Sunday, June 26, 2011

Freedom Climb in Pico de Loro


On 12 June 1898, at Emilio Aguinaldo's ancestral home in Cavite, Philippine independence was proclaimed and The Act of Declaration of Philippine Independence was read. The act had been prepared and written in Spanish by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, who also read its proclamation.

113 years later, hundreds of mountaineers commemorated the Philippines Independence Day in Mt. Pico de Loro, which is located where else but in the Province of Cavite. The event, dubbed as the Freedom Climb, was participate by mountain enthusiasts all over the country as a bid to set a new Guiness World Record in the most number of mountaineers organized in spontaneous locations.

Chapter One

Three days before the climb, non-stop rain caused by the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone that resulted to Typhoon Dodong was all across the country that one can only clearly predict what to expect in the mountains with that kind of weather. This kind of matter is no stranger to the Law Mountaineering Society, which prior stints were conducted while raining. They might actually call themselves as Storm Chasers as well. Thus, not even a weather forecast of a thunderstorm would prevent them from participating in the Freedom Climb. Probably, the only thing that could prevent them from climbing is when Commissioner David Stern decides to moved Game 6 of the NBA Finals on the 12th of June (Manila Time). Fortunately and obviously, it did not happen. So there was no stopping them on their much needed endeavor because classes resumes on Monday.

The mountain to conquer this time is Pico de Loro. Many years ago, the Spaniards aboard their galleons to Manila Bay noticed the form of a giant parrot, perched in the forested mountains in the province of Cavite. They called it "Pico de Loro" or "Parrot's Peak." It is 664 MASL or a refreshing four-hour minor climb. The group visited this mountain almost a year ago and it was definitely quite an unforgettable experience. Honestly, it was hard to beat.
On this occasion, only five of the previous ten hikers returned plus three new "guests" of the mountain.

The meeting place was in KFC Baclaran branch in Diplomat Condominum along Roxas Boulevard in Paranaque. 9 am was the ETD but being Filipinos, which had no timeliness in their veins, it was not followed. It should be worth to recall that during the last time, a member came three hours beyond the scheduled time and the rest were already inside the bus when he arrived. On this edition, he still arrived over the time limit but he was not the last one to arrive. That award goes to Weng. Phillip, Hydee, Vhince and his cousin Mark were inside the fast food chain when she arrived. Dennis and Raffy were in the market making last minute shopping. At first, Weng did not notice them inside so Phillip, who had seen her, went outside to call her. The first thing of business was reacquainting with each other. Everyone knew each other except for Mark because they are schoolmates and had climbed together before.

It was already past ten o'clock when they settled in and set to depart the place. Amidst to everyone, Weng had second thoughts of going. And so while the others were already in the other side of the road, Weng had convinced Raffy, being the team leader that she had an emergency to attend. With that unfortunate incident, six were only left to accomplish the feat. It was a good thing, Vhince decided to join and bring his cousin because he only knew of the activity the previous day. Upon learning Weng's reason why she had bolted out, Dennis, who celebrated his birthday a day before, even joked that the emergency was his cousin Felix. Eventually he was correct, while in the bus, the couple texted that they were also going to Pico de Loro.

When they reached the last bus stop, they moved out from the vehicle and rested in a cafeteria along the main road. They decided to wait for the two before they proceed to Magnetic Hills, which is the jump-off point of the mountain. During the long wait for the love birds, the six ate their lunch and they had an interesting meal because a fly was an added ingredient in their food. Fortunately, Vhince had noticed it after they had eaten their food. After more than an hour of patiently waiting for the two late-entries, they had arrived aboard
a tricycle. Still, it took an eternity before they had resumed their journey (Courtesy of Weng's unlimited picks in the grocery store). Going to the DENR site requires riding a tricylce or a van. The latter was unavailable so they chose the former. On board in a tricycle uphill is one of those moments that you feel like riding a turtle. The other trikes were able to ease through the tough road but the one stood out the most. It was so slow that even a camel can passed it through. What would seem like a long ride, Vhince, Mark and Phillip arrived at the DENR station. They had affixed their signatures in the registration list and they were off to the jump-off point.

Chapter Two
Lost in Translation

This so-called Freedom Climb was also dubbed as the Birthday Climb. Two of its pioneers celebrated their birthdays during the past week. Phillip was still eleven years old but another year of experience that amounted to 15 years, meanwhile, Dennis had his Nth birthday. Phillip brought food to eat while Dennis provided the alcohol for the evening festivities. It was kind of ironic to celebrate another year of existence in a mountain that almost claims you the previous year. Dennis had a scary stint here the last time around while Phillip had his share of scary stories as well. Needless to say, they somewhat own the mountain or is it vice-versa. Nonetheless, all of them were excited for yet another unforgettable trek.

At the very same spot they started a year ago, they embarked another journey to the mountain. This time around, they had no guides to accompany them. Of course, there are risks included with such decisions like getting lost in the mountain is one of them. However, someone said that all things that worth doing will be difficult. And this sort of thing surely fits on the worth doing category. Thus, it was around two in the afternoon when they started their ascent to the mountain. Felix, who was hungry, ate his lunch while walking. Their pace was quite the normal walk in the mountains. The weather was friendly to them. There were no rains as well as the scorching heat from the sun. There were no dusts at all. What was left by the rain was dry mud. The trail towards the mountain was covered by trees. 
All over it were trace marks such as stones and ribbons so that a hiker should know what route to take.

Another registration site was passed through by the group. It means another 20 Pesos registration fee for each of them to pay. They rested there for awhile. Vhince and his cousin fetch a bottle of water there. It was the only water source in the area. The place was somewhat a park intended as a lounge for the hikers. It was comfortable there. It should be noted, the only animal in that part of the mountain was a horse. One female hiker from the UP-Los Banos group was caught surprise that there was a horse in front of her. If she did not recognize it, the horse had kicked her up to the top of the mountain. After a short rest, the group continued its climb. They were above the normal pace that they have surpassed the 18-man group that was ahead of them. Aside from their fellow hikers; one can only felt the presence of the mountain. Whether it’s from the trees or the muddy and rocky trails or the chirping sounds produced by its visiting birds.

Everything that happen the rest of the way is incomparable to what transpired next to half of the members of the group. Phillip, Raffy, Vhince, and Mark were way ahead from Dennis, Felix, Hydee, and Weng. Probably because of the hype of being near to the top, no one noticed the purple ribbon on the right portion of the trail and they went straight ahead. Shortly after, they met two female climbers stranded in a stiff cliff trying to make their ascent. Uncertain of the trail, Phillip asked Raffy to go ahead and try to look if it is the right trail. Upon seeing a white ribbon marker, Raffy said Positive! Positive! Remarks that signal that they were in the right track. The two women were still not satisfied that they remained there while the three followed suit to Raffy. Being there previously felt that they never chartered the place before but resigned to that conclusion due to the facts that were laid to them. They waited for the others to come but they did not. And so they went straight ahead. It was quite obvious that it was not the road to take because there were branches 
that covered the whole trail. And still they continued to move on. After a few guesses and hunches of which way to proceed they reached a breathtaking view deck of the mountain. Because the place was all theirs for their taking, it was peaceful and wonderful feeling of seeing the peak of the mountain. Even though they ended the wrong path, a glorious sight was lo and behold in front of their eyes.

In the first instance they set foot there, Phillip instantly knew they are in the wrong place. He told it to Raffy but he did not believe him and even bet for his life. Obviously because there were no people at sight, Phillip was right and he teased him, It is pity to lose your life. Still, being himself, he allowed the others to savor the moment. Then, he felt that he was the bearer of bad news so he told them that they have to leave. Meanwhile, the other group made it to the right camp site in the shoulder viewing deck of the mountain. They were worried of not seeing the other four there. Dennis thought that Phillip had go to the summit to pray the rosary which was his routine but had thoughts of why they did not waited for them and left their things. They look everywhere for them but sill there were no signs of them. Fortunately, there was a telecommunication signal so Weng called Phillip.

Phillip had just crawled down on the stiff cliff they had been earlier with the two female hikers when his phone rang. He answered it and recognized Weng's voice. She asked him, where they are. Phillip replied that they were on their way. He did not asked for instructions and even did not told them that they took the wrong turn. He just told her that they just took a side trip in the mountains. Fortunately, they were able to retrace their path and saw the purple ribbon that they should have noticed earlier. And by the way, there was a fence on the trail they had passed but it was open for still unknown reasons. It was minutes before sunset when they had reached the camp site, which was covered by a lot of people. It was crowded and noisy which was much different from the previous deck. Upon seeing them, the others had their sigh of relief that nothing happened to them. (Writer's Note: The four did not get lost; they were sightseeing in the mountain.)

Chapter Three
Yakitate Pico

Because of what happened, the four were the talk of the town or mountain rather. Felix made fun of the incident and probably telling everyone that they were the ones who got lost in the woods. The rest of the group, who was not part of it, also cracked some jokes to them. Of course, the four "navigators" were quite embarrassed because of what had transpired. It was sure an experience for Mark, who is a graduating Pol-Sci major in Colegio San Juan de Letran, because it is his first ever climb. Nonetheless, Vhince was the standout of the group during the evening due to his creativity in the Culinary Arts. With little resources, he managed to prepare dinner for the whole group. It took more than an hour to finish it but the wait was worth it. The meal was splendid probably due to their hunger but it was really good.

Most of the group slept early because of the tiresome adventure earlier. Dennis, Felix and Mark were the ones awake and drunk some brandy. Later, due to the noise of the other campers, Phillip woke up and joined the three. They just talked about what happened earlier. And when it stopped, basketball was the topic because of the ongoing NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks versus LeBron James and the Forces of Evil a.k.a the Miami Heat. Then they ran out of chaser because they had inadequate supply of water. And so they called it a day and went to their respective tents.

The night was cold but still the weather was kind and did not soak rain throughout the evening. The moon and the stars provided the light for the hikers. The place was noisy due to the big crowd but it was perhaps okay for everyone. The ground was uneasy but has been comfortable all throughout. Indeed, the mountain was much accommodating to them.

Chapter Four
The Parrot's Peak

Due to the bad weather the last time they reached the summit, they did not go beyond to the Parrot's Peak that is situated right across the summit. This time, they will not waste the opportunity of not going there. They had no rush of reaching the peak during the sun rises, probably, due to a lot of people going there as well. Nevertheless, they ascended to the top while the sun has showed its true glory and might. After everyone had eaten their breakfast, they prepared for their assault to the top of the mountain.

On their way up, the group followed the 18-crew roster that included the two hikers that got lost earlier. Naturally, Felix bombarded non-stop jokes along the way. When they did reached the top, there were already a lot of people taking their pictures offered by the mountains full scenic view. Dennis brought along a tripod but it was not used because of the summit's landscape. After the photo-op sessions, they proceed to the peak of the mountain that resembles a parrot. Hydee declined to join the rest of the group and waited for them at the summit.

The path going there is a rocky downhill trail and then to the muddy stiff way and up again to the boulders situated there. The only challenge is the six feet ascend to the peak that requires the use of a rope. The nylon rope tied there is quite old but still strong enough to hold a person. The rest were able to climb up except for Mark who had a change of heart that he decided not to push through. Nonetheless, the group continued their climb and eventually reached its top. The view from the top is not majestic (Writer's Note: I am still looking forward to seeing something majestic maybe in the Himalayas someday) but still it was marvelous. A 360 degree of the mountains nearby, the calm and peaceful sea in Batangas, and the island of corregidor. It was quite extraordinary. One can really appreciate the importance of Independence Day when he can freely see the glorious things that Nature had to offer for Mankind.
While going back to the camp site, they made several photo sessions courtesy of the lone digital camera of the group. There were still a lot of hikers making their ascent. One group resembled a fast food chain crew that Phillip instantly asked one of them for a Half-Steak order (A code for 1-piece Burger Steak of Jollibee). Then he was shocked that the lady replied as if she was in the counter, "Half-Steak Please.) And everyone relayed the order down to the last one. He had the last laugh though because he asked for extra rice to that last person in the line. In any rate, it was already hot when they reached the camp site. They packed all their things and prepared for their descent.

Chapter Five
Water-Less Descent

Imagine a life without water. Catastrophic indeed. Now, imagine a 644-meter above sea level walk without any water, it is neat catastrophic as well. With no water, the group hurriedly went down to the water source that was too far from the camp site. It felt that they were in the desert but instead of sand, only mud was on their feet. Dehydrated is the only apt word that can describe them, They 
made no unnecessary movements and unnecessary remarks even. The only thing on their mind was water. Water. H2O. Agua. Tubig. It took them a climb to the mountain to realize the importance of water. Life is remarkably cruel indeed.

The original plan was to visit the waterfalls after the hike but thanks largely to the lack of water supply; the plan was scratched and went straight to the water source. Dennis stuck with the original plan and move ahead to the water falls. The rest of the group continued their quest of the Holy Grail or water rather. Most of the group was anxious to see the jackfruit or langka that swarmed over the fences because it marks that they are near to the promise land. Two hours of trekking without water is similar to a title drought of 17 years (Ask Jason Kidd), and then finally Oasis came. Water at last arrived in their mouth. They even did not mind the much expensive can soda just to quench their thirst.

They rested for awhile there. Eat Indian mangoes. Chat with the people there. More importantly, Sit and relax there. No more worries. It was really a day of independence, Free from distractions. Free from problems. Free from being malevolent students. Free from law professors. Free from work. Certainly it was a momentary day of freedom. The exclamation point would be a refreshing swim in the falls.

Chapter Six
Phillip and the Two Brassieres

Only Felix, Weng, Mark and Phillip went back towards to the waterfalls. Weng brought some refreshments for Dennis, who had already spent an hour or so in the cold water. Like cars that were refueled, they were rushing intensely for the falls. On their way home, they
passed a lot of people who were thirsty as they were earlier. Thus, Weng played as a Good Samaritan and offered a bottle of water to the exhausted hikers. Felix and Weng were worried about
Dennis while Phillip was hoping badly that the two ladies, who were liberal to show their brassieres to the people in the summit, would be there. And sure when he arrived at the falls, he was disappointed. At least, Dianne, the cute Morena from the UPLB group, was there. Briefly, she even posed with only her top on while in the water. Then, when Phillip took a dip into the water, his prayers were answered. The two women who look like those in the Koreanovelas in the boob tube had arrived.

The two immediately took off their clothes and went straight to the falls. If there were really goddesses, they fit in that category nicely. Interestingly, all eyes were at them. It seemed that they were just taking a cold shower in the bathroom. That was Mother Nature at her very best. Felix, who was with Weng at the falls, swam back near the shore to avoid the lady while Phillip swam over there to take himself a shower too.

The water was so cold that you can use it as a refrigerator for your beverage. It is also to deep that it was fortunate that there were big rocks to lean all over the place. It was really quite refreshing to swim on the water. It took away the tiredness of the body. An hour in the water was more than enough and they agreed to return to the registration site.

Chapter Seven
Raindrops keep falling on my head

The five of them were anxious to get back when the previously gracious weather turned vicious and provided thunder and a ton of rain. All of them were definitely soaked and wet. Instead of being clean after a refrishing swim in the waterfalls, they were wet, dirty and muddy. Fortunately, when the rain started pouring, they were almost halfway through their destination.

♪♪Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin
Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me.♪♪

It seems that they had a soundtrack while walking in the rain. The last time around was that they were searching water and this time they were escaping from water. How ironic it seems. Meanwhile, Vhince and Raffy were preparing their lunch when the heavy rain fell while Hydee was taking a bath in the rest room. That is really not a perfect timing. Things like this always happen especially to this people. Rain and the LMS are inseparable.

They were all in the hut when the rain had finally ended. Most of the hikers who took shelter left immediately. The group chose to eat first before they left the vicinity. It took another hour before they continue their journey. The trail is not muddy and wet. They patiently struggled to exit the mountains but certainly enjoy every precious moment of it. As Phillip had said to a couple of hikers earlier at the top, "Thank you for coming and Come again soon," is a perfect phrase the mountain can use for her special visitors.

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