Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘mountains’

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: Curling the Trail of Mt. Maculot

IMG_20150905_163137Dwelling in the urban life for a long time can drain the senses and dull the emotion. Upon getting into a new job after a short hiatus, I was getting into the toxic mode again. I then realized I can manage my time by treating myself out of the challenges of the marketplace from time to time. I have to get back to nature. And there’s no other way but getting back to the mountains.

With a bunch of close buddies and new friends, we left before sunrise on a Saturday to the province of Batangas to trek Mt. Maculot. Maculot is a Tagalog word for “curly”, which no one could explain why it was named as such. Our ascent was a steep trail riddled with huge rocks. This gave me a jumpstart. My two-day jog ahead was not enough to strengthen my legs.

11951109_500853750081805_287650774244924684_nBefore we started this journey, our good-natured tour guide gave us fresh buko juice. As we drank straight from the fruit, we got to know each other. It’s odd to be the only media person among the group. Amazingly, our tour guide was also a rescue volunteer. He was one of those who responded in a rescue operation of a helicopter crash in this very mountain months ago. Upon hearing his story, I was amazed and confident that we can rely on him in this journey.

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Looking at the view from the Grotto

The woodland trail in Mt. Maculot reminded me of Pico de Loro: the hovering tall trees that served as a shade in our journey, those strange plants and ferns that littered the forest, the huge fallen trees that get in the way, and the huge centipedes that freaked us away…well, at least only two of us girls had goosebumps at their sight. The steep trek exerted much of my legs, however. Thus, we had to be given walking sticks to support us especially on the slippery parts. After an hour, we got to the Grotto. This was only halfway going to the summit.

At the Grotto, we could see a wide view of the city of Cuenca, Batangas. This place serves as a pilgrimage especially during Holy Week. For an easier trek for the devotees, a stone staircase filled with a thousand steps was made. But we loved to get the more foresty route. And we have to go back to this trail to get to the summit.

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One of the roped segments going to the top

The part leading to the top was steeper. There are also two roped segments leading to

The second roped segment near the summit

The second roped segment near the summit

the summit. I realized that strengthening the legs is not enough for this journey. We have to strengthen our arms, too, in order to support our bodies in these roped segments. I thought I was being a survivor when I climbed those ropes.

The summit was not appealing enough except for the distant view of the Taal Volcano,

which was a famous destination for those who visit this area. The summit looked like a

The Taal Volcano seen from the summit of Mt. Maculot

The Taal Volcano seen from the summit of Mt. Maculot

bare area strewn with tall, dry grass. We gathered under the small, lone tree that stood there to eat our lunch. But the summit was not the highlight of the trek. We cannot end this journey without visiting the Rockies.

The grassy trail to the Rockies

The grassy trail to the Rockies

We had to take a long winding road downhill. At the end of the wooded trek, we were welcomed by a grassy trail that made me imagine I was in an African savanna. These tall reeds however cannot block the early afternoon sun. So, it was a relief to rest for a while at a store fondly called 7/11.

Whenever, we are in a journey like this, water is gold for us. As precious as it would be, its price in a store like this could become as expensive as gold, especially for us who are on a budget. So, I had to save the remaining water in my bag in order to survive the rest of the journey. But I don’t have to bring

The Rockies

The Rockies

it for this last leg.

We left our bags for a moment in the 7/11 store in order to get to the Rockies. The Rockies is a lower peak adjacent to Mt. Maculot. We have to do rock climbing to get to the top. This time, we got a more rewarding view. Here is a better view of the Taal Lake.

The Taal Lake

The Taal Lake seen from the top of the Rockies

Too bad, the Taal Volcano was being covered by rain clouds. The sight at the rest of the lake though was fabulous. In order to get a better picture, I had to dare myself at the tip of the rocky edge. Despite of having shaky legs and a throbbing heart, I better get a pose with this

Don't forget to pose at this awesome view :)

Don’t forget to pose at this awesome view 🙂

beautiful view.

The adventure’s over. But my sore legs and feet were just beginning. Florencio, our tour guide was reliable to me especially towards at the end of the journey. Although it was embarrassing, I appreciated him for willingly carrying my bag all throughout the journey. At the descent, I began to get slower and my feet more painful. Oh, well, I was the slowpoke of the team this time. 🙂

But it was a refreshing pain. The pain of getting into the outdoors! The pain that made me know I am alive! What is a life without getting in touch with nature? This job is not what my life accounts for. I have more things to enjoy in life rather than drowning myself in work all the time.

There are still more mountains to explore. See you on the next mountain, then. 🙂

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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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Breathing Adventure: Highly Challenged at Mt. Pamitinan

IMG_20150615_144344A lump in my throat rose when I saw the seemingly endless trail of massive, jagged rocks. My water canister now empty, all that mattered to me was surviving this whole ordeal. I struggled along this trail that challenged both my balance and my ego. One misstep could cost my life. Looking at my legs, they now bore wounds and bruises. But until the trek had ended, I never thought that these would become my marks of accomplishment for this day.

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Mt. Binacayan inviting us to come touch its grounds next time 🙂

That’s how Mt. Pamitinan made me remember its steep and challenging trail. Rising with the height of 426 masl (meters above sea level), it sits along with other giants in Sierra Madre. Relatively small compared to other popular mountain peaks in the Philippines, it is not too easy for beginners. But, I’m not here to scare you. Instead, I’d like to share to you the challenge I gave myself on my first visit.

Standing before Mt. Pamitinan in this simple, rural village in Montalban, Rizal, I did not expect that it would be already steep right at its foot. Huge rocks were already bouldering before us along the pathway. I had to catch my breath as I exerted extra effort to take every step towards the top.

IMG_20150615_103519But that’s just halfway to the peak.

These rocks were more merciful compared to the ones toward the peak. Once we got to the middle of the trek, the rocks became edgier and more jagged in form. They can give you a lot of scratches and wounds if you are not careful. Thick gloves are necessary to wear at this point of the hike. A strong grip and a good balance is what you need to cross the rocky pathway.

Photo courtesy: Lans Macwes Scrambling up the trail

Photo courtesy: Lans Macwes
Scrambling up the trail

For the first time, I had to do rock climbing. I had the trouble of carrying my own weight so I was the slowest in our group. Another dilemma I had was my short stature. I had to force myself to reach some of the safest steps. Also, I had to battle my own mindset of falling over. As the narrow pathway revealed steep ravines, I knew I had to come out here alive.

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Mt. Binacayan inviting us to come touch its grounds next time 🙂

If we had come earlier, we could have climbed Mt. Pamitinan’s twin peak, Mt. Binacayan. I am reminded of those stories in my elementary student years of a legendary hero who held them so they would not bump each other. Named as Bernardo Carpio, he was said to be enchanted by his enemies or punished because of misbehavior – whatever legend tells you. Whenever Bernardo moves a shoulder, an earthquake occurs and the mountains move. Glad he did not feel an itch, then. Just look at the size of these rocks that might fall on me.

When we reached peak 1, we knew we had to bask in the glory of staying on top. Right before us was the whole of Montalban, Rizal, where its greenery was mixed with urbanity. Ironically, singing from various videoke stations echo can be heard from the foot of the mountain. Oh, well, that is also part of urbanity.

At our side was Mt. Paminitan’s twin peak, Mt. Binacayan, also a steep and jagged peak. Perhaps another time? Maybe soon.

Peeking at you from Mt. Pamitinan's first peak :)

Peeking at you from Mt. Pamitinan’s first peak 🙂

We could have reached peak 2, which was, I believe, higher than peak 1. But one of our friends did not wish to go further the steeper trail. Well, I could have challenged myself as well. But I guess I’d like to bask in the Wawa dam by then.

It was 2 o’ clock in the afternoon when we were almost at the foot of the mountain. Water and other replenishments were being sold at that part of the trail (talk about urbanity on its sides). For once in our lives, that cold, cold bottle of water became gold for us. Even that cold, kiddie orange juice was something I could have died for at that moment.

Our exhaustion was washed out by the warm, soothing waters of the Wawa Dam.

Photo courtesy of my friend, Tina. Refreshed in the relaxing current of Wawa Dam. :)

Photo courtesy of my friend, Tina. Refreshed in the relaxing current of Wawa Dam. 🙂

Although it is not used as a water utility supply system for the public, people can still enjoy its waters by bathing in it. For about an hour, we waded in its shallow currents and let its relaxing waters pour over us. It’s like our reward after that strenuous trek.

The sun now about to retire in the orange, Western sky, we knew we had to return to Manila. I realized that not all mountains are easy to trek. Even in this challenging journey, I knew that the Lord had a powerful revelation for me. With that difficult and heart-pumping trek, I am reminded that I never have to give up whatever I’m treading on. Once I am already in such a difficult path, the only way to get out of it is to move on. I had the realization that for a long time, I had been a couch potato. Now, it’s time to get out of the comfort zone.

Even those rocks were used to teach me a lesson. Although rough and dull, they mirrored much of my own personality and the changes I need to make for myself to become a better person. So, I guess, it’s time to move on to another mountain. Let’s go! 🙂

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

IMG_20150611_113249The sound of water splashing beneath the bridge welcomed us after that long, rocky, brain-jarring tricycle ride. The air that blew on our faces was getting even more sultry and humid. The sun was already glaring high above the cool shady trees. It was already late in the morning for we had left late from Manila. There were already other hikers who came before us. But I guess we were quite on time. I was glad to feel the countryside again, far away from my home yet close within my territory.

Welcome to Mt. Manalmon, one of the mountains belonging to the rocky terrain of Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. An

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

easy trek to go through, it would only take about thirty minutes to get to the top (almost an hour if you have countless rest periods. So, better eat a banana first). It stands at 196 masl (meters above sea level ). It may not compete with the other giants we have conquered, but as always there’s having the price of having a good view, a memorable experience, and an achievement after getting to the top.

I felt like a stranger in my own province. Living in another town in Bulacan, I did not know this little piece of adventure myself until a friend recommended it to me. From my hometown in Sta. Maria, it would take about an hour and a half to three hours to San Miguel. However, a bus ride from Cubao is faster, taking only about two hours. Since there is no direct transport system from my town to San Miguel, going to Cubao would be my best option. Just drop by Baliwag Transit or Five Star Liner and take the bus going to Cabanatuan. Bus fare is only P117.

My friend and I took the trip on a weekday since most tourists flock in at weekends. As I watched out for the road signs, I felt like being transported in time. The roads took us to quaint little, farming villages, knowing that the air outside was scented with newly planted palay (rice) and fresh soil. But our destination is more than rice paddies and farms. We got the first knack of adventure when we had taken that bumpy tricycle ride from Camias, San Miguel which was supposedly at P240. But, we were given a deal of P180 on this ride.

Given the name, Biak-na-Bato, or “split rock” in English, is a valley-like terrain divided by a long winding river. Looking at the crystal clear waters, one might think that these are too shallow. However, this tourist spot is notorious for the sudden rise of its currents during rainy days. It would be better to arrive here on a dry, summer season to enjoy more of its place.

Once we treaded the path to the peak, I suddenly had to battle again the feeling of falling over. Although most parts of the trail are easy, there are some really steep places. Most of these areas are covered in limestones, which spike out on the edges of the mountains. I always had the difficulty of getting a good footing on such trails, but I took them slowly but surely.

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

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

The sun was already getting a bit harsher on us. We had to stop occasionally for water breaks and banana snack time (still a lot of them in my bag). Upon reaching a smooth rock on top, we reached the first part of the peak. At that point, we could see the peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga inviting us to give her a visit sometime soon.

Mt. Gola on the other side

Mt. Gola on the other side

A few minutes more, we moved on and reached its top. The sight below was a treat. On the other side, there’s the peak of Mt. Gola, another mountain in Biak-na-Bato. Way down below is the Madlum River, winding all the way through this terrain. But from beyond, the rain clouds came and loomed over us.

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

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

It’s funny how we had to open our umbrellas as we descended down the mountain. I advise you to bring raincoats all the time when trekking. It’s better to keep your hands free so you can hold unto rocks on steep portions. The weather is even more moody than our emotions; it can suddenly change in a minute.

It was not a dangerous downpour, but the mud heavily stuck on our shoes and sandals so we had to walk barefooted. Our tour guide knew where the rain would fall, so he led us to a safer route. Fortunately, it did not rain upon the Madlum River, so we spent the time washing our shoes and feet upon the clean, crystal clear waters.

The clean waters of the Madlum River

The clean waters of the Madlum River

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

Into the Madlum Cave

Into the Madlum Cave

rains had fallen on that portion, our tour guide said that it might not be wise to go there at that moment. The path in that cave, riddled with more jagged limestones, can become dangerously slippery, especially for my round, little feet.

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

Instead, we explored the Madlum Cave. From the Kapampangan word, the Madlum Cave, which means madilim or dark, is eerily dark and silent inside, save for the tiny screeches of the fruit bats living there. Even if I tell you that this cave became a production set for the television fantaserye, Mulawin, you will not find any superstars in there. This small cave has nursed glittering stalagmites, stalactites, and history. From its hushed walls, I learned that San Miguel was once a part of the province of Pampanga. And from this cave, the image of their patron saint was found. Thus, this was how San Miguel was given its name.

So much for the history and the little magical chant that we had inside (I won’t tell you because you have to discover that). We had to try one more escapade before going home: the monkey bridge.

To cross the other side through merely two thick wires suspended over water might seem to be a horror story to you. Don’t.

Want to join me to the other side? :)

Want to join me to the other side? 🙂

Think of it like you’re playing monkey bars in a playground. One wire balances beneath our feet and the other is held by our bare hands while crossing it sideways. I’m sure this looks familiar to you if you’ve seen that milk commercial of two small children crossing such a bridge while going to school.

And our tour guide was right. That crossing over was the longest ten minutes of our lives. Scary? Not anymore when you get to the middle. The wires can become wobbly in that journey, but I’ve been fascinated by the river and the view before me. I love the idea of being suspended on air, while being cautious of myself and being conscious of the water and the rocks below me *gulp*. It was very

See you there! :)

See you there! 🙂

exhausting though, because I exerted my weight on both my hands and feet while balancing myself. Besides that, my friend and I did it with bare hands. (Whew!) It’s an achievement once you get to the other side. Go, monkey, monkey, monkey bars! (Now, where’s that banana? Gimme more, gimme more!)

The afternoon sun was cooling down a bit. It was a short, fun-filled,

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

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

and wacky trip (add it up with those silly anecdotes from our tour guide). If we have stayed a bit longer, much more could have been explored. Still, it was very meaningful, knowing that this tour is just right for our budget. I’d suggest don’t go alone on these trips and

have a trusted tour guide with you. That would make P300 for the tour guide and P200 for every cave visited. The bigger you are in a group, the better you can budget and share in these expenses.

If you’d ask me, I’d like to return to Biak-na-Bato. It’s ironic how rare I’d get to visit this part of my province. After this third visit I’d like to add more, and drop by other portions of Biak-na-Bato that I’ve not explored yet.

See you again, Biak-na-Bato? Of course. 🙂

IMG_20150611_153012

Breathing Adventure (Mt. Pulag Climb Part 2): Into the Flora and Fauna

11131791_924304300955047_831847193_nBeing one of the most exciting treks in my life, this Mt. Pulag hike is also one of the longest and most tiring trek I’ve experience.

After the basking in the warm sunlight and the freezing air at the peak for about an hour, we began our descent. The trail going down became quite unfamiliar, perhaps because we saw it differently when it was dark. Still, it was the same trail.

Our tour guide told us that Mt. Pulag was from a local word which means “bare”. It was named as such because its peak had no trees at all, save for one that I saw at Peak 3. But the peak was covered with tall grass and a tiny bamboo species called the dwarf bamboo. But there are more plant wonders ahead. Amazingly, this mountain was littered with plants, flowers and ferns that you could not find in Manila. But no one is allowed to pick anything…not even a shoot.

By not picking plants and flowers, the flora and fauna of Mt. Pulag is preserved. This is

Some of the flora at Mt. Pulag. Top left is the bugnay berries, or bignay in my Tagalog dialect. Top right must be a dried dwarf bamboo, I guess. Below are some pretty flowers I haven't seen

Some of the flora at Mt. Pulag. Top left is the bugnay berries, or bignay in my Tagalog dialect. Top right must be a dried dwarf bamboo, I guess. Below are some pretty flowers I haven’t seen

important so as not to put these plants species in danger, for some of them is only found in this area in the country. It’s also one way for tourists to respect the places they visit, one lesson everyone is entitled to learn in their tours.

But I just wonder why I have not seen any animals around. Not even the birds that were chirping behind the thick trees high above us. I guess these animals are too shy to be looked at. 🙂

And so, to immortalize these rare sights we had our cameras ready (except for mine that drained immedietely that dawn). Because of that, the five-hour trek going down became a six-hour groupie tour.

The locals said that Mt. Pulag was a woman. If one would look at its contour in a certain angle, it look like a lady lying down, looking up at the sky. Perhaps, this is why her feminity is scattered around the place, making it a haven of the flora and fauna we humans are privileged to see.

11148896_924302860955191_1204472494_nBut with the sun going higher and the temperature getting warmer, the walk back became a bit difficult. Thankfully, these plants gave us a wonderful and cool shade while we were catching up with our breath. My legs wanted to give way, especially when I saw that steep trail at Camp 1.

At the end of the trek, I could say I survived Mt. Pulag. Glancing back at11132100_924302977621846_1520638946_n the height of its peak, I never had an inkling at I could go all the way to the top. To achieve reaching the top of the Philippines’ 3rd highest peak is a dream come true. Despite of my throbbing feet and almost lost energy, this experience gave me the encouragement to go higher and beyond. Perhaps, I may conquer the Himalayas one day. 🙂

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