Monday, December 21, 2015

A Worthwhile Day with UP Travel Society

Me upon receiving an email from UP Travel Society -

I was like "OMG, what is this? An invitation to give a talk. Maybe they inadvertently sent the email. Oh but wait, I saw my name."

So, it's confirmed.  And then I got excited.

Yes, undeniably, it is a great privilege to speak before the students of one of the top universities in the country. But more than anything else, I was so excited because it's really my aspiration to impart my knowledge [about hiking for this particular case] and it has been my dream to teach (yeah, as in a classroom setting). And this one? It has initially fulfilled that dream.

This is not my first time to become a speaker and talk in front of many people but definitely this is my first time to be invited by an organization which I would say just found me even in the vastness of the internet. No, I am not popular blogger to begin with.

So I was like smiling the whole day.

The event was sponsored by the UP Travel Society in participation to the alternative classroom learning experience a.k.a ACLE in which the University of the Philippines (UP) - Diliman holds every semester. This aims for the university organizations to hold their own program and choose a topic that they would like to discuss for their group. The students in the university then are given the opportunity to attend the ACLE that appeals them the most.

The UP Travel Society, on the other hand, is a duly recognized socio-civic organization based in UP Diliman - Asian Institute of Tourism. "We are the first travel-based student  organization in South East Asia," as mentioned by Rowee Tanafranca who was the one that emailed and invited me to this event.

As an active participant of  ACLE, the UP Travel Society conducted an event called "Take A Risk: Adventure Tourism in the Philippines."

Photo courtesy of UP Travel Society
Can you see, I am posting this one here in my blog this late? [blame it on the tight schedule at work] hehe.

The event aims to share knowledge about the different kinds of tourism activities in the Philippines and the thrills/dangers in partaking into these kinds of activities. It is also intended to promote domestic tourism by identifying the places that the bloggers can recommend and encourage to visit.

I really appreciate UP Travel Society in this advocacy. Admit it, tourism in the Philippines is getting popular because of the exposures in the social media. And yet we have to be cautious. Yes, everybody can visit any destination but we still have to be mindful of the risk that can be encountered throughout the trip. Yes, every traveler or tourist should be responsible in visiting these wonderful places (for the love of our country, please). I guess it is always a better idea to hear personally from those that have actual experience of a particular place.

L - R: Gem, Jed and Me
So yesss! By the way, we were three bloggers who were invited to give a talk to this event. It was my pleasure to meet Mr. Jed Rosell of Biyaherong Barat and Ms. Gem Muzones of Travels with a Hobo. Maybe one of the best things in meeting fellow bloggers is hearing their ideas that you can apply to your own craft in travelling.

One of the unforgettable pieces of advice that I heard from Jed was this: "Speak positively about our country." Wow, that was something meaty! In a country bombarded by almost undesirable news and publicity every day, particularly  corruption, politics, being worst airport ever and 'forever and ever ' traffic, it must be hard to think and speak otherwise. Well, folks, the good news is, the Philippines is not 100% bad.  Explore the Philippines and you will know the answer. Jed has explored the Philippines through his restless backpacking activities and he really can attest on the true beauty of this nation.

Similar to Jed's stand is Gem's sort of campaign to travel the Philippines first and she has circulated online her advocacy through the hashtag #Philippinesfirst. See more of this on her blog: An Open Letter to Filipinos: Travel the Philippines First.

I would like also to showcase below some of the insights I shared with the students [purely from my own experiences and Basic Mountaineering Course]:

Really, it was my privilege to speak before the students in the said university.

Together with the officers of UP Travel Society...

As my conclusion, I imparted to them the favorite quote of mine that I heard from a good preacher a long time ago... and which have inspired me in climbing since then.

Thanks UP Travel Society for having me! :)
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Quick, Sweet Escape to Callao Cave

Location: Callao Cave, PeƱablanca, Cagayan Valley

"A heart that feels the wanderlust. A mind that keeps on wondering what could have been explored and insisting that I can reach further. And the feet that couldn't stop and remain restless... So tell me, how can I ever be stationary in all the places that I visit?"

As the plane lands to the valley of Cagayan :)

This trip is actually an add-on activity to the intended trip, Yes, a sidetrip but I wanted to share it anyway. The real purpose was to witness the wedding of a dear friend in Cagayan Valley province. Fortunately, I was able to book a cheaper flight in Cebu Pacific Air. Ask me how cheap was this? It was a round trip ticket for PHP 1K only; even cheaper than the two-way trip via bus to Tuguegarao City, the capital city of the province. Isn't that perfect? And the time of arrival was at 1pm of that beautiful Friday in September. The wedding was held on a Saturday. While everybody was either tired and wanted to sleep at the hostel and the rest were having the long bus ride, my room mate and a good travel friend, Bev was having the same mind as mine. We wanted to maximize our stay particularly that we heard that the popular caving destination is just around  30-40 minutes away from the city.

Honestly, we were only able to go out at around 3:30PM. Thankfully, a tricycle driver agreed to rent out his vehicle back and forth for PHP600, which we thought is fair enough (but yes, still costly). But it was reasonable, since we are two and can divide the cost among ourselves. The burden was somehow relieved.

We passed by a bridge which made me remember a scene in a Filipino romantic comedy movie that I watched a few years back. I felt the excitement because I would now see for myself the church featured in that movie. And that church was actually a cave and it is really amazing.

So I should not expect too much i.e. convenience on the whole trip as the tricycle ride was truly shaky. It may sound uncomfortable but it is this kind that I enjoy the most. The speed of the vehicle jived with the winds and the winds distorted our faces as we moved on. That was a little more than an hour ride. Now, that was the spirit of adventure!

At 4:50PM, we reached the barangay called Callao, hence the name of the cave, which is situated in a town named PeƱablanca, A student guide was provided for us by the tourism people. I admired this student as she delivered well all the descriptions she could tell during our tour. She must have been well-trained and informed.

So here's the 100+ steps prior to the entrance of the cave. Here's how they've adapted well and taken care of this tourist spot that a well-established stairways are provided to the visitors.

For someone, who have endured and pained a bit with the numerous steps upstairs, you'll get to smile right away once you've finally reached the sort of door of the cave. I grabbed the phone immediately and had a solo photo of myself. I was delighted.

There's a vast wholeness of the cave that a first timer would not be able to expect and imagine. It's really huge and has a series of chambers. The second/third chamber is the chapel, however, it wasn't an opportune time for us as the day is about to end and it was a lot darker inside. The guide advised to visit earlier.

We went further on the succeeding chambers but we are limited by the chambers that can only be visited at daytime. Like any other caves that you would visit, there are many unbelievable rock formations of the stalactites and stalagmites inside. Undeniably, the cave is really huge!

In one of the deepest chambers has a hole on the top which really provides good lighting to the cave.

Look how huge is this cave that we were able to take a photo of this kind of art. Surreal!

Unlike any spelunking that you could do, this one in Callao has a very, very established path that you do not need to gear up and anyone of whatever age can visit. Well, just bring a flashlight and you'll be fine.

As per student tourist guide, the cave is housing a much very old "labi" of the ancient man, just like the Java men in Palawan.

Here's a beautiful sunset while we were exiting the cave.

This tourist spot appears to be already known by many, evidenced by their bulletin posts e.g. photos featured on media.

At 6:30PM, we're already back in the city. How satisfying that even if it was only a quick visit, we were able to taste an astonishing countryside of Penablanca. It was a good nature tripping indeed even for a short while; it's a must-see spot that anyone shouldn't fail to miss. :)

And their dialect, I have read some of them...

No one would leave the province without tasting their famous dish, 'pansit batil patung'

Now I can say, the Cagayan Valley province gets a check on my list.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rain or Shine: Take Me to Napulak

Location: Brgy. Tigbanaba, Igbaras, Iloilo
Elevation: 1,200 MASL
Difficulty: Minor climb

I knew it! A few years ago, I swore not to hike every August and September in the Philippines for the reason that it's when  the rainy season is at its peak. So, I wasn't surprise if the third week of August became a kind of "typhoon and heavy rains due to 'habagat' or southwest monsoon wind" was highly anticipated. Nevertheless, my mind was set for this very formidable mountain somewhere in Antique called Mt. Madjaas. Aside from this fact, the airline where we booked our trip has rescheduled our flight so we had to make a Plan B because with the number of days in Antique has shortened, it was very unreasonable to push through with Madjaas mountain.  But I guess, it wasn't just the right time. Hmmm, we can try again next time. Oh yes, Iloilo is the next best place where we could go.

As our plane was landing to the province of Iloilo
So, here comes another wonderful mountain at the Ilonggo-denominated part of the archipelago --- Mt. Napulak that we could re-fix our eyes to.

The trip was actually half city tour and half climb event. We decided to just 'dayhike' the Napulak mountain because of the high probability of inclement weather and therefore it could only be annoying having a rainy camping. (I will post a separate one for our Iloilo city tour).

About the Mountain and the Climb

The actual duration of our stay in Iloilo was 4 nights and 3 days (from August 20, Thursday in the afternoon through August 24, Monday early morning). And yet, the actual days when we only got to go outside were 21st and 23rd of that month. It was August 21 (Friday) when we had a whole day city tour and August 23 (Sunday) when we were able to go on a dayhike up Mt. Napulak. All the rest of our stay had a very dynamic mood of the weather which was like ranging from heavy downpour to a semi-sunny and silent state. I've observed though that it was the raining portion that has been more dominating as it was only 15 minutes of calmness and after that, rains would come again. Really, that's the normal behaviour  as a result of 'habagat'. And so we could not go out.

Just to clarify, the dayhike proper happened in one day, Sunday as mentioned. This, being situated in the town in Igbaras, is almost 2 hours away from Iloilo City. Because of that reason, we had to move by afternoon of Saturday and travel through a jeepney which has a regular daily trip (not sure though if  there are still trips after 5 or 6 pm). Fare is only around Php35 one-way. Arriving at the town, a driver of habal-habal fetched us (Php50 one way up to the jump-off point in Brgy. Tigbanaba). This was pre-arranged by our contact guide. By the way, our guide's name is Morot and his contact number (as of this date) is 09263074853. We were quite impressed at our guide as he was very nice and responsible to us. The guide fee is Php500.

Leaving at 3pm from the city of Iloilo, we arrived at Igbaras town by 5pm. Then we were transported by 'habal-habal' (single motorcycle) as mentioned and it was more or less 30-minute ride. From the town proper itself, we could already have a glance of Napulak. On our way to the jump-off point, we passed by a river wherein they said it was very dangerous and actually not passable during heavy rains. There were number of fatalities reported on this point in the past. However, another option is the hanging bridge at the top but only persons and motorcycles are of course allowed.

The Jump-off Point

We met Tatay Morot at Barangay Tigbanaba at the jump-off point. (Another possible route which is longer, is at Barangay Poblacion - Bagay of the same town). As per the guide's advice, we would be staying overnight at the chairman's nipa house but that was almost one-hour trek. We were not advised of this so we had to gear up (i.e. wear our shoes) because ascending even for a very short time was a little struggle due to the muddy trails.

Greeted by this friendly local on our way up

I regret to have not been able to get a more closer shot of this waterfalls called 'Tarugan Falls.' (Can you see that white vertical line from the mountaintop in below photo?) It was unbelievably, sort of super falls' making very majestic as you view it. According to the guide, it could be as high as 300 meters (almost a height of a typical mountain).

Viewing Tarugan falls

Unfortunately, the sky were no longer able to hold on and we ended up like wet chicks upon arriving at the chairman's house.

We tidied up and  hanged our wet clothes. Our guide helped us prepare our dinner. One thing I was impressed at --- I think we're more than 100meters above sea level or I must say, has reached the mountains already and yet there's a supply of power. The housekeeper told us that it's a project of the President and that installation is free for the locals there. Amazing!

Everything about the nipa house is sort of "probinsya atmosphere" that I remembered my childhood in my hometown. We slept at the living room of that small but very comfortable house and even watched a horror film. We didn't find any dilemma in charging our cellphones and gadgets.

It was still raining as I rest myself to sleep. Oh, how I wish we wouldn't be climbing and just stay relaxing inside that nipa house. Hahahah.

Dayhike Proper

Having a very relaxing, cold morning, I struggled to get up. It was still raining. You know that feeling, right? It would never be easy, I swear. Again, I wished we just had to stay there and cuddled myself with a pillow on a very rainy day. To continue the daydreaming, sipping a hot brewed coffee and staring at the window - Isn't that more ideal to do? Hehe.

Nonetheless, we started to have a quick breakfast and prepared for the awaited dayhike. I glanced at the surroundings through the window of the nipa hut. The sky was cloudy. Sunrise wasn't visible. But I could see the pouring has started to slow down and the skies beginning to light up. It really gave us hope.

Thank you, Lord! At 6am, we were able to start the trek. No more rains but the muddy and slippery trails were those that challenged us the most.

At first, we hiked more of grassland terrains and open areas.

We passed by a number of small falls. Afterwards, we entered the forest.

As I love taking pictures of anything that catch my attention, wow, look at these species that I have found!

Unfortunately, we weren't able to see rafflesia --- a very large, foul-smelling flower. During that time, all of them have already been decayed. Tatay Morot said, the perfect time when we can see them is during dry season.

We reached this point where a very huge rock is situated. This marks that we are almost there at the summit point. Unfortunately, fog has started to cover the surroungings as we ascend to the peak.

We even experienced a fine, misty rain. But that was way better than a very rainy trek. At around 10:30 am, we reached the summit. So here we go, still lucky trio with the whitish surroundings. We reached the summit anyway!

Qitter, the photographer; myself and buddy Dennis

Atop the mountain is a giant rock which could have been visible if it weren't that foggy.

After eating our lunch under the huge rock which provided us enough shed during a short drizzle, we decided to descend. That was 11am.

As we descend we still had some picture takings. We encountered some windy areas though.

I was amused at this huge rock which made me feel like I am a dwarf. (by the way, a few steps down from there is another waterfalls).

Dwarfed by a giant rock, I was a Thumbelina like that, hehe

These various waterfalls that we could view from where we are as we descend Napulak were so pleasing to our eyes. According to the guide, such mountain accross Napulak is higher than the former and it's called Mt. Taripis. There were already many instances that such mountain was climbed, however, it is Mt. Napulak I think that was popularly visited.

We arrived at the barangay chairman's house at 12:30pm. Several people from the households around couldn't believe that we were able to reach the summit. They thought we just backed out and did not continue to climb. They were puzzled that we were able to go down at that early. Hmmm, perhaps it's because we only carried light packs and we were just three people that we managed the phasing very well.

After eating lunch, we went down and continued the trekking. We were so grateful for the warm welcome of the household where we stayed overnight and for letting us leave some of our things while we climb the mountain.

Going back to the city, heavy rains poured down again. Thankful that the same level of rains was not experienced by us during the climb proper.

The whole climb went out fine except that we weren't able to have a good clearing atop the mountain. Hmmmm, a re-visit can be done in the future but I'll make sure that it won't happen in the same season as rainy as this.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Climb Must Go On: A Rainy Dayhike Up Mts. Pamitinan and Binacayan

Location: Brgy. Wawa, Rodriguez, Rizal
Elevation: Pamitinan (426masl); Binacayan (424masl)
Difficulty: Minor/Short hike (but I don't recommend to newbies as rocky terrains are technical)

It's rainy season but the battle continues, i mean the climbing continues!.. hehehe. :D It's climbing season no more, or rather typhoon season to make it worse.  I guess it's really a battle trying to face all the muddy trails and endure the pouring of heavens. But to be honest, I enjoy a trek in the middle of the rain. I don't know but I appreciate the rain in a very special way. Sometimes, it's better for me to brave it than enduring a very sunny trek (so try to see the difference imagining doing an assault in a very bald mountain). Weather is a big factor that can change the difficulty of climbing a mountain. But you know what challenges me the most when climbing in rainy season? Ask me what. (What???) ---- it's the laundry portion! My goodness, it's so hard to wash that huge tent, the muddy trekking pants, the shoes with a consideration in your mind that you don't want to compromise the quality (especially the featured technology it has). And you could not soak it for a very long time to better remove the muds and all that. So an effort would all be coming from you alone. Isn't that more challenging? If I may add the volume, so it's like you're conquering a peak, that's a pile of laundry from your previous climb/trip.

So a very good friend of mine, Ate Candice, told me she missed climbing a mountain and that her shoes are stuck in their home for a very long time. She just suggested these mountains in Rodriguez, Rizal which are more likely to be done by many as twin dayhike. These are called Pamitinan and Binacayan dayhike.

Everything was organized well and the day itself has come. We hired a van for this so we didn't have to think about the commute. It's only takes around one hour from the metro.

To Pamitinan and Beyond

Upon arriving at the jump off point, I was surprised at the scenario at the barangay hall where registration is being done. I get it! This one is very well-patronized by many climbers nowadays. It's like the scenario in any other hiking destinations nearby Manila. Climbers including organizers/leaders are getting in line to register while the authority is assigning guides to them. And these climbers? They are so many of them. The mountains in Rizal are getting more and more popular and the number of people getting into climbing are growing as well.

Two guides were assigned to us being 14 in the group. Beginning our trek, the guides decided to climb Pamitinan first. The first part is residential areas passing through hanging bridge over the Wawa River.

This is the point where the towering and neighboring mountains can be seen well, Pamitinan and Binacayan can be viewed well. There was a belief that it was Bernardo Carpio who separated these two mountains.

Until we arrived at the junction between Mt. Hapunang Banoi and Pamitinan, where rocky terrains begin.

Not only that sharp rocks would be encountered but they are really a ascending type. That being said, you have to push harder. Simple but very important tips for those who are planning to climb this mountain: Bring appropriate gloves; a pair of shoes is better than sandals (if you plan to wear the latter, make sure that you wear socks as well); climb in a pair of trekking pants (leggings will do but being a kind of thin clothing, they could be torn easily) and; lastly, bring only a light pack. 

Reaching this point, we already saw the grandeur of Rizal province --- the residential part of the barangay, the Wawa river, the neighboring mountain, Binacayan which would be our next stop. We stopped here for quite so long for picture taking and thinking this is the peak itself. But there was a higher peak but would only take 5-10minutes.

This is Gil doing a "buwis-buhay" shot :-P
Ate Candice and me (after 3 years, we were able to be together again in a climb)

Scaling this huge rock signifying the summit is quite hard as again, you have to push harder. A 360-degree view will be seen around upon arriving at the peak --- so here I am, I have only identified the Hapunang Banoi at the back and Binacayan in my front. At that time, I wasn't aware yet that a 4-peak dayhike can be done (was already done by some) as after such climb did I come to know Mt. Ayaas. So that becomes Pamitinan + Binacayan + Hapunang Banoi + Ayaas. I believe there are other possibilities that be combined as there are other peaks in Rodriguez.

Starting at around 6:30am, we only got to finish Pamitinan trek by 12nn. Perhaps because of the number of us in the group. And also one of our companions, Annie, Ate Candice's friend had her shoes sort of reaching its retirement and seemingly given up in that rocky trails. Good thing another companion, Joon, has offered his sandals. She had to endure the descending trail with a pair her feet barely knew. To make it worse, she had sprained her ankle.

By the way, this part of the trail is a good venue for rock climbing and one of the groups that happened to go there was actually conducting it.

I recalled a desire to try a rock climbing activity way, way back. Yes I know I have to face what scares me, buuuut... as I remember the uneasiness and fear I get when trekking at an "all-rock" terrains and the discomfort I feel when handling a rope, I'm having a second thought. I remembered also the great difficulty I had climbing Guiting-guiting as well as the ferrata in Kinabalu. So passing this scenario, I just secretly smiled and continued to trek. Haha.

Off to the Second Leg, Binacayan

To go or not to go!?

During our lunch break in the barangay at the foot of the mountains, I was honestly tempted not to push through with the second peak. It was so hot and I could see some of my companions thinking also of staying and climb the second peak no more. 

I said to myself, I would never have this chance pass by without ascending the peak which was the original target, only because of the lazy feeling I had that time. No way!

Dragging my lazy body, majority of us agreed to resume by 1:30pm. Four in the group decided to stay including Annie and Ate Candice.

We were on the first 30mins of the trail passing through a concrete elevated road when upon reaching the start of forested  part, we encountered a rattle snake... and not only once but twice. Whew! I was the third one in the trail and it was adrenaline rush that I was able to run background enough to go away from it. We were actually four at the tail of the group and the two of us decided to go back and would no longer continue. Joon and I had to be cautious as we continued the trek. Really, my legs being covered by socks and trekking pants and the fact that I was using a high-cut hiking shoes has been a big advantage.

As our companions ahead was waiting for us, we told about this scary story and so everyone became paranoid. We were just confident that the guide is at the front and he should be the first one to encounter a snake if ever.

At this point is the beginning of the real rocks encounter and fairly ascending trail.

Scaling the now very rocky ridge, the sky has started to get gloomy and cloudy. While almost part of the day was terribly sunny, thunderstorm was anticipated (as seen in the accuweather shown above). 

Reaching the highest point, we were only given a very few minutes of taking photos and afterwards, thunderstorm and heavy rains began. 

yes? what are you saying? LOL!

We decided to stay under a very huge rock to shade us as we wait for the rain to subside.

Thankful for the positive vibes of my fellow climbers as we were able to enjoy our stay hiding in such cave-like rock perched at the summit. 

Around 4pm, we decided to descend as we would't want to have the trekking by nightfall. It was a descent full of obstacles as we had to make a great deal on the very muddy trails and a real pain on our knees.

By 5pm, we're back at the trailhead. According to the guide, camping in these two mountains are not allowed and given the fact that there is no good place for camping. Overnight can be done by pitching the tent at the barangay. Based on Kuya guide's story, monkeys can also be a threat when staying overnight. These are the reasons why it is dayhike that is preferred in scaling these mountains.

 I have to admit that during the climb proper I encountered an inner struggle --- a struggle composed of laziness, and the unending question "why am I doing this?" and yet I'm still doing it. I realised I have started this journey and I must keep on keeping. These thoughts and feelings are normal. Another realisation about life that sometimes when you keep on doing and doing what you are used to, there are moments that you lost interest (well, temporarily) yet if you remain on it keeping in mind that this is what you have desired and this is what you really want in the first place, eventually you get to finish what you have started. In the end you will thank yourself that you didn't give up.

I am more than happy I was able to experience this Twin Dayhike.
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