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!)

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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.

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.

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)