Mt. Pulag Summit

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Straddling the top of Luzon, I hunched a shoulder against the cool breeze, stared in awe at the vastness of what seemed like a well-maintained grassland, and see to it to capture memories through photographs, in hope to provide a valuable record of how special such place is. I have been fantasizing about that moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. And right then when I was finally there, actually standing on the summit of Mt. Pulag, all the struggle from that long shivery night just faded away. The view up there on top was a beauty of truly monumental proportions. Right at those very moments, I could safely and selfishly say that nothing could come between me and those seas of clouds cascading over the hills. True enough, we were lucky to have a good weather that day and take a birds’ eye look at the immensity of the panoramic slopes.

But all good things must eventually come to an end. The sun’s brightly shining already, so we began to finally descend and go back to the campsite.
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Sea of Clouds

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While the sub-zero wind chills tortured me the whole night, I could still positively feel the glorious morning coming ahead. The Mt. Pulag night cold struggle continues with that 3 AM call-time for the final assault to the panoramic view point. It was cold inside our tent but the colder reality is, it was obviously colder outside. But left with no choice, we had to defy Newton’s first law of inertia, and get ourselves going. Still too dark, we needed headlamps to work our way up the muddy trails across those hills. Along the hike, flashes of great scenery were greeting us once in a while but the entirety’s not fully revealing itself yet. We strolled for a little over an hour until we finally saw that one last push of a hike and get there right above the clouds, with us momentarily being the tallest things in the entire Luzon island..


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The Long Pulag Night

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Moments later, I was awaken by the intolerable temperature drop, the storm booming without in solemn swells. Then the air seemed wailing from inside the tent. I could hear the ice cold dews striking and dripping over our now nearly useless tent. I checked my phone for the time only to find out that it was only a little over an hour since I fell to that shallow slumber. My body was chilling and I could feel the ground freezing. It was literally the coolest moment I have ever been and unfortunately I wasn’t prepared.

Well I fell asleep a few more times but woke up just as often. Whenever deep sleep was about to arrive, I would shrink back and wake up due to the unsettling cold, then sleep and woke again, in endless repetition. It felt dreadfully cold, but there was no help for it. So I pulled my freezing self together, got between the sheets, and pushed myself to the best of my ability to fall asleep again. Every waking hour was a déjà vu growing worse with every turn, more of the same, one more time around.

For the first time in a long time, I uttered some evening prayers for the Pulag gods or whomever out there exists. I keep my vigil, but to no expense. And then a notchlower temp began to squeeze on us further, while the clock spanks me with the fact that it was just eight o’clock. It was the longest night I should know.

I hardly had a good sleep since then. I laid there dismally calculating the remaining hours I had to endure. Seven, six, five.. and the night was getting far even colder. The thought nearly caused me hypothermia, but then I had to endure, along with the lesson on how the cold could such inspire fear. And I swore not to do that ever again.
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Mt Pulag: The Initial Assault

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It took us time and effort – from planning for the perfect date, the necessary arrangements, budgetary considerations, and the availability of ourselves, to finally make Mt. Pulag no more a dream. For some time, we were stuck on those waiting games for the stars to align and make this long overdue Pulag climb happen.

Months swiftly passed since the planning stage and the next thing we knew, we were finally climbing those very trails of that magical moss of a forest garden of floral blooms and green lush of pine trees across that sea of northern Pulag clouds. The climb per se was an easy feat as the trails were pretty clear and downright easy to recognize. But the catch – it’s unseasonably cold, with the subtle brisk of crisp air turning into a brisk wet wind swirling down on us and the trails.

While occasionally gracing ourselves with some stops along the way to catch some breath, the temperature was further dropping as well. In between the biting cold, far ahead of us were those towering pines and woods, merging into the green distance on the slopes as if it goes on forever. Then the next thing happened; the microclimate spoke of rain showers, and true enough we had sporadic rain showers. But we continued walking those moderately slippery terrains hoping to soon reach our destination.

Soon it was time to stop as we set foot to where we were supposed to stay the night. We reached the designated camp site, luckily with the sun still up. We were able to take some photos before celebrating the climb with a sumptuous meal to end the day. In no time, tents were pinched, dinner’s served and we were more than good to go for the precious sleep. Soon it was dark, though my clock just read 17:30. And in no time I fell asleep and found that peace in all the world I badly needed.
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Prelude: Back in the North

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I always make it a point to become better, or at least, happier, at everything. Or Not. Truth is, I’m just perennially bored, and those things called mountains alleviate this fear called stagnation. 

With the ubiquity of slopes and hiking destinations scattered all over the archipelago, I think Philippines has become a mountain-mad country already, thus, this lot of hiking enthusiasts out there, and mountaineers, and those pretending to be one, that which includes me. Anyhow, after crossing-out at least 20 peaks off my list for the last two years, I finally had this golden chance to meet this fine, boisterous giant at the north last year, no less than the highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Pulag.

So we drove up to Baguio the night before the actual climb which means we won’t be having a good night sleep for the remainder of that day. And it’s hard climbing a mountain without enough of a rest to say the least. Nevertheless, I took every opportunity to snatch some nap while taking that long bus ride from Manila to Baguio in preparation for the rough day coming up. In no time, we arrived at a freezing Baguio City at around 3 AM, a little early than our scheduled trip. A little over an hour of waiting followed, then we rode off in a jeep bound to the jump-off point.

Not long after, we hit the road again and it was already the birth-stretch of the sun. I found myself on that reminiscent winding road of pines and ridges on the sidelines once again. I have been travelling the same road for a number of times already yet the travel high it caused me was still madly intensified. Every single time. I still had those little chills of excitement like it had always been the first time. And just before falling to a deep slumber off the jeep, the gloom towards the north perfectly matched with the darkness on the far south. So then I tried to capture on memory every twist of the road in awe with every turn of our wheels.

Few more turns and we stopped for a sumptuous breakfast at a local eatery along the way, then stopped for awhile at the DENR office for some reminders about respect through a quick briefing on how to rightly conduct ourselves while braving the chilly trek. We finally continued on our ride to the Rangers Station at the base of the mountain, had a quick lunch and proceeded to do the three-hour trek to the camp on top.

And that’s where it all began – right there on the playground of gods, ready to play some goddamn games of our lives.


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Baler, on shades of gray

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Sometime on a cold midyear night last year, I was at Baler for the same old reason – to runaway, lol. It was a quick but eventful weekend break, to say the least. Actually, all there was was the whole night of Friday to travel, whole day of Saturday to tour, the remainder of the night to beach around, and the next day to travel back to reality. But mind you, that quick getaway, for some reason, was actually one of the most celebratory ones, like a long overdue basketball win over bonfires.

Until now, reminiscing about it still leaves me clueless how simple talks over a bottle of beer across those Pacific waves gave me faith and helped me clear some clutters off my head and come up with some huge realizations like a real and matured adult at that time – that some things aren’t written in the stars, that somehow everything will eventually make sense, and that all those shits there was will all be worth it in the end. 

On other news, behold, here comes the great photo dump.


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The Hermit Crab and His Home

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I am I live and crawl and love
As I am free and wild as fire
With my days spent in ocean’s arms
There still this something, more than meets your eye

Every now and then I crave for new
An abode to fit my growing limbs and toes
Some shells that snails leave far behind
A second-hand home for me to thrive

See I don’t have a home I own
But still I live the way I love
I may not settle for a one true house
Cos I always leave, later find another one

But don’t you judge and call me things
That I am not, and will not yield
It’s just the way things come and go
I need to move and be alive

But too, afraid I’m aware that I
Could never own what I pretend to have
That I may soon break, and wither, and die
And someone else will take away this shell I’m at

The above photo was taken at Diguisit Coral Beach last 3rd of May 2014
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Beach, Beer, Baler

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While the whole-day tricycle ride around Baler’s most wanted tourist attractions (e.g. Ditumabo Falls, Baler Museum, and Balete Park) was good, I have to skip the long aching storytelling part because I was technically asleep for most parts of this city trip primarily because of that disastrous turnout of events during the previous night. On other news, Baler is very well known to be a huge surfing destination, though time was a primary constraint to even consider giving it a try. Instead, the remainder of the day was spent through a long tambay-by-the seaside as soon as darkness covered the entirety of the Pacific ridge.

Who needs a crazy ride aloof the shores and across the waves anyway – when you could have those long stretch of gray sands to lay, whole wide seas to quietly squeal, sparkling stars in the open skies to behold, and a bottle of ice-cold San Mig Light beer, while unloading bombs of stories here and there.
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Passenger Sh*t: The Long Ride to Baler

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Coming from a troublesome ride to reach Cabanatuan, the troubled me continued travelling north-eastward because, well, I wanted and needed to go to Baler. And while I’m usually fond of long drives, that day was clearly an exception thinking that the entire half day and night of being on the road was already beyond enough, so I solemnly wish that the last stretch of bus ride would be threstral-fast. Immediately, I looked for that chartered bus to Baler and wasted no time. A convenient transport was not a priority already as I deemed it more important to finally in a cozy bed soon enough, beyond anything else. That explains why I was overjoyed the moment I finally found that hell of a bus I have been longing for during the hours that passed.

“Casiguran” reads the bus sign. I certainly couldn’t afford another heartbreak so I approached the nearest person I could ask and confirm that this badass Casiguran-bound bus branded as D’Line is indeed d' line which will be the answer to my prayrs.

And I received the best news I had for the last sixteen hours. Excited as I could be, I looked for that golden seat destined for me. But from the looks of it, it made me think twice if I would gamble my life and trust the poor thing.

“This would be your seat, brother”, the barker affirmed, pointing at a tiny seat nearest the bus door, which coincidentally was the last available seat up for grab. I sluggishly nodded while letting my gaze wander around the environs. Piles of luggage as huge as China and whatever crap those were on the aisle strategically placed on top of one another left a very tiny space for passengers to pass on. The iron throne I envisioned was a piece of shit that’s too cramped that I obviously won’t fit in. There’s even a huge hole at the floor area right down my seat which I presumed would be a problem once the bus took off, not to mention the awful stench and the extra cold weather. The bus was more of a trash in the most irritating way, to say the least. The dread the whole state felt was the same dread the Starks feel towards the winter.

I then had to decide as fast as I could. “To ride or not to ride?”, and my drained mind is failing me during those wee hours. Because yes, horrible things happen when you decide while you are stressed. I grabbed my phone to check for the time, which caused me a little miffled as my cell alerted me with another low-batt advisory. The odds were clearly so bent on shitting on my face. Exhaustion ruled over me during those sabaw times, maybe because of the pints of alcohol I feasted on earlier that night. For a moment, I was suffocating so I get myself out of that bus to have a stick and gasp for a fresher air outside.

“Here”, gestured that same guy I asked a while ago (who alighted from nowhere) to offer me some stokes. But I politely declined. I don't usually receive things from strangers, thus I refused, even if a stick was the last thing playing on my mind before going down that bus. Going back to my problem, I then realized that I haven’t really had a choice so I went up back to my bawdy throne and prepared myself to spend the rest of the night wide awake. I noticed that the man followed suit as he casted a final blow of smokes then settled for his seat somewhere along those heaps of baggage, in front just beside the driver’s seat.

It was nearly one o’clock when the engine started to pull over, signaling the realization of yet a merry way. The night was cold and silent, with the roads starting to become darker and darker. For a moment, I first-hand-edly experience the byaheng langit myself, a la fast and furious, with the cold starting to permeate my skin, partida, without the ac. The bus proceeded with the twists and turns of the route and later were roads that were impossible for a two-way traffic. There were a lot of rough roads too, goddamit.

Then the ticket-man started to collect a little over a hundred bucks for the fare. Deducing the length of time it would take and given the pace the bus was running, I assumed the trip would be a little over two hours or shorter, since the fare was something like "Elbi to Cubao" and considering the lack of heavy traffic. As I paid the fare, I, on the  contrary paid minimal attention to my savaged situation, just hoping I would get a few minutes rest, but couldn’t. A number of people boarded while a few dropped off at some points of the road. Yes, people come and go, until I lost my consciousness, and fell asleep for a while.

Then we got mid-way (I think) through the ride. I took the mandatory bus stop hop-out just because I was sitting and/or blocking the bus door for the other passengers to pass. I was too lazy to eat at the stop, so I entertained myself by catching some breath of smoky air in a corner, trying to fight the cold. Popping out from nowhere like a pro, the strange man approached me once again and weirdly asked some sort of things.

“You’re heading to Baler.” He stated matter-of-factly while staring like he’s reading beyond my head.

I nodded in agreement and threw the same question.

“Me too”, he answered. It turned out that it was the only question I asked in which I got a decent answer.

The boring conversation went on with this outlandish man asking more details as personal as my name, course, and school, and me throwing the same questions back but not getting any answers back. He even asked what on earth brought me there traveling alone, where will I stay when I get there, and all other creepy things a stranger could ask another stranger. He even told stories which I think were swollen to the level of hyperbole such as how unsafe in there with all those paranormal activities and stuff, and even gave me aberrant warnings. Eventually, I gave in with all those strangeness that’s happening so I respectfully excused myself and returned to my bus seat. But before I could leave, he offered me a menthol candy, which I awkwardly accepted just so I could end that uncanny encounter. I believe it delighted him in some sadistic way to ensnare me with my own qualms; with me sharing a part of me without realizing it and him terrorizing me with stories closely enclaved with my real fears. Before I turned my back, he outright-ly flashed that genuine grin that totally left me crept out.

Minutes later, the bus started to hit the road again then I started to wander my eyes on the road and try to appreciate the forest-ness of the area despite the blinding darkness. A few more push and we passed by another tear-jerking sign..

“Welcome to Maria Aurora” the mark greets with so much love

..which was subject to a big disappointment as I learned that I’m nothing somewhere near Baler yet. I started to feel a little of that internal freak out in my chest again. But I also felt the need to find the beauty out of the entire mess, the uncertainty at the moment should be enjoyed as it happens. So I stopped counting down the clock’s ticks and forced myself to sleep again instead, but to no avail.

I silently watched the people around me on the deepest of their slumbers. For some moments I envied them, appreciated their dedication of travelling and endure such long rides just to transport their goods. I felt sorry for their worn out dresses and their stressed faces, but genuinely relieved about their joyful snores and their apparent simple living. I was there for leisure and those people were paving the night for earning. I was on the depths of those kinds of realizations when I finally saw that “2n km to Baler” sign which left my heart dribbled.

It was hard to keep my feet off the bus’ floor, anticipating for the much awaited drop-off to yet another foreign land. I began to appreciate that huge hole under my seat just beside my shoes, the company of every passenger on that bus who were still in the dreamland’s greatness, and of course that old and grumpy bus for bringing me that far. And I did reach baler safely, minutes later. I merrily jumped out of the bus and cherished the Baler ground for the first time. I expected that man who shook my silent night to drop off the bus too but found no one, except me. Then I threw a gaze at the bus for the last time as it left, particularly on that space beside the driver’s seat, and found what? Nothing. Not even a driver seat was there, just plain pile of bags.

I was left puzzled, clueless, and scared to death with the fuck that just happened. Then I walked a couple of meters, chartered a trike, and instructed the driver to drop me at a site nearby my intended haven for the remainder of the night. It was a few minutes past five o’clock and the sun will soon to splinter across the Pacific Ocean and pour its first light, when my body had the chance to feel that much-coveted love courtesy of the soft bed, oh god. And it was heaven right then and there, and for the next two hours.





P.S. Later, when I got home back in Los Banos, I was puzzled because the menthol candy was missing in my backpack. Then just today while searching for some details online, THIS I found.
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Prelude: Baler Trip (How to murder a getaway)

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I know some terrible things I have done in my life, and clearly my karma’s out of balance to have some counterpart terrible encounters and come across with a pile of dreadful things, especially during my quest for adventures. Surely, these are total disasters that complicatedly made things reach that point of highest entropy level.. the things that utterly made my trips downright nuts.. or as I prefer to call it, murdered my getaways. Unlike many travellers, I usually do not prefer tour packages in lieu of the comfortable and hassle-free tour, but rather practice DIY trips, like a pro at that. Things though don’t always go well as how they’re planned: case in point, that long road trip to Baler, Aurora.

After a long ride from the busy streets of Cubao all the way down to that hapless place called Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, I immediately jumped out of the bus and wandered my gaze around to look for that life-saving final bus bound to Baler. Time check, a little over 10 PM, or should I say death hour, because I’m dead right at that moment in so many levels. For one, I have the pre-knowledge that the last ride off to my destination does not go beyond that mark which hurtfully means I’m doomed. Two, my phone’s nearing the emptiness state which means I’m fucked up. And three, my internal organs were heavily throwing their profanities on me since I skipped that meal of the day called dinner, in hope to save some extra time and catch that previous ride, which turned out to be a mega-pathetic one.

To recap, I did miss the all-important final bus, and well, all I could do was to wait until 3 or 4 AM the following day. So I jumped at the nearest convenient store to recharge my phone and myself to be energized for for the long waiting game in the midst of the dirty streets. Then I did the mandatory updating for the information of some of the concerned people about my misfortunes. Half an hour has passed and I already wholeheartedly accepted the fact that I’m spending the rest of the night under the open skies. In no time, I found myself lurking at the side of the streets gulping a can of San Mig Light, after a can, after another can, and another can, because basically it was all I can. It was that hard to kill time.

The clock had just struck midnight and I was still facing the blankness of the night. Then my senses felt that sullen urge to momentarily escape the trap I got myself caught into. I was too tired to make pleasant conversations with anyone (which was btw very me), but this certain sidewalk vendor was too persistent to actually force some exchange of words with me, for some goddamn reason I have no idea about regarding some topics I don’t care about. But to cut the long story short, she has actually showed me this alternative way to put my left-by-the-bus problem to a bittersweet end, as I learned that there was this other bus bound to Casiguran, which regularly drops by Baler. And there really is. It was a splash of water right on my face. And a splash of lessons too.



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