Friday, December 26, 2014

Jesus Was Born a Camper

Just like the manger where Jesus was born, a tent symbolizes humility and survival. It is a testimony that wherever we may be and however hard a condition we are subjected to, a true green camper will get by.

Camping is having fun outdoors. But we must not forget that camping also means surviving without a home and a toilet over a night or three.

Camping could mean a chance to go wild and dirty on a four-by-four. But very often, camping involves trekking that could require twenty-four hours and twenty-four hundred meters above sea level.

Camping could mean a chance to flirt with someone in a group of two hundred. But sometimes it could mean finding someone you could trust your life with because you are going into the wild with just two individuals or at times, just yourself.

Camping could mean your personal exhibit showcasing the top-of-the-line shoes from The North Face and the most expensive tent from Eureka. But camping could sometimes be as primeval as making fire out of twigs and cooking rice in a bamboo shaft.

So you can go ahead and tag your wicked boss in a photo shouting you survived Mt Halcon or you could put your survival skills to the test by actually quitting that job you have regularly bitched about on your wall.

It’s really totally up to you. You could think of camping as picking the best view for a selfie and the vainest of lines to caption it. Or you could consider it an opportunity to picture your real self. It is a chance to find out whether you may survive even if another Yolanda levels your house to rubbles.  It is a chance to experience letting go and having the least and a chance to find happiness in the midst of destitution. After all, life is all about definitions.

Camping is Living!

So, Merry Camping and a Happy Living!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Drawbacks of Traveling Solo

A fellow solo traveler once expressed her sentiments on how constantly she is beset with prejudicial curiosity when traveling alone. The society, as it is, has this common notion that a woman needs a companion to somehow ensure her safety. So she asked whether there ever were drawbacks to being a solo traveler among guys. At that time I couldn't think of any until I had my most recent travel.

If there was one thing I could say I have fully developed in the ten years that I've been travelling, that would have to be my ability to get along with the locals very quickly. And this has been easily achieved because I travel alone most of the time. Being alone makes it less intimidating for the locals to deal with me. The connection you establish with the locals is essential in ensuring a fun and safe stay in a new place. I thought that was enough. I was wrong.

Your charisma and geniality lose efficacy when politics comes into play!
The mother is fishing amid the thundering Pacific waves of San Pablo Islandd
San Pablo Island, one of the twin islands off the shore of Hinunangan, Southern, Leyte was the last leg of my Leyte 360 itinerary. This destination is the least lustrous among the stops I made in this week-long journey. But I chose it to be the location for my birthday as it is unpopular and expectedly as immaculate as could be (the place turned out to be familiar with tourists). I just wanted to be with people who didn't know who I am and who didn't care about the significance of my travels.

The lovely beaches of Canigao and Limasawa had made the pebbly shores of San Pedro and San Pablo islands look like swamps. But trust me I had fun with the locals. I honestly want to tell you more of the fun I had during my two nights in San Pablo Island but the terrible experience I had in that place dims my mood to write a positive note of the place. So I will just be sharing that horror story that gave me my most ‘peaceless’ bus ride back home. My ears fell deaf to the playlist I was forcing myself to enjoy while in transit. Here is the story.
My humble birthday celebration: this was the fun part, before politics blemished the journey
When I arrived in Hinunangan from San Juan, I followed my travel protocol: log in at the municipal hall and barangay hall. I was actually accompanied by the boatman (who happens to be a barangay councilor in San Pablo) when I logged in at the barangay hall. One woman there posed with a certain air of distinction. We exchanged cordial smiles and greetings. I believed she was the barangay chairman so I thought that was already enough courtesy call. 

On my second night, however, the real barangay chairman came to the boatman’s house (where I stayed). He had heard of my presence in the island. In a polite tone, he was asking about my identity saying that he was just concerned about the security of his constituents. Unfortunately, I had lost all my ID’s along with my wallet that I left in a cab while processing my employment documents in Cebu. I do have a passport but I don’t carry it with me when I expect to climb mountains. And I had already surrendered my recent employment ID when I quit. My host reassured him that I had logged in at the barangay hall. He was appeased a little bit but after a few seconds I heard the most ridiculous investigation a traveler could have. “Naa ka’y dala nga cedula?” (Do you have a residence certificate?). When I said no, he preached that all travelers should carry a cedula with them when travelling. That’s when I reckoned that with that kind of leadership the backward community may take decades to progress. I was tempted to be sarcastically rude by asking the question ‘Katong puti nga laki ganiha gipangayuan sad nimo og cedula?’ (Did you also ask for a cedula from the Caucasian visitor?). But I chose to just apologize and say ‘Sige po. Next time timan-an na nako!’ (I’ll surely take note of that next time.) The conversation was not really as intense as we both were honestly feeling. We maintained an air of courtesy and we kept apologizing to each other for the inconvenience. When we said goodbye to each other, I suddenly remembered, I had my credit card and my two ATM cards that bear my name. I showed them to him and I was assured that would seal the drama off.

In the morning of my departure, however, he came to the house sooner than I woke up. He said that the chief of police had told him to escort me to the PNP station. And I was like, What?! I calmly said ‘All right.’ It was becoming an intolerable annoyance but I just kept my cool. When I asked how the PNP knew about my stay, he said that some locals may have texted the PNP! Wow the locals have the cell phone number of the chief of police and they texted him within that span of time! Nice try! But it doesn’t take a genius to know what really was happening!

His eagerness to cross the sea to personally escort me to the PNP station and miss the important barangay meeting they were to have later that day helped me formulate this theory:

He wanted to update his political resume. He wanted to add ‘He is the great barangay chairman who caught an insurgent at large!’ And this is the scenario that he was insisting on establishing using the lame premise that I couldn’t present a cedula.

As nobody actually had informed the chief of police of my stay in the island, he gave a 10-minute briefing to the chief behind closed doors before I was summoned. After seven days of travelling, I was already sunbaked and I definitely looked more of a bum than a traveler. The chief, with his prying eyes, started with the question ‘Waray ka mga ID dida?’ (Can we present any form of identification?). The barangay captain had told him I was a Waray. I said ‘Waray kay nawara ha Cebu’ (I’ve lost all of them in Cebu). When the chief asked me to tell him what I was doing there I asked permission to express myself in a language I was most comfortable with—Tagalog with a bit of English. During my litany, I showed him my bank cards and a playback in my camera of the places I had traveled in the last seven days. I told him that I was just trying to help the tourism department of Southern Leyte and he was grateful about this. I also dropped the names of the police officers that I made friends with in Limasawa and Cabalian. The consistency of my story which was delivered with a seamless voice reassured him that I was telling the truth. Shortly after my statement, he said that he trusted I was from Carigara because back in the day, he knew a Captain Lloren who hailed from my town. Then I was dismissed and he started giving me friendly remarks on my way out. When I asked about an ATM in the town, he told the barangay chairman to escort me to the ‘co-op’ where I could withdraw cash. In his humiliation and defeat the Brgy captain was walking ahead of me noticeably faster than on our way to the police headquarters. He had lost his face. But we were still superficially courteous and friendly. Like I said, I have mastered the art of ‘public relations’ in my more than one decade of traveling…and in his case, as a politician for I don’t know how long.

The drama ended quickly but the trauma was so overwhelming as to make me write this whole story in my mind on my way back home. In hindsight, I wondered whether things would have unfolded differently if I had been a woman…or a Korean. I think the premise that the chairman used to qualify me as an insurgent was that I was a guy and that I was a Filipino. I also wondered whether it was originally pride that spurred him to harass me. He was probably offended why he wasn't given proper respects or the honors to receive me. It must have been hard for him to accept that these were all accorded to a mere kagawad instead. I wondered whether proper identification would have sufficed if I had had one or would he still have found other loopholes just to get back at me.

And so I have resolved to keep traveling alone and keep encouraging others to do so. I am hopeful that through this campaign, more and more people will be made aware that some people do travel solo...and that we are not necessarily insurgents! So that eventually, people will stop asking the annoying question ‘Why are you alone?’ And ultimately, no crook and no ignoramus may use the myths of travelling rebels as a pretext to harass a traveler just to adorn his political resume.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Limasawa: The Most Underrated Island in the Philippines

one of the pebbly beaches in San Bernardo
As a rule I don’t start a story with the hackneyed ‘ask a question’ style. Most experienced readers abandon a story at the sight of the question mark on the first two lines of a write-up. But I see no better way to start this story other than a probing question. But as I have already given you this prelude, I have already saved my rule.

Limasawa! What comes to your mind when you hear the name? Most of us would think of the first Catholic mass in the Philippines. After that, nada! Some of us don’t even know where Limasawa is. I, for one, never knew that it was just south of the province where I grew up until my history professor taught us to put emphasis on the root saysay in Kasaysayan. Sadly, the DECS (now DepEd) of my time was more interested in feeding us with plenty of trivia instead of the saysay of each story in history. As long as I could verbalize a fact, that was enough. I never bothered to investigate where Limasawa is. And that is the reason why Limasawa had remained trivial, unlocatable and uninteresting for me for a very long time. And if you try, you’ll find out that Limasawa has also remained uninteresting to most travel bloggers in the country. But I don’t blog. I tell stories. So here is the story of a place which made me stay longer than I had stayed in any other travel destination.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mt Cabalian (the hidden mountain)

a panorama of Lake Danao
I went to Mt Cabalian last week! Now tell me if the name rings a bell at all. This mountain has never been heard of by Facebook climbers in the Philippines. That is the reason why it has remained beautiful and sacred all these years.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sibulan River: A Film Review on Princess Mononoke and Madagascar 2

this is what's left of Sibulan River in 2011 during the rainy season.

The year was 2010

First you read this…
If you are in Davao City and if you love river adventure, well, you are not that far away from this exciting wet and wild outdoor adventure. Whitewater tubing is already in the Davao region and it gives you more than the river escapade you crave for. The Sibulan River in Darong, Sta. Cruz Davao del Sur is known for whitewater tubing and has been a favorite destination by water sports enthusiasts, local and foreign tourists through the years. Often visited during summer, the place surely makes people wet and wild. Even frequent Davao City tourists come and take a plunge in Sibulan since it is very close to Davao’s southern boundary.*

But even before the destination could establish a name this happens…

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why I don't Organize Climbs

The First Lagataw Invitational  Climb

Sa tinagal ko sa larangan ng outdoor activities, I seldom organize events. And when I do, it is in small numbers. And many have asked why I always wanna go solo or minimalistic. So here’s the story!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stirring Images 2

The story by default
Some climbers enjoyed the view of Mt Apo from Lake Venado. They camped in the evening, partied all night and felt lazy to carry their trash back down the following day!
And then the image was posted on Facebook and there was a feast of opinions and criticism taken part in by everyone who knew everything!

The other version
The photo was taken during the yearly rehabilitation period of Mt Apo. Tourism office personnel gathered garbage and put them on the dry area of Lake Venado and carried all the collected garbage down the mountain after two days.

The point
Every image makes you a witness of just a millisecond of a long event. Don’t be too quick to tell the story. Let the real witness do that.

The heads up
Every story is just as good as how much the real witness wants you to know.

The untold story
The guy who took this photo was a climber who was not really part of the rehabilitation activity.  During rehabilitation, NO CLIMBER IS ALLOWED ENTRY into the natural park!

The lesson
Things do happen. The question is Can you make things happen?...You’ll get the relevance of the lesson if you’re among of the few who get my drift!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pang-siyam na taon ni Lagataw

Huwag mong i-selfie. Pagmasdan mong maigi.

Dear Charo,
Siyam na taon na ang nakalilipas simula nung ako’y dinala ng aking kaibigan sa kabundukan. Unang hakbang na nasundan ng may sandaang libo pa. Sa aking paglalakbay, marami akong naging mga kaibigan, pangalawang pamilya at pangalawang tahanan. Sa paglalakbay din na ito, marami akong natutunang aral sa buhay pati na mga pansariling kakayahan at limitasyon na dati rati’y di ko batid. Hindi ko sukat akalain na kaya ko palang matulog mag-isa sa kabundukan. Laking gulat ko rin nung nagsimula na akong tumakbo sa kabundukan ng may layong limampung kilometro o higit pa. At natanggap ko na rin na kahit anong pilit, hindi ko pa rin talaga masaulo ang karamihan sa camping knots.

Habang lumalakad ang panahon, ang mundo ko’y tila naiinat sa napakaraming sulok ng panahon kung saan nanatili ang mga taong aking nakasalamuha at mga lugar na aking napuntahan. Tila may bahagi sa akin na naghahangad na manatiling sariwa ang mga ala-alang ito. Ito marahil ang dahilan kung bakit di ko man lang naalintana na siyam na taon na pala ang nakaraan. Pakiramdam ko’y kahapon lang ang huling akyat namin ng mga Kuliglig. At si Alvin at Nixon ay inaasahan ko pa ring magyayayang pumanhik muli sa susunod na Sabado.  Ngunit kapag tumambad na ang realidad sa aking kamalayan, di ko maikailang halos limang taon na pala simula nung huli kaming magkasamasama ng mga Kuliglig sa bundok, si Nixon ay wala na, at si Alvin ay nasa ibang bansa na at kagaya ko na rin lang na patuloy na naninibugho sa tuwing may nakikitang larawan ng mga kaibigan sa kabundukan.

Ang Mt Lanaya sa may di kalayuan

Sa aking pangungulila Charo, ako’y nagtungong muli sa aking kanlungan dito sa Cebu noong nakaraang Lunes.  Tanghali na nung ako’y nakarating sa bahay ng pamilyang kumukupkop sa akin sa tuwing ako’y napapadpad sa paanan ng bundok ng Lanaya sa katimugang bahagi ng Cebu. Minabuti ko munang magpahinga mula sa apat na oras na biyahe. Tanaw ko ang dagat sa labas ng bintana at ang pagaspas ng alon sa dalampasigan ang siya namang naghele sa akin sa aking pagtulog.  Matapos ang isang oras ako’y ginising ni Kuya Rodel para mananghalian. Napakasarap ng tinolang isdang naghihintay sa akin sa hapag-kainan na sinabayan ng mainam na kwentuhan at kamustahan. Anim na buwan na rin ang nakalilipas simula nung huli akong dumalaw doon.
Ang aking bangka sa dalampasigan ng Alegria
Pagkatapos kong mananghalian, kinumusta kong muli ang aking bangkang nakaluklok lang sa silong ng bahay nina Kuya Rodel. Panatag ang dagat kaya napagpasyahan kong mamingwit. Sa ikatlong pagkakataon, nabigo pa rin akong makahuli ng isda. Marahil nabaling lang ang aking atensiyon sa ganda ng tanawin sa laot kaysa sa paghuli ng isda.

Sa wakas! Nakapag-camping muli!
Alas kuwatro nung sinundo ni Kuya Rodel ang kanyang mga anak  sa iskwela. Ako’y sumabay at namili ng pagkain sa bayan. Ilang minuto lang pagkabalik namin sa bahay ako’y nagtungo na sa burol na kung tawagin ng mga lokal na mamumundok ay ‘Windows Campsite’. Narating ko ang campsite bago dumilim. 
Mag-isa kong ninamnam ang sariwang hangin at ang ganda ng tanawin.  Tuwang-tuwa ako sa pagtatayo ng aking tent—bawat tusok ng pegs sa lupa, ramdam ko ang pananabik ng isang baguhang mamumundok sa kanyang unang akyat. At noong sinindihan ko na ang kalan wari’y isang genie na nakawala sa mahiwagang lampara ang ningas na nagbigay liwanag sa paligid. Labis ang aking galak sa mga sandaling iyon Charo. Pakiramdam ko’y nakapalibot lang sa liwanag ang aking mga dating kasamahan sa akyatan at nagkukwentuhan, nagbibiruan at nagtutugtugan. Isang ngiti ang pumakawala sa aking mga labi habang ako’y tahimik na nagninilay-nilay. 

Mag-isa akong nag-socials
Wala pang alas-diyes nung ako’y nagpasyang matulog. Tahimik ang gabi, tanaw ko sa bintana ng aking tent ang mga tala at dinig ko ang huni ng mga kuliglig sa paligid. Mahimbing ang aking tulog at mainam ang gising ko kinaumagahan. Habang pinagmamasdan ko ang dagat sa may di kalayuan hindi ko lubos maisip na may naghihintay na trabaho sa akin sa lungsod. Tapos na ang paglalakbay, oras na para haraping muli ang tunay na buhay. Ngunit isang tanong ang naglaro sa aking isipan habang nililigpit ko ang aking tent Charo. Alin nga ba ang tunay na buhay? Ito ba yung haharapin ko sa masalimuot na mundo sa lungsod o ito yung tinatalikuran kong payak na pamumuhay sa kabukiran?

Oras na para haraping muli ang tunay na buhay
Marahil sinadya ng tadhana na pansamatala akong naumay sa camping Charo. Sa ganoong paraan, natamo ko ang panibagong antas at kamalayan sa paglalakbay sa kabundukan. Napagtanto ko na kahit isang simpleng camping lang sa isang walang pangalan na burol ay nagiging makabuluhan dahil hindi na abala ang aking isipan sa pagnanais na may mapatunayan sa sarili at sa ibang tao. Sa pamamgitan nito, mas lubos kong napagmamasdan ang aking paligid at mas nalalalsap ko ang masarap na simo’y ng hangin. Hindi na abala ang aking mga kamay na kumuha ng mga litrato. Mas nais kong pagmasdan ang unti unting nagbabagong ganda ng kapaligiran kaysa ikulong ito sa apat na sulok ng litrato. Hindi na malaking isyu sa akin ang LNT. May mga pagkakataon nasusuway ko ang mga alituntunin ng LNT nang walang kalam at pagkabalisa dahil alam kong alam ko ang ginagawa ko. Hindi ko na hinahangad na mangolekta ng limampung bundok sa loob ng isang taon. Kontento na akong limampung beses kong puntahan ang kahit iisang burol na nakaukit na sa aking puso.  

At may kirot man sa aking puso, batid ko ang katotohanan na ang buhay, kagaya ng isang paglalakbay, ay isa ring paglisan. Dapat kong tanggapin na hindi ko kayang manatili sa Mt Timbak para pagmasdan ang paglaki nina Janelle at Harvey. Hindi ko magagawang alagaan si Nanay Lita na mag-isang nagbabantay sa tindahan niya sa may Buruwisan.  At marahil kakailanganin kong tanggapin na baka hindi na masilayan ni Tatay Lino ang aming mga litratong aking ipinangakong ibibigay ko sa kanya sa aking pagbabalik sa Barbazza. Subalit sa bawat paglisan, isang matamis na ala-ala ang manantiling buhay sa aking puso’t isipan.
Ganito ang buhay! Tuloy lang ang paglalakbay! Padayon Lagataw!

Lubos na gumagalang,


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lagataw Meets The King of The Mountain

KOTM's finishers' token 

The fact that I was funemployed gave me no excuses not to fly to Luzon and the fact that I had not participated in any ultra trail race in the country this year gave me the one big reason to register in the 3rd edition of the King of the Mountain trail race!

The road to KOTM

A colleague heard about my resignation and immediately messaged me about a three-week project in Canyon Woods in Batangas. So, I flew in from Cebu on the 27th of April. The place was just perfect for my training. This hilly private residential resort affords chilly fresh air, empty paved roads and an uninterrupted vista of Taal Lake! On May 1st I borrowed a friend’s mountain bike. I rode it all the way from Pala-Pala to Canyon Woods. At first, I was scared of highways so I took the Amadeo route instead of Aguinaldo Highway. That was my first official ‘padyak’ and it was 50km! Every afternoon I would have my regular jogs and bike rides in the village. The next weekend I rode the bike down to Laurel,and I waited for my training buddies Kevin Jauod and Rey Ali in Tanauan, Batangas. They biked from Dasma up to Tagaytay before joining me down at Tanauan. We rode around Mt Makiling through Batangas and Laguna before terminating at Christian Zamora’s carwash in Cavite where I returned the bike. That 100km bike ride took my ‘highway-phobia’ away! On my third weekend, I was again joined by Kevin and Uls Buelos for a late afternoon Mt Batulao run. It started smooth but in the uphill boulder section, my right calf got cramped. Kevin and Uls were timing me at the junction. Without anyone to assist me, I was precariously stuck on the 50-degree slope pinching on the jagged surface of the boulder but I managed to give my leg a little stretch and I moved on…but I moved cautiously slowly because my aching calves were continually threatening cramps! It took me about two hours to complete the loop right before darkness swallowed the mountain.
the hard road to KOTM

Then my project finished. It was time to head for Benguet.

I know how thin air can affect one’s performance so I capitalized on my being funemployed and found time to acclimatize to high altitude. Kevin happened to be out of work too so he joined me. A last minute text message came in from an elite runner and trekking friend Koi Grey. The three of us arrived in Ballay, Kabayan, Benguet (2100+ masl) late in the afternoon on May 20th. The rain made us forget about the scorching summer heat of Manila as if the near-freezing temperature of Ballay was not already enough. We stayed at the home of the trail running prodigy Josiah Ballagan. We played everything by ear afterwards. The only plan was to be at high altitude. 
funemployment @ >2100masl
The cold made all three of us lazy to sneak out of our blankets in the mornings. But we still squeezed in a few training sessions. On our first day, we climbed a mountain nearby. We were pounded by rain at the summit (2600+ masl). On our way back, we were dodging lightning bolts in the midst of the freezing downpour. And the thunderclaps were like the applause of the gods watching us. It was especially scary for me as I was always at least 500 meters behind. Josiah, Koi and Kevin were running effortlessly quick. Kevin would always be the one to stop and wait for me. And I thought to myself ‘These are the real racers. I’m just a wannabe.’ I was so demoralized that I resolved to just go to the race venue on the 24th and get my KOTM shirt and not join the race. On our second training day (May 22nd) we visited the four lakes in the area. It was a light trek but on our way back down, the three again showed me how technical downhill run is done. I was hopelessly trailing behind them ever careful not to get myself injured two days before the race.

most of the acclimatization was spent on this floor
Those were the two physical trainings we did before the race. Outside training sessions, we were either playing chess, pusoy dos, or practicing our headstands and other yoga poses. On the 23rd we headed for the race venue—Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya!

The Race

Training is fruitless without a good night’s sleep

When we got to Kayapa Central, Lendl Reyes, another Mountain Stride runner, was already waiting for us. He got us bed spaces at the parish convent. It was very difficult to find accommodation the day before the race so we settled for the convent basement. During the race briefing, I saw my Runlaon XL buddy Xerxis Tan. I asked if I could room with him, to which he readily assented. So instead of the ten-person room in the parish church, I spent the night in a room with Xerxis and the elite racer Thumbie Remigio. I was feeling awkward towards Kevin and Koi, but yeah, at times you gotta make compromises if you wanna give your optimum performance.

A mystery solved and a handful of newfound friends

The race started at 4 a.m. on the 24th. Koi and another Mountain Stride runner Rey Ali were there for moral support. There were 52 runners for the Old Spanish Trail (65km) and 64 runners for the Four Lakes (100km) at gunstart. I was at the tail of the lead pack during the first ten kilometers of the race but my calves started sounding the ‘cramp alarm’ when we reached the uphill section. Cramps had always been my obstacle in races. I had been trying to find a solution to this mystery: from yoga stretches to electrolyte drinks. But this time I tried the basic one—pure salt. Every time I was on an uphill section, I would slow down and swallow a pinch of salt. As I slowed down, Lendl who was also running the 65km distance caught up with me and soon after Kevin came from behind smiling. He said he started second to last. He was running the 100km distance while running a fever. When we got to the downhill section, I did my ‘hobbit run’ and I felt as energized as I was in the TNF100 Thailand. I sped past a lot of runners including a mountaineer friend Patrick Aquino until I got to the 17km aid station. I snatched an apple and gulped down a cup of Gatorade. Kevin followed asking for some tissue. He started feeling incontinent. I had none to offer him so he had to wait for Lendl. I went on with my ‘hobbit run’until I caught up with Xerxis and a newfound buddy Doi, a fellow Waray who was running the 100km distance. Doi and Xerxis would be my ‘packmates’ during most of the race. I never saw Kevin and Lendl again in the race. At 3km to the summit of Mt Ugo (the highest point in the race) we saw Marcelo Bautista running down with James Tellias just 50 meters behind. The trek to the summit of Mt Ugo was not really taxing for my muscles and my breathing thanks to my acclimatization and the spoonful of salt. I was the 17th to get to the summit, just about a hundred meters behind Reto, the runner from Switzerland. When we got back to the 17km AS (which was now the 24km AS), I assisted Doi in refilling his water bladder. As I felt lazy to refill mine, I went on even though I knew that the next aid station would be 11km away. That was mistake number one!
17th to get to the highest point of the race among the 116 starters 
A near-DNF experience

After like 7 kilometers I ran out of hydration. But I couldn’t be sure with my estimate so I convinced myself to find some water. As a rule of thumb, you don’t ask for hydration from other racers. Wait until they decide it’s a life-and-death case for you. Water was never really a problem for me because during my mountaineering days, I could sustain long and arduous treks with just 30ml of water. But during the race, I was still experimenting on my nutrition so I was paranoid that little hydration might contribute to cramping so it was more of a psychological strain than a physical one. When I saw a cluster of houses, I told Doi to go ahead. I went to the houses asking for water but no one was around except for a dog and a disabled girl who could neither walk nor communicate. I saw the same thing in my Benguet- LaUnion cross-country trek before—a child suffering from mongolism is left home alone with a dog while everyone else is farming. I was giving gestures outside the fence but to no avail. So, fearing that I might agitate the kid, I went on alone and psychologically thirsty. A few more kilometers later, I saw another cluster of houses…this time, with people. I was both so exhausted and excited to go down to the houses that I tripped and twisted my right ankle. Before I fell and screamed, I heard something close to the sound of a bone that snapped. I felt a short sharp pain in my ankle. Then panic came! ‘Damn! I’m never gonna walk again. I’m never gonna walk again!’ And in a split second, like a crumbling stack of dominoes, I imagined the phrases falling. ‘No more trekking’, ‘No more rock climbing’, ‘No more biking’, ‘No more trail running!’ I had never felt tragedy that intense before! I’m not really sure but I think out of desperation, I said a little prayer. Then I started feeling my ankle and moving it a bit. There was movement! I thanked God (I seldom do). Then a man helped me up. He sat me down and gave me water. Luckily there was a ‘manghihilot’ in the neighborhood. He massaged the affected area and pressed on about five points around the ankle and I responded with a grimace every time there was pain. ‘Wag kang mag-alala, wala kang bali. May naipit lang na ugat’ he reassured me. Then without warning, he gave me this most painful press on my ankle and twisted my foot inward. I screamed. But I felt much more comfortable and safer. I thanked him. That was all I could offer him. ‘Sa Diyos ka magpasalamat ading.’ Then with just a few teeth showing he started laughing and so did everyone else in the crowd. It was a contagious yet therapeutic laughter so I joined in. While watching other runners going down the hillside, I took a rest and walked around for a while feeling happy with my functional ankle. I was ready to accept my first DNF! Y’see, lack of hydration can lead to other problems even more serious than dehydration. 

I owe my strong finish to this guy

I don’t get tired: I just get cramps!

After enough rest, I left the neighbourhood and joined the other racers. I was on my way to the 35km AS and ready to declare a DNF. But as I was walking I felt almost no pain in my ankle even when I started skipping. I tried running and it was fine. I didn’t have to declare a DNF after all. Then I caught up with Patrick again ‘O, Adonis! Naligaw ka?’ ‘Hindi. Nagpahilot lang’. Then we arrived at the 35km AS around 9:45. Then I thought to myself, ‘35km in less than 6 hours! I can do an under-12-hours here!’ Xerxis was already there sitting on a table. ‘O, akala ko nasa top 4 ka na! San ka galing?’Nagpahilot lang dun sa mga bahay bahay sandali.’ It was a festive aid station. Everyone had a story to tell and plenty of food to thank for! Epoy, Patrick’s pace buddy was also there. He approached me and said ‘Tol okay ang time natin. Number 6 ako. Number 7 ka. Maintain nalang natin yan!’I was hesitant to give any reply other than a forced nod because I was still undecided whether to continue or to DNF before injuring my ankle more. Four runners left one by one. First it was Reto, then the Japanese guy, then Xerxis and then another runner. Then I remembered Sir Jonnel warning us how aid stations could delay a runner so when the clock hit 10:00 I invited Epoy to go on but he just said ‘Sige mauna ka na muna!’ It turned out they were still having some halo-halo made. The very helpful and attentive marshal there kept reminding every one of us that the next aid station was still 21km away (at Day-ap). So, learning my lesson from mistake number one I refilled my hydration bladder before leaving.
This was the most challenging part of the 65km distance. It was a long uphill trek to Amelong-Labeng. The steep ascent started after crossing the long hanging bridge. It was good for me because my injury was only affected by downhill movement. The first one I caught up with was the last runner to leave the 35km AS. Then I went past the Japanese guy…and then Xerxis. It was here where I learned a very important lesson in long-distance races—When the going gets tough, move slow but never stop. I noticed that Xerxis never stopped even though he was struggling to move up. As for me, the regular salt intake seemed to be working so I kept climbing. My legs are made for climbing. And unlike many others, I was not gasping for air. Soon after, I said hello to Reto. When the trail got flat, I started running fast and when it declined I started running faster. I sustained that speed for about 30 minutes until I caught sight of Doi again. I was relieved to know that I was in my pack again. But Doi quickly disappeared from view ahead and Reto was nowhere to be seen behind. I was alone again.
Reto and Doi after we found the trail sign beyond Buaka Lake

I did get tired!

I had already gone past two towers and I started to get impatient so I asked a farmer where Day-ap was. He pointed at the top of a hill across the valley in front of me and he said it was about three hours away. I started feeling tired. So I walked again. It was the first time I felt really exhausted in a run. But I was relieved. I knew what my optimum performance was. It was from this time on when I kept repeating my short prayer ‘Lord, give me the strength and the fortitude to finish this race!’ Then Reto came from behind with long strides. I continued dragging my legs and when the trail reached the road, I felt defeated. I was just purposelessly walking. I had no idea how long the road section was gonna be. I dread road sections. It really pays to study the course map beforehand. But to my surprise, I saw a girl waving her arm not so far away. It was the unexpected Castillo Village AS. Al, another housemate, was taking a rest there. The marshal said it was already KM49. I was like given this shot of adrenaline when I heard it. So shortly after having a sip of the water there, I started climbing up without refilling my bladder. Mistake number two!
Buaka Lake
Seven kilometers was way longer than I estimated. I got exhausted again as we approached Buaka Lake. There were four of us in the pack now—Al, Doi, Reto and me—all feeling exhausted by the distance and the heat of the sun. When we found the trail sign after Buaka Lake, Reto and Doi sped ahead. I kept walking. And it was downhill again. At the foot of the hill, Al chose to take a rest while the two disappeared in the thick uphill section in the pine forest. I kept dragging my legs and all of a sudden, I saw Xerxis and the Japanese guy again running down the slope. Xerxis was moving with amazing dexterity that in no way resembled his struggle up Amelong-Labeng. There was no sign of exhaustion on his face and voice. ‘Sa kanan’ he shouted from behind when I entered the wrong trailhead upwards. The landscape in the final uphill trek to Day-ap was very inviting. It was chilly and windy but I knew that sitting down would make me wanna sit longer so I moved on. It was a relief that Xerxis and the Japanese guy were already with me. I had to break the rule of thumb and asked Xerxis for water. More than just water, he offered even the chocolate bar in his pack. Yeah, I’m not gonna deny it: I was a leech to Xerxis that time. Then he told us that the Day-ap aid station was actually just less than a kilometer away. This news energized us so we climbed harder. Finally, we arrived at Day-ap! James Tellias who had DNF’ed due to ITBS was helping the marshals to attend to the weary runners at the aid station. I ate two morsels of adobo and the peanut butter sandwich that I had been hallucinating about while I was wearily dragging myself to this final aid station. All of a sudden the Frenchman leading the 100km distance was back at KM56 (now KM82 for him). Everyone was cheering for him, excited that he was about to set a new course record. In less than a minute he was gone again. Xerxis, who was still to travel 44 kilometers encouraged me to move on. ‘Swerte mo 9km ka na lang…puro pababa pa.’ I wasted no more time and I bade him goodbye. After a 4-km downhill run on a dirt road, I reached the highway. And it felt like I had just began the race. I ran faster than ever in the race until I arrived at the finish line! It had been a very good performance!

THE Organizer

I had initially planned to improve my 50km time last year but because of the lousy organization of last year’s event, I forewent this year’s TNF100 Ph. I still have two ultra trail marathons coming up this year but both are outside the country. Checking the local trail running calendar, I made no scruples in choosing the King of the Mountain. Apart from the catchy name, it was the organizer and his advocacy for Igorots that gave me the biggest reason to join the King of the Mountain trail run. KOTM has gained popularity among local and international trail runners due in large part to the wisdom of the man behind the event—Frontrunner magazine’s Jonel Mendoza. He is not backed by big corporate names but each race he organizes delivers more than what it promises! It leaves no room for whining and a lot of room for camaraderie and self-fulfilment. What I liked most about the race is that, you’ll never feel anonymous there. He and his wife will address you on a first-name basis at least five times at the finish line congratulating you, attending to your needs and getting to know you more personally. This personal touch of Sir Jonel runs all the way down to each marshal and member of the crew. It’s no wonder each and everyone in the race knows him not as ‘the organizer’ but as Sir Jonel. I had earlier resolved to quit running next year but I guess I’ll have to stall my retirement for a while to make room for another KOTM run…perhaps a 100-km this time.

Victory Favors the Prepared...and The Resilient!
I felt victorious not only for my very good time, but also because I was able to enjoy the trail and made a handful of new friends. I also felt happy for the success of my friends in the race. Xerxis finished 11th in the 100km and Thumbie came in 6th despite his ITBS. Lendl finished 14th in the 65km. But I guess the most worthy of praise is Kevin. As I mentioned earlier, he was running a fever during the race. But as Lendl recounted, Kevin waited for him at least five times to give him moral support and companionship. Lendl broke away after Amelong-Labeng and just gathered reports about Kevin from other runners. The last report he got was at Day-ap and it said Kevin was just sitting somewhere near Castillo Village. We were very worried that he had not arrived at 6am the following morning but we knew he was a fighter. I would have quit if I were him. Finally with a raspy voice and a runny nose, he reached the finish line after almost 27 hours placing 31st among the 64 runners in his category at the starting line.
Kevin happily eating tuyo after finishing the race

It has been a very wonderful experience. I have a lot of people to thank but I guess I’ll just send each reader a message that finishing a race takes more than just strength and courage! And that a DNF is never a sign of weakness. Congratulations to all the warriors in the race.
finishing in 12:33:12...this is arguably my best performance

Click here for the official results.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Outside Looking In

I saw the beauty of the Philippines. And beauty became familiarity. And familiarity became boredom. And that boredom ignited a feeling—a quest to see something new.
So I wandered far to see what’s out there.

'The last step!' I celebrate in my tense quietness. But the last step happens to be the most dreadful. So I keep fumbling with my travel documents and as I hand them to the immigration officer my hands feel cold. She engages in a tense talk with me, her gaze transiting from my face to my documents and again to my face. Then she goes into a room with my papers. After five minutes she comes out and tells me “Okay na!” (You’re clear!).

Those two words were the overture to my first international trip in February 2014.

I have seen the loveliest beaches in the Philippines and set foot on its highest mountains. But when the plane landed in Bangkok, I was filled with the excitement and joy of having come to a new place—a sense of anticipation reserved for the first-time traveler. This overwhelming ardor was my only companion during my six days in Thailand. It got me through the 50-km trail race in Khao Yai. And it lingered on in Ayutthaya as I marveled at the ancient temples that testify how rich Thailand’s history is. Finally when I visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho complexes in Bangkok, I knew what ‘grand’ means.

After seeing all the greatness of Siam, I felt ashamed for my country. It cannot match the tourism industry of its neighbors.

And this lamentation intensified when I chanced upon an American blogger’s open letter to the Filipinos. The blogger asks “What has the Philippines contributed to the world?” It was as scornfully simple as it was hurtfully honest. But as I pondered over it, I realized that the Philippines has nothing to envy about its neighbors. If I remember well, I never really enjoyed my visit to the Grand Palace. I was awed; I’m not going to lie. But as soon as I laid eyes on the temples, the excitement vanished. It was not something that I would want to go back to. And if I may add, I was particularly annoyed, to say the least, at the chaos of the crowd cluttered with tour guides speaking different languages. I just wished I could have the place all to myself.

the crowd at the Grand Palace complex 

In my travels around the Philippines, on the other hand, I can often enjoy the country’s natural wonders in peace. It may be hard to get to some of these places but once you’ve gotten there you’ll know that your effort is all worth it! There are more than 7000 islands in the Philippines to choose from. You will never run out of a quiet cove or lake in this country.

alone with my climb buddy somewhere in Benguet

alone with my guide at a crater lake in Ormoc

But more than the natural beauty of the Philippines, it is the friendship I make in these places that I keep in my heart. It is this ingredient of travelling that makes me want to savor each moment again and again. The Philippines is rich in people who will make your visit more than just an escape from work or the city. With them, travelling becomes more of a return to home.

And these people may speak a different language but they always find a way to communicate their friendship. I remember my Benguet-La Union cross-country. In the midst of the forest, I came upon a solitary house where an old couple lived. I was asking for directions when the old man, who spoke no Tagalog, told me ‘By and by, you see [sic] bamboo forest …” And I was just like “Wow! That was World War II English!” It turns out the farmer fought the war alongside the Americans. Y’see, anywhere in this country, people will go beyond linguistic barriers in order to reach out and help the weary traveler. And when the language of the tongue fails, we speak the language of the heart—a language expressed through a smile that says “Everything’s gonna be all right!” And this smile ushers in the Filipino hospitality.

The Ballagans of Kabayan, Benguet, who have become family to me
This is the answer to the blogger’s question! It is the Pinoy Smile that we have contributed to civilization. It is this smile that sets the Philippines apart from the rest of the tourist destinations in the world. You see this smile in every corner of the country—from the receptionist in your hotel to the street vendors around it. You see this smile among the farmers that till the terraces of Banaue and on the face of the boatman who will take you to the lagoons and secluded beaches of El Nido.

And this same smile gets us through any storm or tremor.

It touches.

It inspires.

So maybe the reason why we don’t have those grand historic landmarks is that our ancestors were not willing to contribute to the world a temple like the Pyramids, which were built upon slavery. Neither did our ancestors wish to stain history books with bloodshed from great conquests like Alexander’s. Instead our ancestors chose to busy themselves perfecting the Pinoy Smile and seeing to it that the Pinoy hospitality lives until today.

So if you want something more than just sights, choose the Philippines. Because when you do, you choose the Pinoy Smile! It is not a history frozen in ruins. It is not a sight whose beauty disappears as soon as you've seen it. It is a living history, well-crafted by our ancestors for you to experience now, and to keep in your heart for years to come.

And so I saw the beauty of the Philippines. And beauty became familiarity. And familiarity became boredom. And that boredom ignited a feeling—a quest to see something new. So I wandered far to see what’s out there. But, alas, I saw not what’s out there. Instead, I saw the gem that had always been inside—the incomparable Pinoy Smile!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How Pooping Outdoors Changed My Life

There's more to the Philippines than just beaches and dirty politics!
“Are we there yet?” My tone came with a tinge of impatience. “You tell me! You’re the one leading.” My dad said in jest. For a second it sounded like a blend of sarcasm and condescension. Being one of the best athletes in our city, I hated being patronized. I knew the only reason he put me on the lead was for him to catch me in case I fell. I chose not to give any response lest my voice betray my growing irritation. Somehow he sensed my resentment, so he said “It’s just a walk’s distance!” Y’see, good timing is probably not my dad’s best talent! My annoyance gave me this shot of adrenaline that channeled all my strength to my arms because my legs had all but hung purposelessly from my torso. Then I pushed myself up the trail with my trekking poles piercing the ground. But by some freak of fate, I stepped on a loose rock and my right calf got cramped. The pain was unbearable that I screamed “Fu#k!” The word was a warm congratulation to my frustration that had consummated itself into anger! I was so humiliated! I was in my prime and Dad, at fifty-five, was walking uphill without the aid of trekking poles. Yet there I was, looking like a lifeless object strewn carelessly on the ground. He casually sat down next to me. Then, staring blankly into the mist he said “You’re not the only one! Thirty years ago, at this same spot, I kept calling out Hello! Anybody there?’ shivering in the cold…scared…’’ after a short pause he turned to me and said “ashamed.”
the foggy trail up that nameless mountain in Atok, Benguet
“But I pushed on and saw a woman quietly staring at me in front of that house. And she gave me directions to the tower I was looking for!” Obscured by the thick afternoon fog, a house was indeed at the direction my dad was pointing at. For a moment, the pain disappeared and I managed a sigh of jubilation. Dad went on to stretch and massage my calf. “Feelin’ better?” I gave a nod that pretended to be angry. But Dad knew I was in a good mood again.

We resumed our trek and upon reaching the house, we turned right. About 500 meters farther was the peak with the tower. We camped outside the walls of the tower. After dinner, Dad told me a story that he said changed his life.

Thirty years ago, at the spot where we camped, Dad met a man named Elmer Basongit. He was the security guard manning the tower then. In Apo Elmer's childhood, he had a simple dream—to ride a plane! His father had always told him that for a child born to a simple farmer in Benguet, the dream to ride a plane was a fantasy no more realizable than the legend of Kabunian. But Apo Elmer was unfazed. He kept his dream alive in his heart and when he was in his twenties, he was among the three individuals who were chosen by the DENR to help in the reforestation and rehabilitation of Mt Halcon! And so he was flown from Manila to Mindoro. He had fulfilled his dream!

After his job in Mindoro, he came back to Benguet and raised a family. When all his twelve children had settled down, he quit farming and became a security guard. My dad never met Apo Elmer again.
a picture of my dad taken by Apo Elmer 30 years ago
The following morning, I woke up with an upset stomach. Dad told me to ask permission from the guard at the tower to use the outhouse. Sensing the urgency of the situation, the guard hurriedly opened the gate. When I pushed the loose door of the run-down outhouse, I saw a row of planks on the ground with a cover at the center. And when I lifted the moist cover, the stench was more than I could take. The drum under the planks stored all the dirt that fell through the nasty hole. I felt sick but I knew there was no turning back. It was a five-minute ordeal but somehow, I did it! When I came out I saw my dad giving me this grin that seemed to say “Thirty years ago, that same thing happened to me.” I still had no appetite so we decided to take pictures. The views were spectacular! The peaks around were like rocks jutting out of a vast sea of clouds! It made me think that indeed there was more to the Philippines than just beaches and corruption. And I almost did not notice—the field had been covered with frost. ‘Is this for real?’ Dad smiled saying, “They call this andap, it may look cute to you but the farmers in Benguet dread this. This lays waste to their crops when it melts!” Before having breakfast, I lingered on a boulder contemplating the beauty and peace of that nameless mountain in Atok, Benguet. I wanted to stay one more day but we had to catch our flight back to Cebu.
the sea of clouds that greeted us in the morning
Apo Elmer’s life story was so profound that it took Dad about ten years before he was able to come up with words that could justify its depth. Then one day, following the lesson that he learned from Apo Elmer’s story, Dad did what his heart wanted—he quit his job and focused on writing. In 2014, he joined a writing contest and his story about Apo Elmer won an award. That success opened a lot of doors to his writing career.

On our flight back to Cebu, I kept thinking about a very important lesson that I learned from that trip. It was the same lesson that had kept my dad optimistic and worry-free doing what his heart wanted. It was a conviction to start following my heart and stop worrying about failing and suffering afterwards because if I could survive that trek and if I could poop in that outhouse, there’s nothing in life I can’t survive!

Blogger's note: In case it wasn't obvious enough, this is a story written by my future son twenty years from now.

YOU deserve a holiday!
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