Thursday, August 14, 2014

Another small world

It has been ages since I last posted an entry but my recent trip to Italy reminded me how small this world is. A week before I left for Europe, I met the owner of an art gallery in Manila. Silvana mentioned that her daughter lives in Florence and maybe I can meet her while I am there.

A pity that I only had a short time in Florence, that I was not able to contact her. But as I was checking out of my hostel in Firenze. The receptionist said Salamat po. We started chatting and Rosa mentioned that her best friend is Pinay and that she has been to Manila twice. She narrated places that she is familiar with. And also casually mentioned that the dress she is wearing that day was given by her friend's mom.

Fast forward, when I went back to Manila, I added Rosa in Facebook and was surprised to see that the gallery owner was a common friend. Guess what? Rosa's best friend is the daughter of the gallery owner.

Rosa was also surprised when I told her the story and she asked "Is Manila small?". I laughed and I said yes with more than 10 million people. Small world indeed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mt Apo - Philippine's Highest

Mt Apo, the Philippines’ highest, has been an elusive mountain for Nadine and I. We have been planning to climb it since 2012. Beginning of 2014, we planned to climb it in January, our birthday month. But there was bad weather at that time in Mindanao so we had to cancel the trip. But after that postponement, we made a promise to ourselves (my kaibigan actually made a promise to me J), before the year ends, we will climb Mt Apo together. And so we did.

Less than three months later in April, we found ourselves in Davao City with our backpacks, trekking poles and ready hearts. All set for another adventure, both of us are going to remember for a lifetime.

We arrived in Davao city on Araw ng Kagitingan, April 9, interestingly exactly four years after we first met in a camping trip in Caramoan. Our guide Albert met with us at 6pm in the D Counter dormitel to brief us on the three-day climb. After which we decided to buy last-minute items in Gaisano (raincoats, gloves).  Gaisano is a throwback mall with displays which made us feel we were in the 1970s. We had early Kilawin dinner and some drinks before calling it a night.


Prost to friendship!

We woke up at 430am on the next day (April 10) in time for the 5 am pick up in the dormitel. Albert introduced us to Roy, our main guide. We then picked up the big group and departed for Kapatagan at around 6am. We arrived in Kapatagan Travelers’ Fastfood around 9am, bought our packed lunch and also had our breakfast there. We waited for the vegetable truck that will pick us up  and take us to Baruring, the jump off point. As we sat on the truck, I looked at the clouds and they looked promising (Been monitoring the weather report before going to Davao).  I have been praying for good weather for this climb since there was an incoming tropical depression and in the middle of April! This mountain has been elusive for so long that we kept the faith that it is time to reach the summit.  


Our P15 breakfast

The first hour of the trek took us through traditional farmlands and small communities with natives who are probably used to the sight of backpack-laden climbers passing by. After an hour or so of walking through villages, we started our ascent in the jungle of Mt. Apo. This is the part where I felt the weight of my 12kg backpack and the lack of proper ramp training prior to this climb. After a while, my body adjusted and maintained a steady pace. 

The vegetation became denser as we climbed further and our main guide Roy’s mood began to lighten up. He became talkative, introduced us to the creatures in the jungle and shared his many climbing experiences. He has already climbed Apo so many times, he lost count. When we reached the lunchbreak area, everyone welcomed the customary break.


Majority of the first day of the hike was mostly through dense jungle. I was amazed how huge the trees were and how dense the jungle was. Roy pointed us some unique tress endemic to the Mt. Apo National Park.  The weather was not so hot and there was even a slight drizzle in the afternoon. We arrived on the first campsite at around 3:30 in the afternoon. Nadine and I immediately pitched our tent and mingled with the jovial bunch of guides and cooks who have lots of stories to share. The cooks prepared a very delicious Sinigang na Baboy that night! A nice treat after more than five hours of uphill ascent. Salamat gyud!

We were told that the second day of the hike will be more challenging. And it included an 87-degree wall or was it 89-degrees?! But the scenery was worth every sweat. After an hour or so of trekking on the second day, boulders began to appear on the trail. As we reached a small dried-up creek, one of the guides told us that we are nearing the boulder section. And the sight of the boulders upon boulders amid sulfur vents, transported me to a different world…a different planet. Truly, Mt. Apo is a unique mountain with its out-of-this-world giant boulders and sulfuric terrain. With the two-hour or maybe three-hour of boulder trekking, we savored every bit of the adobo that the cooks prepared for lunch. Thank God, the weather cooperated with us on the second day, just enough shade but at the same time the sun would peek once in a while to show us blue skies amidst the glorious landscape.

No words for this landscape



After lunch, boulder trekking resumed and we reached the old crater and rested there a bit. I remember how the mist floated on the surface of the lake… is truly a magical place. Felt so blessed to have reached a place, what only a few people (ok maybe a handful) have. This is a point in the trek where we literally paused and spent a moment to reflect.  Nadine and I did not talk about it, but I felt this is a very poignant point in the journey. A time to pause and reflect on this amazing journey so far (not just Apo).   


After the crater lake, the summit was less than an hour away  (by walking of course). Our timing could not have been more perfect that as soon as we reached the second campsite and as soon as we pitched our tent, rain poured. Heavy rain poured that we were afraid, we are going to get soaked since water was going inside the tent already. (Watch your head!)

Since the rain did not stop until dinnertime, the “Kuyas” were nice enough to bring our food to our tent and we had a small pasta picnic inside the tent. And we also brushed our teeth (not inside the tent) but inside the vestibule amidst laughter.

We called it a night early because we will wake up early to catch the sunrise on the next day……. in the highest point in the country! After the heavy downpour the night before, I was not sure if we will see any sunrise. But God had a nice surprise for us, He blessed us with a very beautiful sunrise at the summit of Mt. Apo. We enjoyed the 360-degree view from the summit which showcased the silhouette of Samal Island, the nearby mountain ranges and the seemingly perfect cone of Mt. Matutum. So blessed we are.  

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Glorious sunrise

 The trek going down on the third day means that we will cover the same distance we hiked up in the first two days, in just a single day. Going through the boulders again did not diminish their grandeur the second time around. But going down was quite a challenge for our knees which have been subjected to two days of climbing already. We felt like we zoomed by the jungle part and arrived at our jump-off before sundown. Nadine and I saw a small church on our way down and offered a prayer of thanks to God for an awesome and safe climb. After drinking soda at the first sari-sari store at the foot of the Mt. Apo, Nadine and I headed to Baruring passing thru the communities again at dusk, singing a childhood song….It only takes a Spark in two languages.     

I know going up Mt. Apo is an experience we will always treasure until we are Omas (Grandma in Deutsch) along with so many other memories……..…until our knees would not allow us to climb summits anymore……. Mt. Apo was definitely worth the wait and the challenge. Thank you Albert, Roy, Jun, Adel and the rest of the team! Grateful to God for this experience of a lifetime for me and my best buddy who deserves a big big hug especially today.