The mountain responsible for my addiction to hiking and mountaineering is Mt. Pico de Loro. Although this was not my first mountain hiking escapade, it opened my enthusiasm and excitement towards Philippine mountains. I may have climbed several other beautiful mountains but Mt. Pico de Loro will always be my favorite.
My novice experience in Mt. Samat, Mt. Makiling and Mt. Maculot made me crave for more adventure. And I found one thanks to my high school friends and Sir Anthony Go of PHINOE mountaineers. The only difference this time from the abovementioned was that this next climb was more prepared and formal. Our target destination was Mt. Pico de Loro in Ternate, Cavite.
We spent the night before the climb in the house of my friend, Simply, together with our high school classmates and schoolmates Julie, Cely, Roselyn and Ronnel. I must admit that I was very excited that night and I even thought that I will not be able to sleep. But I did. As a matter of fact, I was the last one to wake up the next day. We all prepared and went to Baclaran where we met our co-climbers.
Sir Long was the first person I spoke to. I had even mistaken him as Sir Anthony because of his attire. You could tell that he is already a veteran at exploring jungles and climbing mountains. However, he was not the only one complete with genuine mountaineering gears and flashing that hardcore mountaineer look. All our co-climbers were well equipped and were dressed like real mountaineers. Most of them had warmers on their arms and legs and their backpacks were really for the outdoors. Ours were for school. I became more anxious. I could still remember the smirk on my face when I was comparing the attire of our female co-climbers with my female classmates. It was like they were ready to head to the jungle and we were ready to hit the malls instead! I just realized that I have so much more to learn and a lot more to experience. So I consider this as the start of my mountaineering career even though this was already my fifth climb.
We all boarded this old bus being operated by Ate Bhel and her husband. I was the junior team leader of my small group which they call “kids” but I liked to call the Young Mountaineers of Bulacan. With us were the Dahong Palay mountaineers and the Bacoor Teletech Outdoor climbers. The adventure started with an educational trip because we stopped over at the trial house where Andres Bonifacio was executed. We stopped by at the Maragondon market where I enjoyed roaming around with Cely, Simply and Ronnel. I was the scribe of the group because all throughout I had with me my video camera. I brought it because I wanted to document every minute of the journey.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Finally, it was time to head to Ternate. The anxiety rose when the forests and mountains appeared on the view outside the bus. It was just astounding for beginners like us. And when it was time to step out of the bus, it seemed like the excitement was on its way to climax. The trek began with a cardiac trail; a steep shortcut which gave us a harsh appetizer on what we were going to encounter inside the dense forest of Cavite. My leg muscles did its job and I was breathing like a madman lost in a jungle. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as we hiked further. At last, our first stopover! We were perspiring and catching our breaths so we rehydrated. I realized the importance of this 4.5L which added to my agony carrying it for three to five hours. Water is life. The first part of the trek was exhausting but there were stopovers. We had our lunch at kubo where a second registration fee was imposed.
The first part was hiking up and down through the forest until we reach the base of Mt. Pico de Loro. It was like we were crossing ten mountains to get to our target mountain. The trail was muddy because of the post effects of rain. It had its first casualty when my friend Cely slipped and stumbled on the muddy floor. At first, I did not notice it was her! I thought she was one of our fellow female climbers. It was a hard fall and I swear I heard an uncomfortable sound from her head when it reached the soil. We rested as an SOP for minor (and major) injuries. Our fellow mountaineers checked for injuries and asked Cely if she was okay. Cely said she was fine. And after five minutes we went on. But what was not okay was the thought of shame if I slip because everybody will witness it. So I started to be more careful. But it didn’t work! I slipped! Twice! Good thing there were streams on the way. It meant refreshment. It helped us wash our muddy feet and clothes.
The second part of the trail was the dreaded assault. This time we had to be extra careful because for the most part, we were only heading one direction: up. If we slip, it may mean a long and painful way down. The trail was still muddy but good thing we were inside the forest. There were trees and plants to cling to if we lose our balance. The trail seemed to be an endless one. Every stopover, our co-climbers would tell us “five minutes na lang.” But this five minutes became ten. It became fifteen. It became thirty and so on. I learned that it was a rite of passage to motivate the virgins or newbies in a group. I did not stumble during this part of the climb. However, it looked like the trail was not going to stop. But it did. Campsite at last! At that time, I just wanted to lie down.
The campsite was a space with trees and bamboos around it. Then I began asking myself, looking for the famous Parrot’s Beak and the beautiful view. But I thought we needed to trek for another century to get to it so I focused on helping set up camp. When everything was almost set, Sir Anthony ordered us to follow him. Just less than a minute away from the campsite was the magnificent scenic view of the Maragondon mountains! It was an incredible feeling and I felt an unexplainable awe upon seeing what we had accomplished climbing. Sir Nono Fines, the team leader of DPM told me “this is the reason (pointing to the view) why we climb mountains.” Then I looked up and I saw the infamous Toreng Bato. I learned that we still were not at the summit but the view was already rewarding. The trek continued with the major goal of reaching the summit, one that I failed to accomplish in Mt. Makiling and Mt. Maculot. If there is one collective goal and major reason why real mountaineers climb mountains, it is to reach the summit.
I have heard a lot about the breathtaking 360 degree view from the summit of Mt. Pico de Loro and I could not believe I was about to see it as well. The assault to the summit was steeper and not for the faint of heart, but the view was magnificent. We reached the summit and the 360 degree view was really breathtaking! We saw the other peripheral mountains of Cavite and other provinces like Batangas, Laguna and Mindoro. I also saw Toreng Bato at the other side facing the summit. Sir Long Henson climbed it and we were all impressed! We could see him waving from the tower-shaped rock formation. The people who have climbed it claimed that it was a near death experience holding on to a rope at the edge of a cliff. Neither did Sir Anthony climb Toreng Bato, saying he already scaled it before and would not dare climb it again, at least not for that day. I told myself I want to experience it and face my fears. But I did not, that day. Instead, it was a perfect photo opportunity for everyone taking shot after shot of them standing tall and proud at the highest point in Cavite. Being on top of Mt. Pico de Loro made me feel that I am part of the universe and that the earth is alive. It definitely inspired me to take care and be thankful of the beauty of nature.
When we were back at campsite, we cleaned ourselves and arranged our things inside our tent. I brought my two California tents with me; a blue one which is smaller and a larger green tent which I recently bought. I was overwhelmed with the experience and at the same time tired so I decided to take a nap while the others were preparing dinner. Simply woke me up when dinner was ready. After eating, it rained. It appeared like rain will spoil the evening and I did not realize I fell asleep again.
When I woke up, I was alone in the tent. Rain had stopped and all of them were huddled outside. I heard my classmates sharing why they joined the clean up climb. They said I influenced them in doing so and that they were also curious so they wanted to experience it. I prepared for the first socials in my life! I got out of the tent to join them and it was so damn cold! I joined them and was also asked about my thoughts on the activity. I had the most mountaineering activity but I was still definitely just a novice. The other mountaineers inspired us to conquer more mountains and they shared tips and told us their own mountaineering tales. Sir Erwin and Ma’am Fiona were arguing constructively on a matter that we did not understand. It was like “which experience is better – mine or yours” type of discussion. The other mountaineers were teasing them as a good couple. My classmates hit the hay but I was left at the huddle area because I was not sleepy yet. Mountaineering stories turned into ghost stories and I was very eager to listen. They pointed out that there were elementals present in our campsite and that they were observing us. It was frightening a bit but it did not bother me that much. As a matter of fact, I slept alone in the small blue tent that night. All in all, the night’s socials was a very cool experience as I learned a lot from our co-climbers.
Day two started with the beautiful sunrise. Me and my classmates went out to take pictures again. I initiated a conversation on who wanted to climb Toreng Bato. Simply, Julie, Roselyn and Ronnel declined the invitation. Cely said she wanted to experience it. I was having second thoughts but the next thing I knew was me and Cely were doing an assault to the summit again. We reached the summit and waved at our friends who were sitting on the bench-like rock near the campsite. I stared at Toreng Bato and asked Cely if she was scared. She said she was not scared. So we journeyed on to reach the base of Toreng Bato. If the assault to the summit was scary, the trip to the base of Toreng Bato was even scarier! We had to hold on tight to the rock formation to avoid a painful stumble.
Fear started to set in when we reached the base of Toreng Bato. My heart started to pound faster. But I was not showing it to Cely. She still claimed to be not afraid. What’s wrong with this girl?! So together we walked carefully towards the back of the structure. There, we saw horror. The tower-shaped structure was practically leaning towards a cliff edge! We still pushed through. We encountered the dreaded ropes! I went first. Using the rope, I pulled myself up. When my feet were partially suspended in the air, my right hand was holding the rope while my left hand was looking for some rooms in the rocks. I was very concerned of losing my grip on the rock and lose my balance. I was not a fan of the rope because it seemed old and not reliable. When I was halfway through, I almost gave up. My knees were trembling. This time, what I saw was worse than horror…death! It was like the side of Toreng Bato was pushing me towards the cliff! I was also concerned that there were snakes on the spaces on the rocks where I was clinging to. But a snake bite was definitely a lesser evil than falling down more than 500 meters above the ground! I stopped for a moment and breathed hard. I thought about death and the things that might happen if I were to die. But I remembered those people who reached the top of Toreng Bato and what an accomplishment if I would be one of them. I thought of the amazing feeling on top and little by little, I managed to reach the end of the rope of death. Apparently, aside from being an old rope, it was only tied to this thick bush and that made it more terrifying. But I made it.
It was Cely’s turn. If the rope was hard for me, it was even more difficult for Cely. The only thing I could do was to motivate and instruct her on where to hold. I was coaching her of the proper body position to advance up. I could see her struggling and behind her – the cliff of death! But she made it on the ropes and it was just a few more scary steps and at last! The top of Toreng Bato!
It was an exceptional feeling to be on top! Even if it was not the summit, it felt like we were on top of the world. We could see the clouds parallel to us. We could feel the wind passing through our face. We took pictures and enjoyed the moment. We stared at the beautiful sceneries around us. It disappointed us to see that our classmates were no longer in the rock near our campsite. Nobody saw us on top of the structure. We started shouting out our friends’ names at the top of our lungs. Shouting on top of Toreng Bato felt like we were in control of the world. Amazing! Good thing I brought my video camera and Cely brought Simply’s digital camera. We still can show them what we accomplished. We scaled down Toreng Bato when there were too many clouds brushing our faces already. We were afraid that fog might block our way down or that it might rain. Going down was as hard as going up. We saw death again face to face. But thanks to Him, we were safe. Climbing Toreng Bato was the climax of my adventure in Mt. Pico de Loro.
It was time to go down the mountain. But before we did, we put in our gloves and surveyed the place. It was a clean up climb after all. Our goal was to clean the beautiful Mt. Pico de Loro. I really hope that all of the people who will climb this mountain will be doing the same thing. Or if not, at least avoid leaving trash behind. We surveyed the campsite and the kawayanan area for our trash and other trash that might have been there for some time.
The descent was easier. It was less slippery and fast. Cely and Simply were humming some tunes to entertain themselves. The only concern was sweat constantly falling from my eyeglass which bothered me. I looked at Julie who was at my back and the same was happening to her and to my other friends as well. I commend her for being such a trooper. We were all soaking wet with sweat and every step seemed like our knees were going to break. But I was dead set on reaching the base of Mt. Pico de Loro. There were less rests and stops. We reached the base in not more than an hour. We rested in the clearing area.
The thing that I was anticipating during the climb aside from Toreng Bato was a trip to the falls. After that leg breaking and sweat drenching descent, a shower at the falls would be a sweet one. After the stopover at the clearing we headed towards the falls. I could hear the falls as we got nearer. We were excited to brush off dirt and sweat from our bodies. After a short descent, we reached the waterfalls area.
The sight of the falls was engaging. Sir Anthony reminded us that we were not there to swim because it would mess up our itinerary. But many of us wanted to. Two of our co-climbers swam at the falls area. And the itinerary was forgotten. Most of us took a splash, got wet and enjoyed the falls. The water was very cold. As I was swimming in the middle of the water, I felt something brushing my feet. There were plants on the floor! The thought of some unknown creatures scared the hell out of me. Earlier, our co-climbers who surveyed the area said they saw a snake in the cave. But we were many in the water so I just enjoyed this time. Putting your body right under the falls was a therapeutic experience. I could feel the rush of the water punching my back like a blade. It was like acupuncture.
DENR AND THE BEACH
It was time to continue our still long journey back to magnetic hill. I decided not to change my shorts because I might need to change it again if anything happens during the trek. We reached the kubo area where we registered. Some of our fellow climbers opted to take a shower. Me and my friends did not. After all, Sir Anthony told us that we were heading to the beach to clean ourselves up! After one to two more hours, we reached magnetic hill! We got off to the easier straight path to the jump off and not through the cardiac trail. It was awesome to see the road again. We started walking towards the DENR station. Luckily, a jeepney passed by and picked us up. We hitched a free two minute ride to DENR. There, we waited for Ate Bhel and her bus. It was nice to sip a cold soda after being more than 24 hours inside the jungle.
The bus arrived and it was time to get to the beach! After some time, we reached Buenaflor beach resort. The entrance was cheap and we did not pay the cottage fee. Apparently, Ate Bhel negotiated it with the resort manager. They knew her already because that is where they always take their contracted mountaineers after an arduous climb. The resort offered two attractions: pools and beach. We warmed up at the pool, took some pictures, and then headed to the beach. Julie did not swim. She already cleaned up and was ready to go home. The sand in the beach was not good but the view was nice. The cloud formation that day was spectacular. It was like an erupting volcano. We could also see some mountains around us, although I could not point out which is Mt. Maculot, Mt. Makiling or Mt. Pico de Loro. Some of our fellow climbers pointed out that the far away island was Mindoro and the towering mountain in it was the dreaded Mt. Halcon. Simply amazing.
After having dinner at the resort, and after seeing a snake there, we boarded the bus to finally go home. The main attraction in the bus was a drinking session lead by Sir Anthony. He was serving a shot of Gran Matador here and there while the bus was moving! Incredible! Because of the drinking session, there were lots of stopovers at gasoline station for a peeing session. When we were near Manila and many of us were slightly drunk, there were discussions on a possible house party. Some of our fellow climbers left already including Sir Long and some Teletech mountaineers. Julie also had an appointment that night and so she could not come. But Sir Erwin and Sir Gerald of Bacoor Teletech were very eager to continue the socials. Simply volunteered their house. It was like a discussion over the influence of alcohol and I really thought it will not push through. But the next thing I knew was our co-climbers were with us on a trip to our hometown! Ronnel and I went to our house to get an electric fan. I also brought one El Hombre tequila which was sitting on our refrigerator for two months already. It came from my previous Mt. Samat trip with my 2008 JFINEX family. Then, we entertained our guests at Simply’s house. We played the video I recorded during our trip and Cely was the star! She was a natural comedienne in the mountain. The drinking and the extended socials continued from Ternate, Cavite all the way to Norzagaray, Bulacan!
This was a very memorable first formal climb. It opened my mind and my heart towards Philippine mountains. I already learned the basics of mountaineering and I was willing to put it to practice by conquering other mountains. I will be climbing several other mountains but I will see to it to visit Mt. Pico de Loro again for it was the reason my passion for this was triggered. It is my favorite mountain and this most probably is the best climb of my life!
I enjoyed my two mountain experience last summer that I was craving for another one. This time, we were heading to Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas. I learned that it was an easy climb so I targeted it for a one day fun climb. It was even more relieving when we learned that our friends’ hometown is Cuenca. We could perhaps prepare at their house before the climb, rest and wash up after.
We were supposed to be seven climbers. But Tela backed out that morning due to some feminine stuff. Damn monthly periods. Blecille and her boyfriend were with us already at the Jam bus station but her impatient boyfriend decided to not come with us. Damn impatient boyfriends. So it was only Maricon, Mau, Wilson and I who boarded the bus going to Batangas.
The trip to Batangas was a long one. We alighted from the bus at the end of the Star toll way and rode a jeepney going to the bridge which was under construction. It was due to this bridge that we opted not to stay at the bus because it would be much longer for it had to go around some more towns in Batangas. It was like a canopy walk from the mini bridge constructed temporarily for those who wanted to pass by. At that point I saw a tall, lone mountain from afar. Wow, Mt. Maculot!
JUMP OFF POINT
We stopped by Mau’s house for preparations. It was already noon and the sun was hot when we headed for Mt. Maculot. We bought water for hydration and then rode a tricycle until the jump off point. I registered our names and paid the registration fee at the ranger booth and found out that there were other hikers who already climbed that day.
We took off at the mountaineer’s store where we were not so sure where to go. At first, we entered a house’ backyard thinking that the trail was just around it. And then we were asked by a local what we were doing there and where we’re going. We said we were going to climb Mt. Maculot. He figured out that it was our first time and showed us the real way. It was quite embarrassing.
We became more comfortable when we saw the ‘To Mt. Maculot’ signboard. It was a straight path where we could still see some local’s houses. But we were all joking when we realized that we were having difficulty walking through a road with a slight angle of elevation. When the road got narrower, the thrill began. And several minutes later, we were at the entry point of the forest of Mt. Maculot. We rested and rehydrated. After that, we were confronted with a fork but thanks to PinoyMountaineer.com, I knew the correct path that will take us to the campsite.
III. CLIMBER’S COURTESY
The assault started. The mountain was classified with an only 2/9 difficulty but it was much difficult for beginners like us. Thankfully, there were established stopovers on the way and there were locals stationed through the forest selling fresh buko juice. Whenever we saw these stopovers we would stop, catch our breaths and drink water. In some cases, we would eat some of the hotdogs that we prepared. Every time that we saw the buko juice stations, we would stop by and buy one. The local selling the juice was friendly but was very quiet. She had her kids with her. I had a realization that they needed to climb this mountain everyday for a living. But later on I found out that she only sells during weekends and some days where the anticipated volume of mountaineers are high, like during Holy Week.
On the way, we encountered many mountaineers going down the mountain. They would all smile at us and greet us ‘good afternoon ma’am, good afternoon sir.’ Because we were not really mountaineers yet, we did not know that it is a tradition of every mountaineer to greet climbers that they would see in the trail. We call it climber’s courtesy. At first, we would stop and think that it was weird in a sense. But later on, we adopted the catchphrase and greeted those mountaineers that we pass or thank them after wishing us good luck.
There were also times when we would rest with other mountaineers at a buko juice station. I took this opportunity to converse with them about mountain climbing. They would always enumerate the mountains that they conquered. Mt. Pico de Loro, Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Batulao and Mt. Talamitam were among the box office answers. I would brag about my encounter with the limatiks in Mt. Makiling and prove it by showing Wilson’s eye which was still red at that time. The story of the limatik in the eye was a box office as well. I learned that mountain climbing is an adventure for all ages. There were men, women and kids from different walks of life. Their aim was to have an incredible adventure, a one of a kind experience and another tale to tell.
When we were at the heart of the forest of Mt. Maculot, I was surprised to see millipedes with the size of an eggplant! They were mostly present on the trail. At first, I was hesitant to focus my attention on them but it later became a fascination when I learned that they were harmless. I even recorded a clip of these large bugs using my video camera.
It was an exhausting assault. When we reached the clearing area, the view became amazing. From there, we saw a cove and Taal lake at the leftside of the view. We saw the plains of Batangas and the other neighboring mountains. Mt. Maculot is special in a way that it is the only lone mountain in the region with a typical mountain shape. Therefore, it is very easy to recognize it if you are at the peaks of other mountains. When we reached the clearing surrounded by many tall grasses, I was really very tired. I wanted to rest but I was very eager on getting to the campsite. It was like my knees were going to break. The sun was an opposing agent because its heat added pressure on our exhaustion. But after some few more leg breaking, forced steps, we reached the campsite of Mt. Maculot.
We pitched our small tent and prepared for lunch. I was delighted to see and learn about the other classes of tent which were pitched there. One wonderful thing which made the campsite of Mt. Maculot popular was the presence of this halo-halo store which mountaineers often refer to as 7-11. After we ate our lunch, we ordered halo-halo from the store. There were campers there already, and there were some more arriving. There was one group which was lead by a 10-year old looking boy which caught the attention of those who were there including us. I tried to converse with a group of girls who were asking me to join them in the anticipated socials. Socials is a regular bonding activity for mountaineers in their campsite. They huddle themselves up and tell stories, bond and speak with fellow mountaineers usually accompanied by alcohol. But we were on a day hike. Frustrating. At some point I doubted that I wanted to stay for the night’s socials.
After some relaxation at the campsite, we headed to the famous Rockies! Because it was our first time, we got through the wrong path at first. We reached this foul smelling space which I refer to as the mountaineer’s comfort room. But by the time that the Rockies was in sight, excitement rushed in my system. This would be an awesome and extreme Mt. Maculot experience!
Crossing Rockies was a thrilling experience. Maricon at first refused to go with us because the images of the cliffs were great but nerve wrecking at the same time. But I assured her that she can do it and conquer her fears. Mau and Wilson were already at the assault to Rockies when I assisted Maricon through the walk of death. But death would be an exaggeration because if ever you fall from the cliff on the mini knife’s edge, there were lots of grassy rooms to fall down to. But the feeling for first timers like us might likewise be associated to death. The path was a little slippery even though it was not wet. We had to be extra careful because there was a cliff on our left side…and another one on our right! But we reached the base of the Rockies and we started the assault. Mau and Wilson were already shouting with delight because they were already at the top. After several more step upwards, and some more caterpillar sightings, Maricon and I reached the top of the Rockies!
Rockies offered us a spectacular view of the Taal volcano. It was an amazing 360 degree view of Batangas. The only frustrating part of it was that we could feel the sun’s heat. And there was hardly any shade at the top of Rockies. After enjoying the view and some picture taking, we descended Rockies and went back to campsite.
When we got to the campsite, I was overthrown with the idea of climbing the summit. But the campers there, the girls and the 7-11 store manager, discouraged me telling me that climbing the summit was difficult and the views were not as amazing as the Rockies’. I was more disappointed in them because I wanted to appreciate Mt. Maculot and every wonders that it can offer me. But when I looked up, I saw a group of dark clouds inhabiting the summit. Wilson assumed that it might be raining there already.
Because of the conversation with the locals, we learned that there is a water source near the campsite. We prepared to trek down and check the water source. The descent was slippery because there were wet parts in the trail. On our way down, we encountered different flora. There were trees with toothed stems. A careless hiker who just immediately grabs branches and stems of trees for support would be a most likely victim by its jagged blades. Several steps more and we could still not hear any signs of water. There were doubts on our minds but we still continued. After all, it was just a straight path down and the locals will surely not play a trick on us. At last, we reached the water source.
I was disappointed at the first sight of the water source. It was a tiny still water being contained by a wall from a rock formation. I was like “Heto na yun? Heto na yung binaba natin ng napakatagal?” There were lots of mosquito larvae in it. But near it, we saw a hose attached to a faucet. It was incredible to see a faucet in the middle of the jungle. And I meant no sarcasm there. We put the hose down and water came out. We were surprised to see it was clean. Or it looked like it was clean. It was refreshing to wash from the water being released by the hose. Then Wilson said he remembered that the locals mentioned that we can drink from this water. I was unconvinced that it was safe. But my friends tried to take a sip of the water. After Maricon did, Mau put some in his container for reserve. But after examining closely the water through his container we noticed that there were at least one or two mosquito larvae there! Then I comically asked Maricon to describe to us the taste of the larvae infested water.
But many mountaineers and locals rely on this water source. The water that the 7-11 was selling was in fact, water from this tiny spring water. And most probably, the water in that halo-halo that we enjoyed earlier was also this water. It seemed clean and safe and they said that no one has ever died out of drinking from it. It was very surprising to see the choices and the situation that you can encounter when you are not within the bounds of your comfort zone. Mountaineering offered me to experience this splendid truth about life. Sometimes, you have to eat dirty, experience some mud on your feet, have a close encounter with the different flora and fauna, and live simple for you to truly live life.
It was time to go down the mountain and wash up at Mau’s house. Our co-campers were sad to hear that we were not staying for the nights’ socials. It would have been my first socials if I decided to stay. But aside from not making it to the socials, I did not also reach the summit of Mt. Maculot. But my experience here opened my eyes towards the things that I will not learn if I had not climbed this mountain. The experience and knowledge that I gained here were preparations for me to widen my interest in conquering mountains. I will definitely be back here more prepared and ready to conquer its peak.
I was at Pook Makiling park in Los Baños, Laguna spearheading JFINEX 2009’s team building activity. I was with the fifteen officers of UE JFINEX for the new academic year. I divided them into three groups of five; blue, yellow and red teams. The first day in Pook Makiling was filled with a series of games and challenges I prepared for the three groups – physical, mental and social. We all had a blast and I could tell that the team building activity was already successful on day one.
The second part of our team building was a hike at Mt. Makiling. The last real hike I had was four years ago when I was still studying in UP Diliman. I hiked at Mt. Samat with my UE JFINEX 2008 family last April but it was not quite the real mountain hike. But nevertheless, I was prepared to lead the hike with my new JFINEX family.
We were sixteen in the group but only eight, including me, responded to the challenge. Camille, Jane, Mae, Tela, Dan, Rayb, Wilson and I boarded the jeepney that we chartered. It took us to the College of Forestry of UP Los Baños which was the entry point for a Peak Two Mt. Makiling hike. Prior to this, Maricon, Tela, Wilson and I already surveyed the place. But we only went to Flatrocks. It was still a six more kilometer walk until Peak Two. By this time, our goal was to conquer Peak Two of Mt. Makiling.
When Tela, the new JFINEX secretary registered the eight of us at the ranger station, it marked the start of the trek to this mysterious Laguna mountain. We passed by the Flatrocks marker which was the second out of the 30 stations in Mt. Makiling Peak Two. The first two hours was a long stretch until we got to Station 7 where stores run by locals were present. We rested for a while and ordered fresh buko juice from one of the stores. We mingled with the locals there where we learned some facts from the dreaded impediment of a typical Mt. Makiling hike.
Limatiks are tiny land leeches mostly present in tropical rainforests such as Mt. Makiling. It was a creepy thing to think of several leeches crawling on your skin all at the same time. Even the locals there were disgusted over these tiny creepy crawlies. I was very curious about it and asked if there is a chance that one of us will not be attacked by a limatik. I was surprised to hear the answer. Mt. Makiling is limatik infested so there is a 99.9% that all of us will encounter them. The locals at Station 7 described them as elastic and would not die easily. We needed salt or vinegar to ward them off. They said that there will be a point there where the limatiks would be like spaghetti noodles in a plate. The thought was uncomfortable. It was advisable to just let the leech suck blood from you if it had already started doing it. Forcing its sucker out of your skin might cause the sucker to remain pierced in your skin. The local joked aside saying “Konting dugo lang naman ang sisipsipin nila sa inyo, hindi naman kayo mamamatay kaya pagbigyan niyo na.”
My fellow officers were also uneasy about this whole limatik thing but we will be wasting the two hour walk if we back out. So I asked Camille, the youngest in our group, if she was afraid. And she said with conviction that she was not. We thanked the locals there and continued our journey.
Ever since that conversation with the locals, our minds were constantly bothered by the thought of the notorious limatiks. By the time that we reached Station 8, we huddled up. We were confronted with a choice. Either we continue our hike to Peak Two or we turn right and just go to the Mudspring. Many of my fellow officers yarned on just going to the Mudspring. It was a long pause pondering on what to do and where to go. But I decided to continue our hike to Peak Two. We can, after all, have a side trip to Mudspring during our descent.
Several kilometers more, we still have not encountered the limatiks yet. The trail was still a straight one. We had a stopover at a hut there where Rayb showed us a trick. He held his face towel in front of us and squeezed it. Liters of sweat dropped from the towel. What a trick. We hiked again. I was very impatient with the trail because it was not a typical mountain hiking path for there was a prominent road. But it got narrower and narrower until we reached Station 11: Agila Base.
Aside from the summit of Peak Two, Agila Base is the second highest point in Mt. Makiling. We were like in Baguio. Every time we exhaled, we could see our breath registering in the air due to the cold atmosphere. The girls noticed something with Rayb, there was a smoke coming out from his body! It was like a transformation of the Super Saiyans. They joked and said that Rayb was simply ‘hot’!
It was probably a ten minute stop at Agila Base. We applied off lotion on our hands and feet. We prepared for the worse. I started to become excited and nervous at the same time. All along I was asking for a real mountain hike path and from Agila Base we could see that there was no obvious path anymore. The road ended in Agila Base! We were about to have a closer encounter with the forest of Mt. Makiling!
We started experiencing the real hike after Agila Base. The plants were touching our skin, the grounds were mossy and full of bushes, there were caterpillars and other bugs everywhere and we had to go over stumbled logs. During the first ten minute walk from Station 11, there were still no signs of the leeches. Then Wilson reminded me that the locals said that it will start on Station 15. Okay, Station 15.
We passed by Station 13 when Jane, who was at my back at that time, stopped and calmly asked me if the little string on her pants was a limatik. I could not confirm for I haven’t seen one. I stared at it. At first it was not moving so I thought it was just a thread. But it wiggled! And we all panicked! But instead of heading back, we just ran forward! After Jane, Rayb shouted he had one clinging on his foot! It was nerve wrecking. It was such a rush of blood to the head. I looked at my foot and I saw one! I could not help it but ask someone to remove it for me. Wilson did. But a minute later, another one was crawling towards me! So we got it, we had to scram!
We were running and everyone was concerned about the leeches. I had one already sipping blood from me. I tried to not think about it. I noticed that I was not feeling anything while it was sucking blood from my foot. That is a fact about limatiks. They inject this pain killing substance so the victim will not feel anything. PinoyMountaineer.com suggested to just let it suck your blood because it will just remove itself when it is full. But once you are there, and several limatiks are sucking the hell out of your blood, you can not help it but pick them off. You can not kill it by merely squeezing it like you can with other bugs. The locals were correct, they were elastic. We stopped by a stream but we realized that there were more limatiks there! Rayb cursed one clinging on his feet. If the limatik could talk, it would definitely curse back at him.
Another fact that I found out while we were out there was that they could jump! They were all standing like television antennas on the edge of the plants and when I walked through the trail passing the plant, they would jump! It was as if they had one commander shouting, “leeches, attaaaack!”. Mae stared at one limatik sipping blood at the end of her pointing finger. I was surprised to notice that she was the most calm out of all of us. She was such a trooper. So yes, they were everywhere! They were at my arms, feet, pants and shirt. We all were bolting until we reached Station 15 – the Malaboo Campsite. The limatiks definitely made our hike faster.
After warding off and destroying the limatiks in our bodies, we settled at Station 15. We discussed if we want to take our lunch there. But many disagreed and just wanted to reach the summit for three reasons. First was to get it over with. Second, it was starting to rain. And last, because there were limatiks crawling at Station 15 campsite. I was not sure how far the summit was from Station 15 but I was sure that there were no leeches there. If there were, then it would only be minimal because the leeches’ niche was the forest.So we went through the left path going up the mountain through the forest again. I noticed another trail on the right of Station 15 but it was going down. And our goal was to reach the top of Mt. Makiling so the more obvious choice was to take the left upward path.
That was the start of the Wilderness Zone. The thought of wilderness brought some nerves out of me. The leeches were an obstacle already but the rain made the trek worse. We were walking through a small path beside a cliff! It was really dangerous! If we slip, we might fall down and die. Limatiks still crawled on me but I was not paying much attention anymore. I was more concerned I would slip and die. The several limatiks that sucked my blood made me numb from the bloodsucking experience. I was angry with the leeches already. I was mocking them and cursing them. The only concern about them was if they reach my head. I would not want them to go inside my eyes or ears. But I paid more attention to the muddy and dangerous trail.
We were walking for several minutes and we could not find the yellow markers which will signify what station we were in! And in the map, the Wilderness Zone stations were very close to each other so that the hikers will not be lost. At first I thought Maria was playing a trick on us. Then, I remembered the right path. We probably should have turned right earlier. Damn. But Wilson uplifted things by saying that there was also a path to the summit in the direction that we were going.
After several slips, most of us decided to remove our footwear. Mae even assured me that walking barefoot was like a foot massage in the mud. After some time, we stopped. Everyone kept on telling me to command the stop of the journey because it was very dangerous and it was raining hard already. I wanted to reach the summit so it was a bitter decision to turn around and start the descent. Rain was pouring down. It was very angry. There was one point when I almost fell on the cliff if Jane was not there to hold me. Whew, it was a close shave. Every time I curse, a loud thunder will be heard. Limatiks were overshadowed by the mad rain. Inside my playful mind, I was thinking that Maria Makiling was angry at us. But for what? For killing some of her limatiks? For cursing? We certainly did not disrespect the place.
When we reached Malaboo Campsite again, we had a very quick lunch courtesy of Wilson from the Mini Stop store before we entered UPLB that morning. If it was not raining and I was not hungry, I would not eat it. It was because there were limatiks on me and all over the ground. What if a limatik jumped in the bread while I am about to take a bite at it? Ewwww. The miserable trek down continued for some time. My feet were already hurting. Many limatiks almost made it on my head. I was concerned with everyone on the trek. It would certainly be my responsibility if something happened to somebody. But I was ready to face it if that happens. Finally, a familiar place, Agila Base.
I thanked Him that all of us were alive. Mt. Makiling was an angry mountain that day. We could have made it to the summit but the situation was just not fine for us to continue the hike. We continued our descent. Wilson exchanged place with me. He became the sweeper and I took the lead. When we were at tha nipa hut on Station 9, we saw a humongous leech crawling at Dan’s arms! It was the biggest limatik who has not sucked blood yet that I had seen all throughout the hike. We captured it together with another one crawling on Dan’s backpack with a mineral water bottle. We wanted our eight co-officers to see the leeches. We walked and walked until we reached Station 7 again. We stopped and ordered another round of buko juice. Some of us washed up at the ancient comfort room beside the store. Then, the event followed was a real shocker and a picture that will forever disturb my mind if I think about this trip. Mae shouted.
“May limatik sa mata ni Kuya Wilson!”, she exclaimed. I thought she was kidding at first. And then Jane confirmed. I took a closer look and it was a horrible sight to see a fat limatik inside Wilson’s eye! I was so worried that something was going to happen to him. We borrowed a tweezers from a local. She handed it over to me. It was just right that I was entrusted to pick the limatik off his eye because if anything happens, it would be my sole responsibility.
“Wag na wag kang gagalaw”, I told him, afraid that I might prick his eye instead of the limatik. My hands were shaking. First attempt, I swooped the bloodsucker and was pulling it out of his eye. It was fighting back! As I was pulling it outside of his eyes, the crowd would scream and shout. It was like they were watching a Pacman fight. After the tweezers slipped, it went back buried itself at the side of Wilson’s eye. Second attempt, same thing happened. The feeling was as if the limatik was on my eye. Every time I pulled it, I felt its sucker stuck on Wilson’s eye. Finally, a local came closer for help. One local told me I was not pulling hard and accused me, “kid, ang hina naman ng loob mo”. What can I do, I was not pulling harder, afraid that Wilson’s eye will be removed as well. Then, using just his fingers, the local was able to pull the limatik out of Wilson’s eye!
The eye was red and swollen. But the locals assured us that he will be alright. The local who pulled the fat limatik from Wilson’s eye showed me the sucker while he was killing it with his cigarette. In an instant, it turned to ashes. The store vendor was so concerned that we brought so much limatiks in Station 7. She stressed out that she hates limatiks. After cleaning up, and some group pictures, we headed back to the College of Forestry. I remembered the mountaineer creed which was ‘take nothing but pictures’ so I left the mineral water bottle with the big limatik and another one inside it at the store. But we violated its third line ‘kill nothing but time’ for killing some leeches. Maybe that was the reason Maria Makiling was angry.
During the hike down the ranger station, I was very worried that there were still some limatik inside my shorts. Every now and then I put my hands inside my shorts to check if there were leeches there. It was more of psychological already but the thought of a limatik entering my ass was a horrible one. At last we reached the ranger station and our driver was waiting there already. Before we boarded the jeep, we washed up first at the comfort room provided by the station. We washed our muddy feet and dirty clothes. I was worried that later, after taking my shirt and shorts off, some limatiks will fell on the floor. Thankfully, it did not happen.
We met with our fellow officers at the Pook Makiling park where we were treated like royalties. They figured out that we were tired because of the whole trip and cooked for us. Some of the limatik warriors were all excited to tell what we had encountered inside the forest of Mt. Makiling and describe the difficulty of the hike. They illustrated how a limatik walks and how it jumps. I was more excited to relax and massage my very sore feet. After that, we watched the video of our hike including the disturbing limatik eye operation. Did I regret anything that happened? No! It was such a thrilling and wonderful adventure. If the limatiks were not present, it would not be as thrilling as it has been. But I promised myself to be back to conquer the summit of Peak Two. And at that time, I would be more prepared with my second meeting with the dreaded Makiling bloodsuckers.