Despite the odds, some things do find a way of working out.
That’s what I learned during HLGG 10 held last October 11-13. Happy to Live, Glad to Give 10 was planned to give aid to the students of Nagacadan Elementary School as well as tour the town of Kiangan, Ifugao as well as summit Mt. Kappugan. It was planned months in advance and as the actual climb/outreach date approached, the participants numbered to almost 40. I was excited too because the last time that I got to join our official outreach was back in August 2012 during our Mt. Apo climb. It would have been our biggest delegation yet and needless to say, we were very much excited to pull it off. But then Santi came.
Because of the typhoon, a lot of the provinces up north, including Ifugao, were put under Signal no. 3 by PAGASA. Understandably, a third of our original party felt apprehensive about the risks and had to cancel. Even I was feeling a little scared since a Signal no. 3 warning was no small matter. It was raining hard in the Manila and we were only under signal no. 1. But I guess, I felt that some way, it’ll all turn alright so I decided to still join. In the end, we were left with 22 participants and on a very stormy Friday night at about 10 o’clock (October 11), we set off for Kiangan.
It soon became very clear that our ride to Ifugao would be a very eventful one. By the time we exited NLEX, it was pouring like cats and dogs and visibility was almost zero. Honestly, it wasn’t really a safe time to be out on the road. When we reached San Miguel, Bulacan (which was an hour and a half away at the most), the vehicles were barely moving. It was a boon in a way because if we were running at normal speeds, the strong winds could have toppled our bus easily. I would sleep for hours at a time while the winds howled and raged outside only to wake up and find out that the bus barely moved at all. Until finally, it just stopped moving altogether and it was clear that we were going to be stuck. It was about 4 am when the rain finally abated so we got out of the bus and basically forced the nearby sari-sari store to open up and start business earlier than usual.
Apparently, the roads ahead were already submerged in water or else heavily impeded by debris and fallen tree branches. We had to wait for the flood to recede and let the local community clear out the roads so it was already 8 in the morning when we were finally able to proceed. That’s when we saw the devastation wrought by Santi. A lot of structures were destroyed and in most parts, the flood waters were still knee deep that only the big buses were able to pass through. We even feared that the school supplies that we stowed below would be destroyed because it seemed like the water was still high enough to seep in. We finally got clear of the flooded town of San Miguel by 10 o’clock and for a while, the trip went on normally.
At about noon, we reached the bypass road of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija. Unlike in Bulacan, it seemed that the winds were stronger in the province compared to the rains. While Bulacan was mainly flooded, Nueva Ecija took the brunt when it came to property destruction. Concrete electrical posts were broken in half, gas station signs were lopsided and roofs were stripped from some of the establishments. It was really a devastating sight to behold.
At the bypass road, the vehicles were once again still because of numerous tree trunks that were strewn across the hi-way. Firefighters and local town groups were busy at work hacking tree trunks with chainsaws and clearing the road of any stray debris. And because there was already a build-up, it took nearly six hours before we were able to continue plying the road. It was a good thing that there were a lot of carinderias along the road and although most of them were quickly running out of food to serve because of the hundreds of stranded travellers, we were still able to have a hearty lunch.
It was almost 6 in the evening when travel began to normalize. We were already travelling for 20 hours by then and we were still approximately 6-7 hours away from Kiangan. Curiously, the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao (both under Signal no. 3 at the time) suffered less damage than Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. We soon found out that the devastation was really worse in the lower parts and the town of Kiangan was barely affected by the storm. It was about 1 in the morning on Sunday when we finally arrived at Kiangan Hostel. It was a good thing that sir Ken, our guide and contact in Kiangan, stayed up to wait for us even though we were delayed by about…well, at least 20 hours.
HLGG 10 – Nagacadan Elementary School
We quickly settled in the dormitory rooms while we planned what we could still do with the remaining time we had. We decided to hold the outreach in the morning then if time permitted, climb Mt. Kappugan at the very least. This was our original IT for the first day, if we actually arrived on Saturday.
Morning finally came and everyone went about their business of cooking breakfast as well as lunch. We estimated that we would be back in the Hostel at about 2 in the afternoon so we decided to just have lunch then instead of bringing it with us. So we quickly had breakfast and even held an impromptu socials there. Since there were a lot us and some of them were newbies to the group, we used that brief time to orient them what the group was about and basically get to know each other officially. Of course, all of us preferred if the forum was a bit longer but there were kids waiting so we off we went!
Travel to Nagacadan Elementary School did not take long and soon, we were hauling boxes up the rice terraces to the school above. When we got there, the kids were already assembled and waiting for us. We already kept them waiting for a whole day so we wasted no time in going about our duties. Some went to entertain the kids while others were preparing the school kits, slippers and rain coats. There was a slight mishap when we realized that we forgot to pack the kits for the Grade 4 students but it was a good thing that there were extra supplies in hand. We just reallocated some items from different groups to make sure that every kid would get to bring home school kits.
The program finally began and we found out that the kids went out of their way to prepare presentations for us! Every grade had something to share. Whether it was a dance number, a song, a joke or even a pick-up line (yep, that’s part of the program haha), the experience was extremely enjoyable. And humbling too given that we had to postpone the outreach for one whole day. 😀 It was really heart-warming to see the kids’ efforts so at one point, we decided to join in on the fun. We danced their moves with them and even joined them in song. I don’t actually know if we ruined the performance (I think we probably did) but the kids didn’t seem to mind. Hehe
After that, we went on ahead with the distribution of school kits. I helped usher the kids in line and basically just talked to them while the others were busy with handing out the kits. All the while, there was this little kid named Chad (or Shad because his name sounded like that haha) who, for some reason, found the gloves that I wore to be very interesting. At any chance he got, he would try to pry them off of my hand and I would incessantly tease him and make it impossible for him to get them off. If he wasn’t doing that, then he would start roaming around that we had to chase after him a couple of times just to keep him in place. Ah kids. 😀 I ended up hounding him for the better part of the outreach so it was a good thing that he wasn’t shy to share a picture or two with us. Hahaha
Mt. Kappugan (1,035 MASL)
We sent the kids home soon after then went to chow down a quick snack that the teachers of Nagcadan prepared. We then set off to climb Mt. Kappugan at half past 11 in the morning. Since we started from the school, we had to back track across the rice terraces in order to arrive at the actual jumpoff. It was actually kind of cool walking along the elevated rice fields, it made me think of the trek down to Bomod-ok falls in Sagada or when we were in Batad. Unlike the first 2 days on the road however, the heat was unforgiving during that Sunday hike. It was no wonder that some of our co-participants were whipping out umbrellas! Well, you know what they say about true mountaineers right? Hahaha
En route, we passed by the Maabat Nature Trail Open Museum where plated descriptions of the surrounding flora were installed. Tourism seemed to be a primary drive for the Kiangan local government given the installation of the museum as well as the upkeep and development of their rice terraces, which was breath-taking by the way.
After an hour of leisurely-walking (under the blazing heat of the sun…), we stopped to rest at a cemented court that marked the start of the mountain trail. Well, I say rested, but you get the picture…
We resumed our trek at about 1 in the afternoon. Mt. Kappugan’s trail seemed pretty normal and not too risky overall. It was a perfect trail for beginners actually, not too steep but still offered a challenge. Most of the trail were enclosed by trees even and even when walking along its ridges, the vegetation was still lush. Since it was a frequently used trail by locals, it was quite easy to navigate although it was a little muddy and slippery because of the recent rains. There were also a couple of nets set up along the trail which we were told were used to trap birds and bats. We found a shed build atop the summit when we reached it after an hour and a half of hiking, at about 2:30 in the afternoon.
The view at the summit was really quite striking. Apart from the town of Kiangan, you could clearly see the surrounding mountains and valleys. You could also see the rice terraces that were spread out in the province. It was a trademark Northern Luzon landscape that could easily make someone fall in love with it and yearn to go back. 😀 I mean, you certainly don’t get views like that in the city! I actually would like to go back to Kiangan one day and explore all the other places, including the caves that we did not get to visit because of our epic bus ride.
Before descending, we offered our usual prayer against cancer led by Nanay Nini who gamely joined our endeavours despite the storm warnings. We didn’t want to stay too long because we were scheduled to leave Kiangan by 7 in the evening and we haven’t had lunch yet so by 3:15, we were heading back. We came out via a different trail which ended up at a point much nearer the hostel. We also had to cross a small river to get there, which was an experience for some of our first time participants. So after another hour of traipsing through mud and wading through trees, we finally reached the jumpoff a little after four.
We quickly headed back to the hostel and with military efficiency, we made use of the remaining time to clean up in shifts, pack up our belongings and have dinner at the same time. That last two hours honestly passed by like a blur and by 7 o’clock, the Manila-bound bus was already honking outside the Hostel. It was a good thing that the hostel was along the main road so we didn’t need to head to the terminal anymore. We boarded the bus and hoped that the return trip would take less than 24 hours and thankfully, it did. 😀
The travel was stressful and the whole day we spent in Kiangan was tiring but honestly, I would not give up that experience for anything. For some, it would have seemed foolish to still push through with the trip given the storm. But for me, I’d like to think that the universe forgave us because it knew that we were not only doing it for ourselves. We weren’t touring for the sake of touring a place, we were making sure to give back to kids who need all the help that they can get to ensure a good education. The cliché goes that the children are our future and as cheesy as it sounds (and it is cheesy :D), it’s also true. I always say that what we do isn’t really much, a bunch of notebooks here and a couple of pencils there, but maybe more than that, what we wanted to show was that there are people who are willing to help. And maybe inspire others to do the same because we all need all a little bit of help, no matter how small. After all, ‘a small step taken in the right direction is better than no action.’
Many thanks to everyone who tirelessly laboured to make the event possible. It would not have been possible if it weren’t for the efforts of our organizer and founder, Madz Crisostomo. I usually just join these events and help out in any way I can but all the logistics were really done by Madz, Des, Tito Dar and the others. I guess I’m lucky that I’m in such a great company of people. Until HLGG 11 and wherever else our muddy feet will take us next! 😀
**Nay Nini Sacro