape that plan at our descent because the rain was threatening to pour down. Should the rains be heavy, there’s the tendency that the stream waters may rise and make our journey more dangerous.

We were leaving the site in our 4×4 trucks when the rains poured down. The ride back was even heart-stopping because there were times our dear, elderly driver would try to cross a higher plane where we had nearly fall sideways. The bumpy ride seemingly became even bumpier! Now, I guess this is where the adventure is, as it made my heart jump to my throat.

The hike may not be as strenuous as the previous ones we’ve taken but it was a memorable one. Maybe because through its transformation, Mt. Pinatubo is a testimony that no dire or tragic history can ever overcome hope in this generation.image

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: Windy Adventure at Mt. Kalisungan

IMG_20160131_151834I felt I was ready to be blown away like a wingless bird. The wind was blowing hard over the green grass taller than any of us. On the top of the mountain, we could see Laguna stretched before us. In a few hours, it will soon be sunset. I thought coming here was quite too late. But seeing that we have Mt. Kalisungan to ourselves, I guess we came just in time.

For the first time, I came hiking with a totally different group. I was invited by a friend’s friend because I was of her same age. Besides, it would be her first hiking experience. She was worried she would be out of place as most in the group are young people (wait…I also belong to that age group, don’t I?)

I easily befriended the girls as we had much time to get to know each other at a fastfood restaurant along the metro rail transit. The smell of breakfast meals, coffee, and burgers did not tempt me as we waited for the boys for two hours. Banana and crackers were enough for me. I feared that the carbs from the burgers would weigh me down.

It was 8am when the boys arrived. I was dismayed that we left too late for a day hike. The

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Calauan, Laguna

estimated travel time from Manila to Laguna would be two hours or so. It was high noon when we arrived at Laguna.

We had to start our hike immediately after a quick lunch. We were welcomed by the rain when we arrived at Mt. Kalisungan’s jump off. Thus the soil became damp and muddy, my shoes becoming soiled easily. The sun then shone again, making the hike a bit humid. Fortunately, there were much trees along the trail that lessened the heat of the sun. Though I was exhausted easily at the first leg of the journey, the cool breeze was becoming more refreshing the higher that we get on the mountain. My spirits were lifted up more when the view was becoming clearer at a higher plane.

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The little shack filled with gold 🙂

But the remarkable part of the journey was finding gold in the middle of wilderness. We don’t mind it in the city but it becomes valuable when our water canisters are empty.

We found that in a little shack near the steeper part of the trail. It was actually an improvised store that offers soda. No water. Only soda.

Still, it’s a good thing for me. As long as it’s cold and it’s something to drink, I’ll take that. Even when it’s double the price.

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The gold in the mountain 🙂

The last part of the hike was more slippery as it was steeper than any parts of mountain. I had a hard time clinging to trees and plants as some of them were thorny. My leggings are even more littered with these green hitchhiker-like plants. When the trees were cleared by the tall, looming grass, I knew I was almost there — and I was struggling even more.

At last, I found myself on the top of the mountain. There goes the wind, blowing like mad at me. I never thought it could be that strong!

We checked out the summit of Mt. Kalisungan. But the 360 degree view they were talking about was covered by even more tall grass. We might as well return to the other peak and enjoy the clearer view there.

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When grass becomes taller than man

No other group was on the mountain with us. The sun was also calmer was it was preparing to land at the far horizon. It was the perfect moment to enjoy the mountain. At that point, the others were already planning to return here soon enough.

Mt. Kalisungan reminded me of Mt. Jumbo of Benguet where the winds were cooler and the breeze almost strong. I would have loved to wait and watch the sunset but we have to leave at 4pm. We had already taken 3 hours on our ascent. We hoped that our decent would be lesser than 3 hours. That means almost no rest on the way. And it was trouble for me.

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A view of Laguna at my background

That’s when I missed my friends. We had this bond that made us know of each other’s

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Dusk at Mt. Kalisungan

strengths and weaknesses. Although one of the boys did not leave me, the one being slowest in the group, I would have enjoyed the “left behind” moment with another close friend. Or maybe with a really talkative tour guide who had a lot of stories to tell. Besides, we had no common memory to talk about. I was not even in the mood to get to know other people.

Dusk was beginning to hover over the horizon. The man who owned the little store near the summit had gone before us with his horse.

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Mang Roy and his horse. They sped faster than us

No matter how many times I have tripped, I was already running on the trail, as if the darkness was chasing me. I realized another mistake at this point. I had no headlamp. And the need for it came at the day I did not expect it.

The tour guide came back for us. The light from his phone was weak enough to battle the darkness that already covered our trail. Perhaps he was not expecting this darkness, either. Still, he kept on looking back at us, trying to hear our footsteps crunching upon the stones on the trail.

Everybody clapped when we reached the end of the trail. It’s was like surviving a long

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Twilight at the end of the trail

hard journey. But the experience was worth the memory. I just hope this experience is also worth the lessons I need to apply on the next hike.

After the failed attempt to remove these clingy plants off my leggings and washing myself of from the mud and dirt, we need to reward ourselves. The town of Calauan in Laguna seem

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Treating myself at the end of the hike 🙂

to have its own duck-breeding business, we had to try at least a dish made of duck. Adobong itik everyone?

I hope I can return soon to Mt. Kalisungan. But when I do, I will return with my hiking buddies. There’s nothing like having adventure with your closest friends, isn’t it? 🙂

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 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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