Our epic (and I do not use the term lightly) traverse of Mt. Mantalingajan in Palawan was a curious case for me. I knew that it ranked as one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the country but to be honest about it, when I first said yes to traversing it, I kind of put it in my mind’s back-burner, still not sure whether the plan would come to fruition or not. I guess it started with a half-meant jibe at Tin in promising that the next time she attempted to climb Manta (seeing as her first one was a bust), I would gladly join her. I knew I wanted the challenge but it was only about two weeks before the climb when everything did not seem too surreal to be true anymore. By then, I didn’t know if I was excited, scared or overwhelmed at my pretense of being a hardcore mountaineer…probably all of it combined. With all those feelings fighting for dominance within me, I set out for Puerto Princesa on the evening of February 16.
Day -1 (Feb 16): First Night at Puerto Princesa
It was my first time in Palawan and there I was, attempting to climb its highest and most difficult mountain instead of lounging about the sights that you normally see in travel magazines. What the hell was wrong with me? 😀 In any case, my first experience in Palawan was another curios one. Sir Mayo, a local mountaineer who was Tin’s primary contact in Puerto Princesa, met us at the airport and by way of welcoming us to the city…offered us beer. Yes, not garlands or fruity shakes but a bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. I don’t drink beer all that much but I was somewhat grateful that he, at least, offered us the brand that Tin and I both preferred. So there we were, barely half an hour in Palawan, downing our beers while chatting away inside sir Mayo’s vehicle like it was the most normal thing in the world. Needless to say, we got acquainted quickly. 😉
We then stopped over at the apparently famous Bona’s for Chaolong (noodle dish) and Banhmi (a Vietnamese term for bread which in Palawan means the French bread that accompanies Chaolong). Seeing as Tin didn’t talk about much else when it comes to Palawan food, you could say that she was the more excited. I’m not a foodie nor am I very outgoing when it comes to food but the combination of Chaolong and French bread gets my stamp of approval. It was very filling and satisfying but not too expensive, which was good since we were very budget conscious during the climb.
After the hearty dinner, we headed off to sir Mayo’s residence where we would be spending the night (technically, the day after would be Day 0 of our climb) but not before stopping at a convenience store to buy 4 SMB Grandes. I told Tin beforehand that I wouldn’t drink much when we arrive at Palawan but she just scoffed at the idea back then. Looking at how the night was shaping up, I guess I understood where she was coming from. 🙂
Since Tin and I had the earlier flight, it was decided that we would be in charge of precooking some of the meals that we would be bringing to Manta with us. Sir Mayo already graciously bought the foodstuff that we were going to need so all we had to do was cook once we got to their house. He even offered to let us use their gas range to make the task easier since we initially planned to use our own burners and butanes. We really were on ultimate user-friendly mode during our stay at their house and for that, we will be eternally grateful for his and his family’s generosity. 😀
So anyway, amidst prepping our pork adobo, chicken adobo, precooked chicken for tinola, precooked pork for sinigang, sautéing bagoong and frying the ridiculously numerous galunggong…we were also chugging litres of alcohol. It turned out that 4 bottles were nowhere near enough so sir Mayo and I went out to buy 3 more (Tin was perpetually frying fish…). It’s a wonder that we finished everything that we set out to do while handling different levels of inebriation. The stories that we talked about initially revolved around traversing Mt. Mantalingajan which made me even more excited about the upcoming climb. And since the stories were not always pleasant and sometimes even controversial, I guess I felt fearful and apprehensive too. I stayed with them until the 6th bottle and by then, the conversations were veering away from mountains and into…well, topics that are usually easier to talk about while drunk. Let’s just leave it at that.
Day 0 (Feb 17): Market Day, Travel to Ransang and Balin-Balin Jumpoff
We woke up, still reeling from the booze buzz of the previous night and set out for the market (a little later than planned…) to buy the rest of the supplies that we would be bringing. We divided the tasks with Tin handling the wet market while I did the grocery shopping at Unitop. Since we were budgeting for at least 6 days of climbing, you could say that we bought a whole lot of stuff to carry. In the end, I had to make different trips to different stores in order to get everything that we would be needing. 12 kilos of rice? We got that covered! 😀 Some might say that the amount was a little paranoid but given the stories about other groups who did the Manta Trav, we saw it as being prepared.
We packed everything up, dividing the contents between our own packs as well as the porter bag just to make sure that we did not forget anything. Our third co-climber would be arriving at noon so there was no more time to repack if we hope to catch the last trip to Rizal, Palawan which leaves at 2 in the afternoon. So after quickly picking Fred up from the airport (no beer for him…), sir Mayo drove us straight to San Jose terminal, jokingly convincing us to think it through once more and abort the climb altogether while there is still time.
Our game plan was to travel to Rizal proper (which are the only trips left) then just hire the van to take us farther to Brgy. Ransang which was still a good 2 hours away. Luckily enough, there was a special trip that day that actually goes straight to Ransang so we did not have to worry about transportation. Luck was still on our side that day.
The journey to Ransang was a very long one. We passed by a whole lot of towns and stopped over at both Narra and Quezon. It took us almost 6 hours before we even got there. The scenery en route to Ransang was breath-taking to say the least but the roads weren’t always as smooth. Sometimes, especially when we got nearer to Rizal, we had to ply very rough paths which ironically, our van driver didn’t seem to mind because I don’t think we ever lost speed. Either the van was uber-customized to handle the beating that it was treated to or the driver just didn’t care.
Once we arrived at Ransang, one thing put a damper on our excitement though. We haven’t even set our packs down yet when we were told by the barangay kagawad (at whose house we alighted at) that they don’t let mountaineers climb Mt. Mantalingajan without a permit. We didn’t have one so we didn’t know what to do. Luckily, our guides Binoy and Tay Dinio (who met us at the kagawad’s house) led us to the chieftain’s residence where they helped us get it all sorted out. The chieftain said that even they were unaware of such a development and in the end, after corresponding with the right personnel involved, we were finally allowed to continue. We just had to register at both the chieftain’s and kagawad’s houses, which all climbers were required to do anyway.
Now, I have to make clear that we, in no way, thought we were above any policies to just march into Mantalingajan without minding the requirements. We found out everything beforehand and contacted the right people but seeing as even they didn’t know about such a policy, we didn’t know we needed one. We don’t have anything against climb permits, if it is truly necessary, then why the hell not? We really would if we had known.
I would say one thing though, I hope that the permit-issuing policies do not defeat the purpose of what the permits were meant to do in the first place: protect the mountain. We are mountaineers (yes, I can comfortably say that now haha) and we live by a code of Leaving No Trace and low-impact activities (debatable I know but there are responsible climbers out there…) so we do understand its importance. But as we would later find out, some of the ‘permits’ issued before did more harm than good which was why its imposition was somewhat frowned upon, even by the locals. I don’t want to believe that it’s inevitable but somehow that’s how it always seem to end up once politics and money is involved.
In any case, we were very grateful to finally start our trek to Balin-Balin where we would be spending the night. It was almost half past eight when we were finally allowed to continue and we still had an hour of trekking to do. The trail was still flat since it was still basically the primary road that those who live in Sitio Balin-Balin (most belonging to the Pala’wan tribe) use to get to Ransang proper. With our full packs hefted over our shoulders and our headlamps blaring in the dark, we set off for Balin-Balin.
We arrived at the ‘market’ of Balin-Balin and were allowed to stay at the common area for the night. We didn’t pitch our tents yet because the makeshift bamboo structures provided more than enough shelter. We then went about cooking rice for our dinner as well as cooking rice for the next day’s meals. It was a sensible practice that was suggested to us which we decided to strictly adopt. And it paid off for the next four days. 😀
After a quick dinner, we turned in for the night under a very starry sky. You’d think I was being melodramatic but the truth was, not a cloud was in sight during that night at Balin-Balin and the night sky was awe-inspiring to behold. One of those random moments that I wish I knew a little bit more about the Uranometria. So we knew that tomorrow would bring fine weather…which was a far cry to how the last 2 days were.
Part II (Day 1 – Feb 18) – Aiming for Kabugan Campsite
Part III (Day 2 – Feb 19) – A Surprise at Paray-Paray
Part IV (Day 3 – Feb 20) – Manta Summit and the Traverse from Hell!
Part V (Day 4 – Feb 21) – Final Day