After a semi-peaceful night which was sporadically disturbed by Fred’s inhumanely loud snores (we weren’t coy about letting you know then and I’m certainly not going to start being so now), we woke up to start the 2nd day of our Manta traverse. We had breakfast, Tay Dinio had his sought-after coffee and soon we were breaking camp and ready to go. Well, most of us anyway. After a ‘quasi-friendship-almost-over moment’ that was probably best described by our very own leader here (Misadventures of Tintin), off we went to start our trek to Paray-Paray campsite at about half-past seven.
Our original itinerary indicated that we could reach Paray-Paray at about 1 in the afternoon so that was the goal that we set out to do. We were also supposed to do a summit assault that same day although we all decided that this would ultimately depend on our conditions once we arrived at the campsite. Since Kabugan was still a tribal community, the nearby slopes have also been used as a kaingin farmland. Just after Kabugan was an example of such, the area Binoy called Mangkopa peak. We really lost count on how many peaks we ended up crossing when we finished our Mantalingajan traverse. We weren’t able to learn all the names but I think it amounted to around 20. So somehow, all those three-peak/megatraverses didn’t mean jack once we finished scaling the whole Manta range.
In any case, starting from Kabugan, the trail became much steeper and narrower than ever before. The vegetation was also much more overgrown, adding to the difficulty of navigating through them. This continued up until we reached Kawayanan, another suitable campsite albeit its lack of a water source. Kawayanan aptly derived its name from the numerous bamboo shrubs surrounding the area. We reached it after about 2 hours of trekking. Fred was tailing for quite a bit so we decided to wait for him there and to regroup if we were to reach Paray-Paray early. This was also where we were first introduced to the existence of balatik markers.
Balatik is the local term for wild boar traps used by the tribespeople all throughout Mantalingajan. To indicate where a trap was placed, a marker is placed along the correct side of the trail. The balatiks aren’t actually placed near the markers, quite far actually, but they do serve as a warning to all passersby to not veer off the trail or else they’d find themselves struck by a poison-tipped spear that could cause paralysis and when in the mountains, most probably death. So as long as one stays on the trail, they’re actually in no danger (from the traps at least…) so it’s always a good idea to listen to the guides and be mindful where they step.
After Kawayanan, the trail continued its steep assaults but with the steadily increasing elevation, came increasingly interesting flora as well. We saw our first pitcher plant after we left Kawayanan and took our time photographing it, not minding that it was dried up. We got prematurely excited not knowing that before long, seeing pitcher plants would be as common as seeing a leaf. In any case, we also saw some wild orchids, different ferns and even wild butterflies as we were trekking. We didn’t realize the enormity of the fact that we were in a biodiversity haven because as mere amateurs, all we could do was gape at all those pretty flowers. 😀 For a highlight of some of the flora and fauna that we encountered during our climb, check out Tin’s blog post on the matter. 😀
After Kawayanan, our next target was the Kadiklayan view deck, which purportedly had an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. Binoy approximated that we would reach it in about 2-3 hours since it would require us to pass through Kalang Bukid first. ‘Kalang’ means ‘huge’ while ‘bukid’ means ‘mountain’ in the local language. The area was characterized by a trail that continuously goes up and down, requiring you to descend through terrain that you’d have to assault again. Binoy said that Kalang Bukid was a particularly tiring part of the trail or as he put it, “Nakakaasar maglakad dun kuya, nakakapagod!” 🙂
After Kalang Bukid, we finally came out at Kadiklayan. It turned out to be quite a small area, not even conducive for taking too long a break. We could see where the view would be…had there been one. Unfortunately, even though we reached it just before noon, all we could see was fog. So instead of taking photos of the view, we took photos of each other instead. 😀
About 10 minutes after Kadiklayan, Ganub campsite could be reached. Here, we decided to have lunch as well as rest for the remaining assault to Paray-Paray. Like Kawayanan, the campsite had no water source nearby. The nearest one would be up to Paray-Paray which was at least 2 hours away. Tay Dinio told us that whenever they stay in the mountain to hunt, they make it a point to leave Ganub by 3 o’clock so that they would make it to Paray-Paray just as the sun was waning down.
We left Ganub at about 12:45 then after a quick 20 minutes or so, we reached the peak of Mt. Pulanggok. The trail on Mt. Pulanggok consisted mostly on boulders as well as tree canopies, thus offering a breath-taking view of the surroundings. Although the fog was still there, it was still the first indication we got that we were indeed atop very high elevations. I jokingly called it our “Tapulao moment” because it was the first time when we felt reinforced about why we wanted to climb Manta in the first place. It was a moment where every hardship so far was made worthy and although the difficulty of the trail did not let up – it was made even harder in fact- we still felt elated. Which was why we didn’t become too shy with our photo ops. 😀 It was around here when we decided that it was okay if we did not get to do a summit assault that same day since the views of Mt. Pulanggok were already more than enough. The cloud cover was also an indication that there may not be a clearing on the summit anyway so we opted not to push ourselves too hard.
We traversed through boulders and trees for a good half hour until we reached Tuka-Pungdan. We rested quite a bit here, enjoying the view that we felt we really deserved. The sheer difficulty in getting to Tuka-Pungdan also made the rest sweeter. Tin said that the trail was reminiscent of Mt. Guiting-Guiting while adding the admonition that if we ever decide to climb G2, we should probably do a traverse. According to her, compared to the trail of Mt. Mantalingajan, G2 would probably bore us. 😀 In any case, we took every opportunity we had to take photos on different rock formations as well as the world trees that were abundant on Tuka-Pungdan.
We finally said goodbye to Tuka-Pungdan at about 2 in the afternoon, adopting a more laidback pace now that we’ve postponed the summit assault to the next day. It was still an hour away from Paray-Paray campsite though and the trail, though now devoid of huge boulders, became all the more narrow and steep. Around this area, we began seeing a whole lot more pitcher plants and other interesting flora that we’d stop for quite a while to take photos of them before moving on. Binoy was probably wondering how one moment we were just behind him then we’d be gone the next!
We finally made it to Paray-Paray at 10 minutes before 3 and once more got into the habit of updating our friends and family that we made it safely. Their replies were a little foreboding though since apparently, a low pressure area was approaching the province of Palawan so they were asking about the weather we were having. That’s when we realized that the rest of the climb might turn less than ideal in the weather department but for the moment, even though the sky was overcast, it wasn’t raining yet.
That wasn’t the only bad news to hit us at Paray-Paray however. When Binoy insisted that we come with him to the water source because it had a great view, we decided to come along. And the views did not disappoint. Like how we were in Tapulao, we all became like little kids on sugar highs: ‘exclaiming to check out that spot’ or screaming to look at this spot’. We were also careful about where we were treading because pitcher plants were clumped everywhere we looked! Because of the cloud cover, no panoramic views of the surrounding could be seen but instead, we were treated to a sea of cloud formation that was as beautiful as any. We were relishing the moment, taking every photo angle imaginable and savoring the fact that we were very near the summit of the hardest (so far) mountain in the country.
But, all that changed when we reached the small river that was to be our main water source. Surprise surprise: it was frakin dry! In an unprecedented act by mother nature, the only stable water source near the Paray-Paray campsite had dried up. Binoy swore that this had never happened before. He even told us stories of other climbers in the past who were able to take a bath using Paray-Paray’s water source. A bath? We couldn’t see a single droplet! 😀 In fact, there was one time that they stayed in Paray-Paray for a whole month and a half, the water source never once dried up. He was left dumbfounded and we were left with the certainty that we were indeed cursed (or just Tin actually…). Either that or as we jokingly commented, maybe Kagawad Layacan turned off the main water line of Mt. Mantalingajan because we didn’t have a climb permit. 😉
Luckily, Binoy volunteered to go to the ravine where the waters supposedly end up. You could actually hear the faint rushing of the waters but he warned us that the trail was too dangerous and unsteady so he had us tell Tay Dinio about the situation so that they’ll be the ones to fetch water instead. We gave them all of the empty containers so that they only needed to make one trip, which was a good thing too since it took them more than two hours to get to the water source then come back up again. In the end, we were able to get the water that we needed to precook next day’s meals (our dinner was already prepared beforehand) thanks to their efforts. It was also advantageous that we got to Paray-Paray early because had we been a little later, then both Binoy and Tay Dinio would have been forced to night trek an extremely dangerous trail just so we’d have enough water.
So, a warning to all who want to attempt to climb Manta in the future: either stock up on water at Kabugan or arrive early at Paray-Paray since the previously indicated water source is not as dependable anymore. If the water source has water on your climb, then good for you ! (and what the hell universe? haha) but don’t expect it always. It’s a good idea to allot time for your guides to fetch water from down the ravine just in case. Also, pray to all that you hold sacred that the ravine the waters end up in doesn’t dry up as well. Trust me, Manta can be fickle. Our third day was proof of that. 😀
After that mishap (which was in no way our fault…as far as we know), we were ready to set up camp. We ate a deliciously precooked chicken adobo for dinner and soon after, we were already turning in for the night. It was early in the evening though when it started to drizzle and this continued to gain strength during the next two days. So we resigned ourselves to the fact that even though no clearing was clearly to be had at the summit the next day, we were determined to see this traverse through. Also, because of the rain as well as the strong winds brought by the now ‘Typhoon Crissing’, it turned out to be one cold evening. In a way, it was a good thing that Tin, Binoy and I were cramped inside my ever trusty Pioneer tent to make lasting through the night bearable. 😀