If an experienced mountaineer tells you – unfit and inexperienced you – the number of hours needed to reach the summit of a mountain, add three to the figure. This my Cuello cousins and I failed to do as we scaled Mt. Pico de Loro in Ternate, Cavite. Emboldened by the claims of various mountaineering blogs that the hike to the top would be a leisurely two-hour stroll, we set out for what turned out to be a bumbling and exhausting 5-hour climb. Which is not to say we did not have fun.
This ill-planned trek seemed like a non-sequitur. It started out as a visit to my grandmother in Maragondon, Cavite, which led to a visit to a recuperating Cuello cousin in nearby Naic, which led to merienda with her sisters. I only have a foggy notion of what we talked about over saba con yelo, but by the time we finished the icy treat, the sisters (Sha-sha, Rachel) and I have decided, yes, we want to climb Mt. Pico de Loro, and yes, we should do it within the week. We were oblivious to the fact that 1) none of us had any experience climbing a mountain, and 2) we had no idea how to reach the summit of the said mountain.
— fast forward to the day before the climb. I went to my cousins’ house in Naic and saw a chaos of laptops and cell phones on the dining table; last minute calls and text messages to other cousins who want to join the climb (none); frantic web searches for directions to the summit. It was fortunate that Rachel’s boyfriend Bryan would be joining our climb. His brother climbed Pico de Loro the previous day, and gave Bryan instructions on how to reach the top. Bryan also had experience climbing a few mountains. To paraphrase that hackneyed expression, he would be the one-eyed mountaineer leading a band of blind mountaineer wannabes.
The next day we departed from Naic around 6 am, and proceeded to the DENR station in Ternate, Cavite. We registered, paid the fees, and bought the overpriced arm sleeves on display (Bryan whispered to us when we were informed of the price, ‘P80? Eh P30 lang yan sa labas.’). The girl manning the registration table left us; a few minutes later we searched for a person to take our group picture. We found an elderly lady – presumably the mother of the lady manning the table – who agreed to get a snapshot using Rachel’s DLSR, but she exclaimed, ‘Naku hindi pa ako nakakahipo nito!’ Rachel then gave her instructions on how to operate the camera. (Later, Sha-Sha, with characteristic Cuello snark, remarked, ‘Hindi pa raw nakakahipo. Virgin pa pala si Nanay!’)
(DENR Station in Ternate Cavite)
After several shots, the elderly lady remarked, “Wala kayong guide. Kung sa bagay madali lang naman puntahan Pico de Loro. Basta kanan parati. Yung unang kanan kapag nakita yung upuan.”
So we walked down the highway in search of this so-called ‘upuan’. Several minutes later, we saw a bamboo bench – the ‘upuan’ the lady was referring to. We camwhored for a few minutes using the bench as a prop, then proceeded to follow the path, and always remembering to turn right.
(Searching for the Bench)
(Rachel, Bryan, and Sha-Sha)
(My Bamboo Bench Camwhore Picture)
A succession of forests, threaded by a single, well-trodden path. There is a tree my cousins call Choco Butternut because its color and texture resembled that of the donut. Another tree had a branch wrapped around it and formed a loop that resembled a seat; we took turns sitting on this loop. Roots and rocks combined to form steps in some parts of the forests.
(Vandalized ‘Choco Butternut’ Tree’)
(Tree With the Seat-Like Branch)
After an hour of walking we arrived at the base camp, site of the second registration and of a store peddling Gatorade, soft drinks, instant noodles, and biscuits. Rachel and Sha-sha opened their bags and shared the sandwiches they prepared with the children manning the table. Later, one of the kids shyly told us that we had to pay a fee of P20.00. Rachel joked, ‘Paano ba yan? Yung sandwich P30.00. O may utang pa kayo sa amin!’
(House in Front of Base Camp)
Before we left the base camp, Rachel asked the kid, ‘Malapit na ba yung Pico de Loro?’ The girl shook her head.
“Nakakalahati na ba kami?” Again, the girl shook her head.
“Ilang oras pa?” The girl replied, “Malayo pa po kayo.”
I told Rachel, “Sa susunod, huwag na tayo magtanong kung malapit na. Baka madismaya lang tayo.”
As we continued hiking, we would encounter mountaineers who would smile and greet us. Sha-sha chuckled, “Ganito pala ang mga mountaineers. Lahat friends.” So, like kids playacting, we would greet mountaineers in the manner we were greeted: “Good morning po… Sige po, ingat po kayo.”
The foliage grew thicker, the terrain became steeper. We heard the deafening and vibrating noise made by cicadas. This led Rachel to remark to her sister, “Alam mo Ate, kapag nagkukuwento ka, ganyan ang nadidinig ko.” Guffaws from everyone.
We had to stop several times because one of us (me most of the time) would be winded and require several minutes of rest. This gave Sha and Rachel time to take pictures of the environs.
(Admiring Mother Nature)
(Park That Is Not A Park: Alibangbang Park)
(Deeper Into the Forest)
(Pico de Loro Flora)
Trudge. Rest. Trudge. Rest. Ad nauseum. Then we saw a mountaineer wave his arms at us. He shouted: “Maling daan! Maling daan!” Rachel asked, “Ano daw?” Sha replied, “Maling daan daw. Tignan mo, mga bungo ng mga naligaw na mountaineer. Haha. Joke.”
Bryan conversed with the mountaineers. I head one of them remark, “Nilagyan na nga ng harang, dinaanan pa natin.” We followed the lead of this small group. While retracing our path, I suddenly felt an excrutiating pain in my leg. I shouted, “Cramps!” One of the mountaineers approached me and asked, “Sir, may Gatorade po kayo?”
“Mababa sodium niyo. Dapat po kayo mag-replensish. Hindi puwedeng tubig lang yan.”
After several minutes of resting and gulping Gatorade, I said I was ready to walk again. The mountaineer who approached me observed me while I resumed hiking.
“Sir, small steps lang. Kaka-cramps niyo lang kaya hindi puwedeng malaking hakbang.”
“Sige small steps lang.”
A few minutes later we let them go ahead of us.
* * *
Reaching the summit was anti-climactic. We would encounter mountaineers who would tell us, “Malapit na kayo.” But the trek seemed so endless that any reassurance from our fellow trekkers felt preposterous, like hearing Casanova proclaim his fidelity and chastity.
Then we entered a bamboo grove. Suddenly Bryan declared, “Nandito na tayo.” We emerged from the grove into the summit. The suddenness with which we arrived at the top made me scratch my head.
(Bamboo Grove Near the Summit)
(Summit… Ang init!!!)
It felt like a party on top of Pico de Loro, albeit a party under the glare of the sun, with the partygoers having the physical characteristics of guerrillas and commandoes, and Gatorade as the drink of choice instead of alcohol.
I decided not to accompany Sha-Sha, Rachel, and Bryan to the famed outcrops known as the Parrot’s Beak; heat and tiredness made me risk-averse. I bought bottles of Gatorade from a makeshift store, sat on the shadow of a bamboo grove, and got drunk on the thirst quencher while listening to dubstep on my cellphone.
After 45 minutes, Sha-Sha, Rachel, and Bryan came back. Only Bryan was able to scale both outcrops. Sha and Rachel kept sliding down the rocks as their footwear was inappropriate for rock climbing. We idled around for 20 minutes; then, around 1:30 pm, we decided to climb down.
(In Front of Makeshift Store Selling Softdrinks and Gatorade)
(Mountaineers Admiring View From The Summit)
We got lost again going down the mountain. Three mountaineers ahead of us turned around, and one of them muttered, “Hindi dito ang daan.” We went back to the summit. The mountaineer then reprimanded some campers who apparently set up their tent on the path: “Paano namin makikita yung daan kung hinarangan niyo?” So we followed the three mountaineers on the correct path. Then, as they hiked faster, the distance between us grew, and eventually they disappeared from view.
After 30 minutes of walking, Rachel remarked, “Hindi pala nakakapagod pababa.” With mock indignation, I replied, “Hindi ka pa pagod? Puwes, umakyat ka ulit sa summit, tapos bumaba ka ulit. Ulitin mo yan ng sampung beses. Saka ka lumapit sa amin at sabihing hindi ka pa pagod.” Rachel laughed and said, “Kuya Joseph! Hindi ko alam na puwede ka palang kontrabida sa pelikula!”
But Rachel did have a point. Climbing down a mountain was faster and less exhausting, though Sha-Sha and I felt our knees being assaulted by the impact of stepping forcefully on rocky terrain. I regretted wearing hiking sandals instead of rubber shoes.
We were famished as we reached the end of our journey. I remarked that given the physical exertion involved in climbing the mountain, we earned the right to down plates of crispy pata. Everyone said, “Oo nga, oo nga.” Then we heard tricycles; we were near the highway. We ran and shouted like savages, crying, “Crispy Pata! Woohoo!” We saw to our delight the bamboo bench. Bryan laughed and high-fived each one of us. He said, “Ang galing! Ang galing! First climb hindi kayo sumuko. Ang galing!”
We drove back to Naic. Unfortunately there was no crispy pata in my cousins’ house, but we were greeted by a sumptuous and steaming bowl of nilaga na baka on the dining table. As we ate our very late lunch, we regaled everyone with tales of our adventure in the mountain.
POSTSCRIPT: Much to my chagrin, what I thought was the summit was actually just the summit campsite. It took me several months to be able to return to Mt. Pico de Loro and finally reach the summit.