Fresh from our Mt. Ugo climb, and I use the term “fresh” ever so loosely here, Tin and I headed back to Victory Liner Terminal after that fateful dinner at Good Taste. We decided to just stay the night at the terminal and wait until Nanay Nini and the company from CARB Mountaineers arrive. Tin and I were not willing to scrimp on food but for such trivial matters like the comfort of lodging accommodations, we were all too willing to pass on. So as it was, we made the upper floor of the terminal our own personal bedroom. I laid out some clothes on the chairs (so did Tin) to help dry them out while I laid down on the benches to catch some much needed sleep. Tin even had the audacity to actually lay a ground sheet near the electrical socket where she comfortably slept while charging her phone. For all backpackers out there, yes it is possible. Apparently, the management at Victory Liner doesn’t mind it at all.
It was this scene that ma’am Joyce and sir Raymond found us in when they arrived at about 2 in the morning. While comfortably (again, I use the term loosely) laying on the benches, I suddenly heard someone calling, “Sir Jet? Sir Jet?” I lifted my headgear that I used to cover my eyes and saw the two of them and basically just acknowledged them in my groggy state then went straight back to sleep. I think our conversation went roughly like this:
Sir Raymond: “Sir Jet? Sir Jet?”
Me: “Urrrghh…uy musta sir? mam? …kararating niyo lang po? Kanina pa kami rito. Yung kasama ko si Tin, makakasama rin natin, siya yung nakahiga dun banda sa may saksakan….arrgghh…sorry tulog po muna ko ha…zzzzzz”
Around 4:30, My alarm went off and soon after, I received Nanay Nini’s text that they were already at the station. So Tin and I went about to fix our things and went down to where Nanay Nini and Carb Mountaineers were waiting. After assembling all together, we then headed out to Dangwa where we would be boarding the Sagada-bound bus. I didn’t know that that was where Good Taste was located so we had to endure its seeming taunts about our epic defeat against their menu.
Since we would be boarding the bus instead of a hired jeepney, we had to wait until the first trip which was scheduled for 6:30. The lot of us went to have breakfast near the station (but not in Good Taste, we were adamant about that!) at Sab-atan. We also bought our lunches there since it was agreed upon that we would be packing lunches for the first day.
We left at about 6:30 in the morning bound for KM 55 where the jumpoff to Mongoto Elementary School and Mt. Timbak was. The usual trip would only last for about an hour and a half (that’s how I remembered it at least) but since we were aboard a public bus, the travel time was much longer. We stopped over once since travelling to Sagada would take long after all and the weather didn’t help in the slightest. You could easily fear for our safety if you could see how the driver carefully plied barely visible roads because of the fog. It was in sharp contrast to how it was last year because it was sunny and the roadside views were in full presence. We were actually already near the Highest Point in the Philippine Highway System and subsequently KM 55 when the bus stopped over at The Morning Star station. We did manage to stuff down chocolate donuts from Mister Donut on the stopover so we really didn’t mind.
It was half past 8 when we arrived at the waiting shed and by then, the rain was steadily pouring down and the temperature was really cold. Most of us donned ponchos and I think Nanay Nini was wearing a gazillion layers of clothing (lamigin daw siya eh :D) There, sir Emil (the head of CARB Mountaineers) contacted the school so that they could arrange the jeepney to pickup the boxes of school supplies just like they did the year before. Nanay Nini asked me to lead the rest of the group who would be trekking up since I have been there already. I must say that I was not at all confident with my navigational skills seeing as I got lost on the same trail the previous year. But hey, we did manage to take the right path. Some of our climbmates decided to hitch a ride with the jeepney, which caught up with us en route to the school, but Tin and I decided to continue our trek and just meet them there.
It was a personal choice since, and Tin would agree with me on this, the flora marking the trail up the school were simply amazing (Smart Philippines, ikaw ba yan? haha) There were flowers of different colors and everywhere you look was a lush shade of green. Sure it was cold trekking up, but I think it was a small price to pay for what we were treated to. We even caught up with some kids who were on their way to the school as well.
When we arrived at the school, the first thing I noticed was that the sign on the wall was painted over. That’s where we (HLGG) had our group picture with the kids. Teacher Jocy would later tell me that they were in the middle of refurbishing some parts of the school and they were planning to have it repainted once they get the budget.
Once we were settled in, the outreach program officially started. And when teacher Jocy saw me, the first thing she smilingly said was, “Uy nakita na kita ah! Bumalik ka uli!” It may have been self serving but I was really happy that she remembered me and HLGG in particular. Even her husband remembered me and even delegated the task of leading the group to the summit since he knew I’d been there before (“Malapit lang ang summit, alam ni sir yun oh.”). Of course she didn’t remember me by name but we did share laughs when she recounted how she went to the summit to fetch us since we were soaking wet from the rain that suddenly fell while we were at the campsite. She remembered how she lent us a key to the school so we could use it as lodging instead. I chided her that my main reason for coming back was because the free veggies she gave us were delicious and even now, she was still apologetic about how she was unable to give us some broccoli back then. I know it sounds cheesy, but the people of Mongoto were really the very definition of kindness 😀
So anyway, while we were chatting with teacher Jocy and the others, the outreach proper went on its way. I assisted in handing over school kits to some familiar kids faces. This included the pencils graciously provided by the Black Pencil Project (BPP). CARB mountaineers also provided the children with footwear so there were people assigned to fitting them onto the children. We also handed out snacks for the kids which they ate inside. We held it inside the classroom since the weather was too cold outside.
Most of the kids were familiar faces since it has only been a year since I last went there. They were I guess, as cute as they were last year hehehe But still, there were particularly cute standouts that I admittedly spent most of my time chatting and playing with. There was the toddler Annie who was two years old and just tagged along with her sister (or her sister brought her with her to the school) Try as I might, I can’t make her come to me even after utilizing the cutest baby voice I could muster…she would always wail whenever we go near her.
There were also kids who were very memorable from last year particularly Pymark (don’t know how it’s spelled but that’s how he told me it sounded) and Valerie. Now these two, I remember well. Pymark was this cute little boy last year who seemed a little lost and didn’t talk much but kept roaming around the school. He was basically a slip of a thing who had a distinguishable haircut. Now, it seemed like the kid swallowed an energizer battery because he couldn’t stop talking! He still kept roaming around the place and he also can’t help getting excited at his ‘angry birds’ school kit which as he pointed out to me, was matching his own shirt.
Then there was Valerie, who like Pymark, was just a cute little girl who didn’t talk much the year before. Last year Yan and I tried our best to make her take a picture with us and although she did, it looked like she was just humoring us. This time around, that cute little girl was not as shy as she used to be and was ever ready to share a story or to take a picture with you. Maybe she had media training or something…kidding! In any case, it was one of those cases where even if I don’t know them personally, that feeling of familiarity and watching them grow makes whatever sacrifice (which is but a speck in the grand scheme of things) you made worth it.
After handing out the supplies and snacks, the mini performances went underway. Some of the kids and the school staff sang while those from CARB Mountaineers also shared their own talents. Ma’am Meann was very apologetic because according to her, she hasn’t rehearsed her performance even though sir Emil asked her to prepare one. She performed an original composition for us and the kids and I just have to say, if that was what it sounded like unrehearsed, then only a full blown concert could justify a performance with enough rehearsal on it. Sir Andrew also performed a couple of bars on the guitar. Sort of. Well, let’s just say the performance left us wanting more (…practice…) Peace sir! After the performances, we took more pictures with the kids then sent them home soon after.
We all had lunch inside the school and also setup our respective stations since we would be staying at the school anyway. As per our itinerary, we were supposed to climb the summit as well as visit the mummies all in the first day but it soon became clear that the weather was not going to allow us to. So we decided to stay in and basically have a slumber party instead! Since we were all tired ourselves, it wasn’t surprising that with the ‘bed’ weather we were having, our mid afternoon ended up like this:
After resting, we all had different ways to pass the time. Some of us played Scrabble, Nanay Nini sketched masterpieces while others were busy sharing different stories. This continued all the way up until after dinner during the socials.
I personally had the privilege in getting to know Nanay Nini better. At first I told her how I commended her efforts in starting Climb Against Cancer and how, at some level, I understood how it was like to live with and lose someone to an incurable disease because of my mom. We talked about how CAC began, the hardships it had to go through with various naysayers and to how influential it is now. I also shared how my outlook affected the way I see climbing and the mountaineering community in general. Every one had their own stories to share and you’d be amazed at what they have done or willing to do just to help others. It really made me feel blessed to be in such company of people because you know that they are not doing it for fame or recognition (Nay Nini and I talked in length about this hehehe), but simply because they want to help. And the reality is, not a lot of people are able to say that. 😀
It was off to sleep for us after that but little did we know that we would soon be treated to live entertainment known as the ‘Eddie and Andrew’ show. See, during the socials, naturally, some hard liquor was passed around. I really didn’t drink much since I just did 2 nights before in Ugo. And GERD prevented me from being the hard drinker that I was way back when. Anyway, after the socials died down and everybody rested, sirs Andrew and Eddie were among the only two left still awake and still drinking I might add. Let’s just say that inebriation brings out the best and worst in people and what happened was a little bit of both. They went to cover many topics: the film ‘Into the Wild’, some anti-religion sentiments, Dan Brown, exploits (in different forms) in different summits, National Geographic, mountaineers being ‘rich’ people and many others. All throughout this banter, Phoebe and I can’t help laughing out loud and staring at each other every time they delve into another topic. I tried joining in on them one time but I guessed they couldn’t register sarcasm anymore so I just laughingly gave up. Like what they say, “mahirap sumabay sa usapang lasing pag di ka lasing.” haha. But still, the topic that takes the cake in making that night memorable was when they talked about zombies and the Walking Dead. Let’s just say: Epic.
Eddie: “Anong gagawin mo kung ngayon maging zombie silang lahat? Pero sila di kasama.” (pointing at Phoebe and me who were awake and listening to them)
Eddie: “Kasi sila yung magiging photographer. Ano ang unang mong gagawin pag naging zombie sila?”
Andrew: “Sa ulo tatagain siyempre, di ba parang sa The Walking Dead?”
Eddie: “Tsk tsk. Huwag kang makinig dun! Trust your instincts!”
That was but a part dear reader, just a part. Day 2 would cover our actual summit assault, mummy cave visit and return to Baguio City!
*Photo credit: Nay Nini Sacro
**Photo credit: Joyce Anne Regalado