An obligatory highway shot at a stopover. Winding roads are simply my thing. (L-R: Joanna, Randolf and I. Photo by my ever patient and generous companion Joanna)
We arrived in Baguio in the wee hours of the morning of January 18. The temperature had somewhat been a harsh wake-up call that we should be prepared for what lies ahead of us. The rest of the participants for TF’s Pulag adventure filed sleepily down the Victory Liner bus while we were led to two jeepneys that would bring us to several stopovers and the base camp. Jannyea, my sister and I sat disoriented in the pink jeepney that had leopard print seat covers while we waited for the others to get to their proper jeepneys. Baguio was quiet. Baguio was freezing, and yet it still remains as one of my favourite cities in the country.
Eventually we rode off into the darkness, towards Good Taste restaurant where we were supposed to eat breakfast on our own account. I only got to sit down with Joanna and Randolf at Good Taste, as they had been duly placed in the blue jeep.
We got down to the business of filling our stomachs with good eats and we ordered two wanton mami, three plain rice, a bowl of sinigang for sharing and everything is good for all of us five. It cost us Php270, a happy reminder that Baguio is the home of cheap and satisfying eats.
“Maybe we should order eggs?” I ventured to the group, yet Ate said that they can only boil 20 at a time, and we decided to risk it. However, the same Ate said that the eggs won’t make it in time; so many orders were coming in. Okay, we said and made quick stops to the loo before hopping in to the jeeps.
We were on the road for so long and in the dark that I haven’t had the chance to breathe in the rugged beauty of the North that had always attracted me. I have been to the North much more than I have been down south, stretching from Zambales up to Sagada either for leisure or work purposes and it carried a certain smell that I always found comforting.
At DENR while waiting for the briefing to begin.
We arrived at DENR office in Kabayan, Benguet. We were told that DENR stopovers are mandatory for logging and briefing purposes, and so while we waited for others to finish their briefing, we had paid for our post-climb certificates and joked about our Pulag fantasies. The briefing took around 15 minutes which was filled with sassy and pointed remarks from the DENR Park Superintendent Emerita Albas. As per her presentation, activities that are not allowed up at the mountain include, but are not limited to:
- Playing of loud music
- Making noises
- Drinking alcohol
- Making love out in the open (because the members of the IP community consider this disrespectful)
Also, don’t say you weren’t sufficiently warned.
As the story goes, the IP groups residing within the area believe that when the anitos (gods) get angry, they will make it rain. Mentally I thought, Welcome to Mount Olympus. Pulag is also the ancestral domain of both the Ibaloi and the Kalanguya and it made me wonder if the climbers actually had any inkling as to the existence of the IPs and the crucial part in the Philippine cultural landscape.
The hikers had all gathered at the Ranger Station, a very basic stopover for lunches, short meetings and de-camping. Dotting the picturesque landscape are the Kalanguyas that flocked closer to the station: children running everywhere with a ready wave and big smiles, jeepneys that formed a solid line down the road. The Kalanguya community may be small, but it was more alive than I anticipated.
The kids in Kabayan are so used to seeing tourists come and go that the automatic greeting is a wave even from a distance.
Lunch was brief and simple, and we repacked our backs to leave out the things that were deemed unnecessary for the climb. From our group, the collective decision was to have our waters carried by a porter.
The porter turned out to be a Kalanguya woman named Nena. As with the earlier instructions, if a woman porter carries your things, don’t be shy—they’re stronger than they look. But the porters are not just any middle-aged housewife, even the elders joined in—women whose heads of hair had turned silver and white, with beet red gums and sturdy knees. Their weather-beaten cheeks stood out from the rest of us, a confusing mixture of tan and pink, that gave their features a chockfull of weather narratives: as close to the sun as they are with the high winds.
We started our ascent and no sooner did it become a painful reminder of how weak my lungs actually are, weaker perhaps than the average standard as I would surmise, due to a bronchial infection I had contracted when I was young that ended up in asthma. My lungs had always therefore been so, and it was supposedly an expected event. My heart would pound so dramatically loud against my chest, and I would struggle to normalize my breathing, sometime into the first hour of the trek. Joanna had kindly accompanied me, and I told her that I had to take regular rests as in Batad, there had been a point that I felt my lungs burning due to overexertion. So Joanna and I decided to take minute rests following relatively stretchy treks that prove to be too much for my lungs.
The thing with neon jackets: easily identified in pictures.
Soon the ascent started to make me question the premise as to why I decided to take on Pulag as my birthday trip. I think mainly on this part I had started wishing I paid for a porter, and that I bought a walking stick to guide me through. But I began to hammer myself with questions of why when I got lured to take the shortcut which was a trick on its own. Shorter, but steeper and harder to get through and I wondered at my gullibility—this is the second time that I journeyed through the “off-the-beaten path” as the first had been in Batad. I don’t particularly regret taking it, but in Joanna’s words, it’s that path that we had to bend on all fours and “crawl upwards like Gollum.”
“Ate, malayo pa?”
This question echoed through the narrowness of Ambangeg’s trail as the first time climbers like us trudged along. There were whispers that we have walked ¾ of the total trail, the summit assault excluding, but then we’d get the conflicting reply from the locals that we haven’t even accomplished a fourth of the trail.
Photo by Randolf Mariano
The forest got denser, and the clouds starting rolling in to our infinite delight. It’s not everyday that you get to walk through the clouds and the mere sight of it is enchanting as it is terrifying. It’s the enchanted forest and you don’t really want to make the anitos mad.