Part 1: Of Snakes and King Eagles
We opted to rendezvous on the highway instead of heading to the airport to meet up with the rest of HLGG as well as Sir Johnmurs, our guide. So at half past 11 on the 23rd, we found ourselves having a late dinner at Jollibee while waiting for the hired jeepney to pick us all up. The rest of our group mates were to convene at the airport and since Kuya Ed’s house was en route to Digos, it would be too much of a hassle for us to go all the way back to the airport, so we just waited for them instead. By the way, if I wasn’t in full-on MASA (masandal tulog) mode during this climb, I was in SPG (sobrang patay gutom) mode instead. Just to give you a hint, our late night dinner at Jollibee was my 7th meal since I landed at Davao that morning. Was I subconsciously trying to carbo-load in preparation for the climb or was I just hungry at all the wrong times? I honestly have no frakin idea.
So there we were, 19 brave souls (again: my blog, my rules :D) plying through the Davao-Cotabato highway at midnight with barely any sleep and lugging around huge overnight packs and countless school kits to be distributed to the kids of Apolandia Elementary School. To give you an idea, the whole event actually started because we just wanted to solely climb Mt. Apo (I mean who wouldn’t right?). Then we found out that the point where we would be starting our hike was home to indigenous kids so we thought we could help out no matter how little. We were already there after all. When it comes to volunteerism in mountaineers, our philosophy is: we might as well help out since we are the ones willing enough to go to far flung places in our pursuit of different mountains to climbs. A lot of people have the resources and the intention to help but most of them would not really have the drive to brave 4 hour rough rides into small communities just to help out. And it’s not to their fault at all. So we try to extend what they would like to do since taking such risks coincides with what we love to do anyway. See? We’re selfless human beings (a statement which somehow devalued everything that I just wrote…).
When we arrived at Digos’s border, our packs were transferred to a 4×4 truck while most of the participants transferred to a separate van. I, along with sirs Javes, Lee Jay, Erwin and Alvin decided to just hop on to the truck along with our guides since there was limited space inside the van anyway. Then the rough roads finally began. I don’t know how the guys inside the van fared but we were all pretty much shaken inside the truck during the first 2 hours it took reach Brgy. Kapatagan. The road had us bouncing up and down our bums that it’s a wonder how one of us (ehem ehem Sir Erwin), managed to catch some sleep on the way there. Maybe it was because of the fact that he lay on top of some of our bags and stretched his legs while we were basically contorting ourselves trying to find the most comfortable stance atop the truck. Kung lumugar lang kasi si Er-er eh! In the end I gave up and just stood all throughout the rest of the trip which was infinitely more comfortable. At least my butt didn’t end up hurting as such.
About 3 am, we alighted at Brgy. Kapatagan so that the rest of the group could hop in the 4×4 as well. Apparently, the succeeding roads were too rough that the van would not be able to handle it. Well, if I thought the previous two hours were uncomfortable then the next two were just hell…plain old ride from hell. The roads were so uneven that the truck was in danger of flipping every time the engine revs. We looked like refugees trying to escape camp actually. 🙂 Our guides set up some lines that would hold our group in place but even with that, the whole ride was still as painful and as scary as it could be. Some time during the ride, the ropes even slacked and the pole it was tied to bent all the way because of the pressure we were applying by holding on to it. A couple of times, the truck had trouble getting out of a ditch that it was a miracle it managed to stay upright all the way to Sitio Mainit. We even had to get off the truck one time because it was so out of balance! Thank heavens for the driver’s otherworldly driving skills for delivering us safely to our destination.
We arrived at Sitio Mainit at about 5 am, registered, arranged our packs and regrouped them for the upcoming hike then found our own little niches to sleep in until day broke. When the sun finally came out, we caught our first clear and near glimpse of Mt. Apo which heightened our excitement to say the least. In next to no time after that, we were on our way to Apolandia Elementary School for the outreach proper. There were only a few kids when we arrived there as it was a little early. So we went about arranging the school kits that we individually brought (10 kits per participant to cope with the flight baggage limit) by grade and after that was through, we were invited for a simple fare inside the classroom. There, I got to eat karyoka once more! Gosh it has been a while since I chomped on one of those 😀 There was also suman and free coffee for those who, unlike me, actually drink coffee.
After breakfast, the principal had the kids line up for the flag ceremony before the distribution proper. They sang the National Anthem, recited the Panatang Makabayan and sang their school and regional hymns. We actually behaved like school kids ourselves during the ceremony. We fell in line, sang Lupang Hinirang and followed suit after the girl who led the panata. Which, by the way, was nowhere near the one I remembered reciting when I was young all those years ago. I guess they revised it somewhere along the way. In retrospect, I actually have no idea how the primary educational system of the country now goes. Someone told me they don’t have HeKaSi anymore. Blah I’m too tired to find out for myself. 😀
After the ceremony, we went on ahead with distributing the kits. In comparison to our previous events, this outreach may have been a little less in scale. We didn’t bring boxes of books or slippers because we also considered the logistics especially when involving airfare cargo. We aimed to at least provide complete school kits for them instead. We just handed the school kits without taking up too much of their time because we also took into account our own trek schedules. We didn’t want to underestimate grand ole Apo after all.
However, the outreach was no less meaningful. Even if it was just a quick giving back, the smiles on the children’s faces were as heartwarming as always. I would say again that I know what we gave isn’t much in the grand scheme of things but at least at the here and now, it was worth something. Some of our fellow climbers would later tell us that the outreach was a first for them and that they found the experience thoroughly enjoyable. See, we are not only helping the kids, we were helping ourselves grow as well. 😀
Once the distribution was over, we gathered the kids to the less exposed part of the school for a quick photo op then we let them go on their merry ways. Which is something I could similarly say for us. Needless to say, after having our hearts warmed with the gift of giving (trust me I’m not making it sound as pretentious as it does, it’s just the way it was), we were all quite excited to begin trekking up the country’s highest heights. So with enthusiasm I personally can’t contain, we headed back to where we left our packs for final orientation before starting our journey to conquer Mt. Apo.
Thanks to all those who supported our mini efforts including IReach, Climb Against Cancer Philippines and Black Pencil Project! Up next: Day 1 of our Mt. Apo climb proper!
*Photo credit: Arlene Dugho
**Photo credit: Erwin Claver