The road splits in Brgy. Graciosa in my hometown Pilar, Capiz. The left goes to San Silvestre and the right to Tabun-acan. Because we informed our driver that we were climbing San Silvestre mountains, he turned to the left. But the mountains were on the right. The more we were going inward San Silvestre, the farther we were going from the mountains and the surer we were we got the wrong barangay. So, we turned around and proceeded to Brgy Tabun-acan. I was with my group, The Banog Mountaineers.
The Banog Mountaineers was formed during our maiden climb after Christmas 2015. I wanted to climb the pointed peak of Mt. Loay. Along the way to Mt. Loay, the group decided to call ourselves the Banog Mountaineering Group, or Banog Mountaineers, perhaps in honor of the silent but reliable pond supervisor, Dominice “Banog” Banez. In that maiden climb, there were seven of us: Rodjie “Anong” Badana, Sonny Badana, Joeman “Noynoy” Beltran, Edgar “Tagar” Bacanto, Dominice “Banog” Banes, and Garry “Tong-tong” Bacea.
This second group climb eyes Hinulugan Mountain. Noynoy was not able to climb with us because of a wound on his knee. But in his place were new Banog Mountaineer members: Nelson “Dinel” Badana, and Joebel “Dodoy Labud” Arguelles. Dinel is celebrating his 60th birthday come May 2016. Most of us might no longer climb a hill by the time we reach Dinel’s age. For being an inspiration to us all, the members want to make him our president. But he refuses because he plans to go on vacation to his children (he has nine) when all his commitments in Pilar are done. His refusal to be the group’s head makes the group want him more as president.
We were also accompanied by two guest climbers, a relative on vacation from his work as a nurse in New York, Julius Villa and his friend, Mark Sevilla. Mark had a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker that measured the distance we have travelled, the time it took us to travel the distance, as well as the height we had hiked.
Except for Tong-tong, Banog and I, the Banog Mountaineer members’ job description changes by the season. During sugar cane and rice harvest seasons, they either cut sugar cane and load them into trucks, or harvest palay. During sugar cane and rice planting seasons, they also plant either sugar cane or rice, or till the land with the help of their carabao. When all these seasons have passed, the pond owners need them to maintain the pond’s dike or to excavate a new pond. I’ve known them when I had my father’s pond renovated. Most of them used to work as fishermen and spent days and nights on the sea. Tong-tong is an electrician while I am a lawyer.
During our maiden climb in December 2015, an imposing mountain at our back called our attention. We were climbing it next. So, on Feb 6, 2016 we woke up at 3am, packed our breakfast and our rice for lunch, and by 4:30 am, we were on our way to San Silvestre. But the more we were going inward San Silvestre, the farther we were going from the mountains and the surer we were we got the wrong barangay. So, we turned around and proceeded to Brgy Tabun-acan.
The four faces of baby oway (rattan), that thorny grass used in furniture.
Sharp and sometimes slippery rocks along the trail.
The trail with the tall grass called bordak, and the trail without it.
The gate to the house of Brgy Tabun-acan Brgy Captain Edgar Alfaro was still closed. But I learned that his daughter, my former law school classmate and presently Pilar’s counselor Angela Alfaro was in her store a few meters away. She was busy with her books and was surprised to see me at 6 am. She called her husband, my pañero, Rexter Tupas, who was also surprised to see me.
Rexter accompanied us to the Barangay Hall to register our names. The guide was not yet available, so the couple brought us inside their parents house for coffee and Ivisan otap, that dry and crispy bread coated with sugar, which Rexter claims to be more delicious than the otap from Cebu.
We were greeted by the Brgy Captain, Edgar Alfaro himself, who told us that no one has climbed the mountain we were about to climb since typhoon Yolanda devastated our province and felled many trees. He was glad we were going up the mountain and wished to know what we would see. We were happy with the warmth and excitement he shared with us for that climb.
Banog poses beside the large lunok by the trail.
At about 8 am, the guide arrived and we started our trek. We had to pass by and go over Pilar’s famous Hinulugan Falls, climb up at 45-degree angle, and up, and up. Along the way, we picked up flat-nosed snails. We had other plans upon our return to the pond after this trek. We either crawled our way under large trunks of felled trees or walked on them. But because we are the Banog Mountaineers, and Banog is Hiligaynon word for eagle, we flew. Hyperbole aside, we trekked fast, hampered only by the lack of trail, and the occasional thorny baby oway (rattan), that grass used in furniture.
It was about 11 am when we reached the summit. Mark’s GPS tracker said we had walked 3.7 kilometers in 3 hours, at 573 meters from the Tabun-acan plane. Anong and I pushed to the higher ground by the tree where we thought the view was better. But, by that tree, the view was only those of leaves, and trees, and tigbao grass. We went back to the group and cleared more tigbao grass for a 180 degree view of the surroundings.
We also brought 3 kilos of bangus and charcoal for cooking. Dodoy Labud started the fire and cooked the fish with the help of Anong and Sonny. After 45 minutes, we unpacked our rice, shared the fish and left-over food from breakfast.
We wanted to climb two or three more mountains or even five, as in our first climb. But our guide mentioned about his aching arms and body for an almost two-hour, non-stop slashing of grass and branches to make our trail. We don’t blame him. If he was not ready, we were not ready too. We were in the best protected area in Region 6. The citation was given by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of Region 6 in 2012. Angela mentioned this to me when a friend of mine, Phillip, and I came here in 2013.
Furthermore, our group came to Hinulugan unannounced. And at the rate we progressed, if we push through even one more mountain, chances are, the night would find us on the trail. And we were not ready for the night.
Selfie on Hinulugan summit with Dodoy Labud, Mark and Julius as my background.
So, at 12:30 in the afternoon, the Banog Mountaineers retraced our steps and glided our way down (in my case, it was more of slid my way down), and stopped by to take a bath on the same area we had our breakfast. Aware of the life of trees (that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger, among others), I figured rocks must have the same dynamics also. So, I hugged the rock where the water slid. But because I was selfish, I asked for something in return for that hug: strength, resilience, health, and fortune to continue climbing mountains.
But, we were not satisfied with that river that supplies water to two waterfalls below. We asked the guide to bring us to the second waterfalls I claimed in 2013 no travel magazine had gone to yet. We followed the trail down. Somewhere below, we left the trail to go up to that second water falls. Just like in 2013 when I first went to this second waterfalls, no trail could be found. Nobody seems to go to such a beautiful place. It’s twice the height of the falls below where cottages are found. No person visits it because you can’t swim in here, the guide said. But at least you can stand under the falling water. So, if you visit Hinulugan Falls, ask the guide to bring you to this second falls over and above the first and more famous falls. Just make sure you are ready for the 15-minute, 45-degree trek.
Mark’s GPS tracker fell in the water in between rocks. Later, on our way down from the second waterfalls, his water container also followed. Indeed, he said, Hinulugan is a fitting name for this place, at least for him, as Hinulugan comes from the Hiligaynon root word “hulog,” to fall. Mark’s GPS tracker and water container were claimed by Hinulugan Falls.
From Hinulugan Falls, the one with cottages, we continued walking to the house of the barangay captain to report what we found and to say thank you. But we did not find him as he left for Roxas City together with his daughter Angela and husband Rexter.
At 3:17 in the afternoon, we were on the back of the pick-up departing from Tabun-acan. At about 4 pm, we stopped by C & I Refreshment located before the gasoline station by the bridge in Lutod-lutod to eat batchoy sponsored by our guest climbers Julius and Mark. It was the best batchoy I have ever tasted at P35 per serving.
We once again hopped to the pick-up after the batchoy treat and continued to the pond, only stopping by at my house to change my wet shoes to slippers. We also dropped Julius and Mark in crossing Adlawan, where we also picked them up that morning at 4:30 am. We proceeded to San Esteban where every one also went to their respective houses to change clothes.
In the pond, Banog boiled water and skinned a coconut. Then one by one, The Banog Mountaineers started arriving in the hut. The garlic and onions were sliced, the pepper leaves, soy sauce, vinegar, and salt were prepared, the coconut was grated, and the snail was taken out of their individual shell and cooked. The name of the menu: adobo snail in cocomilk. With four long neck bottles of bagalbal (local term for Tanduay ESQ), we reminisced our second climb, rightly predicting that our legs (in my case also my arms that hurt from sliding) would feel sore the next day, but we continued to dream of more climbs together.
Taklong (snail’s) fate. From the mountain to the table as snail adobo in cocomilk.