From the window of the bus from Manila on Sunday morning, March 6, 2016, I could see Mt. Makiling.
In the old days people climbed this enchanted mountain to hunt or gather wild fruits or firewood. Stories abound about a young maiden, tall, well-shaped, with large black eyes, long and abundant hair. She either lived in a beautiful palace, brilliant as a reliquary of gold, surrounded by gardens and parks, or in a miserable hut with patched roof and walls of sawali.
But according to the same narrative, those who had the fortune to encounter her could not find the way back to her house. She was known to help poor old people who gathered firewood or wild fruits by giving them grains of gold, money, reliquaries, and jewels. But the man she loved married another human being to avoid military service. On the night of his wedding, Maria brought clothes and jewels for his wife and was never seen again.
We climbed Mt. Makiling from Brgy. Jordan, Sto. Tomas, Batangas. Brgy Jordan is a 10-15 minute, P70 (for three) tricycle ride from an intersection in San Felix.
I love Mt. Makiling because it has all the trails of an exciting climb. We were almost rappelling as we climbed the boulders and sections of the trail they call Haring Bato before reaching Peak 3, our first of two peaks.
On top of each boulder was a scenery worthy of a beautiful FB cover photo. The limatik, those blood sucking creatures, did not attack anyone of us. Perhaps because it did not rain the night before and on the day of our trek, although according to Noel Fidel (guide), it’s because the 70 or so climbers who went to the summits ahead of us took all the limatik.
On the 7th hour, we reached Peak 2, our final peak. Peak 2 is Station 30 of Mariang Makiling Trail. We started in Station 1 in Sipit Trail. I did not notice at what station the trail changed. Anyhow, Peak 2 had a limited view of the surroundings. Some of us had to climb a tree to take pictures of the view. We posed for a group picture and started our descent.
We found deep sections with either roots, branches, or exposed boulders on both sides to cling or hang on to. I had watched enough Jacky Chan films and lately, episodes of American Ninja Warriors, to know that I can carry the weight of my body by pressing my palms against both sides.
Jason Maloles, one of our guides, told us a story about a man who, after reaching Agila Base, climbed back to one of the peaks, pitched his tent and was never seen alive again. He was discovered a few days later with a self-inflicted bullet hole from under his chin and the bullet exiting his upper skull. Financial problems, according to grapevine. A messy and perhaps painful end to an OFW’s life. His body was placed inside a body bag and was dragged down by soldiers to Brgy. Jordan. Jason also told of a story of another man who heard the cry of a baby underneath a cliff. When he checked the voice, he fell off the cliff. He was a medical doctor. Such is the mystery of Mt. Makiling. Even the guides, according to Jason, are sometimes led to the wrong trail.
In Mt. Marami where we trekked from 10:30 pm until about 5 am, amidst the occasional white cows and horses on the side of the trail, some of us saw the tikbalang, a mythical half horse-half human creature. Inside the cave in Tinipak River, our side trip after climbing Mt. Daraitan, while watching us dip in the pool of cool water inside the cave, one of us saw a white creature jumping from one head to another. I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky not to have seen creatures like these. It’s almost unbelievable to some since I come from a place known for aswang. I told Jason, I wish to see one of these mysterious creatures in Mt. Makiling. Although I came home disappointed, I guess Maria gave me something valuable.
Mt. Makiling punished us with a difficult terrain for the first 7.5 hours of the trek. In the final hour, we were treated to a walk on an almost flat terrain. Walking on a flat terrain after a difficult ascent and descent was almost rest. In one pile, I walked in silence with my buddies on the trail down to Los Banos. I heard my steps, the steps of those who were ahead of me, and of the one behind me. I heard the leaves crush underneath every footstep. I heard the banging of the utensils inside a container, and the bags as they bounced on the back of its bearer. I heard the scratching sound of the cloth of the pants and shorts as they rubbed against each other. I heard my heartbeat. Perhaps, I also heard the thank you whispers of the trees as we traded our carbon dioxide with the oxygen that we inhaled.
I remember slipping but not falling. Perhaps because I learned to relax. Mt. Makiling was my 12th mountain. Looking back at my 11 climbs, I was so anxious because I might not reach the summit. I was always in a hurry. This time, it was different. With more confidence in myself, I had time to enjoy the trees, those social beings who can count, learn and remember, nurse sick neighbor, warn each other of danger, and keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries, a fact long known to biologists. This was Maria’s gift to me.
We finished in Agila Base where we paid our guides (P1,000 per guide for a group of five), rode a habal-habal to the entrance of UP Los Banos campus, six kilometers away. While on the habal-habal, I thanked myself for paying P100 than walking all the way to the UP Campus. Even the habal-habal ride felt very long.
Beside the gate, near the sign that reads Mariang Makiling Trail Entry Point, was a waiting station with facilities for climbers. Raymond, Alex, Carlo, Melvin, Erg, Tah, Lloyd, Marielle, Darlene, Mark, John, Renz, and I had to take turns in taking a bath in two cubicles, the only cubicles it got, while Lucille and Chang waited for us by the gate. The water was warm.
Our first was in Mt. Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal. This was our second practice climb to Mt. Apo.