Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘Sierra Madre’

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! 🙂

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