Lessons from a Misbegotten Mountain Dayhike [Mt. Batolusong/Mapatag Plateau, Tanay Rizal, July 2013]

mapatag plateau

(Mapatag Plateau)

  1. A local guide, no matter how frail-looking, is always stronger and hardier than you.
  2. There seems to be  nationwide conspiracy among mountain guides to grossly underestimate the time required to reach the summit of a mountain.
  3. Time is relative, even in the mountains. The 30 minutes of a guide may actually be an hour and a half for a city slicker.
  4. When looking at PinoyMountaineer’s rating scales, do not be presumptuous and assume you are as fit as Dr. Gideon Lasco.
  5. When hiking a relatively new trail, expect talahib to cover the path
  6. When talahib covers the mountain path, expect cuts on the exposed portions of your arms.
  7. Talahib cuts can be very very painful .
  8. Do not make the mistake of assuming that there would be softdrink stalls along the path of every mountain.
  9. For a newbie hiker, a less  obvious danger in mountaineering is dehydration.
  10. A grand view from the heights of the mountain will make all the physical hardships worthwhile.
  11. When a misbegotten mountain sortie makes you feel stupid, always remember that being a living hiker who feels stupid is infinitely preferable to being a dead hiker who feels nothing at all.
  12. Surviving a mountain hike despite your numerous stupidities is perhaps permission from the Almighty to let you continue with your inept adventures.

rice fields

(Rice Field After Jump-Off )

near the babmboo grove

(Bamboo Grove)

talahib!

(Drowning in Talahib!)

more talahib!

(Talahib!)

again more talahib!

(More Talahib!)

somewhere...

(Somewhere in Mt. Batolusong)

view from mapatag plateau

(View from Mapatag Plateau)

view from mapatag plateau (2)

(View from Mapatag Plateau)

view from mapatag plateau (with abandoned shelter)

(View from Mapatag Plateau)

manong guide admiring the view

(View from Mapatag Plateau)

mapatag plateau selfie!

(Mapatag Plateau Selfie!)

Climbing Mt. Tagapo

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(Mt. Tagapo)

Talim Island is a topsy-turvy place where a chain-smoking guide and his 10-year-old daughter can effortlessly scale a mountain (Mt. Tagapo), whereas a fit 39-year old male can hardly keep up with this pair, much less climb the mountain without his heart pounding furiously in his chest.

Midway in my climb towards the summit of the mountain, I told myself, damn it I’m going to quit exercising and start smoking. Cigarettes seem to work for my guide; maybe it would work for a newbie mountaineer like me. I brushed the thought aside – the heat was probably addling my brain. I tried to regain equanimity by drinking Gatorade; with my thirst quenched, I continued to trail my guide and his daughter.

* * *

It is hard to believe that Talim is part of nearby Rizal. The place seems like an island in a remote province: scenic, lacking in amenities, devoid of restaurants and fast food joints. To go to Talim Island, one has to ride a pump boat from the Binangonan Port  and cross Laguna de Bay.  The one hour ride across the glittering waters provides a picturesque view of the island and countless fishing pens.

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(Binangonan Port)

Pump Boats

(Pump Boats)

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(Waiting…)

View from Pump Boat

(View from Pump Boat)

* * *

I disembarked at Barangay Janosa and proceeded to the Barangay Hall. Inside, a Tanod named Arthur greeted me. I asked him where I could get a person to guide me to the summit of Mt. Tagapo. He said he could be my guide.

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(Barangay Janosa)

Barangay Hall

(Barangay Hall)

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(Inside the Barangay Hall)

We went to his residence so that I can use the outhouse while he prepared his food and water supply. Before we left, he introduced me to her 10-year old daughter who would be joining the climb: “Anak ko. Gusto kasing sumama. Pang-apat na beses na niya aakyat.”

And so we three went behind the Parish Church near the Barangay Hall, and proceeded to follow the path leading to Mt. Tagapo.

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(Guide and His Daughter)

The path was surrounded by bamboos. The guide pointed to the plants and declared, “Ito ang kabuhayan ng mga tao dito.”  We then met a villager who was pulling a bundle of bamboo poles. He glanced at the girl, and then reprimanded Arthur:  “Kabata-bata sinama mo.” When the villager was out of earshot, Arthur had a conversation with his daughter.

“O kung malaki ka na, ikaw na ang mag-gu-guide.”

“Ayaw.”

“Paano kung hindi ko na kaya? Sino mag-gu-guide.”

“Ayaw.”

And so ended the career discussion between father and daughter.

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(Bamboo Grove)

* * *

I had to ask Arthur to stop numerous times as the heat was making me winded. He would take  respite as an opportunity to smoke and to chat with his daughter.

During one of our stops, we were harassed by a cow. I was shocked: in Talim Island, even an emaciated bovine can climb a mountain! Arthur said that the cow was probably thirsty and looking for water; he shooed it and we continued along the trail.

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(The Mountain Climbing Cow)

* * *

From bamboos to trees. Steeper and steeper paths. The scorching sun a constant presence.

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(Mountain Path)

We reached the summit in two hours. Arthur, perhaps doubtful of my physical capability, decided to stop first near a shade of trees before trying out the assault. The top of Mt. Tagapo was almost bare, and anyone who stood there for a long time would probably be broiled to death.

After 15 minutes, the guide asked me, “Ready ka na?”

“Ok.”

* * *

Assault to the top. The girl zooming to the summit, Arthur walking steadily, me slithering like a rapidly expiring snail.

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(The Summit)

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(The Path to the Top)

The summit afforded a grand view of Laguna de Bay, and the surrounding mountains and cities. However the punishing heat made me oblivious to the scenery; had I stayed for more than 10 minutes, my brain would have had evaporated.

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(On The Treeless Summit)

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(View from Summit)

* * *

Save for a nasty fall that almost broke my right hand, hiking from the summit to Barangay Janosa was fairly uneventful.

Notes:

Boat Ride cost P30. Schduled trips in the morning from Binangonan to Talim Island is 6:30 and 8:30.

Registration fee is P20, while Guide Fee is P300.

Climbing Mt. Pico de Loro With My Cuello Cousins

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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!’)

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(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.

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(Searching for the Bench)

Rachel, Bryan, and Sha-Sha

(Rachel, Bryan, and Sha-Sha)

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(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.

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(Forest)

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(Camwhoring!)

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(Camwhoring!)

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(Vandalized ‘Choco Butternut’ Tree’)

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(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!’

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(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.

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(Admiring Mother Nature)

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(Camwhoring!)

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(Camwhoring!)

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(Park That Is Not A Park: Alibangbang Park)

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(Deeper Into the Forest)

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(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?”

“Meron naman.”

“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.

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(Bamboo Grove Near the Summit)

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(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.

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(In Front of Makeshift Store Selling Softdrinks and Gatorade)

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(Mountaineers Admiring View From The Summit)

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(Parrot’s Beak)

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.

pico de loro summit

(Oh yeah…)

Touring Artsy Angono

The tricycle growled in frustration as it scaled the hill. The driver grinned and said, “Kaya hindi siya puwedeng puntahan ng tricycle araw-araw. Sira ang tricycle.” I smiled sheepishly as I contemplated the possible damage the trip would bring to his livelihood. But the driver knew what he was getting into. He said he knew where the National Museum was, and agreed to bring me there after I offered P400 for the jaunt. In fact, at the start of the journey, he pointed to the hill we were now traversing and announced, “Nakita mo yung bundok na ‘yon? Yung pupuntahan natin nasa likod ng bundok na ‘yon.”

As we crossed the hill, we saw villages, a resort, a golf course, and vacant lands. Then the driver espied a sign a few meters away from the road. We arrived at our destination.

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(Angono-Binagonan Petroglyphs Sign)

The destination – the National Museum the driver was referring to – was the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs. To reach the petroglyphs I had to enter a lengthy, man-made tunnel, and then tread a path that led to the museum and the rock wall with the carvings.

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(Tunnel)

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(Angono-Binangonan National Museum)

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(Viewing Deck of Rock Wall)

As explained by a poster in the museum, the petroglyphs were discovered by National Artist Carlos Francisco as he accompanied a couple of boy scouts in the area. He referred the matter to the National Museum, whose staff dated the carvings at around 3000 BC. It is said that that these petroglyphs are the oldest known works of art in Southeast Asia.

As I contemplated the vaguely animal and human forms etched on the rock wall, I said to myself whoever carved these drawings was truly my ancestor. I thought about the inept, boredom-induced doodles I drew as a grade school student, and made a comparison with the seemingly inept, probably boredom-induced petroglyphs standing a few meters away from me.

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(Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs)

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(Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs)

After idling about the viewing deck of the petroglyphs for 20 minutes, I decided to go back to the tunnel entrance to meet the tricycle driver, whom I instructed to bring me to Balaw-Balaw restaurant.

* * *

Late lunch at the Balaw-Balaw Restaurant, home of Filipino exotic dishes. I ate alone as the tricycle driver politely declined my offer to share my lunch, opting to wait outside. He gave me advice on what to order (“Masarap yung Nilasing na Palaka”).

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(Balaw-Balaw Restaurant – Entrance)

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(Balaw-Balaw Restaurant – Interior)

I was disappointed when a waitress told me that the only available exotic dish was Uok (Beetle larvae).  I was about to order when I suddenly had a vision of a writhing white grub. I decided to ask questions first.

“Yung uok, anong itsura niya’?”

“Ay pakita ko. Kuha lang ako ng buhay.”

I found the prospect of seeing my meal wriggling in terror unappealing. “Ay hindi bale na lang. Ano lasa niya?”

She giggled and averted her gaze. “Hindi ko pa po natitikman.”

“Ah. O sige. Isang order ng uok at isang order ng crispy fried itik.” I don’t know what larvae tastes like but I know one can never go wrong with deep fried fowl.

When the food was served, I put a piece of uok on my plate and gazed at its form for about 3 minutes. When I mustered enough courage, I put the cooked larvae into my mouth and started masticating.  A nearby waiter darted in front of me, picked up an imaginary uok from an imaginary plate, put it to his lips, and sucked the imaginary larvae. He said, “Sir, sinisipsip po yan. Makunat kasi kung nguyain.”  Not inclined to touch the insect (and fully aware of the irony of being repulsed by a creature I already put into my mouth), I simply nodded and replied, “Ok lang.”

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(Adobong Uok and Crispy Fried Itik)

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(Uok – close up)

The waiter had a point. The experience was akin to chewing gum, that is, if the gum was adobo flavoured, had a rough texture, and with a soft and oozing inside. I masticated five pieces before deciding to have a real lunch and consumed the entire plate of crispy fried itik.

* * *

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(Angono Wall)

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(Angono Building)

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(Angono Waiting Shed)

Angono is an explosion of design and color: buildings, waiting sheds, and walls are ornamented with art works.  There is a street which is a parade of relief sculptures made by Charlie Anorico;  a number of these reliefs are facsimiles of the murals of Carlos Francisco. I imagine an employee living in this area always late for work, as he is constantly distracted by the fascinating pieces surrounding him.

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(Relief Sculptures)

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(Relief Sculptures)

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(Relief Sculptures)

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(Relief Sculptures)

And the museums. The first I entered was the phantasmagoric Nemiranda gallery. Besides the paintings, I was greeted by human heads, creepy moriones masks, gigantic carabao masks, and a floating fish.

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(Nemiranda Gallery – Entrance)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

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(Nemiranda Gallery)

The other museum I visited was the Blanco Family museum. The gallery was akin to looking at an album depicting life in Angono, though the paintings differed from photographs in their carefully arranged forms and visual humour.

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(Blanco Family Museum – Entrance)

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(Blanco Family Museum)

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(Blanco Family Museum)

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(Blanco Family Museum)

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(Blanco Family Museum)

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(Blanco Family Museum)

* * *

Enchanted with Angono, I told myself that I would be returning during the Higantes Festival in November.

Extreme Adventure Tour (E.A.T.) Danao: The Plunge and Cliff Rappeling

THE PLUNGE

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Suicide, or a close approximation of: free falling in a 180-meter high gorge, then swinging like a pendulum over a river. It is a thrilling albeit unpleasant experience. The sensation of zooming downwards is exhilarating, yet I discovered (as suicides who jumped off cliff have perhaps also discovered) that gravity seems to affect body parts differently. My insides appear to be more susceptible to the sensation of plunging – I had the feeling that my intestines were being sucked out of my behind by a high-powered vacuum cleaner.

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Welcome to E.A.T. Danao’s The Plunge.

The Plunge is a canyon swing, an extreme adventure similar to bungee jumping albeit – as the name implies – you swing downwards instead of plunging straight to the ground.  Before taking the swing, you are strapped to cable which is attached to a metal structure that extends from the edge of a cliff, and you walk to the edge of a flimsy metal walkway. The edge slowly gives way and you dangle in the air; the cable drops and, depending on how you react to the threat of being smashed against the rocks below, you piss your pants, curse the high heavens, or cry for your mommy.

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The Plunge costs P700. This is a generous offer:  aside from the equipment and the labour of ensuring a thrilling but safe experience, you also get subtle taunts from the crew (“Sir, alam niyo ba na 70% ng customer namin ay babae .”)  and a hilariously tacky certificate of completion (“Certificate is awarded to Joseph C. Sanchez for having completed a degree in FEAR MANAGEMENT and surviving the challenges at Danao Adventure Park.”).

CLIFF RAPPELLING

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A few meters away from the Plunge is Cliff Rappelling. It is less thrilling but equally fun (though I have to admit I was scared of leaning away from the rocks while rappelling). The height of the cliff is 60 meters;  you would be assisted by a crew rappelling down, while a mechanical gizmo would pull your cable upwards after you reach the ground.

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Cliff Rappelling costs P600.

HOW TO GO THERE (FROM TAGBILARAN, BOHOL)

I paid a ridiculously expensive amount to a taxi driver to bring me to Danao (so ridiculous I’d rather not mention it). A cheaper alternative (according to some sources) would be to ride the Public Transportation  Bus or the Service Van going from Tagbilaran to Danao.

Segway Tour of Intramuros

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(Segways in front of San Agustin Church)

If there was an award for the most hyperbolic marketing flyer, the pamphlet by White Knight Tours would win it hands down. It unabashedly declares, “Adventure! Excitement! Euphoria!”  A customer would be forgiven for thinking one would be spelunking inside an unexplored cave or skydiving during a storm. But no. It is a tour of Intramuros while perched on a Segway, that vehicle made popular by the movie Paul Blart Mall Cop, and a ride I associate (rightly or wrongly) with geriatrics and the morbidly obese.

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(White Knight Segway Tour)

Hyperbole aside, it is a fun tour, especially for one who has never tried driving this vehicle before. The Segway is essentially a toy you can mobilize using the angle of your body or the pressure of your feet, and part of the fun is learning how to do this. A guide would give a 10-minute driving lesson to tourists, then the tourists would maneuver their Segway to form a single line behind the guide, and then proceed to explore the streets of Intramuros.

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(Driving Lessons)

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(Form a straight line!)

I enjoyed this peculiar tour. It is certainly more interesting to listen to oral tales of Intramuros while standing on a Segway than reading a lengthy history book while sitting on your butt. I did find the experience a bit pricey: P1100 for an hour-length tour (ghastly!) without the opportunity to race your fellow tourists or to bump-Segways. Still, for the novelty, I would recommend this experience to everyone.

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(Somewhere in Intramuros)

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(In front of Ristorante della Mitre)

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(Quizzing the guide)

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(Leaving the Gallery of Rogues, Knaves, Morons, and Idiots a.k.a. Philippine Presidents’ Gallery)

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(Remnants of the old PMA barracks)

Note: The White Knight Segway Tour can be found inside the Plaza San Luis Complex, near the White Knight Hotel.

Adventure in the Metro: Watermelon Steak, and a Misbegotten Foray Into Vegetarianism

(Watermelon Steak)

For the carnivore, a visit to a vegetarian restaurant is an extreme adventure, with vegetarian dishes as forms of extreme cuisine. It was a definite type of extreme meal which led me to this adventure: sampling the watermelon steak as rapturously described by the Rappler. My curiosity piqued by the hyperbolic article, I duped a pack of ravenous meat-eaters into accompanying me to the restaurant that served this dish, though I feared that if the food sucked, they would rip me into pieces and have my remains for lunch.

(Pino and Pipino)

The aforementioned dining place is Pipino, a vegan restaurant located at #39 Malingap Street, Teachers Village. To the relief of my companions, Pipino temporarily shared the same space as Pino, its non-vegan sister restaurant. This led a lady in our group to declare: “We will order the meat dishes. You settle for the watermelon steak.” To which I replied: “But what is the point of our trip if we wouldn’t try the vegetarian dishes, especially the watermelon steak?” Our argument was settled when a Solomonic and, quite frankly, gluttonous member of the pack suggested that we order both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.

(Deep Fried Starter)

(Breaded Clams with Wasabi and Oyster Sauce)

(Chicken Inasal)

And worthy of wise Solomon the decision was! We enjoyed both sets of dishes, though admittedly we enjoyed the meals with the dead life forms more than the plant-based cuisine. Notable were the deep fried starter (sinful!), the breaded clams in wasabi and oyster sauce (highly recommended!), and the chicken inasal accompanied by rice with mango bits (looks and tastes classy).

(Portobello Mushroom Burger)

(Vegan Lasagna)

We were also delighted by what I dub as  tranny cuisine – dishes with stuff masquerading as another ingredient, much like a tranny masquerades as a person of another gender. We enjoyed the tranny burger (burger made of portabello mushroom) and the tranny lasagna (lasagna with tofu in lieu of cheese). Delicious, though for me my mother’s home-cooked tranny meals – puso ng saging burger and spinach lasgna – surpass these goodies.

The watermelon steak. Perhaps the waiter forgot our order, or the dish was so magnificent that it has to be the climax of a series of delectable meals. We reminded the waiter of the fabulous meat facsimile, and sat in nervous anticipation of what was to come. By what alchemy can the chef of Pino transmute a lowly slice of watermelon into  magnificent and succulent steak?

Unfortunately, it was not alchemy but delusion. Slathering a watermelon with barbecue sauce does not make it taste like steak; it makes it taste like a watermelon slathered in barbecue sauce. It would have been equally repulsive but more economical if we simply doused a slice of papaya with barbecue sauce and called it papaya steak.

We had a great time at Pino/Pipino. Great food, and with that abominable dish as an entertaining conversation fodder.

Spelunking in a Historical Cave

(Bulwagan ni Bonifacio)

Before we entered one of several narrow passages leading to the part of the cave called Bulwagan ni Bonifacio, my guide Ogie warned me: “Sir, ituturo ko sa inyo anong bato ang puwedeng hawakan. Kung maling bato ang kapitan niyo, baka gumulong ang mga bato. Baka madaganan tayo o kaya hindi na tayo makalabas.”

Ogie’s statement had the potency of consecutive espresso shots; I was suddenly wide awake, ready to heed my guide’s advice lest my carelessness cause our untimely demise.

* * *

The cave I explored is the famed Pamitinan Cave, formerly the hideout of Andres Bonifacio and a cabal of Katipuneros, currently a Montalban tourist spot and a source of water for nearby residents. A river, a couple of makeshift rest houses, and numerous limestone boulders separate the cave from the Montalban Tourism Office. I was exhausted by the hike from the Tourism Office to Pamitinan: the distance was manageable but I had to maintain my balance myself while perching on the limestones (it didn’t help that I was strapped to  a heavy backpack). When we reached the balcony in front of the cave, I told the guide I needed to to catch my breath before entering the cave.

(River of Montalban Gorge)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Balcony In Front of Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

(Inside Pamitinan Cave)

* * *

Pamitinan is a wet cave. We trod muddy ground that pulled one’s footwear; we stepped on slippery rocks.  Accompanying us on the journey were the plastic pipes that coursed the water from the cave to the residents of Wawa. Some pipes had leaks, and the guide would stand in front of the leak so that I can pass without getting drenched – a pointless gesture since I would be drenched and muddied by the end of the journey. The cave also had a stream that we had to wade through.

(Stream Inside Cave)

(Portion of A Hidden Stream)

(Water Pipes!)

(Slippery Ground!)

Pamitinan has a number of narrow passageways that requires one to occasionally contort or squeeze the body; claustrophobics and the morbidly obese are advised to avoid the cave.

(My guide trying to pass one of several narrow passageways)

(Abandon Hope All Ye Enter Here!)

* * *

Ogie gestured towards the face of a rock and remarked, “Eto sulat ng mga sinaunang tao.” I glanced at the writings, hoping to find ancient script, but was disappointed to recognize Roman Alphabet instead. The writing was dated 1902, so what Ogie meant by ‘sinauna’ was old and not prehistoric.

After taking pictures, I had an irresistible urge to touch the writing. To my horror, a portion of the text became smudged as my finger ran over it. Great, I said to myself, I just defaced a historical landmark.

(Ancient and Modern Vandalism)

(Ancient and Modern Vandalism)

* * *

The destination of the cave tour is the Bulwagan ni Bonifacio, a chamber where Bonifacio and Katipuneros had meetings. At the center of the chamber is a table-like formation. Since the formation was the closest thing to a chair inside that chamber, I sat there for about 10 minutes to catch my breath.

(Table-formation Inside Bulwagan ni Bonfacio)

(Rock Formation Inside Bulwagan ni Bonifacio)

* * *

Ogie was screaming, though I could not understand what he was saying since he had his flashlight between his teeth; he was helping me clamber down a passageway on our way back from Bulwagan ni Bonifacio. Apparently, I was clinging to a rock I was not supposed to hold. After adjusting my position, I managed to escape the passageway without any unfortunate incident.

(Resting – again)

* * *

We emerged from Pamitinan Cave after two hours.

* * *

How to Get to Pamitinan: Ride an FX going to Montalban. Ask the driver to drop you at San Rafael, particularly in the area where there are jeeps going to Wawa.

Ask the driver of Wawa-bound jeep to drop you at the Montalban Tourism Office.

Additional Tips: Register at the Montalban Tourism Office before spelunking at Pamitinan Cave; the office will provide a guide  (fee: “Bahala na po kayo”). You can also rent a hardhat (fee: P50) and a flashlight (fee: p50).

(Montalban Tourism Office)


Bomod-Ok Falls

I remember the panting – especially the panting. On the stone steps on the way to Bomod-Ok Falls, my guide and I would meet tourists gasping for air. In my mind I sneered at these crepuscular hikers: what hubris to drag your feeble bodies along the paths of the mountain and the rice terraces!

And then it was my turn to pant. After a momentary dip in the cold waters of the falls, we went back to the trail leading to the Bomod-Ok Information Center. After 5 minutes I noticed that I was breathing rapidly, and my heart pounding violently on my  rib cage. I told my guide that I want to rest, and so I sat on a terrace.

What began as a leisurely stroll to the falls ended up as an exhausting hike back to the Bomod-Ok Information Center. It took us over hour to get to the top, as I constantly asked the guide to rest so that I can catch my breath and slow my heartbeat.

At the end of the hike, I was chastened as to my physical capabilities. I guess I am – like the tourists I met – a crepuscular hiker after all.

* * *

THE TRIP TO BOMOK-OD FALLS IN PICTURES

(The trip to Bomod-Ok Falls begins here. The Sagada Tourist Information Office assigned a driver to bring me to this place where I registered, hired a guide, and availed of a walking stick.)

(Things to remember while hiking.)

(My heart sank when the guide told me we needed to go past this village before reaching the falls.)

(Pictorial Before the Long Walk)

(Rice Terraces!)

(Gold Panning: My guide looks at rocks with streaks and specks of gold)

(Violet algae inside a rice terrace. According to my guide, the farmers have to contend with algae and snails when planting rice.)

(We’re Near the Falls!)

(Bomod-Ok Falls)

(What the picture doesn’t show are the bats flying all around the place.)

(At this point I got tired looking at the rice terraces.)

(Before undertaking a trip to Bomod-Ok Falls, note that the journey entails walking up and down these steps. A thousand and more of these steps.)

Cave Connection

The strangest diversion in Sagada: trekking inside a subterrane that seems like a passageway to Hades. But how else would you describe a network of caves whose entrance is surrounded by piles of coffins, whose terrain is shrouded in darkness, and whose rocks form various phantasmagorical shapes?

  

  

  

  

This brief sojourn into the netherworld involves conquering both your fear of darkness and fear of heights, as well as exerting the strength of your body. I do not fear the dark, and the glow  from the guide’s gas lamp is enough to banish frightful thoughts that come with the darkness. I do however fear heights, and in this case the light from the gas lamp becomes an annoyance, as the light dispels the blackness to reveal the occasional sheer drop. To control my fear, I focused on my guide and the path between us.

The physical exertion consists of clambering up and down rocks, climbing up and down ropes, wading through underground streams, and stepping on your guide. It is a tiring activity, and I asked the guide numerous times to stop so that I can catch my breath or drink mineral water.

 

  

I finished caving in 2 and 1/2 hours, head aloft upon hearing the guide say that the average time spelunking inside the Cave Connection is 3-4 hours (despite committing an amateur rock climber’s mistake of constantly clinging to the rocks).

Having conquered the connection between Lumiang and Sumaging, I now dream of spelunking inside the Crystal Cave.