Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘trip’

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: Lost in Cebu (Part 2)

A rainy day is a real spoiler for every traveler, especially when the place being visited is a thousand miles away from home. But no dark clouds can hinder us from exploring Cebu, so we headed south on our third day on he island. 
Being mountain lovers, we decided to trek the heights of Osmeña Peak. We had to travel about three hours from the city of Cebu to get there. By that time, I realized that the island was too big to explore and I am just too small to be overwhelmed.

Drizzles were dampening the atmosphere at South Terminal where we boarded the bus going to Oslob (which I will feature on my next blog) We made sure the bus would pass by Dalaguete as there are two different routes going to the far south end of Cebu. The real adventure begins when the bus dropped us off at the town of Badian.  

Every tourist who don’t have their own vehicles would have to take a motorcycle ride to the jump-off point. It took about an hour of travelling through smooth, meandering roads and inclined trails. A backride costs about P200. The most amazing thing was that the motorcycle was able to carry all the three of us!

(From far right) Lans, Ros, and Rhema (yours truly) going crazy on the motorbike ride.

The weather was becoming more dreary as we went deeper into more isolated roads. Fog began to enshroud us halfway going to the jump-off point, making me think I am entering Wonderland. What surprised me even more was when pine trees towered above us along the way, shattering my impression that Cebu was a fully tropical island crowded with sunny beaches and coconut trees. 

Osmeña Peak has a height of more than 1000 masl but the trek would only take about 20 to 30 minutes from jump-off point. We were greeted with young men offering us boots and raincoats which cost about Php50 each. We felt obliged to rent them because the ice-cold rain has been continuously making the trail soggy and muddy for almost a week. But the sunny smile of our tour guide, Evangeline or Evan as she would like to be called, made me enjoy the trek because of her stories.

Some of the flowers that can be seen on the mountain.

Evan said the original jump-off point of Osmeña Peak was at the municipal town hall of Badian which was two hours going to the peak if taken by foot. With the development of roads, tourists have now an easier access to the heights. Still, the town maintained its agriculture industry. Called the Little Baguio of Cebu, Osmeña Peak floirishes with lush vegetation.

Cabbage heads planted on the mountain

The place reminded me of Benguet as huge round cabbages flourished on the mountain side. Evan told me locals in this town have a very simple lifestyle. Most houses could not be brightened up by electricity at night and residents use fire and wood to cook their food. Just like the farmers of Benguet, they would carry their harvested vegetables to the lowlands and trade them for fish. Evan had this vibrant spirit and singsong chuckle as she showed me plants that would only flower at night and other strange plants that could only be seen at the site. And just as always, I was the only person Evan guided along the way because of my tendency to lose balance.

The cabbages being loaded on trucks, ready for trade.

The winds became stronger as we trudged near the peak. Unlike what we saw on the internet, we saw no green hills but only a white blank space on the horizon. The signage harrumphed noisily as the wind slammed violently on it. We screamed as we posed before my already wet camera. Evan maintained her pose and her eternal smile as she calmly took a picture of our panicky faces. 

Seeing nothing on the mountain did not fully disappoint me because of the discoveries I made along this short trip. Besides, the vibrant spirit of the locals was enough to energize us. It did not turn out the way we wanted it, but just as they always say there’s always a next time. Should I return, I’d return there by April as the locals have advised. And I hope Evan would guide us again – this time along dry land and beneath clear skies.

Our groups takes a pose with Evan (in black jacket) after the trip.

We ended our cold trip with a bowl of batchoy (warm pork noodle soup) and a day full of laughs. Boarding on the bus going to Oslob, I kept my eyes on the blue-green sea that lined along the highway. Tomorrow shall be another day of adventure. And this is the one I was looking forward the most.

A nice hot bowl of batchoy to close the trek

​Breathing Adventure: Lost In Cebu (Part 1)

I was exhilarated and nervous at the same time. I gulped my coffee before I boarded on the plane. I felt my first panic check-in attack after a two-year flying hiatus. I had great trouble fixing my luggage one day before take-off. But I was still numb from the fact I was about to head to the far-away island of Cebu.

I thought I was transported back to Recto, Manila when we dropped by Colon in Cebu City. One of the curious little facts of this city.

Cebu is one of the major islands situated in the Visayas region. Travelling there by plane from Manila would take about one and a half hours. Called the Queen of the South, Cebu is the region’s main economic center. It is known for its beaches, dried mangoes, native guitars, otap (flaky biscuit covered in sugar), lechon (roast pig), and its yearly festival called Sinulog (an event dedicated to the island’s major saint). I honestly am not interested in religious festivals. I wanted to tag along with my friends because I wanted to experience the magic this island has to offer. 

Masks being sold at Sinulog Festival.

Curious as a cat, we strolled around the city despite missing the Sinulog parade. Like little kids, we had face paint, bought hats, and looked at what the crowd was looking at. I was surprised when Cebu City appeared to be a prototype of Metro Manila. Colon itself was reminiscent of Recto, scenes around the Church of Sto. Niño was almost identical to that of Quiapo, and the markets looked like Divisoria. I felt like I have been transported back to Manila so we tried to see other spots where we could stroll along.

Rains had spoiled our second day so we ended up in Plaza Independencia and Fort San Pedro. The latter looked like a mini-version of Manila’s Fort Santiago in Intramuros. The reason it is so is because Cebu was one the Spanish conquistadores’ main headquarters before they moved to Manila where they built a similar fortress as Fort San Pedro. Entrance is only at Php30 and it is here where you will get a glimpse of Cebu’s history. 

For those who have studied at schools around Manila’s Intramuros, you might mistaken this as a lane at Intramuros but it’s actually in Cebu’s Fort San Pedro.

A canon overlooking Plaza Independencia. One of the similar sights in Manila’s Intramuros.

One of the galleries that could be found in Fort San Pedro. This one is filled with pictures from this site’s history.

Another gallery featuring portraits of some of Cebu’s founding fathers and historical figures like Ferdinand Magellan and Lapu-Lapu.

Toss a coin to make a wish at this wishing well at Fort San Pedro.

The best part of our initial stroll was the food trip. From street food to mall diners, every meat comes with a serving of pusô (not the heart, but it is rice wrapped in leaves). 

Pusô in a basket.

Ranging from Php3 to Php5, they are being served on baskets along with a viand of siomai, pig’s face (yes! The skin made to be thin and crunchy before your eyes), or spicy lechon (somebody help my diet!!). 

A vendor slashing the pusô in the middle.

These handful of packed rice has been slightly slashed in the middle so you could easily open and eat it. Make sure you’ll count all the pusô you’ll be eating because they’ll charge you for each one you’ll gobble. Just don’t expect to eat with a spoon and fork because you have 

Street food siomai with pusô.

to eat your food by hand. Don’t worry, they will give you clean hand gloves. 

Pusô with, not pork chop, but with pig’s face.

Lechon with pusô.

Larsian is a recommended eatery in the city, especially for all grilled food lovers. They have a variety of meats, chorizos and seafood such as squid and blue marlin which they will grill and serve at your table. Each of them range from Php20 to Php150. And of course they come with pusô

Larsian

Grilled chicken, pork, and fish with pusô only at Larsian

As I’ve mentioned, Cebu is good for their otap so we did not miss dropping by Shamrock which was located along the Rotonda near Larsian. It also has a variety of other goodies like my childhood favorites, ronquillos and torones de mani

Other street food treats to be found in Cebu. This lady is selling baked rice cakes cooked in an oven.

Rice cakes

Corn on a cob sold on the street.

I guess buying pasalubong and souvenirs was the greatest irony on the initial part of our trip. But that does not signal the end of our Cebu trip because we still have more to visit for the next three days.

Breathing Adventure: Riding the Waves at Deca Wake Park (Angeles City, Pampanga)

Angeles City in Pampanga is just one of the Philippines’ sought after tourist spots. From restaurants to amusement centers, most of these were made to cater tourists, especially the foreign ones, who arrive in the country from Clark Airport. But local tourism also abound in this area. As Valentine’s Day arrived two weeks ago, it was also celebrated with the yearly Hot Air Balloon Fiesta at Clark Freeport Zone. But before we went balloon watching, we first tried another, action-packed amusement park in the area.

Deca Wake Park:

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The air was cool but the sun was beginning to scorch when we arrived at the Deca Wake Park. We came an hour earlier from its opening time which was at 9:30am. While munching on some chips left over from our two-hour travel from Manila, we chatted excitedly on how we would glide over the pool now glimmering beneath the cloudless sky a few hours later. Now should have been the perfect time to go wakeboarding. But half of me was musing to back out of it while still early.

12717555_552330858267427_2206368371811374102_nDeca Wake Park is one of the exciting places to visit when dropping by Angeles City, Pampanga. Water sport enthusiasts and adventurers alike plunk their boards and surf through the waters while being towed by an electronically-maneuvered cable. Looks easy for the sun-tanned surfers here. For beginners like us, it’s a dread.

For me, at least. It’s been nearly ten years ago since I first tried wakeboarding at a

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The author now putting the wakeboard on water in the beginner’s pool

company outing. But I never succeeded anyway. Besides, I’ve witnessed how one of my friends had an injury when a loose cable pulled her arm after she fell into the water.

That same friend was with us at our second attempt to go into this sport. Lans did not have a bit of that injury or even that dread as she lined up at the beginner’s pool. That’s where every beginner should be practicing before flawlessly surfing over the main wakeboarding pool. We need to succeed…well, at least make a perfect round.

Thursday is a lucky day for girls at Deca Wake Park. It offered a 50 percent discount for the whole day wakeboarding experience for ladies only. Usual price for whole day stay is at Php

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The lucky ladies: the author (left), Lans (middle), and Ritz (right)

1000, but we got to pay only half of it provided that we stay here for four hours or so.

Back at the beginner’s pool, I was ready to quit at the back of my mind. I thought of just keep on falling into the water until we go to our next itinerary for the day. But I kept on coming back. I appreciate the instructor for specifically pointing my mistakes before I begin again.

Then, ride the waves again. Then, fall. Over. And over.

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Our instructor demonstrates how to wakeboard

Until I gained balance. But that did not guarantee I could make a 360-degree turn in the pool. That was the hardest part. The moment I got at that point, I forgot every direction our instructor told me. Then, I drowned…

Of course, I did not. The pool was too shallow for that to happen. And we were wearing life vests and helmets. But I had to get out of the pool fast or I might get injured by the then loose cable.

To keep yourself safe from loose cables, you can duck your head into the water or just keep it low as you get to the shore as fast as you could. Having legs good for swimming could help, too.

Soon, I felt pain on my arm after countless rounds and endless failures. That’s why stretching  or a daily workout is important before getting into any sport. But I was not keen at that for the past few days. So, I had to stop.

I forgot how I gained balance over the water when I stopped for a moment. Oh well, I have 12743530_552344434932736_4272592829614872366_nto go back to zero. But in the end I did not make a turn. None of us made a good turn. Some of our friends, who did not try wakeboarding, wanted to leave. We had to run for the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Besides, we haven’t had a good lunch in the afternoon.

We promised ourselves that we’ll save up for our return at Deca Wake Park. And we’ll make sure that we’ll come on a Thursday. By that time, we’ll make sure to surf a 360-degree turn at the main wakeboarding pool. Trying wakeboarding has been a reawakening of confidence for me, since I realized I could try something impossible at the beginning.

So, did we ride the hot air balloons after? That would have been a feat. But you will know that on my next blog. 🙂

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With friends Rico (far left), Lans (left), the author (behind middle), Ritz (right), Tina (far right). My travels are made memorable because of them 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Going upward

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Racing towards the sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The sea of clouds just behind me

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

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

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

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

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

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

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Gola on the other side

Mt. Gola on the other side

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

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

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

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

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

The clean waters of the Madlum River

The clean waters of the Madlum River

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

Into the Madlum Cave

Into the Madlum Cave

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

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

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

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

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

Want to join me to the other side? :)

Want to join me to the other side? 🙂

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

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

See you there! :)

See you there! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Breathing Adventure (Mt. Pulag hike): Playing Upon the Clouds

20150404-183715.jpg Photo Courtesy of Highland Travel Crew

Ever dreamed of touching the sky as a kid? I thought of it as impossible. For me, to see them swirling as cotton-candy like castles above me was a satisfaction. The closest thing I could get near them was on an airplane. Still, they were impersonal, dreamy beings, as glass panes always get in the way of their existence and my own world.

When a friend invited me to hike Mt. Pulag, I obliged, longing to unleash the adventurer in me. But I never thought I could catch a great prize from that exhausting, five-hour trek.

Mt. Pulag is Philippines’ 3rd highest peak. It is located in Benguet, Mt. Province, which is six to eight hours away from Manila. If taking the Ambangeg trail (the one we had taken), it would take you about five hours before reaching the top.

As Luzon’s highest peak, Mt. Pulag has the reputation of having an extremely low temperature. Upon hiking, one needs to wear a windbreaker jacket. With that, I had to wear two layers of clothes and warmers to make sure I won’t get in trouble. I even covered them with a raincoat.

20150404-182741.jpg When we arrived there on March 26, we decided to stay in the ranger house as it was drizzling cold. We abandoned the initial plan of taking the first part of the hike that afternoon to stay at Camp 2 for the night. Should we have insisted on that plan, all of us might catch hypothermia without reaching the top.

Excited, some of us tried to explore part of the trail. Notice how the mountains consist of lush vegetation and plants not found in Manila. People here live a quiet living through agriculture and tourism (most of them work as tourist guides or porters for Mt. Pulag). It was a flourishing community, without the stress of infrastructure.

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After a night of getting-to-know new friends in the mountain group and a few hours of battling the cold while sleeping in that warm cabin, we started the hike at 2 o’ clock in the morning. The advantage of this Plan B is that we don’t need to carry our heavy bags to Camp 2, which would take about three hours from the mountain ranger site. All we need are our phones, cameras, and flashlights and our cold gear (not to mention hiking shoes to get sure footing on the muddy trail).

The hike to the top was dark and risky. Some parts of the trail were quite narrow. Steep cliffs were lingering at the sides. But somehow, the trail was easy to follow. I would have loved to gaze at the stars but I had to keep my eyes on the muddy and sometimes slippery track. The rain had passed but the ground was still wet.

Mt. Pulag is known for giving its visitors a view of the Milky Way. Upon reaching Camp 2, the skies uncovered the blanket of stars and wonders. But it did not end here. After resting for a few minutes, we continued our trek to the peak.

My legs were almost giving way. I’m not used to long trekking adventures such as these. On occasions my friends and I would trek mountains, two hours would be at most for me. But the head of the mountain group challenged me to reach the top, even though I was pointing at the mountain’s third highest peak nearby.

Mt. Pulag reaches the sky at 2,922 meters above sea level. It contains three peaks, Peak 1 as the highest.

The sun was peeking above the clouds. I wanted to stay where I was as my pace was getting slower due to exhaustion. And I was already screaming angrily and stomping my feet because I could see the rest of the group reaching the top and only two of us were left behind.

But I don’t want to be left out. The way near the peak was so steep, my friend and I were crawling on ground. If it weren’t for that nightly jogging sessions, I wouldn’t have survived the thin air at the top and rolled away down the mountain.

The sun was quite a bit high when the reached the top. Still a bit dazzled, the couldn’t grasp the reality that I was already at 2,922 meters high. Not until the sea of clouds danced before me eyes.

I was above the clouds. I never, never, never I could reach this top. And watch a wonderful phenomenon before my eyes!

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Photo Courtesy of Highland Travel Crew

Imagine the sea of clouds falling upon the mountains like waterfalls. I never thought I had passed right through them and be above them. Below us are the mountains beautiful and green, as if they’re miniatures that I could fascinate with. But those clouds were a treat. Such was the prize of taking a risk to touch the heavens and behold the creation secretly intertwined with our being.

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Photo Courtesy of Tina Sison

Picture taking and selfie sessions were not missed during this moment. While everyone was taking coffee, I gulped on my friend’s tomato juice. But, I couldn’t help but endlessly gaze at the sight around me.

When the time to descend had come, I secretly did not want to go yet. But I promised myself to go back one day and gaze once more at the sea of clouds with my own eyes.

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(Pictures on the peak courtesy of Highland Travel Crew. Thanks, guys, for challenging me to reach the top!)

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