Baguio: Day 1
We left Manila in the wee hours of the morning. Bangan wasn't able to go with us this time:P. He had to take up a few subjects which was timely because we would have needed another car if they (Bangan and Chabers) tagged along.
Most of us were quite sleepy since we had to organize our gears for the anticipated climb. By 8am, all of us were starving. So, we stopped by Luisita Mall in Tarlac. The place is not that big but you can see most of the shops we usually find in Metro Manila. The developer of Luisita is planning to put up an amusement park in the vicinity.
Thanks to our chief planner, Cutie, we arrived in Fairview, Baguio just in time for lunch. We picked up Apolito from Baguio Medical Center. Hotshot have a hard time maneuvering over Baguio's roads, so Apolito had to take over the wheel.
We had our lunch in Fairview (the place where we used to stay in Baguio). Then, off to Camp John Hay. Apolito proposed an outdoor wall climbing activity prior to our trip to Pulog. Unfortunately, the weather in Baguio didn't permit us to scale the wall. It was raining when we got there, the climbing holds (or whatever they're called) was too slippery and most of them are too small for inexperienced climbers.
We didn't leave the place immediately since we had to wait for Kuya Jun to show up. Kuya Jun, btw, owned the 4wd Durango jeep which took us to babadak. He, Apolito and Hotshot are team members of the Marlboro Adventure Team and members of the Kamagi Group. He owned a auto shop in Angeles City which specializes in body lifts. His jeep is just one of his countless creations.
After a few minutes of downpour, the rain stopped. Kuya Jun, still hasn't arrived. The group decided to have a crash course on wall-climbing despite the weather and all. Our instructor (I can't seem to remember their names, which reminds me to bring a notepad for our future travels) was very helpful and informative, as well. In just a matter of minutes, he was able to give us a brief explanation about the basics of wall climbing.
As I'm the oldest in the group, I was the first one to try out. Looking at other people scaling those walls gave me the impression that it was easy. But hanging on to the first 3 climbing holds and exerting all my strength in reaching the next holds proved me wrong. It was quite hard to balance and pull oneself up those small and slippery holds. In the end, I was able to go up for only a few feet off the ground. Most of us didn't fare well. Unexpectedly, Pitangskers went up a few feet ahead of us.
It was close to twilight when we headed back to Fairview. We ate dinner then organized our stuffs. We had to leave some of our clothes so that we won't have a lot of load when we climb Mt. Pulog. After much scrambling, we finally slept at around 9pm.
|Ambuklao: Day 2|
We would have left Baguio at exactly 8am, but due to some circumstances we had to wait for a few persons to arrive. Our fellow mountaineers from Marbel namely Allan, Frank, Joan and Nenen was fetched by Kuya Jun from the hostel where they stayed. We were supposed to meet Mang Lito, a DENR employee, to accompany us to Ambuklao Power Plant. But he was still occupied, so we had to leave without him to Ambuklao.
We finally left Baguio at half past 10 (I think). The Road to Ambuklao is approximately 20-30km (2hrs) along a third class dirt road. Kuya Jun's body-lifted jeep didn't have a hard time maneuvering the road, but he had to drive at a slower rate for us to catch up with him, our Hilander was having a hard time avoiding ruts.
Of course, we didn't pass up the chance to cross one of the hanging bridges along the road. Unlike Halsema road, the road to Kabayan showcases pine forests and hanging bridges, instead of the vegetable terraces.
Our timing was always right, we had lunch in Ambuklao. We had a picnic beside the dam and the reservoir. There's a tree and some big rocks just after the bridge (on the center of the dam), that's where we laid out out food (our favorite when traveling, Adobong Manok).
Mang Lito arrived after lunch. We then went inside the compound bordering the underground power plant. While waiting for our permit, he retold a few stories concerning the power plant after the devastating earthquake in 1990. Apparently, the place was flooded and the road was impassable that they didn't have any means of transportation and communication. Most of the people in the area were trapped, a few helicopters passed by the area to drop off their provisions. He told a lot of stories, actually, but I can't seem to remember most of them, as I wasn't taking any notes. This is my first attempt in travel writing (if you could call this travel writing). I'm just trying to recall most of the things I wrote in this page and on the other pages from memory.
The drive into the tunnel was quite refreshing and exciting. The temperature in the tunnel was a bit cold, and it gave off an unmistakable smell of something awful, like unhanged washed clothes. In the tunnel, we saw several gigantic a/c generators and big electrical boxes with complicated switches and lights. We also went inside a smaller tunnel leading off to an exit to the other side of the mountain. We just took a look at it and didn't emerge on the other side, of course.
After the short underground tour, Mang Lito brought us to another building where we saw a miniature of the whole place. He explained a few info about the tunnels leading into and out the mountain, and other stuffs about the power plant. Bulayners and I wasn't paying attention Ü. We went cavorting outside the building. At half past two, we headed off to Kabayan.
|Kabayan: Day 2 - 3|
had a few stops en route to Kabayan. One was at the sulfur spring in Daclan.
I don't know the exact location but you can see the fume, spewed by the
spring, distinctly from the main road. It's a few minutes off road (less
than 10km), you will have to ask the locals on which road to take as the
road forks into 2 different directions. You'll know if you're near the place
when you smell the unmistakable smell of sulfur -- rotten egg.
Our next stop was another hanging bridge close to Kabayan, I think it was in Bokod. This one is more spectacular than the previous one, with a picturesque rice terraces as backdrop. It's also suspended a few feet off the one in Ambuklao. Though, this time around, Pitangskers and Spaga opted to stay behind and not cross the bridge. We had several minor stops. One of those was captured on film Ü.
It was close to nightfall when we arrived in Kabayan. We checked in Kabayan Coop Lodge. The inn is on the second floor, above a general store. We weren't able to settle in our respective rooms right after we arrived, for we had a hard time negotiating with the person in charge. The price posted was P100 per person but she was asking for P150. We asked one of the guests, a priest from Davao, Mindanao, and he told us that the fee is actually P150. It turned out that the notice was outdated.
The place is decent, with working and separate bathrooms and comfort rooms. Each room has a double deck bed with a firm mattress, a pillow, and clean sheets, a table, and a plastic chair. The rooms are separated by only a thin ply wood so you can hear things from the other side of the room. Moths and other insects can get quite irritating, so be sure to close the jalousie window and door when you switch on the light. A map of Kabayan and a list of places frequented by tourists plus brief descriptions is posted on the wall of the common room/lobby. The common room has an electric thermos where you can get warm water and Keosan water purifier. And oh, did I mention unlimited supply of tissue paper?
We brought with us two burners and a basic cooking set. As expected, Apolito cooked a very sumptuous meal -- Sinangag (I forgot the viand but I'm very sure it was also delicious). Bulayners and I were assigned to wash the utensils. The water in Kabayan was a bit cold, we hard a hard time removing excess oil with regular detergent soap. So, we went out to look for Axion from sari-sari stores scattered along the main road. We finally found one uphill at a very inflated price. A word of advice, do your 'shopping' in Metro Manila Ü.
Bulayners, my room mate for that night, and I were hurrying to go to sleep because of Mama Beekee. But Choobaka and Kiddiebo were busy whispering on the other side of the wall. They were actually playing Tong-its (a card game). We joined them for a few bout of the game, and finally went to sleep at around 9pm.
When morning came, Cutie complained she wasn't able to get forty winks the night before. Pitangskers got down with fever, which was partly my fault, I used up the warm water for bathing in Baguio, so she had to bathe ice-cold water and our 20 horsepower engine started revving up before she got to sleep.
After much hustling and bustling, we left the inn at around 8am. Of course, we didn't forget to sign their log book. I was quite astonished by one entry, Judy Ann Santos, the telenovela queen, has actually been there (or it could be some prankster signing her name as a joke Ü).
We headed off to Tinongchal Cave for the burial coffins. Northern Benguet indigenous people, the Ibaloi, has been known all over the world to mummify their ancestors by drying them by fire for months, putting them in carved logs and keeping them in nooks and crannies of caves. The place is approximately 3km away from the town center. There's a road veering off the town's museum. You could ask the locals for directions, they're quite hospitable.
The road to the cave was riddled with deep ruts. Our 2 wheel drive had a hard time maneuvering over lose gravel. The tires slipped so we had to walk for a few meters and cross the bridge over a river. The road uphill to the cave is also steep. Kiddiebo and the rest of the gang riding with Kuya Jun was fortunate enough to have reached the path to the cave without walking.
But instead of turning left, away from the main road, the 7 of us (Vernie, Gaga, Bulayners, Mama Beekee, Baakers, Pitangkers and Bulale) pressed on, following mama beekee, believing that he had seen Kiddie's group ahead. I think we've crossed at least 2 mountains before our trusted tour guide, ApoLito, came running vigorously, telling us that we're supposed to turn left where we last saw the jeep. Unfortunately, Baakers and Mama Beekee had gone a long way that they can't hear us shouting their name. In the end, they were the last to find their way to the burial cave, I got a good shot of what's on the other side of the mountain, and ApoLito lost his breakfast from running after the two would-be tour guides.
Getting lost and all, even from the outside, the burial cave is really not that spectacular as compared to other burial caves we've seen. Most of the coffins (less than 5 from the outside) are already destroyed from looting, lack of maintenance and vandalism. So, we decided not to go into the cave anymore.
On our way back to Kabayan, we stopped by the museum. Taking pictures and videos in the museum is not allowed, but I brought my camera in my belt bag Ü. Apolito was busy distracting the curator so that we could take pictures (matitigas ang ulo eh). Kuya Jun, unaware of our motives, repeated what the curator told us, that taking pictures is not allowed. So, we weren't able to take any pictures of the mummies. There were 3 mummies and other household artifacts in the museum. One of the mummies was dubbed as the Laughing Mummy, as she looked like she was laughing out loud when her body was mummified. The other mummy had an intricate tattoo on her back, so she is known as the Tattooed Mummy. There was also an infant mummy. We were on our way back to the town center when I realized that I left my eyeglasses' clip on in the museum. So we were a little delayed by my absentmindedness.
Our last stop in Kabayan was the Opdas Mass Burial Cave, a few meters off the main road of Kabayan. A group of children playing along the main road agreed to guide us to the cave for a pesos. The cave is a private property, there is a gate barring the cave from unauthorized entry. You can get the key of the gate from the house just before the stairs leading off to the cave entrance. This house also sells the fragrant red rice known as Kintuman for P150/kilo. The cave displays stacks of human bones and skulls. It was discovered by Baban Berong in 1971. Tokyo University carbon-dated these skulls, and found them to be 500 - 1000 years old.
After buying food for the anticipated climb, we headed off to Ambangeg to start our ascent to Mt. Pulag.
|Mt. Pulag: Day 3 - 4 - 5|
It was lunch time when we arrived in Ambangeg, where the DENR outpost is located. We had a quick lunch in one of the sari-sari store in the vicinity. It is mandatory for climbers to drop by the DENR office to pay the fees and attend the briefing. Also, you have to have your name enlisted weeks before you plan your ascent to avoid overcrowding the camping ground. Mt. Pulag is a national park, enthusiasts cannot climb without getting a permit and paying the fees. Enlistment is really for the mountaineers' sake. There are a few backpackers who lost their way, without the enlistment, the forest rangers wouldn't be able to organize search and rescue operations. Students can avail a discount as long as they have their school IDs with them. As of 2002, the fee was P275 for local climbers.
One part of the briefing is a film showing on how to be a responsible backpacker by preserving the pristine setting of the backcountry. After the film, the OIC gave a brief lecture about Mt. Pulag -- the inhabitants and their beliefs, the surrounding area of the mountain, the flora and fauna, and other basic information about Mt. Pulag.
Mark and Rico, our guides for the climb, are members of the association of tour guides in Mt. Pulag. Each guide charged P750 for the whole trip. I don't know if they were trying to soften us up a bit, but they according to them, half of what they earn goes to the association.
We started our ascent to Babadak at around 2pm. Our Hilander, obviously, cannot drive over the old lumber road. Kuya Jun had to make two trips to get all of us up to the ranger station. The trip was stressful, we have to cram ourselves (Cutie, Spaga, Choobaka, Bulayners, Kiddiebo, Pitangskers and I) and our gears into a 6-seater jeep. Some of the potholes on the road were also quite deep that we had to walk a few meters uphill to ease the load of the jeep.
In the middle of the trip, we had to stop for a few minutes, for Kuya Jun smelled something burning. We thought the jeep overheated, it turned out to be a minor burnt wire under the hood. As we climbed, the temperature dropped gradually from 35C in Ambangeg down to 25C in Babadak.
After 2 hrs, we finally reached Babadak. Kuya Jun went back for the rest of the gang, while we were getting ready for the night (wearing layers of cloths to fight off the cold). There is a house, which has a shower/comform room, a sink where you can get drinking water, a bedroom, and a fireplace, beside the Ranger Station which can be used by mountaineers. There's also a camping ground near the station and a few feet further near the commune.
Babadak is surrounded by vegetable plantation. Ibalois are indigenous to the area, most of them are vegetable farmers similar to those in Sagada. But unlike the latter, the inhabitants of Babadak also earns from the surge of mountaineers visiting the area.
We started to set up for camp when the rest of the group arrived. Spaga, Cutie, Pitangskers, Allan, Frank, Joan and Nenen opted to stay in the house; Hotshot and Mama Beekee in the smaller tent; Kiddiebo, Choobaka, Bulayners and I in the larger dome tent; Apolito and Kuya Jun shared another tent.
The temperature dropped a little lower when nightfall came. Our dinner, again cooked by the able hands of Apolito, consisted of chicken & beans (chicken cooked with canned pork & beans) and Maggi noodles with vegetables fresh from Kabayan (or was it from Babadak?).
Washing the utensils was hard work. Running water was ice cold. I felt like I was plunging my hands into an icebox. The excess oil on the utensils hardened the moment it touched the water. Getting them off and rinsing the soap turned our fingernails blue.
The night sky in Babadak is breathtaking. We stargazed a bit, after dinner. I'm not an astronomy buff, but I could easily pinpoint north star and the big dipper. The night was so clear that we had a 180 degree view of the sky.
At 9pm, we were already in our respective tents. But we can't sleep easily because of the wind. The wind rushed against our tent so hard that it felt and sounded like we were camping on the beach and not on a mountain. The temperature dropped even lower at 13C (Or was it 16C?). Mama Beekee was already fast asleep and snoring loudly by 10pm. Bulayners and I can't sleep because of his snoring. In addition, Apolito and Kuya Jun were having the time of their life chatting in the adjoining tent. I even overheard Apolito complaining about the thermal blanket's crackling noise. According to him, honeymooners' can lose their privacy when using it.
Most of us, slept fitfully due to the cold, and some like Bulayners and me, due to the noise. The water was colder than the night before. Only Allan had the courage and the bones to take a shower. Talk about an ice-cold shower! We had an early start, eating breakfast a little after 6. It took us longer to pack our bags, as we had to divide the food among ourselves. We hired no porter, so we had to bring our drinking water (2 liters), sleeping bags, tents and share the load of our provisions. Some of us, also brought earthpads with them. You can just imagine how heavy our load was.
After a few minutes of stretching and other warm-up exercises, we started the ascent at exactly 8am. The first kilometer was a gruelling trek, the vertical hadn't started up until the next km. As most of us hadn't had any basic mountaineering courses which can help build up our stamina, we were not used to the long hike and the heavy load of our backpacks. Nenen and I was unfortunate enough to have pms on that same day.
After just a few minutes of walk, Bulayners and I had to sit down and catch our breath. I think we stopped for more than 10 times. It was not the heat that brought us exhaustion, it was the heavy load of our backpacks. The temperature helped a lot, actually. You would be sweating less likely when climbing Mt. Pulag using the trail starting from Babadak.
The trail is wider and quite clear. From time to time, we encountered a few forks, but other mountaineers marked off the wrong path with tree branches and stones. The climb is moderate and not steep, it was less dangerous than our hike to Batad.
Halfway along the trail, while we were resting, we met a few mountaineers form Laguna (the name of the group starts with the letter c). They were quite friendly, in fact, they told us that we are approaching near (meaning a few meters) our destination. Their statement gave us new vigor. We hiked longer than we used to do without resting. It turned out we're still 2km away from the camping ground. Thanks but no thanks for giving us false hopes!
As we climbed higher, the scenery was getting better. We can see the bald peak of the mountain. There was this one time (in band camp...hehe), Bulayners and I (she was my climbing buddy) were resting and leaning on a fallen log covered with moss, when i looked up i saw clouds drifting off a few feet above us. For me that was one memorable moment.
We reached the camping ground a few minutes past noon. We camped near the path leading off to the makeshift comfort rooms, before it goes downhill. We didn't expect to see a CR, we even brought a mini-shovel Ü. It's not really a CR, more like a big pit covered by logs and surrounded by galvanized iron on 3 sides for privacy, the side facing off to the other mountain is open to peeping toms.
It was misty and drizzling by the time we finished putting up our tent. Lunch consisted of Lucky Me Pancit Canton and Mapa, a chinese delicacy of sweet and slightly spicy dried meat. We took a nap to recharge our energies for the afternoon climb to the summit in the hope of catching a glimpse of the setting sun.
We woke up a little after 3, it was a bit cloudy. Mark, who just came from fetching water for cooking from a nearby spring, told us that we might not be able to see sunset. But we still persisted the grassland. We hiked moderately for 100 vertical meters up to the next camp site where we had our pictures taken among the dwarfed bamboos.
We pressed on to one of the many peaks of Pulag. But the clouds started to set in, that it was getting hard to see the scenery. Getting around was no use if we can't see anything, so we had no choice but to head back to the camp. On our way back, we stopped by a bend where we had our pictures taken with Pulag's mossy forest as backdrop.
At 5pm, most of us were getting ready for the cold night. And most of us had to do our business, rather hastily, in one of the CRs (there were two). It gave off a putrid smell, which was very unpleasant. We dubbed the one facing east as hotdog, the other one as pancake (you wouldn't want to know why). Water is scarce, we have to be content with a few wipes of Wet Ones.
Lucky Me Supreme is dinner. It's not our favorite food, it's a matter of survival and not choice. By 7pm, we were lying in our tents. Mama Beekee, Kiddiebo and Choobaka is in the tent opposite ours. The 6 of us (Hotshot, Cutie, Bulayners, Spaga, Pitangskers and yours truly) settled in the bigger tent. The temperature drastically dropped to below 10C. I was wearing 3 sets of clothing, one over the other plus my jacket, but I was still freezing. By midnight, it dropped further to 3C. The thermal blanket didn't help much. It became even more aggravating because of its crackling noise, it sounds like when you're balling up a plastic bag.
Apolito sounded his wake up call by 2:30am. Cutie and I were complaining that we haven't even slept yet. The plan was to reach the summit just before the sun rises, so we had to leave by 3am. Flashlights in hand, we started to follow the trail we used the previous afternoon. Pitangskers was restless the night before and hadn't had enough sleep, so she and Spaga were left behind in the camp site.
It was dark, the moon was still glowing, but it didn't prevent us from stumbling over lose rocks and unseen ditches along the trail. Frank's group came up a little late, so we had to leave without them. But they are experienced mountaineers, so they caught up with us a few meters away from the summit.
When we reached the highest point of Mt. Pulag, the sun wasn't up yet. In a matter of minutes, it started to peek out the clouds. The clouds started to drift down the ridges surrounding the mountain. The whole process was quite breathtaking. I can't find the exact words to describe it. In our frantic attempt to capture the beauty of it, we used up a lot of films. Some of it weren't captured by the film, those that were captured turned out to be really spectacular.
We went back to the camp site immediately after the pictorial. After packing up, eating breakfast, and cleaning the vicinity, we headed back to Babadak. The descent was less tiring, our loads were lighter as we already ate and drank most of the contents of our backpacks.
Bulayners and I planned to tell the people that we would be meeting on our way back the same thing that those mountaineers I mentioned above said to us, giving them false hopes. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for them, we didn't meet any mountaineers.
We arrived in Babadak just in time for lunch and got ready for our final descent. Those of us who came up on the 2nd trip to Babadak, hitchhiked with the Red Cross Volunteers from Trinidad. The latter hired an extended jeepney from Ambangeg for P6000. Their tour guide is an acquaintance of Apolito, so Kuya Jun was saved from making another trip back to fetch them. We dropped by the DENR outpost to get the Hilander and the signed certificates.
We headed back to Baguio at 3pm and arrived after 3 hours. Kuya Jun and Frank's group continued on to Manila for the latter's trip back to Marbel. We stayed in Baguio for a day, shopping for handicrafts and ukay (surplus goods). After that we stayed in Camiling, Tarlac for a day to attend their town fiesta and to visit Hotshot's relatives. On the 8th day, we headed back to Manila, dropping by Angeles City to say hello to Kuya Jun.
And that ends our adventure for this year Ü.