May 2nd: Minalungao Beach camping and hike.
It’s been a nourishing week since I last wrote. I am just came back from a weekend trip at Minalungao national park, From Friday evening to Sunday night late. I am finally making friends with the P.A.C.K.E.R.S members: Adam, Mark, Ginsella, Mischelle, Tearso… Nothing like spending weekends, travelling long hours smooshed in a car and away from the city, camping, to form solid bonds. I really like this crowd and so far, it’s been nice to do more chill hikes and build my way up towards something more challenging. The weekend began by the national park swimming and floating around in bantangas. We drifted down the gorge on bamboo rafts complete with leaf roof and a sitting table. We cooled down dipping in and out of the water from our rafts and had lunch. We then climbed the “thousand steps” a seemingly endless series of concrete steps leading up the beautiful rock formation overlooking the aforementioned river, to a beautiful view of the Sierra Madre Mountains. And then, we walked down the endless steps and got into the van and made our way to the “secret location” we had been promised in the weekend’s itinerary. We arrived in Dingalan, Aurora on the ocean coast (which was totally unexpected) after driving high up into the mountains and down again…only to discover a paradisiacal open view of the ocean from a height. We then got into a huge traditional katamaran with all our gear and set off on the ocean. The water had the deepest most amazing, and changing colours from deep green to turquoise and back again. The waves were big enough to enjoy the up and down motion of the boat, but in a slow and steady, safe manor: awesome while offering a glimpse into the respect we owe the ocean and the environment around us, but without true danger. And then, Adam, the team lead pointed it out: the beach where we would be staying couched between mountains in the back ground on small, surrounding land masses, green and turquoise hues as far as the eye could see with animal and soothing ocean sounds, abounding. We disembarked, went swimming, set up camp and made food. Each dish, mouth watering and looking better then the previous. I was reminded of the importance to zone-in on the wonder of the places I visit and hike to-something I had felt a good portion of the day. I needed to remember this as tiredness was starting to sink in around diner prep time and my burner we were using to make diner burst into flame, indicating a probable leak along the gas pipe. I was feeling disparaged as this burner was a new purchase. I was also feeling restless because of I couldn’t seem to help out in the right way…I was two left feet and wanted badly to be helpful. I walked away t the beach. After writing and checking-in with the beauty around me, I felt much better and returned to the group and ate this amazing food. We then cleaned up and hung out while prepping for our later night social (aka drinking amongst friends disguised as a distinguished get-together). Now this social was a blast. I feel as though it was the first real opportunity to get to know the participants in a relaxed atmosphere less focused on “doing” and more on talking and laughing. Talking and doing are obviously two legitimate ways of being with and knowing people, but inevitably, because of the world I have grown up in, I somehow find more obvious the connection with people through the latter. Anyway, I had a great time. I was also reasonable, heading to bed a bit earlier then most, listening to my increasing sense of comfortable tiredness (as opposed to the cranky tiredness I had felt earlier in the day). Sunday, we got up around 5am made breakfast cleaned up and headed for an hour hike. Though short it was quite challenging: with a very steep incline and high grass and rocks sticking out a random intervals. But the hike was incredibly satisfying-though I felt dizzy with heat, I could tell that my body was and is getting stronger. Previously, I would have really struggled with this hike. The view up top was also ridiculously specatcular: on top mount Gabaldon was a light house we could climb up to gain extra visibility of the ocean and the mountain peaks simultaneously seeing land meeting the sky and mountains obstructed by the clouds, and rooted deep in the azure blue ocean. For me, it is in this beauty and terrible, profoundly unreachable nature that divinity resides.
After hiking back down to the beach, we swam, broke camp and clambered up in the Katarmaran. We were set to visit “caves” which turned out to be a photo op and not really a site for spelunking, as I had expected. Off the coast of the same island were we camped, at a totally different corner of it, was the bottom of the rocky cliffs that uplifted us to the light house earlier and in this rock, caves had been carved in through years of rock and ocean doing battle. There was a tiny rocky beach framed by these caved in rocky walls. Some of us jumped off the boat an made it to shore, frolicking in the waves, enjoying it’s rich colour, the slow but wide and high waves. After about an hour of this, we climbed back into the boat and headed back to the shore in town. Oringally, we were supposed to go trekking through the jungle once back on the continent, to go swimming at cold falls but many of us were very tired, so we debated whether to cut our trip short. By chance, while looking for information on the trail length and difficulty for reaching the falls, we stumbled upon a “resort”. Essentially, it was a cozy abandoned-looking house with a big pool caved out from a large, large slab of concrete which had seemingly been poured into an equally large hole in the ground and filled with murky water and also complete with a walk-in “bar” and small bridge from the pool side leading to this bar, in the middle of the pool. For a very small fee, the owner agreed to let us swim and clean up there. Some decided to take advantage of this offer, while other aimed to go to the falls and clean up thereafter.
Hiking to the falls was the best decision I could have made. The hike brought us through the dirt road splitting the fields of the locals housed in a small lull of the surrounding mountains, then we took a turn off and voila in this not-so-obvious corner, passed the fields deeper in the tropical forest, lay a small falls with protruding rocks around it perfect for sitting or drying off in the sun. The water was cold, I mean like taking a swim in mid-spring canadian streams and answered a profound longing I had started to crave of for once in the Philippines feeling truly cold, naturally cold, not shivering because of A/C or sweating like a pig. Easing into the water was pure bliss. And then, Adam and the monkey-boys who are fearless and climb everything erected around them, climbed the rock walls of the falls bare footed and made their way to a point looming over the water pool by about four meters and jumped. Beforehand, they had convinced me to do the same and I jumped and it was a thrill and joy. After landing in the water, I eyed Adam swimming towards the falls hanging onto the surrounding wall I joined him and sat under side droplets forming their own mini dripping fall aside the larger one. As the water dripped on my forehead and I looked on the beauty and the symbolism of the water made me feel this is the only way by which I could ever be “baptized”: by the nature around me, by divine darkness and light. I spent a weekend facing fears and lightness of being and I just want to do more of this, always.
This feeling, is what ultimately brought me to agree to tackle Batag-Balig traverse in two weeks. I am scarred of this 3 day hike categorized as an 8/9 hike. I also desperately want to peer down into the world from a top a higher peak, spend time in indigenous, Ifugao territory, breathe the cold mountain air and challenge myself to walk the rice paddy ridges. I am preparing myself mentally and physically as best I can for the next bit. And I feel proud of what I am doing; of feeling scarred and doing it anyway.
May 3rd: Back in San Juan, routines are starting to form
I arrived in San Juan yesterday morning early. This place has not lost it’s magic in my eyes, even though it is the second time I visit it. Yesterday, it was the ridiculous trees bursting with multi-coloured flowers only tropical climates produce lush and rich and unexpected (even though I have seen them many times now) in the alley bordering the office. Today, after catching up on sleep, it was the beach; the ebb and flow of the waves and finding my way back to El Union Cafe which I am still so in love with. I brought back the Bonesetter’s Daughter to the cafe: I had borrowed it last time I was here. I have taken out Milan Kundera’s The unbearable lightness of being and the Age of Innocence from their perfect, tiny book collection. These borrowed gifts feel like treasures from the sea line paradise, incrusted in my heart and mind as a place I want to be. The books remind me of this place when I am stuck in dirty busy Manila.
In some ways, this will be a short trip in San Juan. We have come to renew our visa, right before the deadline of May 5th. So, while we spent yesterday mostly resting up and then I shopped for basic diner food, today was mostly about the renewal of our visas. I completed some errands, followed-up on a number of emails, and researched the Batag-Balig traverse of mount Amuuyao, which I am hoping to hike shortly.