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

TOUGHEST MOUNTAINS 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.

MT MADJA-AS




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.


MT NANGTUD



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


MT BALOY-DAKU



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.

TEST YOUR LIMITS: Trek Antique!

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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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

MOUNTAINEERING, HIKING and TREKKING



Many of us have been wondering what the difference is among the terms HIKING, MOUNTAINEERING and TREKKING. I was in the dark for quite a while. I simplistically thought that because the name of the destination has the word 'Mount / Mt' in it, then it is already mountaineering. I later realized that many of the journeys we consider as 'mountaineering' in the Philippines are hikes. Many alpinists might probably not consider any journey in the Philippines as 'mountaineering'.


Many have wanted to establish the delineation among these terms but decided not to put it in writing either for fear of criticism or because of the confusing nature of some journeys that could be considered both mountaineering and hiking; or trekking and mountaineering; or all three of them.

The eagerness to criticize a certain set of standards or definitions usually springs from ego. Many Filipino outdoor enthusiasts have come to regard mountaineering as a superior activity to hiking and trekking (even before knowing the meaning of the terms). So when someone tells us that our 'Mt Maculot climb is a hike and not mountaineering', we often volunteer to hear 'It's JUST a hike' and we feel less 'astig'.  The truth is, they are apples and oranges. Would you think basketball is superior to baseball?


With that note, I hope the readers keep both a critical and an open mind, when reading my own definitions of HIKING, MOUNTAINEERING and TREKKING.


All three (HIKING, TREKKING and MOUNTAINEERING) are done outdoors and all three are done as a sport or a recreation. This means that a local, even if he traverses three peaks just to get to his home, is still not trekking or doing mountaineering. He's just going home or he has just bought some soy sauce.


Hiking is a journey amid beautiful scenery.
Trekking is a long* journey amid beautiful scenery.
Mountaineering is a quest for the summit.

*One may ask 'How long is long?'. Well, that would be at least 2 days under normal conditions.
** One might say, 'I struggled at the roped segment in Mt Batulao, is that a quest?' NO. Try Mt Halcon or Mt Baloy, you'll know what I mean by 'quest'. A quest for the summit (in the Philippines) should involve extreme physical struggle. You may be journeying for days in rugged conditions, with occasional rock scrambling, bush whacking, roped ascent/descent, river crossings, rattan spikes, and no guarantee for beautiful scenery or abundant water. The summit itself doesn't have to be picturesque. What's to be photographed at the summit of Mt Baloy or Alto Peak? All you have in mind is to get to the summit.


In both trekking and hiking, the goal is beautiful scenery. In mountaineering, the goal is the summit. With this difference, we can easily remove those journeys that don't involve the quest for the summit from the 'mountaineering' list.


Be warned, however, that not all journeys that involve summits are mountaineering. Treks and hikes can include summits as long as there is beautiful scenery in the journey.
In like manner, a mountaineering activity can also include beautiful scenery but it is not the goal, it is just a bonus.

Immersion is typically involved in a trek

While hiking and trekking seem similar, they differ in some elements other than the distance and the physical demand of the activity (which are vague parameters). One of these elements is that trekking typically involves immersion in remote communities and learning about their culture and practices. Another factor is that if the journey can be done comfortably within a day, it is not a trek, it is a hike. But a hike can also be a two-day journey. It just doesn't have to involve immersion.


With this simplistic set of definitions and differentiation, we can now classify many popular journeys accordingly. But, of course, there are still gray areas.

The list will always be subjective. You can make the list longer.


HIKES
Pulag (Amba-Amba)
Ulap
Osmena Peak
Mt Batulao
Mt Maculot
Pico de Loro
Mt Romelo 
Basically all climbable hills in the Calabarzon and Bulacan area except, Banahaw, Makiling and Cristobal

TREKS
Batad-Pula-Cambulo-Banaue
Kibungan Cross-country
Amburayan to Camp Utopia

MOUNTAINEERING
Mt Guiting-Guiting
Mt Mantalingajan
Mt Halcon
Mt Apo
Mt Namandiraan
Mt Sicapoo
Mt Baloy
Mt Madja-as
Mt Mt Nangtud


GRAY AREA
Mt Makiling
Mt Mariveles
Mt Tapulao
Mt Cristobal
Mt Ugo


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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Weekend with Asao Shimura

his first time to guide someone in the rain


After a two-hour ride from La Trinidad I finally arrive in Sitio Poking. It is a little hamlet of around a hundred houses that seem to be racing upwards on the slopes of a ridge that overlooks the sprawling undulating terrain of rice paddies liberally sprinkled with bamboo groves and clusters of subtropical trees. In one of these houses lives the family of Asao Shimura, a paper artist from Japan who decided to trade the convenience and exuberance of Tokyo with the humdrum and isolation of Kapangan.


The rain has not let up and Shimura-san, under the generous canopy of his blue umbrella, is already down the steps leading to his house. Stashed around his waist is a machete, the length of its scabbard handsomely agreeing with his lanky figure. His yellow shirt doesn’t attempt to hide his droopy shoulders but his loose denim pants working their way into his puddled boots somehow add an air of sturdiness to his precarious almost flimsy stance. He is in his full battle gear for our trek today!


‘Are you sure you want to sleep at Perico’s house?’ I have already read from one of Shimura-san’s miniature books about Perico’s cabin (that he loves to call CafĂ© Perico). ‘Actually any place where I could hang my hammock.’ And with a mocking smile he asks ‘In the rain?’ We head to the small local store across the road to get a bottle of gin and half a kilo of sugar. Concealed behind the assortment of saltines, candy, school supplies and a placard that reminds debtors to ‘settle their account,’ I can make out a middle-aged woman in a lively exchange of greetings with Shimura-san, with some giggles in between. She makes a call and tells us that Perico is nowhere to be found. I volunteer to carry the groceries as Shimura-san keeps fumbling with his phone, not to update his Facebook but to keep track of the time. This trait of measuring the day in terms of minutes still betrays his being Japanese in spite of the more than 20 years he has spent blending in with the Ibalois. Once in a while, his glance will move from the screen of his phone to my gear. With a tinge of condescension his eyes peer through the gap between his thick glasses and his forehead, vividly flashing an image of Dumbledore in the back country of Barangay Labueg. ‘You should wear bota!’ he quips ‘I wear these shoes when I run trails’ I reassure him. After one last look at his phone we head down the trailhead to Perico’s house.


The foliage shading the rolling trail affords a pleasant trek on an ordinary day. But in the rain, the trail could get really tricky….well, at least for me. As for Shimura-san, he charges ahead with no sense of precaution whatsoever on the slippery trail occasionally pockmarked by the hoof steps of cattle. And all the trekking tips and lessons on applied mechanics, traction and contact surface are summarized into a pair of bota!


I trudge behind him, making sure that my shoes steer clear of the little stream that has formed in the downpour, one hand negotiating with a tote bag slung onto the handle of my umbrella and the other keeping my camera safe from the rain. Eventually I surrender to the gully. There is an interesting sense of safety and adventure behind the filth of shoes drenched in mud.



‘Libo-o! Libo-o!’ He stops to take pictures of clouds dominating the horizon, as it were, fluffs of a downy pillow that has burst, and captured in slow motion, splendidly providing a hazy backdrop for the green meadows and rice fields. I am starting to get an idea of the untranslatable Japanese words ‘natsukashii’ and ‘wabi-sabi’.


We stop at a shack as the rain gets heavier. In Benguet, it is common to find houses empty in the morning as the farming locals are in their office-the fields, making their village seem like a ghost town whose stillness is disturbed only by the whistling of the mountain breeze and the occasional appearance of wide-eyed kids whose solemn gazes will follow your movement in an almost perfectly mechanical fashion. In their office they have a kampo where they can rest and have their lunch. Late in the afternoon they leave their workplace and the kampo gets empty. Shimura-san undoes the thread tied around a nail. He is a friend of the owner. Inside the shack we find a soiled spoon and plate among the clutter of sacks and farming equipment. Snugly thrust between the furnace and a makeshift window is a makeshift bed enough to sleep someone in a curled larva position or with legs dangling off the edge. 



Outside, there is a spout but the water flowing out of it has turned brownish due to the rain. The chickens are agitated. Somehow, they have come to associate the arrival of humans with food, or maybe with getting slaughtered and served as pinikpikan to guests. Overall it is a cozy little shack that has basic provisions for survival and a modest amount of sunlight to give you a pleasant wakeup call through the window. ‘I guess this will do for tonight.’ With a tone that hints a mixture of the relief that he can leave for home soon and the honest concern that I may not survive the night without someone’s assistance, he asks ‘Are you sure?’ He is not convinced by my affirmative answer. As the sky gets clearer he invites me to go to one of the houses about 200 meters away from the kampo to know Perico’s whereabouts. They too are clueless but after a couple of minutes of self-introduction we see Perico headed our way. He has been drinking.


We go down a few hundred meters further and we arrive at Perico’s house. It is a typical tin cabin secluded from all the rest amidst different trees including avocado, guyabano, coffee, and some bamboo. The reason for the pouch around his waist is revealed when he appeases the rowdy welcome of his chickens.

Cafe Perico


As soon as we get inside, Perico is already at the furnace preparing coffee. In Benguet, people are differentiated by three major dialects—Kankanaey, Ibaloi, and Kalanguya. The highlanders grow potatoes, carrots, broccoli and other highland vegetables while the warmer lowlands produce rice. But if there was one thing that all households in Benguet have in common, that would have to be coffee. Unlike pinikpikan which is only served on special occasions or when guests visit, Benguet arabica and robusta can almost always be found in the kitchen. As soon as Shimura-san finishes his cup, he bids us goodbye, feeling both relieved that I will be taken care of tonight and worried that the dark might catch him on the way.

The charm of the rustic life in benguet


The trickles coming down the tin roof as if they were fairies dancing to the the late afternoon chorus of cicadas and the nimble chirping of chicks, and the soot on the surface of half of the inside of the cabin that accentuates the haze of dusk give you this unblemished charm of the rustic life in Benguet.


Perico is delighted to have a Tagalog as a guest. He catches one of his chickens. ‘Kumakain ka ba ng pinikpikan?’ That’s normally their invitation to a meal—a question, as opposed to the prompt cupful when offering coffee. And ‘Pasensya ka na, ganito lang kami maglutong mga Igorot’ is a common part of the social graces before meals.

Perico preparing pinikpikan


After the sumptuous dinner, Perico tidies up the cot for me and he lays down layers of blankets and sacks on the floor. It is no use refusing Igorot hospitality; they are persistent in pleasing their guests. We share the gin over some local lore, jokes and Duterte politics. But the gin doesn’t taste good tonight so I leave it to Perico to finish. His repetitive sequence of the same questions and chuckles lulls me to sleep. Tomorrow we go to Kamboloan!



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tracing Iraynon-Bukidnon Trails (TIBT) Race Report


Rewind 2008, Kevin Jauod was just an avid reader of my blog lagataw.com. I met him when he joined me in a trek on Mt Arayat. Then during the Salomon X-trail 2011, I introduced him to my friend Koi Grey who organized him and his friends into Team Mountain Stride!

March, 2017, two months before the event day, the race director Kevin Jauod summoned all his courage to launch the first mountain race in Antique—Tracing Iraynon-Bukidnon Trails (TIBT). It was too late, in my opinion. I was thinking ‘lalangawin lang ang event mo Tito Kev!’ It was obviously a tremendous resolve for the race director.

I had my share of tough decisions to make. I was pondering whether to quit my job and relocate to Visayas again or stay and see my projects in Benguet prosper. Monday (May 22nd) I booked my ticket to Caticlan and an exit ticket to Cebu. I had finally decided to leave Benguet which had become my second hometown.

May 26th Koi and Kevin picked me up at the terminal in San Jose, Antique. It was a reunion of sorts. Y’see our unorthodox ways of living make it difficult for us to be in one place at the same time. And now we were all going to be part of the first ever mountain race in the whole province of Antique, home to three of the toughest mountains in the country—Kevin had requested that I take charge of the race briefing. In the evening when we got to the race venue, I was surprised by the preparation that the local community had done. The stage was elaborately designed; the local dancers were doing their final rehearsals; the program included a list of names of notable government officials and organizations. What I had previously considered as another ordinary low-profile race was going to be a big event in the province of Antique. I was utterly impressed by the effort and involvement of the local officials particularly the Punong Barangay of Barrio Maria in Laua-an, Mr Dongdong Alonsagay. He treated TIBT as his own. He put a lot of heart into it. And this dedication was evidently contagious among his constituents.

May 27th (Day 0) 0400 hours, I reconnoitered the whole 21-km route covering the towns of Laua-an and Bugasong together with the very dedicated course setter Jonathan Sulit and another volunteer. Jonathan remained at Aid Station 2 to conduct a final meeting with the marshals and local volunteers. I returned to the start line 2 hours before the race briefing—all panicky and pissed. Taking the perspective of a novice, I decided that the course was too tough. I strongly recommended the omission of the vertical ascent section but Koi opposed it pointing out the traffic that would result from an out-and-back route. Tito Val, who had been in Antique for two months to support Tito Kevin in his first big project, quickly took the role of an umpire saying ‘Madali lang yan Tito Adonis! Tatabasin namin mamaya yang mga talahib na yan at tatadtarin namin ng trail markings yung sinasabi mong nakakaligaw na part!’ The pabebe perspective had made me forget that I was with the Titos, who are made of heart, passion and grit. My mind and body cooled down after a quick shower. We had decided to keep the original course.  It was time for my very first race briefing.    
May 28th (Race Day) 0400 hours. It was my 36th sleepless hour (probably 48th for Kevin and his girlfriend Kara). The 21km runners left the start line at 0430hrs, the 11km runners at 0500hrs. While Kara and Kevin felt a bit relieved when all the runners had left the start line, this day proved to be very stressful for me and Tito Ed who were left at the registration table. I could see the very tired Kap Dodong carelessly sprawling on the couch in the barangay hall. Hans, the very energetic master of ceremonies during the pre-race activities went off to document the event on the field. Tito Val and Tito Jonathan were on the aid stations with most of the volunteer marshals from the Organization of Simsiman Mountaineers most of whom came from Iloilo. Tito Reyn and Tito Koi were running the 21km distance. Tito Ed and I had no choice but to take charge of the finish line activities. Tito Ed took care of the timing system which Tito Reyn (of Grit Multisport) prepared while I was on the radio with the MDRRMC of Laua-an monitoring the runners for the two distances.  Tito Ed and I both handle people in our respective professions so we were not very open to each other’s opinion and suggestions. It was not very easy for the two of us to collaborate in an emergency assignment. But we found a way to pull it off in the name of the achievement and success another tito.

As one runner crossed the finish line after another, I was overwhelmed by the positive remarks I would get from them. I was expecting they’d comment about the heat and the toughness of the course but all I got were ‘nami’ and ‘namit’. It turned, out none of the fifty-six runners were pabebe. Except for three racers who decided to opt out of the race due to physical discomfort, all of them crossed the finish line within the set cut-off time.  And much to our satisfaction, no one strayed off course. The podium finishers were shockers. A 54- year-old local farmer crossed the finish line in his boxer shorts just 4 minutes behind the champion of the 11km category (who was the champion of the Salomon X-trail 32km race in 2016). The champion of the 21-km category crossed the finish line ahead of the 3rd finisher for the 11km category! He was also the champion of the Salomon Xtrail 24km distance. Koi settled for 3rd in the 21km distance. Among the six female podium finishers, four were first timers on the trail. Two of them (from the Boracay dragonboat rowing team) were just persuaded to register on site. I cannot not mention one notable runner who refused to receive the finisher’s medal. He maintained that he was able to finish a tough vertical race this year but the 11km course of the TIBT proved tougher for him. He resolved to come back for the second edition and rightfully earn the medal. When the last runner crossed the finish line Kevin, Kara and I gave each other a tight hug, signaling that it was the end of all the stress!
Looking back, TIBT was an overwhelming success in spite of it being a perfect candidate for a disaster. Kevin isn’t your ideal race director. He hates the microphone and he sucks at organizing. However, apart from his efforts to knock on doors of the many benevolent sponsors on very short notice,  Kevin exceled at surrounding himself with the most dynamic and proactive of people. Whatever incompetence he has at organization is buffered by Kara’s OCD. While there was so much lack of preparation, Kap Dongdong and Hans came to the rescue.  And thanks to the exemplary efforts of the MDRRMC (Laua-an) and the different mountaineering groups that comprise the Organization of Simsiman Mountaineers, and the unwavering support of the Titos, the runners were kept safe and all went home with a painfully sweet experience and a strong resolve to come back for another TIBT!

The overall satisfaction of the guests and participants was enough to compensate for the sacrifices, the exhaustion and the financial loss that the local officials and the rest of the organizers and volunteers had made.

The success of the TIBT can serve as an inspiration to everyone that despite all the odds, you can still succeed if you just put your heart, passion and grit to whatever you want to achieve!


We all deserved to celebrate the success of the event on the remote and very beautiful Seco Island.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Life's a Decision


exactly 2 years ago
Exactly two years ago, I started my ultimate journey. I had just finished working at a construction site in La Trinidad and I had just secured a letter of introduction from the office of the governor. And here's what I had to write on my journal*.


I leave La Trinidad for Tublay today. I feel apprehensive and hesitant. Perhaps because LT has become my comfort zone. I feel secure, comfortable, and certain here. But perhaps I'm just feeling the way everybody else would. Only, I'm more open to changes. I don't resist change as much as ordinary people do. This is nothing new to me. I've felt this when I decided to quit my job in 2011 to try farming in my hometown (but my boss called me up again after a few weeks and gave me an irresistible offer so...). It was repeated when I quit the same job in 2014 to try the BPO industry; and once again when I left that industry after 3 months to embark on this journey. 
My pack and everything in it when I embarked on this journey

I guess what makes it easy for me to make big decisions is my belief that whatever life path we take, we will all just survive somehow. It's human nature--survival instinct. The reluctance to change is just a phase. So even though I feel apprehensive about what's waiting for me in a place I only know by name, even though I think it so irrational to leave a place that has become my comfort zone, I'm leaving anyway!
It's been ten days since I came to Benguet. Working at the construction site and Bagsakan and spending three nights on Mt Timbak surely taught me a lot of priceless lessons. Kuya Salvador's** work has inspired me and convinced me that a man just has to wait and take his time and eventually realize what potentials nature has provided him with. We just have to focus on the opportunities it presents and stop fixating on its limits.
At the construction site, I learned how to appreciate and admire the work and capabilities of construction workers. Our modern jobs do make this world a different place. Yes that's the term--different--not necessarily better. The notion of a better place is just a product of impatience and lack of appreciation of what's at present. We forget the the present is a present (a gift) and our ego has taught us to aspire after something bigger and we motivate ourselves with the words innovation and progress to which we have arbitrarily ascribed positive connotations, when in fact everything is relative.

working at the construction site, I had to carry rocks up this narrow sloping alley
Construction workers build houses. I think a shelter is a better output than figuring our how the 'like' button can increase visitor engagement. 
At one instance, I also saw some preachers with their little boys and girls going from house to house trying to share the word of God in an effort to save as many souls as they can. But I think carrying rocks every day and working with the earth trying to save lives by providing as many men as they could with shelter is no less noble.
Man has made this world so complicated that what's essential has already gotten relegated.
It was a good feeling to have been able to appreciate some work by actually taking part in it. And it was  a splendid feeling when ninety days and 350 kilometers after that day full of anxety and apprehension, I had been able to accomplish by far my greatest and most successful mission as Lagataw.


*This little yellow book was going to be the blueprint of my first book. But up to this day, I have not started writing it.
**Kuya Salvador is the owner of one the highest homes in the country. It is located in a very hostile environment--no running water (they rely on rainwater), very rocky ground. In spite of all these impediments, the locals have found a way to turn that hostile land into a productive vegetable garden. Just last year, his humble home which swayed in the strong monsoon has already become a mansion of sorts.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kapangan-Kibungan-Bakun Traverse (KKB) 2



On the dewy fields are the chickens, trying to catch the unlucky early worms. Down the fields is the mist mimicking an ocean foam brewing from the chasm that splits the Tacadang plateau and concealing the four waterfalls lining the walls of the ravine. Above the mist are the rice terraces partially silhouetted against the rising sun beyond the mountains.
 

This was how Day 2 of our 65-km traverse from Kapangan to Bakun started. And it was heartbreaking for Noi to have to leave this place too soon. He was the only Tacadang virgin among the six of us. Yet we had to move on. Mt Kabunian in Bakun was still a long way to go. The plan was to catch the sunset at the summit.



As we approached the border between Bakun and Kibungan more and more breath-taking views tried to stall us. At this point, only Ronald and I had previously seen the scenery. Fortunately the other three--Jepoi, Aljun and Erwin--had already been indoctrinated into my for-your-eyes-only travel principle. They couldn't agree more that it was futile to try to capture the grandeur of the scenery on a jpeg image. Some of them would sometimes just stop and and shed a teardrop gazing at the awesomeness of the panorama. I always tell my companions to quit trying to freeze the moment on a photograph. You lose the connection to the place and the intimacy of the experience. What a waste! We often forget that we go to places for ourselves--for our own experience and growth.



But many have hopped on the bandwagon, pointlessly extending the experience to others by hoarding pictures to share on Facebook. It is not bad to take pictures as long as you make sure that you have truly experienced the authenticity of the moment. And so Day 2 started with a glorious sunrise in Kibungan and ended with the same sun setting beyond the very rare sea of clouds in Bakun.


Sea of clouds as seen from the summit of Mt Kabunian
It was a trek dotted with so many Instagrammable moments that on our second day, Day 1 felt like a week past. We wouldn't quickly remember what we had for lunch or dinner during the previous day or where we had them. And these moments, including the Sitio Paraiso + Sitio Impyerno combination on Day 1 made the trek enjoyable even though it was undeniably tough.


The team dubbed this spot as 'Sitio Impyerno' due to the scorching heat of the noon sun.
There were only six of us. The five guests were among the fifteen carefully chosen Lagataw trekkers who received the exclusive invitation. Ronald, a triathlete, had previously joined the tougher first edition of KKB (Mt Tenglawan exit). Aljun had joined the Tacadang Circuit and the Tacadang Traverse; Jepoi had two Tacadang traverses under his belt plus a Mt Tenglawan Extreme; Noi, just Tenglawan Extreme and Erwin, Tacadang Traverse. And these trekkers are not among the noisy ones on social media.  Erwin would hardly strike you as the trekker type. It was a small team. The KKB is mainly about the genuine goal to share a very beautiful experience. It is never about the figures. It is quality over quantity.

The A Team, clockwise from top left: Ronald, Lagataw, Jepoi, Noi, Erwin, Aljun

The success of this bold attempt to condense this long expedition into two days and two nights was due mostly to the well-crafted itinerary.  I realized that making an itinerary is actually a skill. You don't just Google an itinerary and copy-paste it to your event page. There should always be ample knowledge of the destination and the capacity of your companions. Without putting into consideration the aptness of your team to your itinerary, and without taking care of the logistical preparations beforehand, your expedition is bound to fail. I am very proud to have been able to put together a strong triathlete like Ronald and a pot-bellied Erwin in the same condensed itinerary, maximizing daytime experience and providing a good night's rest.


The high risk factor of the route is the reason why the team had been carefully selected
Another big factor was the discipline of the team members. The expected chemistry of the carefully selected team made any pre-climb meeting unnecessary. We all did not do as much training as we did during our previous treks together. All of us already knew how to handle a Lagataw trek so we were all psychologically conditioned. I am most proud of Aljun and Erwin for having been able to quit smoking about two months before the trek. Aljun had been smoking for ten years! And this is one of the many things that motivate me to keep organizing Lagataw treks--the knowledge that I am able to create a positive change in the participants.

Almost done!
The expedition was a big success I had to thank the participants individually on my Facebook wall. And we didn't even celebrate. I think that's what we unconsciously develop in Lagataw treks. The celebration is the moment itself--the trek itself and not after it--just like my 90-day solo thru-hike in Benguet in 2015, no hype, no publicity, not even a bottle of beer, no nothing afterwards.  Through this at-the-moment celebrations a better self and a unique fellowship are forged, which somehow explains why previous Lagataw trekkers can't be stopped from joining another Lagataw trek.


It was a simple closing gesture for that long journey -- no jubilation, no hype, just the overwhelming gratefulness and praises to the Almighty for granting us a wonderful experience. 

For those who want to be part of this epic journey in October, watch out for the qualifying treks on my Facebook page.

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