Friday, April 22, 2016

Happiness is real when it is ORGANIC

Some people profess ‘I climb because I love the mountains’ or ‘I climb because I wanna achieve peace of mind’. But it appears these are all empty clauses that they have gathered from the many hours they have spent loitering on Facebook pages and groups.

I find it amusing how some new climbers leave the city with the pretext of seeking solace in the heart of Mother Nature when in truth, they can’t live a single second without their city life. They head for the mountains with thoughts still stuck on their city friends—their IG and FB audience. So, a quarter of their backpack is occupied by a camera, a smart phone, a portable speaker, a charger, a monopod, a power bank (things that their parents can’t even name) and a whole lot of props for their ATM posts—a make-up kit, a bottle of wine or probably a Spiderman costume.

These are things that make their climb fun. These are fertilizers for their happiness.

And this leaves me wondering ‘Why do some people need to outsource happiness?’ Why can’t some people be happy without a bottle of Red Horse that they even have to order their local guide in Mt Tenglawan to go down and buy another case of beer when they run out of booze at 2 am at the camp site? Why can’t some people relax when they can’t smoke a cigarette? And others have to have marijuana to attain good vibrations. Why do some people need a loud laugh to warrant that the joke was hilarious? Why do some people need a joke to be happy? Why can’t some people stop looking for electrical outlets every time they reach a house or a store in the mountains? Why can’t some people stop looking for signal every time they hit a take-five spot? Why do some people leave in order to stay connected with the people and things they’ve left?

It is true telecommunications have made us all stay connected…whenever, wherever. But we’ve failed to notice that as we try to reconnect with the people and places that we have left, we lose our connection with the place we have come to and the people we are actually with.              

Why can’t we just be indigenously happy?

Stop looking for happiness elsewhere. You can find it within you and around you.
Let’s learn to hear the music of the rustling leaves, the whispering breeze and the chirping birds.
Let’s get intoxicated by the cool sweet taste of natural spring water.
Let’s marvel at the panorama of the landscape right in front of us and post it in our memory.
Let’s enjoy the quaint little conversations with the locals whose stories remain frozen in time.
Let’s learn to enjoy a story without pictures for attention.
Let’s savor the peace and quiet of being alone.

I guess I’d have to disagree with another empty clause adopted by many outdoor enthusiasts. How could happiness be real only when it is shared? Does that mean you can’t be happy alone?
I think happiness is real when you don’t need anything that is not present. It is real when it is derived from you alone and the place you’re in. Only when you’ve achieved indigenous and organic happiness can you truly share that happiness. The people around you will feel that you, in fact, are happy. And this happiness becomes contagious.  Happiness should be real first before it can be shared.

And happiness only becomes real when it is organic.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Waking up in this room during my four-month assignment in Batangas always heralded a good day.

One question I find hard to answer these days is ‘Where are you?’ Y’see, I change locations almost every week.  When I’m in Benguet, I could be in La Trinidad, Kapangan, Kibungan or Buguias. When I get tired of the mountains, I take a little respite at my brother’s apartment in Laguna, or my sister’s in Cebu or back home in Leyte. My previous job as roving supervisor still sometimes makes me feel like I'm in Angeles, Baguio or Batangas. Some of my friends have learned to put the word ‘now’ at the end of the question. And it makes me feel amused at how ‘unnormal’ I have become.

There have been many mornings when I’d wake up to the sight of a familiar cabinet or the sun rays piercing through the curtains of the window. And the sight signals a certain routine for the day. I’d look for the stairs and expect Tatay Sabido to be preparing breakfast only to realize there is no flight of stairs. Then I’d guess again, maybe I’m in Daddy Marzan’s house in La Trinidad. Then I’d hear a dog sniffing through the gap below the door. Only then would I realize I am in Laguna. It takes a few minutes for me to gain full consciousness of my location after waking up.

It makes me sad a bit when the realization sinks in—the realization that today, I won't be slacklining in Canyon Woods, or that I won’t be spending time with Frenzel—the perky little boy who would jump over me in bed asking for my smartphone for games or for my laptop for movies while Daddy Marzan prepares breakfast.

But I think this is a preview of the belief I adhere to—Pantheism—in which I am everywhere at any time. I have defied the limits of time and space.  I have contained and retained in my consciousness the presence and the ‘presentness’ of the people I love and the places I’ve been to. I always feel like I’d be with them any time I want to. And this turns my nostalgia into a happy deep thought. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

LAGATAW Epiphany Treks

Trekking changed my life a lot. I have already mentioned in my earlier post how I found God in the mountains. And recently, I made a strong finish in the Kibungan Mountain Marathon.

But apart from the physical and spiritual strength that I gained from my ninety-day trek around Benguet, I’ve had the most remarkable growth and realizations in life.

My friends always wonder how I have been able to get by being unemployed for almost a year now. But traveling alone and traveling beyond tourism, I have learned the craft of gaining the trust and friendship of the locals. I change locations almost every week but it is never a problem for me to find free food and lodgings in any town in Benguet. In exchange, I give whatever service I can render. I was on my 65th day, in Buguias, when I had this liberating realization that I was already living the life that the leftists have been wanting to achieve—a life free from politics and commerce. Only, I achieved it without taking up arms against the government.

Living with the locals, as in doing what they do and eating what they have on their tables, has given me another perspective on life. I was amazed by what my two hands are capable of doing and creating. And in the simplicity of their living, I found how it is possible to live a good life—not necessarily happy but definitely free of the unnecessary worries and follies of the urban society.

I have already shared some of my routes to a chosen few. And one of my invitees told me a very inspiring story of how the trek changed his outlook on life. When he saw the long arduous process that rice has to undergo from the paddies to the locals’ plates and when he found out that the kids have to traverse many peaks for at least two hours just to get to school, he realized that he was still fortunate after all. Y’see his son, in addition to his recurrent seizures, has trouble retaining new memories and newly learned skills. But his experience during the trek made him realize that he has a lot of other things to be thankful for. It’s not that he thinks the locals have bigger problems than he and his wife do. It’s just that, the locals have shown him how it is possible to refute the reality of problems or hardships. Problems in the city such as tedious manual work, power outage, and walking far and long are the way of life in the little hamlets we passed by. And the locals manage to live this life with a smile and an extra plateful of rice for the weary traveler.

So before I start farming in Leyte in mid-2016, I would like a few qualified individuals to have a taste of this epiphany. I have designed itineraries for three trekking routes (in Benguet) that are less physically demanding than the Lagataw Invitational Treks but are just as beautiful and eye-opening. They are a good way to start your new year right.

1. Sitio Paraiso Trek    
    (2 days 1 night; January 23-24)
        Physical demand: Comparable to Pico de Loro / Batulao / Maculot
        Aesthetic factor: 4 stars (If Mt Pulag without the crowd is 5 stars)
        Epiphany factor: 6 stars

2. Camp Utopia + Sitio Paraiso Trek
     (2 days 1 night; January 30-31)
        Physical demand: Comparable to Arayat traverse (2x) / Ambangeg-Akiki (Pulag) traverse
        Aesthetic factor: 5 stars
        Epiphany factor: 5 stars

3. Tacadang Trek
    (3 days 2 nights; February 6-8)
        Physical demand: Comparable to Tawangan-Akiki (Pulag) traverse / Batad – Barlig (Amuyao)  traverse
        Aesthetic factor: 8 stars
        Epiphany factor: 6 stars

General specifications for the trek are patterned after some of the general principles of ecotourism:
- Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors.
- Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in the host community


NO Smartphones / Internet during the trek (we leave your comms at the municipal hall)
NO music (focus on the music of nature)
NO tents (we stay at local houses, where you get much of your epiphany)
NO Liquor (we drink local tapey or basi if you want to and if there’s some available)
You may bring a camera but I highly discourage this. It is better to focus on your experience with the place and the locals than to busy yourself looking for some vistas to capture on your camera. This way you can go home with a beautiful story that can paint a beautiful picture for the listener.
And when you do take pictures, make it as clandestine as possible when locals are around. We are not going there to remind the locals about what they don’t have. We are going there to find out what we’ve been missing in our busy lives.
A maximum of SEVEN (7) guests can be accommodated in each of the treks
Online screening with respect to your physical capability and your attitude will be done
More details will be posted on my Facebook page.

You don't need to be a 'mountaineer' to be a part of any of these treks. In fact, I prefer non-mountaineers. You just have to have positive attitude and a burning passion for new experiences. 

If you’re looking for beautiful pictures of the destinations in this post, you are not ready for an epiphany. Go find a Mt Pulag trek on Facebook!

Monday, November 16, 2015

KIBUNGAN MOUNTAIN MARATHON 2015: The Chronicles of a Warrior

THE race of the year for me
The 2015 Kibungan Mountain Marathon has been my only trail race this year and it was totally worth the wait! I am not an avid racer: I pick the races I join. You won’t see me in road races and in trail races which are primarily flats with a twist of sunbathing or sand swimming. So I was heartbroken when I missed the KOTM this year due to geographic constraints. Thankfully The Kibungan Mountain Marathon was put off to a perfect time!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Before Sunrise

She rises and walks to the edge. She steals a glance back. Less lewd than a Wink but effective enough to beckon Him to follow.

The conversation transitioned from dried fish to coconut oil to hemorrhoids to the President.

The question was simple, finite. Yes or No? He answers the Invitation

Its oddness made its simplicity profound. Profound and Criminal.

Every smile with an invitation to kiss, a taboo; every kiss an abomination; the remainder, unspeakable.

And when darkness swallowed the silence, their sweat challenged the humidity of the tent.

On her mouth a hand, tasked to suppress a sound—born a moan, escapes a whimper.

The rhythm, carefully controlled—slow, intimate, impatient.

And With a consummating clench, they surrendered to the Explosion!

And it was a good morning.
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