After Mt. Daraitan, Mt. Makiling, and Mt. Tarak, Mt. Arayat was our fourth and final practice climb for Mt. Apo. But Mt. Apo would not allow us to climb her this year, or the next five years, no matter how we carefully planned and prepared to climb her. She was razed by fire on Black Saturday. More than a week later, the fire was still raging.
We learned that our planned Mt. Apo climb could not push through a week before our climb to Mt. Arayat. Why did we proceed with our practice climb when we knew that we could not actually climb the mountain we had been practicing for?
In my blog posts on our first three practice climbs, I linked articles about the benefits of hiking. One of those benefits is the gift of more forward thinking, hinting that exposure to natural beauty makes us more amenable to delayed gratification. Another article says, we are not only happy when we are with nature, we also become more kind. Yet another article even proved that nature renews us after spending at least three days with it.
The claim that spending time with nature does not only make us happy but also makes us kind must indeed be true. For how, indeed, were we able to even begin and much more finish this final practice climb if we were not kinder, at least to ourselves?
Perhaps we should also add that climbing mountains makes us hopeful. We were hopeful that even if almost all mountains in Davao and the surrounding areas are closed, we would have an alternative mountain to climb. I’m a proud Filipino. I want to step on a peak, Mt. Apo or not, of that portion of my beloved Philippines.
So, it came to pass that after three mountains, we were happier, kinder, and more hopeful. For our fourth and final practice climb, we left Cubao for Pampanga almost 5 am on Saturday, April 2, 2016. We arrived in Pampanga past 6 am. We were heading to Brgy Magalang. The jeep at P35 each to Brgy Magalang was in SM Pampanga Terminal. We got off beside the market. A busy market for a barangay. The business activities of this place were more than what I saw in my hometown in Pilar, Capiz. From Brgy Magalang, we rode another jeep for P20 each to Brgy. Ayala Barangay Hall to register our names: Lloyd Reyes, Patrick Gaddi, Angelica De Guzman, Jelou Aquino, Marielle Daquis, Darlene Ganub, Emmanuel Loon, Monica Orbe, Christian Patrick dela Cruz, Ronoel Jerahmeel Cueto, Charles Orozco, and I.
How do we proceed to the mountain, we asked the barangay official in the hall. We ride a tricycle, according to him, to the 4th Station of the Cross. How much, we asked. He didn’t know. For a barangay official who holds office in this place, next to the tricycle terminal, he didn’t know. He explained that he knew but did not want to interfere with the business of tricycle drivers. Finally, he intimated that a tricycle ride for three to the 4th station would cost us P25. We talked to the tricycle driver who charged us P35 to the 1st Station. We agreed. They dropped us off on the 4th station and charged us P50. We paid P40.
Along the way to Brgy. Ayala were signs pointing to Banal na Bundok. According to Rico, our guide, Banal na Bundok refers only to the area until the 14th Station of the Cross. This is the second mountain I climbed with stations of the cross. The first one was Linabo Peak in Dipolog City.
From the 4th station, we started our climb. Jelou offered her steamed saba. I was glad. I needed food for energy. I didn’t have breakfast. I ate two pieces. When we reached the ranger station after the 8th Station of the Cross, I ate two hardboiled eggs. In the ranger station, we were required to again list our names: Lloyd Reyes, Patrick Gaddi, Angelica De Guzman, Jelou Aquino, Marielle Daquis, Darlene Ganub, Emmanuel Loon, Monica Orbe, Christian Patrick dela Cruz, Ronoel Jerahmeel Cueto, Charles Orozco, and I. The man said we are also required to have a guide. P1,500.00 for a group of five persons. How did climbing mountains become this expensive? Lloyd haggled that we be required to have only one guide since at least one of us had climbed the mountain before. The man agreed after Lloyd asked permission from the group of four climbers who arrived after us.
Remember Marielle? She was the one who embarrassed me with so many questions in Mt. Tarak. While we were resting on a boulder on our way to the North Peak, she asked a question: Why is this mountain so beautiful? All our answers were wrong, of course. The beauty of this mountain, she explained, comes from her presence.
At past 11 am we reached the North Peak. On the North Peak was an antenna with quarters or office. I complained to Rico, our guide, that we did not have a view of the surrounding area. He led us to the other side past the murmuring air conditioning unit attached on a window of an office or quarters next to the antenna. We rested in a hut as we waited for the rest of our group mates to arrive. Then we unpacked our lunch and ate. Because we were a dozen, we could not fit in the hut. Emman, Monica, and Patrick ate under the nangka (jack fruit) tree. After eating, a puppy went beside Christian Patrick and I heard him talk to the puppy, “Nahuhulog ka na sa akin? Ang bilis mo naman mag-fall. Mabuti ka pa…” but he was too embarrassed to finish his hugot line after realizing that we were already listening to him.
After lunch we had a group picture in the clearing, with the beautiful and tree-filled mountain as our background. On the way to the South Peak, we would cross this mountain and had some pictures on a boulder called Haring Bato. At 12:30 pm, we descended the North Peak to go to the South Peak. At past 2 pm, we reached the South Peak. The South Peak has another protruding peak where only the four of us—Angelica, Emman, Monica, and I—posed for pictures, because of the steep and narrow trail leading to it.
After about an hour of rest, picture taking, and rest, we were finally on our way down. At 6 minutes past 3 pm, we started our descent. At past 5 pm, we were at the ranger station in Brgy. Arayat.
In the ranger station in Brgy Arayat there were only two bath rooms. We figured, it was getting dark and we were hungry. But the only available food were hot dog sandwich, crackers, junk food and soft drinks. Who wants to eat junk food or crackers or even hotdog sandwich for dinner? Thankfully, the guides manning the ranger station were cooks. We gave them money to buy rice and three kilos of chicken and the ingredients they need to cook chicken tinola, and buro. They picked papaya fruit and malunggay leaves from their backyard. While we took a bath, they cooked our dinner. They spread banana leaves on the table, placed mounds of rice on the leaves, laid the steamed string beans, egg plant, and the grilled tilapia, served the buro in two small bowls and the chicken tinola.
The trees don’t disappoint. They make us hopeful and fulfil those hopes. Our contact found us an alternative mountain. It has 30 waterfalls and 100 cold springs. It is home to the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia. And in terms of difficulty, it is 8/9. So, from Mt. Apo Friendship Climb, we have a new name for this event. Guys, we are off to Mt. Candalaga in Maragusan, Compostela Valley Province.
For the curious, our individual expenses:
Cubao to Pampanga, vice-versa, bus fare = P201 x 2
Pampanga to Brgy. Magalang = P37
Brgy. Magalang to Bryg. Ayala = P20
Guide fee P1500/12 = 125
Dinner = P100
Brgy. Arayat Rangers Station to Arayat proper tricycle = P50
PUJ Arayat Proper to Pampanga bus stations = P30
Total = P764