by Meng V. Salita
Thank God I have friends like the Buhawi Mountaineers who believe that I can still climb mountains at my age. What a good chance to partake of God’s beautiful creation and experience the tranquility that mountaintops offer. This is another story which I can add to my reserves to tell my future grandchildren about.
I’m 43, a hands-on mother of 3 boys, a responsible corporate officer, a caring wife to a very supportive husband, a good university student on the side, a golfer at other times, and an active member of a circle of friends that I try to keep until now. Many ask me how do I manage to involve myself in activities such as mountain climbing amidst the schedule I keep. I cannot do it too often, though, but I’d like to find time whenever there is time. We can never be what we don’t want to be. It’s my choice to do as much as I can during this lifetime. I must admit that I bloomed late in engaging in such an activity. It’s because I focused myself on nurturing my young family then and on attending to a budding career. Now that I have gained stability in both, I can afford to do worthy things that I missed during my younger years. Life is too short to accomplish that much; but at least I tried.
It was after a whole-day company outing in Verde Island in Batangas when I decided to join (by invitation, of course) my mountaineer friends to go on a trek that night to Mt. Manabo, one of the peaks in Sto. Tomas, Batangas which is 830 meters above sea level. I did not have a hard time deciding on it, even though I was not prepared. The next day was a Sunday and the day after that was declared a holiday. I would be away from home only for the night and I guess that wouldn’t hurt my family much. After seeking permission from my precious half through a phone call, I was ready to go. Six of us–Joel, Ricky, Richard, Ruby, Elvie, and I–alighted from the company-hired excursion bus from Batangas pier where we boarded after the ferry ride from Verde Island. We got off right before the bus entered Star Toll in Lipa City at around 6:30 p. m. and we waved goodbye to our officemates headed for Makati. We took a tricycle going to a mall in Lipa City where we had dinner and bought some provisions before taking off. Another tricycle ride brought us to the barangay hall where we registered for the trek. We used the same tricycle to the jump off point—Brgy. Sta Cruz. We met a group of young mountaineers at the jump off who called themselves Askals. They went ahead of us, leaving us some instructions on how to go about the trail.
Since it’s just a short trek (an hour or so according to the Askals), we unloaded our backpacks first with the wet swim clothes that we used at the Verde Island and entrusted them to a house that serves as a mountaineers’ station in going to and from Mt. Manabo. Anyway, we will surely be back to this house because here is where we will take our shower before heading home.
At the foot of the trail was a nipa station owned by Mang Lucas, a very popular man among mountaineers in the area. According to his grandson, whom we met at the station, Mang Lucas established the trail to Mt. Manabo. We asked for some directions which left us a bit confused because the Askals who had been there seven times before only gave us simple directions. According to the grandson, there are many trails to the peak and we might get confused which one to follow. He suggested for us to get a guide but we politely declined as we would like to be challenged by it.
We officially took off at 9:20 in the evening. After several meters from Mang Lucas’s place, true enough, we’re already lost. We took steps going too deep down which we thought were bringing us to the other side when we should be aiming for the peak. We retreated and found a house where to ask directions from. Unluckily, nobody heard our repeated calls of “Tao po, magtatanong lang po.” We decided to take the trail going right and soon we seemed to be on the right track.
As usual, I had the hard time of my life during assaults. We had to stop several times to give me enough time to catch my breath. This had been the case whenever the slopes were steep. Thanks to my mountaineer friends for they were very generous to give me the rest I needed and they gladly accommodated my pleas for breaks. I was secretly overjoyed, though, whenever they had to stop and figure out which path to take. I had to take advantage of moments like these because I was really panting and gasping for breath.
After an hour and a half, we were still on trek. These are some questions we had in our minds: “Why have we not reached the peak yet at this hour?” “Are we lost?” “Can there be spirits preventing us from reaching the peak?” There are actually three destinations to the mountains and we were thinking we were destined to reach another peak rather than Manabo, the most popular one. We had been on the trail too long but my mountaineer friends’ spirits kept going, still positive that the camp site wasn’t too far anymore.
After 30 minutes of climbing and shouting in the dark, with the hope that some souls would hear and guide our way, eureka! We finally reached the camp site. Welcoming us were other groups of mountaineers who told us that we actually took the easier path. The other trail was much harder to climb and would take us longer to reach the top. “Haay!” I told myself. “Mabuti na lang.” Imagine how much harder that would be for me? (Huh!)
Tired from the long trek, I almost missed the magnificent view and the refreshing feeling the mountaintop offered. Apart from the clear night sky, overlooking was the Lipa nightscape on one side and Laguna on the other. Added to these was the stimulating night breeze which gently blew on our perspiring bodies and which seemed to invite me to lie down and rest.
While scouting for a better spot where to pitch our tents, we found several groups ahead of us, including the Askals whom we met at the jump off point. We decided to stay near the group who welcomed us. They were much quieter than the other groups at the upper end. When the tents were ready, I found my place at once and left my company to socialize with their acquaintances. I could hardly sleep because my body was looking for the comforts of our bedroom but I had to overcome, lest the whole night would be miserable.
The morning sun was up when we got out of our tent. How I envied Elvie who really had a good sleep because I could still hear her silent snore when I got up. What a fine morning it was; our tents were moist with mist and it was the first time we saw everything in daylight. I liked it even better. We partook of our breakfast of instant noodles, some bread, and choco drink. When we were full, we headed toward the summit where a huge white-painted concrete crucifix was mounted. Of course, picture taking will never be missed.
A few minutes later, we went back to our tents and got everything ready for our descent. “Which way shall we take?” they kept asking one another, “Last night’s trail or the other?” Thanks that they decided to make my life easier—we took the same path in climbing up. Otherwise, it would have been a longer and harder way down. It was around 8:30 a. m. when we left the camp site.
Going down was a lot easier for me. Aside from the sight seeing that went with it, I could anticipate my moves because it was daylight and I had programmed my brain that I was through with the hard climb up. I already knew, more or less, how much time was left before we reach the foot of the trail. Moreover, we were not pressured anymore because we’ve gone through the trail last night. Actually, the trek was ‘peanuts’ to my mountaineer friends. Only I had the hard time and, for sure, you already know why.
We had three major stops (to my greatest delight) during out trek down—first, by the river, the potable water source. We were resting by the bamboo bench when some mountaineers started coming after us. Three of them slid down successively on the same spot in a span of 5 minutes. That made me a bit prouder because I did not experience the same; second, by the halo-halo and buko shack where we had a good treat and we were able to bond with the iguanas for sale and the pet monkey of the shack owner; and third, by the house that we attempted to asked from during the night. Other mountaineers were also there and allowed themselves to be entertained by the variety of pets around, like the monitor lizards collared like dogs in the yard, the fruit bat in a cage hanging upside down, the midget chicken running around, and the lone rabbit staring at us.
By 10:30 a.m. we were already at the house where we left our wet clothes. Shortly after we freshened up, we took the tricycle ride again and parted our ways in Lipa City. Joel and I had our quick lunch and boarded a van bound for Cavite. I was with my family by 2 pm.
Will I still do it? You may ask. Just when I find time. An experience or two is not that bad. Not having to experience mountain climbing is what will make me feel bad.
Ms. Meng V. Salita is a corporate officer in a leading academic publisher based in Makati. She is married to a civil engineer and takes pride in her three boys who are all achievers in school. Family is her top priority. She always finds time to do other things like crochet, needlework, cooking, playing golf, or travel.
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