Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kwentong Kaladkarin #08: The Smiles and Splendours of Mt. Pulag

Da Where: Mt. Pulag National Park, Babadak, Kabayan, Benguet
Da When: February 12-13, 2011
Da Who: me, Vin, Joey, Isabel, Germaine, Ferdie, Repa, Mon, Nikka, Vic, Bob, Guill and Quennie
Da Trivia: My first major climb for the year, second visit to Pulag and made it more memorable by helping out local kids to celebrate a worthwhile Valentine's Day. :)
Da Quote for the Day: "Malamig ba? Hindi naman eh!" ;D
Ovelooking Ambuklao Dam, enroute to Mt. Pulag National Park

A couple weeks of warm, sticky Manila weather and it feels like its been eons since my last visit to chilly Benguet; which surprisingly only happened the other weekend. I remember I couldn't be any more excited in getting to climb and experience Mt. Pulag again after my first time there in April 2009.

We've been preparing for this climb for about a month and I don't remember being this prepared for any of my previous climbs. Perhaps its because I know it's been freezing cold up north for the past weeks, causing frost with the farmed produce. If there's anything I hate more than shivering in the cold, its shivering in the cold with wet clothes on. So I packed warm clothes for layering and waterproofed like crazy. :D
The meet-up place was Victory Liner Pasay on Friday, 11-Feb at 2200. We were hoping to get seats for a 2300 bus trip. Luckily we did; there aren't that much people rushing to visit Baguio since Panagbenga Festival won't be in another 2 weeks. I was happy to see Repa again with her friends tagging along and of course, Mon, who came all the way to Davao (he flew in Friday noon) to join us on this climb-for-a-cause. Mon and Repa were part of the group who joined us on our Mt. Apo climb, almost 2 years ago. On a last minute decision, Germaine and Ferdie decided to join us as well and we also met the other participants from Joey and Isabel's side. As usual, almost all of us went straight from work and had no sleep so as soon as we hit our seats on the bus, we tried to catch a few winks, trying not to mind the driver hurtling through Baguio's zigzag road like a crazed drunk. It was a relief to finally get off the bus but then we were greeted by Baguio's nippy dawn air. It felt like Christmas all over again! :)

It was comforting and a little nostalgic to see Mang Roger's (RIP) pink jeepney waiting for us at the bus terminal. The last time Vin and I were in Pulag, he was the one who expertly weaved through rough roads to bring us safely to Kabayan. Sadly, last year, some people thought ill of his help to all Pulag visitors and decided that taking his life would be to their gain. His pink jeepney is now owned and operated by his cousin, Ate Giena and her husband.

Mang Roger's pink jeep, now owned by Ate Giena

 It will be another 4 hours of zigzag and rough roads before we get to Kabayan so we went and grabbed breakfast at Zola's Cafe in Session Road. They served huge platters of Pinoy and  Combi breakfasts but they took a really long time to serve the food. The pocket-friendly prices and free Wi-Fi were consolation enough though.

Waiting for our breakfast at Zola's Cafe

Before the clock struck 0700, we finally piled back to the pink jeepney and started on our long, ardous ride to Kabayan. The trip consisted of about 2 hours of paved but zigzag roads and then another 2 hours of zigzag and rocky rough road. We were kidding about considering it a talent to be able to nap while being shaken around like dice in a roulette game.

As usual, we stopped by a viewpoint overlooking Ambuklao Dam (now dried up). It's one of the main watersheds for Luzon and its also where the first hydroelectric plant in the Philippines is. I think we took a different route as the last time we were there, we got the chance to see the dam up close. Anyway, since the water wasn't being released, I don't think viewing it closely won't be as amazing.

After several snapshots, we went back to the pink jeep and continued on to reach the DENR Office for Mt. Pulag National Park. Yes, the mountain is a protected area and are also considered by the locals as sacred grounds. That is why each and every visitor is required to drop by, register and be oriented at the DENR station. There I met the venerable Ma'am Mereng Albas again. She's the feisty Park Superintendent who's serious about preserving the existing ecosystem as well as maintaining Pulag grounds's sacredness. There were several more visitors like us that weekend, it seems 2 outdoor travel organizations have scheduled fun climbs. We even saw families with kids who were in the orientation with us.

Since there were several groups before us, we only got to finish our orientation at around 1100. We then boarded the jeep to proceed to our next stop - Bokod, Benguet. It's about a 30 minute drive from the DENR headquarters. When we got there, we quickly unloaded the boxes of stuff we'd be bringing to the grade school kids of Pigingan-Diseb Multigrade School. We looked around and asked where the school was and our driver pointed up in the general direction of a hilly area, to a yellow dot up in the mountainside. Wow, so we still need to climb to bring the stuff to the kids. Now that's an outreach. Haha!

Good thing some of the young men of the community helped us out with the boxes and paper bags. It was a 30 minute walk crossing rice terraces, a couple of rickety hanging bridges and steep, narrow cemented walkways to get there. We were already out of breath and sweaty, the biting Benguet air is now a welcome relief. I salute the teachers, Ma'am Anabel (former) and Ma'am Marisol (present) who has dedicated their learnings to teach at this far-flung school.

One of the 2 hanging bridges we had to cross to get to the school.

Finally! The 2-room school building built along the sides of the mountain.

After several huffing and puffing, we finally got there and we were welcomed with shy smiles from the little kids, ages from 7-10 years old. Their multi-grade school consisted of two tiny classrooms made from wood and tin but it looked very clean and well-kept. We learned that the kids who attend this school are in Grades 1-2 and lived in the higher areas of the mountain. For the higher grades and high school, they'd go through the same path we did going up to get to the elementary and high school in the main baranggay. You've got to admire the resilience and determination of these students. :)

One of the cute pupils of the school, we called her 'Dora'. :)

There are 13 pupils but only 11 of them were able to come and meet us. They were very timid at first but started warming up to us when we started asking what they learned from school. Even their parents and some of the elders of the community were there as well.

Goofing off with the kids! ;)

We distributed the packed snacks to the kids and their parents, then have them line up to get their spanking-new school bags loaded with notebooks, pencils, crayons and other school supplies. The huge grins on their faces as they opened and held their new school stuff was priceless. :)

The rest of the stuff we brought like basketball and volleyball sets, a chessboard and some boardgames, and the other supplies the school teacher can use were all left to the care of their community lead. We started clearing up so we can prepare to leave since we still have to a hike to do before we can call it a day.

But before we left, the women stood up and sang a couple of songs for us as their sincerest form of thank-you. It was so heartfelt that I was moved to tears and the boys in our group even had goosebumps seeing them. We gave so little but they appreciation was overwhelming. :) For me, this was the best part of our climb. :)

The women of the community singing songs of thank-you for us. *sniff*

We stopped by the river on our way down for a cool drink and to splash on some water since we were almost sunburned. Back to the jeep and we suffered through another 2 hours of rough road to get to Babadak, the jumpoff to Mt. Pulag. Repacking our stuff at the Ranger Station, we can already feel the chill, the clouds were practically skimming our foreheads. We started our trek at around 1700, together with our two lady guides, Ate Mary and Ate Catherine.

Again, memories of how awed I am with the beauty of Mt. Pulag hit me again as it did 2 years ago. As we passed the pine forest and entered the mossy forest, I was again reminded of the 'in the woods' scenes from the Twilight movies. It wasn't soon until it was too dark to walk without the help of headlamps and we made several rest stops. It was getting colder and colder as we trudged on, carefully picking our steps as the trail is very fragile, muddy from the rains from previous days and battered from several hundred feet that must've trodden on it in the past weeks.

At around 2000, we finally reached Camp 2, all exhausted and ready to drop off. We had to choose higher grounds as there were a sea of tents pitched when we got there. Funny, it actually reminded me of the Quidditch World Cup camp scene in the Harry Potter movie. Okay. I'm watching too many fantasy flicks. Haha! :D

Vin and I hurriedly pitched our tent, made more difficult by the fact that it was freezing so you have to put on gloves and that makes it harder to work on tying pegs and attaching poles. It was the first time I'm using my brand-new Apexus Tadpole tent so I'm putting it out for a roadtest. :) After a couple tries, we finally were able to set up our tent and started  unpacking our stuff. Vin took to cooking our dinner as so the rest; we were all starving and shivering. Proof of how weary we were? Everybody dozed off right after dinner, no socials at all. The only alcohol used was for disinfecting, not for intoxication. Hahaha!

Our campsite in the morning. Still enveloped in clouds. Friggin' cold!

 I felt like I only closed my eyes for 5 minutes when I heard Germaine's voice calling Vin's and my name. Apparently, my stupid alarm didn't go off at 0300, our wake up call time so we can prepare for our dawn assault for the summit. It has to be that early so we can get our chance to see the much-coveted sunrise and a view of sea of clouds. It was already 0400 so we just hurriedly bundled ourselves up and had hot coffee.

We started our way up to the summit, which is about another 2 kilometers from the campsite. The nippy temperature was penetrating through my gloves and my face felt like I stuck it in the freezer. Damn, it was sooooo cold! Slowly but surely, we finally reached the summit and found available areas we could sit as there were about a hundred others who were already there, also waiting for the sunrise. We were expecting it to be around 0600.

And 0600 came and went. We were still surrounded by clouds and can hardly see five meters ahead of me. We decided to wait out another hour before finally deciding to descend back to the campsite to have some breakfast. I was already scared of getting hypothermia as my fingers felt like being pricked by a hundred needles. Sadly, we didn't get to see the sunrise and the sea of clouds but Bob did make popcorn (yes, popcorn!) at the summit and Joey suddenly whipped out three pink roses for Isabel. Okay, now this guy, I don't know how he packs his stuff but he seems to bring everything, even flowers! Haha! :D Advanced Happy Valentine's Day!

At 0700, we trekked back to campsite. I think I personally made a speed record for myself as Bob and I half-walked, half-ran back to the campsite. I know its disrespect to overtake in the trails but all I could think about was piping-hot soup, change to dry gloves, and my fleece blanket. Vin went a little ahead of us that when I got to the tent, he was already making soup and starting on cooking the rice. We were disappointed from the sunrise no-show so we just drowned our sorrows in a hearty breakfast of soup, fried dried squid and danggit and rice. *burp*

We started breaking camp and were packed by 1000. The clouds cleared up a little and a watery sun blinked down on us from time to time. We finally took some posterity photos before starting on our way down. We had several photo opps along the way, as evident with our pictures. ;D We enjoyed the last bits of beauty Pulag had to offer before we finally got back to the Ranger station jumpoff point. Piling back into the pink jeep, we went straight to Ate Giena's house to wash up, cook and eat our lunch and finally drink the alcohol we brought. :D I was promoted to Master Tanggera for this event. Haha!

On a rest stop on our way down.

In the mossy forest. Still chilly. Brrrrr.

Taking the road less traveled. Almost near the jump-off point. :)

All cleaned up, full and with a buzz - pefect way to cap off the day. Ma'am Mereng and Ate Mary also hitched a ride with us back to Baguio. We got to Victory Bus Terminal at around 2000. Our reserved bus tickets were for 2200 so with the limited time that we had, we jumped into a cab and went straight to the market to buy a few pasalubong and get a quick dinner from SM City.

When we got back to the terminal, we learned of some bad news. Nikka was victimized by a pickpocket and lost her wallet. Definitely not a good way to end our weekend. :( Tsk. It saddens me that Baguio seems to be a hotbed of criminal activity nowadays. My wallet also got stolen there two years ago.

Tired and spent, we clambered to our bus seats and promptly left the City of Pines at 2200. Vin and I mostly slept away the 5 hour trip. I wished I filed for a vacation leave for Monday but, wishful thinking. *sigh*

Back to the metro's heat, back to the real world. But the smiles, splendour and richness of Mt. Pulag and Benguet will always be treasured. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment