It’s tempting to think that we climbed the mountains of Kibungan traversing Ilocos Sur and La Union just to finish all the open climbs our batch set as part for our training in the Metropolitan Mountaineering Society (MMS).
After 7 months of hiatus from climbing this is my comeback climb and my batchmates were somehow nervous about my condition. So, it was a must to drag Mau with me since he knows my condition after I left the hospital 5 months ago and we had been biking together since then. Besides, he’s a professional nurse and although I know nothing will
Aking TahananMay kabang iniiwan sa upuanNg bus terminal bago sumakayPapunta sa paanan ng bundok.May mga kabang ipinapaubayaSa mga kamay at paa: sa paaNa dadalhin ako sa tuktok ng mga bundokAt ligtas na ibababa. Sa kamayNa kakapit sa talahib, ugat ng puno,O tinipak na bato para hindi mahulog sa kawalan.Ipinapaubaya ko ang lahat sa aking karanasan.Iniwan ko na ang takot sa kamaNg ospital ko pitong buwan na ang nakalipas.Lahat na ginagawa ko ngayon ay gawainNg isang buhay at nabubuhay na taongIniwanan ang kaba at takotSa kung saan ko sila nakasalubong.Ang mga puno ng bundok, ang bundok,At ang kaniyang lupa ay ang aking tahananAt uuwian. Doon ako magpapahingaAt magpapagaling.Buburahin nila ang lahat na alaalaNg paghihirap at sakit sa katawanNa aking nararamdaman.
happen to me during the three day hike (December 15-18, 2017), it’s important to assuage their trepidation. My batchmates Cyrus Norman David aka Chi our Team Leader for this climb, Mark Kenneth Esguerra aka Ken, our assistant Team Leader, Rodolfo Roxas aka Dofo our sweeper, Christabel Corpus aka Karis our scribe were with me together with the members Joey Calisay, Allen Ellana, and Gilbert Eye Agura of batch 2016, Anna Marie Labao of Batch 2009, and my nurse Maurice Romarate aka Mau of Batch 2013 and our guests Karen Mae Barro, Christian Sen Padua, Ram Joseph Co, Christian Loyola, Haji Cay Obado, and Jack Villena.
None among my batchmates have ever gone to Kibungan traversing Ilocos Sur and exiting in La Union or more popularly known among climbers as Kibungan Cross Country or the shortcut K+C. There were only two MMS full-fledged members who who were with us in this climbed that had gone there. One is Mau and the other is Allen. As for Mau, he didn’t want to return there because of the length of the trek and the difficulty of the terrain. As for Allen, I did not hear anything from him.
Mata sa Mata
Dambuhala sila na nakakaakit lapitan,
Akyatin, tahakin ang landas
Palusot sa kabilang probinsiya
At isa pa. Ang mga puno ng pino,
At iba’t ibang puno,
Ang bangin sa kaliwa’t kanan,
Walang saysay ang liit ng tao
Sa lawak at laki ng mundo
Inaakit ako ng mga bundok, puno, at bangin.
Inaakit din ako ng sarili kong subuking
Umakyat muli. Hindi ko kailangang gawin
Pero para mapatahimik
Ang bumubulong na di ko kaya, mahina ka na,
Mamamatay ka doon, kaya ako nandito.
Bukas, may litrato ako sa tuktok ng Batangan
At Litalit, at sa makalawa, uuwi ng Maynila
Na di man lang sumasakit ang binti
Sa haba ng lakaran.
Buo ang loob at handa ang mga kamay at paa
sa pagtahak. May katapusan
ang lahat at magiging bahagi ito ng kasaysayan ko,
may butas ang bungo at may lamang kakaiba
ang utak at dibdib.
Sa aking mga doktor at sa lahat na nanalangin
Ng kaligtasan at paniniwala,
Kayo ang tulay sa pangarap.
Kung hanggang saan at hanggang kailan ako iiral,
nakatanaw pabalik sa akin ang mga bundok,
Kahit munti ako,
At mabubura ng ulan sa lupa
Ang maiiwang bakas.
Because Mau had been there he didn’t want me to climb unless I hire a porter. Litalit trail on the second day requires descending the whole mountain with nothing but a small steps of slippery rock to cross Kibungan to Ilocos Sur. I obliged of course. But when I learned that a porter costs one thousand a day or a total of three thousand pesos plus P400 pesos as transportation fee back to Kibungan for the porter, I backed off. In the bus terminal, Anna Marie Labao insisted that I should hire a porter. She and Mau repacked my bag ang placed inside every food we prepared, our cookset, stove, and butane and told me they would share with me the porter fee. The food and everything inside my bag were just an excuse for them to force me to hire a porter. And then my wife called and talked to Mau and they agreed that I should hire a porter. Karis, Dolfo, and Chi also hired a porter and shared the fee.
We left Manila at 8 pm in a cold bus. I was seated beside Anna, whose arms I was hugging to my embarrassment while sleeping because her Columbia jacket could not make me warm enough. When the packing was done in the terminal, Anna and Mau asked me where was my jacket. I said inside my bag. “What an amateur,” said Mau. Anna scoffed at me and said she had an extra jacket. Anna said I should attend the backpacking lecture by Chi and Dolfo during the Basic Mountaineering Course next year (please check our event page for the orientation on January 6 here: https://goo.gl/Dd8jYp and our teaser video by scrolling down on the same event page) so that I would know to pack my bag. She threw away my Crispy Creme tote bag and other things she said I would not need. For these people or when I am with these people I will always and remain to be an amateur.
Habang nagpapagaling, ang iniisip ko:
Makakapagbisikleta ulit ako,
Makakaakyat ulit ng bundok.
Pero siguro nauuna ako masyado.
Ang laging tagubilin ng mga doktor.
Madali akong mainip.
Pagkalipas lang ng isang buwan
Mulang ospital, bumili kami ng kaibigan
Ng bike parts at binuo ang bisikleta ko.
Pero ang pagbalik sa bundok,
Pitong buwan kong hinintay.
Sinalubong ako ng mga payao sa malayo.
Nang lumapit, binati ako nang naggigintuang
Mga palay sa pilapil at mga dambuhalang
Bundok na kasya sa isang dangkal.
Naakyat ko at nababa ang matarik
At madulas na bundok patawid
Sa kabilang probinsiya.
Hindi ba ito ang akit ng bundok?
Mga tanawin na di gawa o makikita sa pelikula?
Nilukob ng katahimikan ang pagtao ko.
Bawat insektong lumilipad at pagkadurog
Ng damo sa bawat hakbang dinig ko
Habang tinutuyo ng malamig na dampi
Ng hangin ang pawis sa noo at sa likod.
Ang lakas at lamig ng hangin sa campsite
Nanunuot sa buto’t balat. Kailangang magtago
Para makapagluto. Pero napapawi ang lamig
At pangamba at nagagawa ang lahat
Pagsikat ng ng araw.
Sumikat ang araw sa akin sa Kibungan
Papuntang Ilocos Sur at La Union.
Salamat sa mga naniwala at nag-abang.
Sa gitna ng katahimikan
Na binabasag lang ng hilik ng mga kasama,
Walang mapaglagyan ang aking kaligayahan.
We were expected to arrive in Baguio at 4 am to meet another guest Christopher Sen Padua, an engineering student from St. Louie University in Baguio. But we arrived an hour earlier and we had to wake up Sen who arrived forty five minutes later. We were in the jeep when we realized our Senior Team Leader Allen was not around. While waiting for our driver contact we stood at the back of the Victory Bus Terminal. When the driver arrived he brought us to his jeep parked downhill the gas station. Allen said he smoked and he lost sight of us.
On the way to Kibungan, we arrived in a store at 5 AM for breakfast. It’s the favorite resto of our Team Leader Chi. I ordered chopsuey with rice and lechon kawali with rice for my packed luch. Chi ordered both lechon kawali with rice for breakfast and his packed lunch. I saw that his lechon kawali consisted of a serving of chopsuey, a large bowl of rice, and the lechon kawali.
When we arrived in Boga campsite, I opened my packed lunch and found the serving of chopsuey and rice but no pork. I was so angry at the resto if I could only walk back for two hours and drive another hour or so back to the resto. My companions had pity on me and gave me their pork. So much for trusting people from the resto to place inside the bag all your orders.
This was my second time for this trail but I could hardly remember that it was all ascend. I was with ACES when I first went to Kibungan for a circuit hike and we used the same trail upto the Tagpaya Campsite and Tacadang trail-signs which is on top of a mountain. We went up the mountain back then while we followed the trail to the side and circling the mountain now. Until we arrived at a community. We were supposed to camp in the school grounds but, Christine, her cousins, and friends had an outreach with the children. We decided to camp just over the school and the community on a hill. When the night came, the wind was cold and fierce until the following morning. We couldn’t cook breakfast and our lunch. Nobody wanted to leave the tent. Anna, teacher by profession and mother by instinct, prepared our breakfast and lunch. When we arrived at the campsite that afternoon, a lady in brown shirt with flowing hair wearing pants approached Mau looking for a man from another group of hikers. Since, she was there, she said she was inviting us for dinner tonight. They had an outreach program for the children and the adults might as well join. We cooked our dinner and left space for food Christine invited us to eat. Christine conducts regular outreach program in the village. She is the daughter of Cesar Molitas, Kibungan’s mayor. She was with the Fire Station Chief Julio Telio and her other cousins and friends.
About an hour after our dinner, we were called down to the school grounds and were served with pinikpikan, pancit, basi wines (one from rice and another from sugarcane extract). The sugar cane extract were our favorite. The second group of hikers arrived and another serving of pinikpikan and pancit also arrived. But we had already consumed the sugarcane extract and no one seemed interested in the rice extract. But the second group were a bit louder already because they had been drinking Empi Lights. In fact they brought some and shared with us.
I don’t drink anymore but I was so happy I was able to climb again. I took a few shots of the sugarcane extract and then called it a night. But before we exited, Mau introduced the Metropolitan Mountaineering Society (MMS) to the group and explained to everyone in the table my condition: that they are extra happy because finally I am able to climb again. I took out my cellphone and showed them the picture of my head x-ray. For a moment, everyone was silent and when we left, Tin looked me in the eye, shook my right hand with both her hands a little tighter and wished me luck and more adventures.
The following morning while everyone was breaking camp, I took a short video to commemorate my comeback climb. After which, I collected money from MMS members to buy 3 liters of the sugar cane extract. I was met by an older woman who came from the same store I was buying. We couldn’t understand each other even with the hand signal. She accompanied me to the store to another older women. I said I wanted to buy basi from the sugarcane extract. When it was clear we were going nowhere, I called for my nurse Mau who speaks fluent Ilocano which he learned when he stayed for three months in Baguio. Mau said the women thought I was buying sugar. And when I refused to take the 10 peso change, the store owner blessed my generous soul. All her children are in town or city to study and she was alone without a company. For a moment, I thought of my mother. Since high school until now, I would go home only for vacations in Pilar, Capiz.
After the usual picture taking, we prepared for a very long and difficult trek mostly because of the notorious Litalik trail. Some of my batchmates did not join us in this climb because of this trail. From the top of the mountain, we have to descend for two to three hours to the community. We pose for a picture with this mountain as a background the following morning at the campsite.
There were portions of the trail where internet signal was available. I remember posting pictures twice or thrice. One of them after I thought the descent in Litalik trail was over because the newly installed handrail with fence had ended. I said it would be a chill trek down to the village or upto the river if we could make it. Boy, I was wrong. We were only about a fifth of the descent. I prayed that none of my nails die as they were aching as they hit against my shoes. At the campsite after the community, the mountain was so huge and high we couldn’t even see the railings on top of it.
We rested twice on our way down. On our first rest, I posted my selfies and pictures with our lead guide, Loreto, taken by Mau. On our second rest, I checked my FB and my MMS brothers and sisters who were not with us were so happy with the railings in the comment section.
We reached the store within the community where we rested and waited for our mid team. The store was closed and Mau had to use his language skills again to look for the store owner. When she arrived, they bought drinks and snacks while I was busy drafting my third poem for the climb in my cellphone. After I was done, I don’t know which botton I pressed that my whole draft was gone. I had to rewrite what came to be “Pitong Buwan.”
In the campsite, our Team Leader and his assistant Chi and Ken, respectively, had a genius idea to arrange our tents into a circle.
Anna and I went back to the village to take a bath after a little rest. Upon our return, they already erected the tarpaulin in the middle of our tents. We started to cook. Our menu for that night was the pork I prepared in Pasig. I wanted to copy Chi’s lechon kawali. He was of course generous to give me his preparation tip: boil in salt and pepper and coat it with vinegar. I did not coat the pork with vinegar. I drenched it. Chi’s lechon kawali was one of the best tasting food in the mountain I ever ate and incidentally, it was in Mt. Kalawitan the last mountain I climbed before the severe dystonia attack that necessitated my brain surgery. That was in May.
As Mau fried the pork, I started drinking the basi which the members bought with a little contribution from me. Little by little they came to us and started taking shots. Chi, Dolfo, Ken, and the rest of their food group members started cooking beside us just for fun. The MMS members Allen, Joey, and Eye also arrived. Our guests Karen Mae Barro, Christian Sen Padua, Ram Joseph Co, Christian Loyola, Haji Cay Obado, and Jack Villena also joined the fun.
Obviously, my pork was a failure. Mau had to ask Anna to cook dried fish. There was some good things about that pork though with its subtle taste of salt. But I guess the pork wasn’t cooked well to soften. My other menu was the sautéed mackerel with miswa. I forgot to bring ginger so that Mau lectured me, just like Anna did, about making a list of the things I should bring every climb because I also forgot the dried danggit. When we were trekking down late at night in Mt. Guiting-guiting in Romblon, Allen our Senior Team Lead for this climb, had a fever. I cooked him the sautéed mackerel with ginger and miswa for dinner. We descended the Olango trail for another two hours more amidst large stones and roots and when we arrived at midnight by the river, our campsite, Allen said he no longer had fever and was drinking Emperador Light to get him to sleep.
I was tipsy and drowsy when we had dinner. Because, as I said, all of us was not so happy with the pork, and the sautéed mackerel with miswa seemed not enough, Mau was hurrying Dolfo to finish what he was cooking. To satisfy his cravings, Dolfo gave him a cup of soup from what he was cooking.
After I was done eating, I don’t even remember helping Anna and our food group members consisting of me, Mau, Anna, and Christian Sen, clean our things. I went inside the tent and slept. The next thing, I remember was Mau pulling his bed out of our tent and hearing Anna say I was asleep and to let me be. I heard they were having socials outside, so I went out and joined them. But when I arrived, the three small bottles of quatro kantos Anna volunteered buying for the group was already finished. After a little while, Anna left for his tent, followed by some MMS members and our guests Karen Mae Barro, Christian Sen Padua, Ram Joseph Co, Christian Loyola, Haji Cay Obado, and Jack Villena. There were only Dolfo, Ken, Chi, and I outside. It was a solemn moment for me as I thanked them for a well executed climb. Ken, as my assistant, and I planned all the open climbs for 2017. It didn’t occur to me that dystonia would hit me almost at the end of our training a month before our graduation in June, and progressed that fast. I didn’t imagine I won’t be able to join the open climbs. I was very proud to be among the strongest climbers of my batch, Karis, Chi, Ken, and Dolfo. Ken, Dolfo, and Chi wanted more alcohol but with no place to buy it, they went to sleep. Mau was already sleeping soundly outside our tent few feet away from where we were as he found it hot inside the tent.
I was no longer sleepy rather I felt so much gratitude and happiness. I pulled my bag’s rain cover and laid between Anna and our tent. There was no moon nor stars that night. There was nothing but silence and the smell of shampoo from Anna’s hair and the snores from one or two tents. I opened the data of my phone and saw my wife online. I sent her the draft I rewrote by the store and I started writing a new one which became “Isang Hatinggabi”. My wife asked me if I was able to take all my medicines, and how I was. I told her I was great since my nurse despite his heavy pack was trailing me. She also asked what time would I be arriving home the following day. I told her, Mau and I were still going to Baguio. She gave me a list of vegetables to buy including her favorite garlic and onions. It was around midnight. Mau woke up because he was bitten by mosquitoes all over his face. The Carabaos were also now grazing not very far from me. I went inside the tent and slept.
The following day, we descended to the river over a concrete stairs in an almost never ending descent. We reached the bottom of the stairs and the beginning of the very long, small, and steel hanging bridge that connects Ilocos Sur and La Union.
Our two night trek was almost over. After another hour or so, we reached the rendezvous point with our jeep that would bring us to the resort to wash up. The other group from last night caught up with us. One of them brought us a liter of Red Horse Beer and a piece of ice. And the celebration began.
Every one was roudy now, drunk both with the alcohol and the safe, smooth, and happy climb. Our TL Chi asked every one to gather for a post climb conference. We wanted to hear more of the negative side of the climb and the organization rather than the good so that we could improve next time, Chi explained to our guests. Karis, the climb scribe took notes of every comment.
I took a bath in the resort. Some used the pool before we were called for lunch. It was around 4 pm already. I wondered why I didn’t feel hungry. I remember Anna leaving my side in the jeep to give me space to sleep. Perhaps it was hunger taking its toll.
In front of us now was a caldero of tinolang isda, another caldero of rice, and some plates of pork I did not eat.
The jeep dropped us off in front of the Balaoan Church. Our guides and porters rode a bus to Baguio together with Christian Sen Padua who studies in Baguio. We were still craving for alcohol. A block away from the church was a girly bar that was not and perhaps would not open for us children with large bags. Then, Ken brought us to a restaurant on the second floor of the building just across where we were sitting before we went to the girly bar.
Hardcore climbers drink hardcore beer. And the resto served only San Miguel light. But on the counter table was a bottle of Pale Pilsen on display. Mau asked for it after downing a bottle of lights. Chi was lucky to have a bottle of Red Horse. I ordered sizzling grilled tangigi with rice and ate my dinner. After ken’s last oder of chicken arrived and eaten, we asked for our bill and left. We would let them ride the bus bound for Manila first before Mau and I leave for Baguio. When the bus for Manila arrived, we couldn’t find Mau to say his good bye. Behind us, by the capitol grounds were tiange selling food. Mau was in one of the tables eating alone. He brought his meat on a stick with a paper plate by the highway to say his goodbye.
When the Manila bound members of the group left, we rode a bus to Baguio. We found a dormitory at the back of the terminal below SM Baguio. It was a beautiful house, clean with red and shiny wooden floor. We walked down the street to look for an ATM machine and walked towards the market that was closed. We entered a street and went to the night market. It was raining so there were few people. The following morning, we went to the Good Shepherd Congregation and then to the market to buy our errands. We were in the bus at around 1 pm and we arrived in Manila at around 9 pm. I lied when I said in Mata sa Mata that I would go home in Manila na di man lang sumasakit ang binti sa haba ng lakaran because the truth is, it’s difficult to climb the stairs.
On hindsight, all of them except me had a backpack. That’s why I was always on the lead, and they were praising me for it when in fact it should be the guests and all of them who carried a pack that deserve the praises. While walking the streets of Baguio and recalling our climb, I told Mau with a pack as light as the food and water I was carrying, I could climb even the heaven. But there was no need actually in going to heaven because if heaven were a feeling, I was no longer on earth.
Hindi kami malayo sa mga bahay
Pero di na makikita ang kanilang mga ilaw
O maririnig ang kanilang ingay.
Dito maaring magcamp at matulog
Ang kagagaling lang sa kabundukan
Ng Kibungan patungo sa Ilocos at La Union.
Uminom ako ng basi, ang tawag nila
Sa katas ng tubo na ginawang inuming
Nakakalasing bago maghapunan.
Pinaghatian namin at pinabuhat ko
Sa 17 anyos kong tagabitbit
Sabay ng iba ko pang gamit.
Kaya bago pa kumain
Hilo na ako at natulog na pagkatapos.
Binabasa na ng hamog ang inuupoan ko.
Wala ni isang ilaw o bituin.
At wala na ring gising sa mga kasama.
Pero naaamoy ko
Ang bagong ligong buhok
Na lumulutang palabas sa kaniyang higaan.
Dumating ang mga kalabaw
At kumain ng damo. Ang lakas
Ng hininga at buntong hininga nila.
Naririnig ko sa tabi ng tent
Pagkatapos kong pumasok
Nang papakin ng mga lamok.
Hindi ako makatulog
Dahil nakatulog na ako kanina
At di dahil nakabalik na ako sa pag-akyat
Hindi ako pinukaw ng kaligayahan
Sa mahimbing na tulog.
May dahilan ang pagtulog
At paggising sa hatinggabi.
At malayo ito sa kaligayahang
Ayaw kong aminin ngayong
Kahit wala nang nakikinig.