Round Up: When in Leyte

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Our three-day visit could be summarized by the quick sight of some of the many gems off the province’s treasure chest, that which ended great.

But great doesn’t even begin to describe it, especially with our initial destination – no less than the serene Kalanggaman Island off the coast of Palompon which was three hours away from Tacloban. Less all the sugarcoatings there is, the place basically boasts about everything in itself: its pristine waters, lengthy sandbars, and the perfect sunset. It’s that beach that hardly shamed all them beaches I've been to before. And it really was nothing less than that.

Contrast to the usual drill of craggy adventures as climbing mountains, our entire Leyte trip was a soothing mix of worthwhile sightseeing, an island quest, a hearty charitable work, generally much on the relaxation side. And just as we sailed smoothly back to Palompon the next day from the Kalanggaman overnight, the group once again dropped some bombs of love to some of them strolling kids nearby the shore.

We also strolled along the stretch of San Juanico Bridge, the infamous structure I have always known through my elementary history books. Finally setting foot and feeling the nearby draft under the warm blue skies makes the whole scene a picture perfect postcard backdrop.

Then we came across another prestigious destination in McArthur Park, which of course effortlessly reminded me again of those classic Sibika at Kultura moments from many moons ago. And despite some damages the park has incurred from the mayhem brought by that notorious typhoon, the fact remains that it still stood strong, a clear edifice of unparalleled vigor, exceptional toughness, and of silver linings.

With high hopes of spending our last day across the City of Pintados to be worthwhile as the previous ones, we decided to welcome that distinct oblation calling and drop by the UP Tacloban campus before finally heading to the port. Like the rest of the wrecked place, the university was also a picture of devastation during that time.

And while some things do happen beyond our control, there are also other things that just remain the same. The same way the place (and the rest of the province) was still an icon of sheer beauty and authentic charm, and its people being the solid example of resiliency. And as we rolled down to the last stretch of our Leyte escapade to wrap up just another good weekend getaway, the sun shone bright like the skies never rained days ago; seemed like no trace of them past shitty storms. None at all.


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To Leyte with Love

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Shouldn’t every child feel the excitement of having new school supplies to aid their battle for learning? Of course the answer is a resounding yes. And what more during those times when they need them the most. One such instance was during that post-Yolanda era in Leyte, the province which has been a witness of ruined homes and lost heartbeats and other looming things we don’t have idea are worse than that. With those pencils, papers, and notebooks, we hoped our simple gifts of love positively affected them in some way.

For quite some time now, our hiking/traveling group is continuously finding ways to help by collecting educational materials every now and then, that are then distributed on strategic communities (mostly on our hiking destinations). We are forever grateful to our generous friends and sponsors who have always been supportive of this undertaking no matter how small or big it is. Well we all go through high and low points in our lives and who is going through the better or worse is not really the point, but the spirit of helping each other out from the pits we get ourselves into.


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Not in Samar Nor in Leyte

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While many people seek that loving feeling of being in two places at the same time, I find it more pleasant to set foot at an indefinite place for a moment in time, such as that famous bridge in San Juanico Strait connecting Leyte to Samar (or the other way around). 

Prior to that visit, I have already been knowledgeable about the creepy urban legend about it and the countless variations of the tale that has circulated around throughout the communities, stories like street children’s throats slit with their blood offered to the spirits, and so on; to guarantee the strength of the structure during its construction. Thus, explains the feeling of oddity upon finally being there, especially with every tremble and shiver it causes whenever large vehicles pass by, that causes unlikely vibrations. Nevertheless, the creators of this masterpiece’s engineering ingenuity as well as the wondrous view of the islets scattered around it could not be discounted too. Thus, explains the genuine happiness the bridge brought us during that fateful moment while at it. 


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Sundown at Kalanggaman

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Our Leyte trip a year ago was a good mix of relaxation, adventure, and most importantly, outreach. One of its highlights was a hurl along those riveting southern waters off the coast of Palompon Leyte towards that islet of endlessly stretching twin sandbars, glistening white and velvet sand, ivory-like pebbles, turquoise waters, and cool and calm breeze. And with the combined four-hour jaunt by land and sea just to get in touch with it, we relished nothing but a top caliber getaway. When we arrived, the sun was about to get low, later on painting that entire scenery of warm and orange glow against the rippling swathe of clear waters gently kissing the contrasting shoreline hues. 


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Prelude: Leyte and The Courage That Was

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Standing strong at the Red Beach is the tranquil MacArthur Park, too peaceful that one couldn’t probe how such place once transformed into a leviathan and taxed for a huge number of lives. That nightmare of a deluge brought by Yolanda (Haiyan) last November 2013 is one for the books having been one of the worst things to ever hit the Philippines (aside from the outright thievery and trickery in our government that continues to fuck us up). The good thing is, we had that golden chance to go by the place right when Tacloban was starting to bounce back after the said catastrophe, not just to have a good time but to extend our helping hands.


Our Leyte 2014 trip coming up..
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Mt. Lubog, Rodriguez, Rizal (In Photos)

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As I was saying, the calm and peaceful Mt. Lubog off the Sierra Madre range could sometimes be badass unforgiving and downright sadistic. Especially when the gods of weather came in to picture, slapping us with some rain and a bit dose of wind, last weekend. Hence, like any other mountain there is out there, it really means business and mustn’t be at all underestimated as it require the respect it deserve from its climbers. That if you don’t give the f respect it demands, it could easily snatch it from you. Plus interest. The climb turned out to be as enduring as it could be – long hours of bumpy rides, wet bodies, heavy muds – even forcing me to sit out for two days as it claimed two of my working days for fever. But tagged along with the climb were some hard lessons to keep; and maybe we don’t need much brain cells to learn them, just the mere presence in witnessing the said feat would suffice. So here comes some pieces of evidence that I was really there on those very trails on that stormy day while nature expertly played one of its tricks on me..


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Mt. Lubog: The Badass Mountain in Rizal

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Due to the academic calendar shift, summer, in my case, is likewise adjusted. And it’s safe to say that summer’s still ongoing, thus, I’ve been and still summer-ing myself for the past few weeks, which include that last weekend misadventure at a portion of the grand slopes of the Sierra Madre mountain range, nestled at the proud and difficult peak called Mt. Lubog in Rodriguez, Rizal. Newly opened for the public some four months ago, we were told that we’re among the first few groups who luckily reached the summit this year so far. It follows that there’s a limited published materials for reference available online yet, and the lack thereof made this climb even more difficult, not to mention the weather factor which has gone really bad during our climb. One of the mandatory prerequisites of the climb is to contact specific people for initial arrangements (see: Pinoy Mountaineer) of the habal-habal type of motorcyle, the most plausible ride to the jumpoff. 

The initial struggle is going to Cubao as early as 4 AM if the group is not based on Manila and the strategic meeting place is at Farmer’s where the van bound to Total gas station in Montalban is situated. If you plan to arrive there at say, 6:30 AM, it’s good to leave at around 5:30 from Cubao as the trip could last for an hour sans the heavy traffic. From there, the never-ending habal-habal ride starts which could last forever up to 3 hours before reaching the registration area. From there, another 2 hour habal-habal-ride-and-walk combo is for the taking before reaching the actual jump-off point.

In our case, the long habal-habal ride commenced at 6:45 AM in a smooth well-polished road cushion before trouncing into a rough road in mixed rocks and muds for the next three hours, a course which is more difficult than the hike itself. In between stops, certain sites are there to behold (or not), overlooking the lush of green range with a growing case of deforestation as evidenced by the dense landslides everywhere. The current situation of the mountains due to illegal logging is quite alarming as the slopes are visibly mostly grassland as tees are almost nowhere to be found. Long after the uncharacteristic ride, we made it through the jagged trails and eventfully reached the scenic registration area, safe and sound.

It was already 9:36 AM and after taking some good rest, we resumed with the ascent with another walk tied up with more habal-habal ride. From there, the entire trail was mostly covered with fog denying us the supposed beauty of the bluish mountains on the background. The rain has started to pour hard causing the trails to go all mud. Goodness gracious, there were those crystal-clear, ice-cold mini-falls to wash-up along the roads compensating for the muddy encounter across those unforgiving slopes. And a handful of more hopes, we reached the trailhead, took a cupful of rest, and went for a lunch. At this point, I already had apprehensions to abort the climb instead as nature clearly denied us the gift of good weather, plus the road trails has insofar been brutal and downright sadistic, and we had to go through that hell of ride later on our way back. However, the occasional ‘brightening’ at the trailhead during the lunch time was enough motivation to proceed. Right then, we were not rained out, and we started with the actual hike to top.

The steep trails and the rich flora and fauna along the terrains to the summit are very reminiscent of the Mt. Makiling final assault and the Mt. Malipunyo jungle being a tropical rainforest in its core. Fifteen minutes off the jumpoff comes the first stop and the Lubog Cave, and from thereon, a series of uphill course awaits up to the rocky summit for the next hour. The trails are very raw (which is a good thing) but according to our guide, who was only on his third time to hike up to the summit, they plan to make it more hiker-friendly when the dry season comes. The trail was actually established by their group composed of at least 50 men who were also the trained guides for the climb.

Soon enough, we set foot to the knife-edge-rocky summit intricately carved with pointy rocks, deadly upon faulty fall. I couldn’t just imagine how pretty the scene at the peak could be given a nice weather, but then, this climb wouldn’t be a legit deadly one without all those struggles we had to face. After taking a few moments at the summit, we started with the descent amidst the threat posed by the heavy rain and slight brush of winds. With my usual knee problems, I decided to walk down ahead, and there I was again, occasionally questioning myself about why I climb mountains and then blankly proceed walking down the terrains instead after then, keeping in mind the fact how such a charming piece could turnout badass, big time.. 


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Mt. Makiling: Flora and Fauna

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Mt. Makiling’s been known as a home of diverse biological species, some of which are endemic to the Philippines. Reports have it that the Philippine eagle, Rafflesia, and even cobras peacefully thrive at the vastness of the rainforest. And while I have not seen any of these yet along the trails during any of my Mt. Makiling hikes, I’m still lucky to have a glimpse of the rich and appalling flora and fauna the forest offers. Though the subsequent set of photos will not do any justice, here’s the photo dump anyway--



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Mt. Makiling Diaries

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Extremely enchanted by the multitude versions of Maria Makiling tales during my early years in grade school, it was but a huge personal dream to climb Mt. Makiling ever since UPLB happened to me, way back 2007 – that time when everything I see were vividly technicolored contrast to how the current hues turned out. 

Then there were my late grandfather’s repetitive stories and myths about the mountain every single summer or semestral breaks I spent at home while having grandfatherly chats with him (that which I sorely miss right now), but I never managed to climb the peak until after I graduated from the university. But as they say, there’s always a right time for everything, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 it is – I eventually hiked Peak 2 up, not once nor twice but four times! And still am expecting more climbs soon enough.

May 15, 2011. My first official Mt. Makiling encounter was actually at 6 months BTE (before thesis existence), or I prefer to call it – end of my happy outdoor days. We were a group of 6 brods and sisses from UPLB Chemokinesis, who hiked up to the famed Flat Rocks and Mudspring, inexperienced in climbing mountains as we used to be. It was relatively an easy trek with us finishing both courses in half a day. This was also my first encounter with Mt. Makiling’s notorious limatiks drawing the first runs of blood out of my skin. After that, there were other spontaneous follow-up hikes to Flat Rocks and Mudspring since then including that terrible Flat Rocks encounter with the rain pouring down so hard that it was almost impossible trek back to the jump-off. Happiness, just like most other things sometimes comes with a price. And it’s the price of risk we should not always be willing to pay. #SafetyFirst

October 28, 2013. The tenth mountain off my #13PeaksFor2013 Project was fortunately realized through my first Mt. Makiling-Peak 2 climb. I have been climbing mountains around Laguna and Batangas for the past months that year so I knew I had the best pair of knees to fruitfully surmount the third highest peak in Luzon, at last. However, it wasn’t the perfect weather there is to begin with as the trails were dark with occasional thunderstorms and rain showers evidently casting off the skies. While we clearly understood that Makiling was just normal like that being a true tropical rainforest in its very essence, the clouds were just too heavy enough to condense every time. And as expected we were rain-soaked for most parts of the trail. The climb was not entirely easy, but it’s not difficult either. The view on top wasn’t something that would melt your face away from the skull, though the entire climb was enough to set a heart on fire. Another classic example of ‘the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

November 16, 2013. My then next Mt. Makiling encounter is probably the most memorable hike I did thus far, which happened shortly after my first Peak 2 experience, few weeks after the onslaught of the Super-typhoon Yolanda which set Tacloban into a looming pit. Together with that bunch of 22 other tired but determined climbers, we climbed to extend our helping hands through our own simple and unselfish ways. Read: this. A part of me was glad upon reaching the peak for the second time – a place where all of us were exhausted, but definitely not unhappy.

January 31, 2014. Sometime during this date, I was uncertainly crawling at probably some of the lowest points in my life. Course we have those moments of when-you-have-nothing-left-to-burn-you-have-to-set-yourself-on-fire kind of shit. And luckily, Mt. Makiling served to be a temporary escape from that crappy trap for me at that time. 

October 26, 2014. While it’s true that I have different motivations (be it to dust off anxiety attacks or simply celebrate small joys) on climbing Mt. Makiling (or every other mountain, in general) over and over again, it still boils down to the mountain’s densely canopied charm that draws my feet to it every single time. It might be a mostly long boring stride for some, and the idea of forever-ly walking those same long muddy and rocky trails under those same shady boring trees, for the second or third time is kind of redundant. But as they say, one can’t climb the same mountain twice. And unless you try to climb a mountain more than once, you’ll never understand that sweet and compelling truth for such. 

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Round Up: North Roads

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For the past few days of good fortunes spending moments over those northern mountains were countless paths we’ve drove thus far. And while my heart was still at hype chasing each and every trail and highway, my pocket’s already running dry and the clock’s madly ticking like a bomb. Unfortunately, there came the time to finally move out, hit the road back home, face the real world at large, and make a little more money to feed fancy tours such as this. And as we jumped over that Baguio-bound Sagada bus few hours before the noontime, I could have once again imagined those roads I needed to pave just to be that far.

Talk about those butt-numbing – 5-hour roadtrip from Los Baños Laguna to Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, 4-hour ride to Solano Nueva Vizcaya3-hour journey to Banaue2-hour stint to Bontoc, and 1-hour topload trudge to no less than that place called Sagada.

And just as planned, the rosary trail I dreamed was realized. From there we crossed the deathly roads of Halsema, the winding roads of La Union, Pangasinan and Pampanga, the busy streets to Manila, and finally at home to Los Baños Laguna. 

We always want our hard work to mean something. And with this, I’m sure I did not fail.


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