Tuesday, November 21, 2017


at the world's best airport
Filipinos travel a lot nowadays. Expressways get congested during long weekends. Yuppies now have more extra cash for travel. And some have already started going off Philippine shores. But still many hesitate to try overseas travel for two main reasons: logistics and cost. The fear of not knowing what to do once we get to a foreign land still haunts many of us like it used to scare the generation of our parents who would just avail of the services of travel agencies and tour operators if they wanted to go on an overseas trip. And many still think that it is very expensive to travel abroad. But the world has changed a lot. And these things that still hold us back should already be matters of the past.

In my next series of posts, I'll be giving you tips on how to do DIY backpacking while not burning your wallet.

It should be noted, however, that at the time of writing, I have just started backpacking. My first overseas trip was in 2014 and since then I've traveled to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. My advice may not be relevant if you want to go backpacking in Europe, America or Australia.

To make your travel worthwhile, consider answering for yourself these four questions.

1. WHEN?
It helps a lot when you pick a special time to travel. It gives additional motivation for you to really carry out that planned trip. In my case, I try to do it every year sometime around my birthday. I find it a good way to celebrate my special day. Most of us give ourselves a leeway to spend a lot during our birthday. Some try to treat all their friends to a booze-up till the break of dawn. I prefer treating just myself to an experience that will help me learn and grow as a person. I try to experience different cultures.


I prefer to put together 3 or more countries in one journey. If there's one possession of mine that I want to get dirty that's my passport. I love to see many stamps on the pages of my passport. They say you wouldn't know a country if you only spent a few days at its tourist destinations. I say I've lived in the Philippines for more than 3 decades but I still don't know all of it. It doesn't have to be your goal to fully know one country's geography or culture. Getting there alone is already something. Being there will definitely create a change in you. And that's basically my goal.

3. WHY?
awe-struck by the wonder that the hands of the ancient man have created
A few people travel abroad for special reasons like a Thai massage training at Wat Pho or Ayurvedic Medicine in Sri lanka. But most of us travel to other countries for the usual reasons. To see monuments or to try different foods and sports. In my case, I love to see the wonders that the hands of man have made. I love to see ruins of great empires. I also love to see the creations of contemporary architects and artists.
mesmerized by the creation of the hands of the modern man

4. WHO?
travel only with thy betters or thy equals; if there are none, travel alone - The Dhammapada
I love traveling alone. I believe that 'more companions' means 'more chances of your trip getting ruined.' I hate wasting (time, money and energy). But honestly, when I find myself alone in the monuments I'm visiting, I always wish that some friend or a family member was there. I always think that the happiness I am feeling when I'm at a good place would be greater if I was sharing it with someone dear to me. So pick the right companion or travel alone.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why I No Longer Take Part in Outreach Projects

There's a reason why I wouldn't give this Igorot guy a pair of slippers
I am not some big corporate guy. You probably make more money than I do. But I find a way to help others financially, not that I feel I have a moral or divine obligation to do so. I just feel that it's the right thing to do, but most importantly, because I am a product of philanthropy myself. I was on scholarship from high school 'till college. And this example of my benefactors helped me see the universe as a product of meaningful accidents or fate and fortune. It was an accident that I was born a Filipino citizen that's why I was not eligible for a working holiday visa when I was 25 and wanted to pick apples in Australia for a living and a holiday. Some Yoshihiro could do that because he was, by fate, born in Japan. And he could earn 3 months' worth of my salary, (just working at 7-Eleven in one month) because he was accidentally living in that society. But we can't just whine about our fate and envy others' fortune. We can choose to emancipate ourselves from this bondage of fate, and eventually make our own destiny. The inspiring story of Apo Elmer, whose dream to ride an airplane was realized all because he did what he was born to do--farming--and firmly believed in that dream, is a good example of making one’s own destiny.

Josiah Ballagan has a similar story. He was just doing what he was born to do--run--when I met him at their home on the foothills of Mt Tabayoc in Benguet. I saw his great potential as an athlete so I registered him in The North Face 100 (50K, CamSur) in 2011 where he finished 4th. It was his first trail race. It was 50km and he was still barely 17 then. In 2012, he finished second in The North Face 100 Baguio (50K). That same year, with the help of the Philippine Skyrunning Association and the benevolent Nestor Fongwan, the then governor of Benguet, I sent him to the Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon in Malaysia where he finished just 37 minutes behind the world champion Kilian Jornet. His outstanding performance in that international race prompted the governor to give him a full scholarship at Benguet State University. Four years after that run, he earned a college degree and now he has a job.

I prefer this idea of effecting a change—where you focus on an individual instead of a big community. I am not a fan of one-time-big-time outreach programs. Sometimes, the proud selfies of the donors last longer that the slippers they donate. Like I said, I am not some big organization. I can only effect a very little change in this world. I cannot help a whole community in a long term case. But with the help other little hands and small pockets, I can help create a lasting change in an individual.

And this year, we've seen two individuals brimming with talent—the elite runners from Antique, John Ray Onifa and Rene John Ello. However, little hands and little pockets can only afford to help one individual so we've chosen Onifa. We saw his running caliber when he breezed through the 21K race in Tracing Iraynon-Bukidnon Trails in Antique. Through the help of some individuals and organizations (who I really want to mention here but whose preference for anonymity we need to respect), the proceeds of the lagataw shirt was able to support Onifa in two of his trail races in Luzon—the Salomon Xtrail 32K and Soleus Cross-Country Challenge 12K- where he emerged champion (in both events).

Seeing the talent of this promising athlete, the office of the governor of Antique, Rhodora Cadiao (coincidentally a party-mate of former governor Fongwan of Benguet) through the Provincial Youth Development Office headed by Rexon Nodque, gave Onifa a job and a scholarship grant. Onifa couldn't contain his joy when he heard this news. He couldn't believe that great things could come just by being the best that you can be—whatever you are: a farmer, a fisherman or a runner. After TIBT, he has added more trophies and titles to his already large collection, the most recent of which is the Milo Marathon qualifier in Iloilo. But we want to extend this feat overseas. We're sending him to The North Face 100 Thailand in February 2018. And we need more small hands and pockets.

In this world of meaningful accidents and fate, you can choose between two things—you can be one who firmly believes in your dream and tries to be the best of who you can be, or you can choose to be the wind beneath that believer's wings.

Join me in sending Onifa to the finish line in The North Face 100 Thailand 2018.

dri-fit; neon green

Get a piece of this limited edition shirt. When you wear this shirt, it may not remind you of a mountain that you have conquered or a monument that you have visited. But let this shirt remind you that you have helped in creating a lasting change in this world.

Even the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane halfway across the Earth.

For details, visit our page on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ANTIQUE TRILOGY: The Toughest in the Philippines


Push your limits eh?! How about limit your push? This sure would be the case if you were ever in one of the three mighty mountains in Panay!

There's been a lot of hullabaloo on social media as to which mountain's the toughest in the Philippines. Some even have devised a set of standards to qualify and quantify the toughness of mountains and trails in the country. Many say Halcon is the toughest. Quite a few say it's Guiting-Guiting. And still some would insist it's Sicapoo! Whatever it is, I still reiterate “There really ain't any mountain in the Philippines that tough. It is you who make them tough.”

Please don't misunderstand the statement above. I'm saying there isn't any mountain in the country so tough that you won't be able to climb it. 

But there are definitely mountains tougher than the others. There is gradation among mountains...gradation according to toughness. But mountains belonging to one band or grade only differ in difficulty relative to the hiker and his itinerary, among other factors. One hiker may prefer Ambangeg-Akiki as his knees are cut out for walking up rolling terrain and running down steep slopes. Another hiker who is strong enough to climb steep slopes but whose knees aren't built for fast descent would prefer Akiki-Ambangeg route. A rock-lover would say that Madja-as and Halcon are tougher than Guiting-Guiting but a root-lover would say otherwise, if you know what I mean.

With that said, I would like to introduce three mountains that belong in whichever grade Guiting-Guiting belongs in. And these are the three mighty mountains of Antique—Madja-as, Nangtud and Baloy-daku. Geographically, however, only Madja-as has its peak in Antique soil but all three have convenient access points in Antique. If you wish to climb any mountain in Antique you have to coordinate with the office of Mr. Broderick Tra-in. He is the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council head of Antique (at least back in 2010). He has received numerous Kalasag awards for his outstanding performance in rescue and disaster prevention. A mountaineer himself, he is one of the founding members of Antique Mountaineering Society Inc (AMSI), an active mountaineering group in the Visayas. It is a blessing that I had had a lot of experience in the mountains of Luzon and Mindanao before exploring the mountains of Panay Island. The terrain is hostile. Antique offers you the scorching heat of the sun in the lowlands and the really thick, mossy, misty rain forest up in the highlands. Most mountains are prone to landslides and you’ll often have to engage in a very precarious trek on a long open ridge before approaching the summit. So if you want REAL challenge, head for Panay Island.


This mighty mountain presides over the town of Culasi in Antique. The ideal jump-off is at Flores. Joshue (Oswe) claims to have established the Flores trails so he doesn't allow hikers any entry to Mt Madja-as without him as a guide. But he has grown old now, although still strong enough to lead you. Another entry point is Brgy. Alojipan and the main man there is (Ta)tay Dimas. When I first saw this mountain from sea level back in 2006, I was amazed by its imposing height. I failed to climb it then due to the sudden physical discomfort of my companion. Last March (2010), though, I was lucky to set foot on its summit thanks to the team organized by Haji Tandog of Antique Mountaineering Society Inc! Some claim that Madja-as is the highest mountain in Panay. Some put it in number two, just a few meters under Mt Nangtud. And still quite a few put it in number three after Baloy-daku. This discrepancy may be best resolved by an individual climbing all the three mountains using just one dependable altimeter. Until now, no one has done such a feat.

The horrors of Mt Madja-as

1. The trail
   a. It’s looong
   b. Tinangisan trail (the first phase of the trek) is long and steep and open. Trek it in under the sun and you'll curse the maker of the itinerary.
   c. Deep into the rainforest, the mossy ground is slippery.
   d. If the ground ain't mossy, you're gonna have to deal with loose soil and rolling pebbles.
2. The summit is almost always cloud-capped. When you're up there, there's hardly any visibility. And it's always moist.
3. Unpredictable weather conditions near the summit. They say Madja-as trades heavy rains for your noise.
4. Unfriendly vegetation. The rainforest is thick. You'll have to negotiate the thorns and the roots that block the trail. You'll have to go over, under and through those Jurassic roots. They're really nasty. Trust me.
5. Limatiks. Not so many though
6. Bangin...a lot of these. In some parts, you'll be walking on edges of slippery boulders. At another, you'll be testing your balance on an open, narrow and long ridge. At still another, you'll be forced to trust the flimsy rope that your guide brought with him...the same guide who'll scare you by making you realize how vertiginous the cliff is.


The ideal entry point is Barbaza, Antique. In a sitio called Lumboyan, mention the name (Ta)tay Lino and you've got your guide. Just like Brgy. Flores, mobile phone signal is not that good in Lumboyan. The best way to contact these guides is to get your ass out there where they live. They're always there anyway and there are less than 200 voters in these places so everyone knows everybody else. I summited this mountain in October, 2009 alone with two guides. Yes, you’ll need two. You can’t be assisted at river crossings by just one guide. It was the first time I asked myself "Why do I climb mountains?" It was the first time I used a makeshift trekking pole. My thighs failed me. Mt Nangtud is popularly believed to be the highest point in Panay Island. The trail to the summit is very established. Although, unlike Mt Madja-as and Baloy, it has no known established traverse route other than the link to Mt Madja-as. There's plenty of water sources and the guides are really helpful.

The horrors of Mt Nangtud
1. The trail
    a. It’s looooong…longer than that of Madja-as. You start almost at sea level
    b. It has its own version of Tinangisan trail--a long, open cogon trail. But before you get to this cogon ridge, you'll have to take your chances up a steep wall of loose soil.
    c. Talahib. Get your body covered.
2. Bangin. The cogon ridge itself is vertiginous on both sides. I actually slipped. But the guide was quick enough to catch and pull me up. A more dangerous trail is a long, narrow path alongside a steep wall before you get to Camp2.
3. River trekking. Four hours of negotiating the current and rocks will blister your sole and cramp your legs. It is NOT easy to cross a river…not a stream. This is legit river. It's not the depth...it's the intensity of the current and the instability of the stones you're stepping on.
4. Limatik. tolerable


Probably the toughest in the Antique Trilogy, Baloy records the fewest successful summiting. Some sources say IMC conquered the mountain back in 1997 and confirmed the presence of a small lagoon nestled in the highest peak. This information has recently been debunked by locals of Valderrama, Antique who set "mohons" (boundary markers) between Antique, Iloilo and Aklan, saying there is no body of water nor flat land of any kind at the peak. It's purely thick mossy forest.

There are two convenient entry points to Mt Baloy. One is in Calinog, Iloilo via sitio Karatagan. The other is in Valderrama, Antique via Brgy Sn Agustin. I took the Calinog entry point last October (2009) but me and my buddy could only go as far as sitio Karatagan. We couldn't find any guide there. In Calinog, the imposing image of Mt Baloy is clearly visible but it would break any hiker's spirit, as it resembles an immense vertical wall that you would find it difficult to figure out which route to take. I took the Valderrama route in March 2010 but our team still failed to summit due to hostile weather conditions as we approached the summit. If you ever wish to take the Valderrama route, it is best to coordinate with the tourism officer (Chester Regondon) or a local mountaineer Kevin Jauod (0906 262 9321). They have a detailed overview of the trek. They have summited Baloy on separate occasions. However since very few, if any, local guides will be willing to take you up the mountain. Turn instead to a mountaineer from Iloilo Joanathan Sulit (0927 253 8172). He has taken some groups all the way up to the summit. He knows the secret to a successful Mt Baloy summiting. But he’ll check the profiles of the contingents before saying YES. If he suddenly gives excuses that means someone in your group is not fit for a Mt Baloy climb. PICK THE RIGHT BUDDIES.

The horrors of Mt Baloy
1. The trail. The trail is almost exactly the same as that of Nangtud. The first phase is a four-hour river trek…then a nearly vertical ascent along the slope of an open ridge then a 3-hour trek on a long, open, narrow cogon ridge. Then you’ll have to camp at a peak (Camp2). Then you’ll have to trek the narrow treacherous ridge that connects Baloy-gamay to the adjoining peaks to Baloy-daku. The only difference is that this is a strenuous CONSTANT ascent. No downward trek before Camp 1 and Camp 2.
you can bypass this uphill area and take the Brgy Busog route.
2.  River trekking. The same as that of Nangtud
3. Snakes. Had three sightings during our trek
4. The summit is very elusive. The summit is always cloud-capped at certain times of the day. Locals say, rain pours when mortals try to approach the summit. The village captain, who joined in the laying of boundary markers a few years back, said that they were pounded by the rain at the summit. Last April (2010), we saw a pile of twigs and leaves that marks the spot where a local fugitive died trying to hide from the authorities. He purportedly murdered someone in the lowlands. The guardian spirits of Baloy don’t admit tainted souls.
5. Bangin. Aside from the ‘Cogon trail’, there is the Bitas trail—a long narrow stretch of open ridge right after Baloy-gamay
6. Limatik. Plenty of them. Chester practically bathed in Off lotion, detergent and bath soap during our climb in 2010.

Here's the deal! 
I have done Luzon 3-2-1 and Mindanao1-2-3. I've climbed Guiting-Guiting overnight. I’ve (traverse) run Kanlaon, Pulag and Apo within 10 hours on separate occasions. But I’m telling you, none of them can compare to a trek in even just two of the three mighty mountains of Panay taken as a combo, let alone all three of them at the same time. There was a recent Madja-as – Nangtud combo. And the participants cannot exaggerate the ordeals they had to deal with. Nangtud and Baloy are the real deal! You start at sea level and you negotiate all the kinds of terrain a tropical country could have.


Jonathan Sulit (Talahib Eco-Trekkers; Iloilo): 0927 253 8172
Kevin Jauod (Valderrama, Antique): 0906 262 9321
Paulino Fano (AMSI): 0909 324 1431

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mt Baloy-daku: The Fourth Attempt

The foreboding cloud-capped summit of Mt-Baloy-Daku (Baloy-Bahul) as seen from Baloy-gamay during my second attempt in 2010

Like I said in my earlier post, for a very long time, I really thought that everything I did in the past was mountaineering, as long as there was ‘Mt’ or ‘Mountain’ in the name of the destination. This month I have finally come to terms with the fact that mountaineering doesn't seem that appealing to me anymore as it used to. Or maybe, I am no longer fit to be a mountaineer.

Y'see about three months ago, I had booked my round trip plane ticket to Panay Island. I was set to climb Mt Baloy-daku in Valderrama, Antique from Sept 14 to Sept 18. All the logistics had been set and my guide was all prepared. But at the last minute I called it off. Mt Baloy has been my long-time mountaineering nemesis. I had failed in my first three attempts to get to its summit. This time, I failed to even get to the jump-off point. Two days before my flight to Boracay, I resolved to just relax at the beach and not proceed to Antique.

The thought of the ordeals that I have to go through in Mt Baloy was enough to deter me. I could no longer see the point in negotiating the mighty Dalanas River countless times; or bear the heat of the sun while being flagellated by the blades of cogon and the spikes of rattan; and taking chances with the snakes, the vertiginous cliffs, the sudden hostile weather condition, and depletion of water--all for the single mission to get to the summit. And I realized this is probably the meaning of mountaineering. You STRUGGLE just to get to the SUMMIT. This time, I said NO to the summit and yes to the beach. But in the end, I didn’t go to the beach either. I decided to stick to my weight-loss training regimen for my upcoming trail race. I chose rock climbing instead. And boy did I sweat hard!

the limestone walls of Cantabaco in Cebu

Perhaps I’ve been pampered by the scenic trails of Benguet. They require endurance and strength but unlike mountaineering, they won’t subject you to a lot of physical and psychological torture. Instead, they provide tantalizing vistas for your eyes to feast on. The difference between trekking and mountaineering has become clearer to me.

But why have I been putting a lot of placemarks on the uncharted regions of Kalinga on my Google Earth lately?!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ultralight Backpacking and Minimalism

We’ve been hearing a lot of fuss about ultralight backpacking lately. And I am a bit annoyed when the weight of each item in your pack is detailed to the last 0.001 gram. But that’s just me.

However, I just want to point out that I am concerned that the focus of the naive audience may be confined in the issue of weight alone. It’s not totally bad. I go for minimum weight myself. But minimal weight is not really an end in itself. In my case, it is just a by-product of an ultimate goal. And my ultimate goal is MINIMALISM. Minimalism should not be confused with ultralight backpacking. Minimalism is the pursuit of achieving something with minimum or zero aid. The ultimate goal really is to rely on your body alone. It wouldn’t be minimalism to carry a proud 5-kg load that includes an ultralight sleeping pad, an ultralight camping chair, and an ultralight power bank.

Some say I was irresponsible trekking for ninety days on my own without safety equipment such as a rope, a first-aid kit, or even a compass. But I was just being me. And [ME]= [my body, wits and spirit] not my compass and other gear. 

This recent fuss about ultralight backpacking seems to be shifting the goal to how smart you could get at improvising stuff or how rich you are by being able to buy expensive ultralight gear. I'm sure this is not the intention of the proponents of ultralight backpacking but the admonition to be FIT and EXPERIENCED has been accidentally relegated.

Again, it’s not wrong to pursue minimal weight on the load you carry. I just suggest that on top of your mission to keep the weight of your load to the minimum, it would be great to keep training—to keep honing your skills—to reach the maximum potential of your body—so that ultimately, you won’t have to rely on a lot of gear, so that in the end you can rightfully say ‘I did it!’ and not ‘My ultralight gear did it!’

Yuji Hirayama, a three-time record holder for the fastest ascent on El Capitan's The Nose, echoes two of my main guiding principles in trekking:

1. Rely on your body more than your gear.
2. Travel only with thy betters or thy equals. If there are none, travel alone.

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