Mt. Pulag is known for its famous sea of clouds. Even if you’re on the outside of the mountaineering community, if you’ve heard of Mt. Pulag before, it was probably because it was touted for the sea of clouds formations on the peak. Which is actually one of my motivations for going back to Mt. Pulag. When I climbed it last year, I was unfortunate enough to experience a very foggy and clearing-less daybreak at the summit. It even rained a little back then. Our guides said that the gods became angry because the previous night, a very loud and obnoxious girl was singing her heart out with no respect to what she, I assumed, learned from the orientation. And you know what? If I were a god, I’d probably pissed off at how awful and off-pitch her voice was too. Yes, I admit it sounds hypocritical coming from a guy who can’t sing to save his life but hey, at least I am willing to admit that.
In any case, even if we were going to take the more moderate trail this time around (Ambangeg), I was still very excited with the prospect of enjoying my first “sea of clouds”. And even if I turned in quite late because of the previous night’s socials, I still managed to wake up ridiculously early the second day. I really don’t know why my body clock decides to drastically adjust itself when I’m on the mountains, it just does. Only divine intervention can make me wake up that early when I’m in Manila. I even managed to wake up before the alarm that I set went off. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t sleep, mind you. I actually slept fine. The year before, temperature on the campsite dropped to as low as 2 degrees – I was basically uncomfortably freezing the whole night – but this time around, I’d say it was pretty mild that I did not notice the cold all that much. The alcohol helped a little I guess but it’s safe to say that the levels were relatively warmer than what I came to expect from Pulag.
So at around 4 am, I was already stretching and readying myself for the summit assault. Some of my climbmates were just beginning to stir. After a while, Nanay Nini, along with mam Syirley, sir Mynarrd and I, went to the guide outpost to gather around a fire that they started there. Since most of the group was still getting ready, we thought it was a more comfortable place to wait for them. But as always, my restless feet could not be quelled (translation: nainip lang ako ng kaunti haha) so I asked Nanay if I could go on ahead. It was a quick 15 minute assault to the summit from the saddle camp after all. When I arrived at the summit, I found out that a number of campers were already settled there (those who stayed at camp 2) so I chose a summit spot that I, myself, could settle on while waiting for the others. Sir Mon was among the first to arrive, found a spot he liked then setup his camera to catch the sunrise. While I was taking pictures of my own, I inadvertently became a model for some of his photos! 😀 After a while, mam Dina and sir GP joined us as well and that’s when it all became an impromptu sunrise photo shoot. :p
After a while, the rest of the group started arriving just as the sun was rising and the famed sea of clouds came into view. Amazing was what it was. You could just imagine everyone’s delight of being blessed with good enough weather to experience Pulag’s famous trait. We took countless pictures (how could you not?) and enjoyed the summit as much as we can. I may run out of superlatives trying to describe the majesty that was Pulag during the sunrise so I’ll settle for one big photodump so that you could picture it for yourself:
We also offered our customary prayer for cancer patients at the summit, still hoping that one day, cancer and other terminal diseases would be a thing of the past.
After exhausting every picture angle, pose, background and subject imaginable (to the point that we were taking pictures of a cookie pack ‘enjoying’ the summit), it was time to head back down. We had breakfast soon afterwards and in next to no time, we were already breaking camp. I took my time soaking in the summit because I can’t believe how quick it was that I already had to say goodbye. I was never short on pictures though hehe. I was constantly snapping at whatever sight I fancied all throughout the descent that I ended up tripping a couple of times because I wasn’t looking at where I was stepping. Amateur. 😉
Anyway, the descent (as you may have guessed) was a quick one for me. Sir Mon once again took the lead and I think he was trail-running by this point so I did not try to keep up with him. 🙂 Since there would be fewer assaults on the way down, I was able to maintain a steady pace. I only stopped to fill my water bottles at the Camp 2 water source because I remembered that there was no clean water source at Mongoto Elementary School (where we were supposedly staying the night). After a little less than 2 hours, I was already back at the ranger station at 11:30 in the morning. Initially, I did not plan on taking a bath at the ranger station since I did not want to subject myself to the freezing cold waters but since I still had time to kill before the others arrived, I decided otherwise.
I don’t know if that was a wise decision on my part but thank heavens there were only a few people at the ranger’s station at that time or else a lot more people would have heard me cussing like there’s no tomorrow every time the water hit my body. I knew at the back of my mind that the water was freezing cold but I could not help yelling every time I poured. I had to move around for a couple of seconds before bracing myself for the next batch (I think I would have passed out with hypothermia if I did it consecutively…). I was reminded of a similar situation when we climbed Mt. Tabayoc then stayed at Tawangan afterwards. Even if we were lodged at the second floor of the barangay hall, we could still hear the yells and curses of the people taking a bath downstairs because the water was absurdly cold as well.
After that bath from hell, I took a nap inside the ranger station while waiting for the others to catch up. I did say I was perpetually sleep-deprived right? The rest of the group started arriving and was taking their turns in washing up when our lunch arrived. Nay Nini commissioned a pinikpikang manok for lunch so that we’d have food waiting for us once we get down. There was supposed to be chopseuy there as well but I guess they forgot to make it. After everyone was done with washing up and eating, we boarded our jeepneys to head for Mt. Timbak at about half past 3 in the afternoon. It was already late and we were estimating that it would already be evening when we touch down at Mongoto Elementary School. Little did we know that things will not go as planned.
The first indication would probably back at the rangers itself. We boarded the red jeepney and soon found out that it had trouble revving its engines up. It got so messed up that it eventually spewed smoke all over the jeepney that we had no choice but to vacate it and run outside for fresh air. Sir Mynard was the only one who stayed inside because he was undecided about whether he wanted to go out or just wait the smoke out since he was at the far corner of the jeep. Personally, I thought that was suicidal but hey, that’s just me. 😀 After that little mishap was over, we were finally on our way to traverse the rough roads once again although most of us feared that the jeepney would give out at any moment.
While aboard the jeepney, the group decided to drink the Empi Light that was left in the jeep with us. Well, most of them wanted to anyway. Okay, maybe sir Mynard most of all. Maybe because he turned in early the previous night so he still had a hankering for alcohol. And given the roughness of the roads we were plying, I’d daresay that they were risking everything just for a booze buzz. In the end, we had to postpone the session until we were on more even roads because the ice tea and brandy just ends up being spilled all over us. And I was like, “I braved through hell just to be able to take a bath, you’re not spilling iced tea on me.” 😀
I’m not overly familiar with Benguet roads in any case but as it turned out, en route to Mt. Timbak, we passed by the Akiki jumpoff in Brgy. Doacan as well as stopped over for some supplies at Kabayan town proper. I’ve actually been there before, stopping at the same town for a courtesy call when we climbed Mt. Tabayoc and held IROCK last year as well. The Opdas caves that housed countless human remains were located in the same town. In any case, the group bought vegetables for our dinner then after a debate on whether the biko we packed was still good to eat or not, we resumed our trip to Mongoto Elementary School. Before that, we had to reallocate the weight of the jeepneys since the green one was apparently too heavy so sir Earl joined us on our jeep.
Our next mishap will hit not long after we left the poblacion. What we initially feared ultimately came to pass, our jeep gave out. In the middle of the road. It seems that no matter what they did, it was clear that the jeep would be unable to continue the journey. We were told that the first jeep would be contacted (we were the second one), the girls would be transferred there then they would head off to Mongoto first. Then the jeep would return for us where we parked. Since our estimations placed us at least 2 or 3 hours away from Mongoto, then it would suggest that we would be waiting by the road for a very very long time. And to make matters worse, it started to rain.
We thought that the first jeep was already way ahead of us so we called Nanay to inform her of our plight. But apparently, they were just right around the next corner, stopping because of another news that they received. It seems that the rain was heavier near Mt. Timbak and as a result, the roads would become too slippery and dangerous to ply. So it was decided that we were going to take refuge at the nearby Brgy. Kabayan Barrio for the night to wait out the rain. It would also give our drivers enough time to fix our jeep for tomorrow’s journey. It turns out that our drivers hail from Kabayan Barrio and it wasn’t the first time that this situation happened to them which is why they suggested it in the first place. We headed straight to the elementary school and the administrators of the building were kind enough to let us use 3 of their rooms.
So even if our plans were screwed up because of different circumstances, we were still safe. We settled inside the rooms provided for us then set about making dinner as planned. We had fried fish, salted eggs and tomatoes and, was that pochero? I’m not really good with food recipes so forgive me if that’s wrong. And I was pretty content with the salted eggs and fish that I honestly did not give it much heed. I did help in preparing it though. I remembered slicing a lot of baguio beans in fact.
While waiting for dinner, Doc Joyce, Mam Syirley, a ‘novice’ GP and I played some Pusoy Dos. I was actually the one who brought the cards just to help pass the time. Among the 4 of us, Kuya GP apparently did not know how to play so we spent the earlier games just trying to teach him the basics. Pairs, Trios, Quadros (or as Doc calls them: “Quadra”…something that we all realized meant ‘horse stables’ the next day…) Flushes, Full Houses and the like. I think he found it confusing because all of us had different interpretations of the rules. And suit names (clubs, flowers, clovers etc.) He soon got the basic though and although he was blundering amusingly (Mam Dina: “ang tanga tanga mo naman.” haha) during the first few games, he was already beating us by the end. There was no money involved though, just clean fun. It would have been a different case if we bet something. For one, I would be uber serious and competitive to the point that it’s not fun anymore. Trust me.
After dinner and our pusoy dos tournament, we all gathered at the room in the lower building (the 2 other rooms were in the second floor) to hold the socials. This time, it was a more reserved socials and a slightly more orderly one. At least in the beginning. Nanay Nini once again related the story of how CAC started. So did Sir Billy and Goms when it came to ROTA. Sir Mon Corpuz and Sir GP also related how their own volunteer organizations, Black Pencil Project and Cancer Kissed My Ass respectively, came to be. It was actually quite interesting to listen to the genesis of these organizations and how inspiring they are. They all had different beginnings but they all basically came together for one common goal. To help. Whether school children or cancer victims, it matters not. It’s comforting to think that in a world of cynicism and apathy (which is still very hard to shake off, especially for me –something you’ll attest to if you know me well enough), people of like-minded motivations can band together to help make the world a better place, however little impact they may have in the grand scheme of things.
They started due to different reasons: a common collective of peers (ROTA), a tribute to siblings (CAC), living up to their parents’ legacies (BPP) and as a testament to the gift of survival (CKMA). They all have different means and they use different media in helping out. But for however they aim to put their visions to actions, they still find ways to support and help each other achieve united goals. And as cheesy as that sounds, I’m proud to have been, and will continually be, a part of it. 😀
While the earlier part carried a more serious tone, the latter was clearly dominated by, mainly, Kuya Jepoy’s “Yah, why not? This is a free country” speech. I think that’s all he ever said for the rest of the night. I guess this is when it rubbed off on the rest of us. 🙂 Shots and stories continued to be shared (including how ROTA became responsible as to why sir Cholo is a scaredy cat…) until finally we decided to call it a night.
Cue in scary MGB music. If it slipped our mind that it was All Soul’s Day that day, then Kabayan Barrio ES quickly reminded us that it was. Before turning in for the night, Kuya GP swore he saw a doppelganger of Ate Ruby standing watch at the corner while the real one was in fact lying at the center of the room. Unsurprisingly, this scared most of my climbmates, particularly ate Mina, who quickly bolted from where she originally slept because it was nearest to the corner kuya GP was talking about. And that wasn’t the only “incident” during the evening.
I don’t see supernatural elements very often. But I do sometimes. Nothing as drastic as portrayed in TV and film, just glimpses here and there. And I think I’ve had the fortune of not sensing anything malevolent yet so I’ve never really been scared of them. I believe that you would feel it if they had ill intent so as long as I don’t get such vibes, I’m okay with them. So that’s what I thought I saw. It was later that same night but this time, it was a copy of Phoebe. Standing in the same corner. I didn’t say anything more that night because clearly, ate Mina was bothered enough as it was. Still, others had a far more uhhhm relaxing time sleeping. Let’s just say we had our fair share of both ghosts and humans sounding like choppers that night as well. 😀
In any case, after a restless night for some (I honestly did not give it a second thought and slept like a baby again), it was already dawn. Nanay Nini told us that we would be leaving once the sun is up to give ample time for the roads to dry out so that it’s safer. Or at least she said pinapatuyo pa nung mga driver yung daan. I quipped that I admire our driver’s dedication because I realize that it would take so much hardwork to dry out the roads all the way to Timbak by themselves. I mean, imagine doing that? 😀 I don’t think Nanay was ready for my brand of sarcasm that early in the morning though. 🙂
So we prepared breakfast (yummy sopas!), cleaned up the rooms that were lent to us then boarded up our jeepneys once more to resume our trip to Mt. Timbak and Mongoto Elementary School. The roads were as uneven as before and I guess we did not end up taking the Halsema Hi-way because we came out by the Mummy Caves of Atok rather than the main road after about an hour and a half. We stopped to take pictures since Mt. Pulag could be seen in the background but we did not visit the mummy caves anymore. I guess since we were already delayed on our itinerary, we were already catching up for lost time. In any case, the school was just a 5 minute drive away from there and in no time at all, we were already alighting at Mongoto Elementary School.
There were no kids that day since it was the weekends and for this outreach leg, we would be distributing school kits to two different schools (Oyosan and Bekes Elementary Schools). We were just going to endorse the kits to teacher Josie who also served as our contact person for the 2 schools as well as in Mongoto. By this time, she was probably already used to our faces since we were just here last June. Nay Nini decided to let us summit without her so for the 3rd time, I got to climb the slopes of Mt. Timbak. I donned my ever-trusty Tboli-tied tubaw (yes, there is an art to this thing) then started the trek along with my fellow volunteers. Mam Dina kept calling me Apo Jukai but seeing as Apo Jukai looked liked this, I’d say that the monicker was erroneous. 😀
The assault wasn’t challenging at all since this time (unlike the one last June), the weather cooperated. The sun’s heat was tolerably bearing down on us and the clearings were in full view at the peak as well. Since communities have settled on its slopes and it’s near populated areas like Baguio and La Trinidad, houses and vegetable terraces were what could be seen atop Mt. Timbak. Here’s another photodump of summit shenanigans of both ROTA and CAC! 😀
We convened once more to offer the CAC prayer, this time led by Kuya GP since Nanay Nini stayed behind at the school.
We descended the mountain soon afterwards then endorsed the school supplies to Teacher Josie back at the school. We would not be able to hand them out personally but I’m sure the kits would still be a huge help for the kids of Benguet.
After that, we left to have our lunch at Morning Star (stopover terminal along the hi-way) but not before stopping at the Highest Point in the Philippine Hiway System marker and helping ourselves to (an absurd amount) of chicharon. I actually just ate from whoever has an open pack with him/her. I did not buy any for myself but I think I was the most full by the end. Eh sa parasitiko ako eh, bakit ba. 😀
After enjoying the viewpoint, we headed to Morning Star for a relatively expensive lunch. I didn’t expect to shell out 100 pesos for a simple meal and a bottle of softdrinks. Compared to the restos at Baguio (like Goodtaste!), I really think the meal was not worth it. On my part, I was saving to just pig out at Oh My Gulay later that day so maybe that played a little bit on my irritation with the unfairly priced adobo/rice combo. It was already about 1 when we left Morning Star to head for Baguio with the plan of stopping over at the Strawberry Farm then OMG afterwards. Only one of those would be realized since we ended up getting pressed for time. Or at least for my co-CAC. I got a later trip since I would be meeting up with Bes so I didn’t miss the Oh My Gulay experience 😀
En route to the strawberry farm, we revisited the ghost scares the night before. It turns out that the “sightings” were not exclusive to Kuya GP and me. Sir Armie actually had it worse. He saw it earlier on and saw it for far longer a time. He actually relocated near the door in an effort to get away and was using the chairs to push away the ghost who favored that corner. Ooooohhhh scary! I think mam Dina was ready to cry at this point. 🙂 This prompted several of us to recount horror stories that all of us experienced in the past (as one must seeing as it was Halloween season :D) Kuya GP shared a particularly scary encounter with a succubus while sir Joren related his own ‘encounters’ during a Mt. Cristobal climb. I guess by that time, we’ve moved on from busying ourselves with playing Pusoy Dos on a moving jeepney to scaring ourselves silly like kids around a campfire (“submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this story”…-pag nagets mo, astig ka dear reader and probably a 90’s kid as well haha).
After hearing our share of ghost stories and hauntings, we arrived at the Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad. It was actually my first time visiting there. But I guess the whole Baguio vibe has already grown old on me a long time ago that I did not see it as anything new. I get why the tourists flock to it don’t get me wrong but for me, it was all too monotonous. Or maybe because I just didn’t have money to splurge anyway so that’s why I wasn’t feeling it hahaha In any case, we just lounged around eating strawberries and strawberry ice creams while we waited for the rest of the group to be satisfied with their tour and bargain purchases. Don’t let Ate Chiqui know how much you paid for your finds though…I’m sure she’ll tell you that she was able to find a better deal! Peace Ate Chiqui! 😀
It was already quite late when we arrived at Baguio and there was no more time for the previously planned OMG dinner (since Nanay Nini and the others would be leaving by 6). I would be taking a later trip so I still got to meet Bes for the promised sweet corn and OMG date (and a quick visit to their house to rest before a bus trip that would continue up to Tayabas) but for the others, it was goodbye. So we said our farewells and thanks to each other since the ROTA guys would be staying for another day in Baguio then went our separate ways. It was a truly great way to cap off the week: I got to help kids, I climbed 2 beautiful mountains, I met new friends, bonded with old ones and even got myself a free org shirt (courtesy of mam Dina’s connections and well, charms…). What more could you ask for? Until the next climb! (I say this a lot, maybe I should patent this phrase as my official signoff or something)