My first hike was on a whim. It was a short one too. We were driving in Sedona, Arizona, after we visited our cousins in Phoenix last December 2014. Before going to Prescott to visit my Tita Tess, Tessa, and Paffy too (and their cats!), my cousin Ouel decided that he, my Mom, and I should climb Airport Vortex. Tita Mila and Tito Manny stayed in the car, while we went up Airport Vortex even when there was still snow on the ground! We didn’t carry anything at all, and we weren’t even in proper attire. My Mom was wearing boots when we climbed! She also conquered her fear of heights when she bravely took on this challenge. I’ll always be proud of her that time she decided to carry on when we were about to reach the top and she didn’t want to go anymore. We encouraged her, we believed in her, and eventually, my Mom reached the top of Airport Vortex to revel in the view of the whole of Sedona and its red rock formations, peppered with snow here and there.
The second hike I had was with my Dad and cousin Jango last May 2015. It was in Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, Nevada. The climb was easy for me as I didn’t have the responsibility of carrying a backpack or our water bottles. My Dad and Jango did the carrying, while I was free to walk and climb without the burden of something heavy on my shoulders and back. Because I have asthma, I can’t really carry heavy weight as it might trigger an attack. I will always be thankful for my Dad and Jango for understanding and carrying the things we needed.
On our third hike, I was also with my Dad and my cousins EJ and Jammil with their pet pug, Tofu (who is a patient climber if I may add!). We climbed Mission Peak in Fremont, California. This hike was, if I’m not mistaken, two days after Red Rock Canyon. Comparing our two experiences, this was a tougher hike, as the trail we picked was all uphill! Also, my Dad and my cousins were the ones carrying bags, while I was free again to just carry my Dad’s camera around. But still, it was a difficult climb for us, while my cousins breezed through it. I remember my Dad and I only being able to take small steps, because our legs hurt.
But on March 5, 2016, yesterday, it felt like I was climbing a mountain again for the first time.
This was my fourth hike, but the first in three aspects: 1) it was my first with my colleagues and superiors; 2) it was my first here in our beloved Philippines; and 3) it was my first time I had to carry a relatively light backpack (relatively light, because when I travel back to our home in the province, it would be heavier due to the books I bring!), because in the first two, my Dad and cousins would be carrying the heavy load.
So yes, I needed to trust God more on this day when Mt. Talamitam beckoned our team to have it as our first climb together.
4:00 – 4:30 AM was our call time in the office. We would leave at exactly 4:30 AM and drive to Nasugbu, Batangas.
My friend and colleague Ms. Abi, who is also our leader/facilitator for the climb, and I met in a 24-hour-open McDonald’s around 4:00 AM. She already had her breakfast there, while I bought a burger for my packed lunch for our climb.
Since our boss had already arrived in the office and was waiting for Ms. Abi, we left immediately and walked the streets of Makati to our office. It’s different when it’s in the wee hours of the morning. This was my first trip too from home to work just by myself in 3:45 AM.
There were 17 of us. We should have been 20, but three of our colleagues had to cancel. Hopefully, on our next climb as this was an enjoyable experience for all of us, our other officemates would join the trek club! Our boss, after knowing about Ms. Abi’s love for mountaineering, asked her to organize a club for us to take part in.
Ms. Abi started climbing last October 2015. Mt. Talamitam was her 9th mountain to climb. Today, March 6, I think she’s probably on her way home now from Mt. Makiling. Two days of climbing – she has endurance!
We took three cars on our trip. I was in the bigger vehicle with my colleagues Sir Francis, Ms Lhet, Ms Sarah, Ms Van, Sir Kenneth, Sir Jaymark, Sir Jolo, and Archie. I enjoyed listening to their stories and conversations while we traveled from Makati via SLEX to Batangas. I wanted to join in when they talked about Pokémon, as I used to play it too with my friends back in elementary and high school. Haha!
When we reached Tagaytay, we decided to have breakfast first in McDonald’s. Memories of July 2015 came rushing in, as this was also the branch my Dad and I ate at when we drove early morning to Tagaytay.
The sky turned lighter, and there was fog all around us. Though it was cold, I decided to have a sundae to get energized for the climb. It worked!
I love breakfasts with people I enjoy being with.
When all of us were satisfied with coffee and breakfast, we continued on our journey. While on the road, the sun began to rise, but before we could see it, we saw a bright orange reflection of the sun across Taal Lake! Through the windows of our heavily tinted car, we had a glimpse of it, and it felt magical, for lack of a better word. I’m not even sure if it was a reflection on the water, but it looked like as if it were on the sky itself – this bright vertical blur of orange…
Better let the orange mystery be a mystery. Some beautiful things of nature need not be explained.
After maybe 30 minutes or so, we reached the 83 km mark and the narrow way our cars needed to pass to get to the parking space. We parked in a small enclosure, just beside an empty house. It looked like it wasn’t completed anymore, but it was being used for mountain-climbing groups to stay in before and after a hike.
We dropped our bags for a while and prepared necessities.
As soon as everyone was ready, we left the house and began our trek. It could have been 7:15 in the morning, but I’m not sure. Still, the way the sunlight hit us and our surroundings looked like it was.
We began getting used to the weight on our backs now as we trudged downwards where we would be starting our trail to Mt. Talamitam.
Crossing a short foot bridge that was above 9-10 feet from a stream, I had to stop in the middle for a bit to take a photo. This kind of view was reminiscent of something I saw when I was in high school. How there were rays of sunlight passing through the foliage in our old high school in the middle of the forest…
After the bridge, we needed to pass through another stream, wider than the one under the bridge.
When I got to pass through it easily, I was glad, but when we got higher and higher and the rest of the team was a bit faster than I expected, my lungs grew tired, my breathing more labored, and my legs feeling the onset of soreness.
During some time, I had to use my inhaler to ease my breathing.
We had two tour guides with us too, and I think they are sisters. The one backing up our group is Ate Imelda. I caught her name when one of my colleagues asked her. They were very accommodating and helpful to us.
We went through the forest. The uneven and uphill parts were difficult, so we needed to know our footing. Big roots of trees were entangled on the ground, with dry leaves and sand as well.
Sometimes, we would take breaks so the ones at the back of the group (me included!) can catch up. I would wonder at how fast our other teammates were going!
And we got through the first part!
I loved how everything was light and warm.
We stopped for a while at this point to rest. It was our first time to be on a higher level where we could see around the province of Batangas. We didn’t sit yet – we just paused to get ourselves together for the next part of the journey.
Our first animal sighting was this carabao! Another term for it is ‘water buffalo.’ Named as the National Animal of the Philippines, the carabao is known for its hard-working trait and its strength in helping farmers out in the fields.
And there was also this white dog! I thought one of the hikers, who was by himself, was his owner! But after seeing the white dog again without the man anymore, I guess he belongs to a family residing in the area. I kept saying hello to the dog. 🙂
When we were in the forest and walking up this hill, I thought we were climbing Mt. Talamitam already, but I kept wondering how we haven’t even seen its entirety or peak yet. When we searched photos of it on the Internet weeks prior to the trip, it looked like a hill in the middle of a vast open field.
So after our rest, we walked up some more, leading us finally to the top.
That’s when we first saw Mt. Talamitam.
Situated in Nasugbu, Batangas, Mt. Talamitam looked like a fairly easy climb at first with 2 as its level of difficulty for mountaineers. They say to not judge a book by its cover, but also, we say: do not judge a mountain if you haven’t traversed its trails from its foot to its peak.
There were so many dogs around! I felt like Sir Erwin, one of our colleagues, took delight in this too. Before a Family Day gathering hosted by our company, he once shared when we were in the home of our managers playing with their pet dogs and their puppies that he wanted to be a veterinarian.
Before continuing our walk to the foot of Mt. Talamitam, we sat all sat down with the mountain behind us. We took photos, and we had small snacks afterwards. We were careful to always keep our trash in our bags. It is common knowledge to never litter wherever you are. It is also stated in the Mountaineers’ Motto: “Kill nothing but time. Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.”
It is only right that we preserve nature. We’re already climbing the mountain and the most we can do for it to still be there for future generations to appreciate and love is to keep it clean as we have first arrived there.
I especially loved this moment. This pause amidst the energized beginning. The essence and importance of rest.
We had our first photo together here too as a team – all 17 of us. The white dog we saw earlier decided to be in the photo as well! He (or she!) decided to sit next to Archie.
Then there was another dog again, alert to see three boys coming from the mountain.
The boys, if my memory serves me correctly, whistled and beckoned for the dog to come to them.
I think they may be friends. 🙂
The second dog we saw too looked out to the three boys.
When our resting was over, we continued our walk to Mt. Talamitam.
From where we were, it looked like it was near. Sir Alexis and I both affirmed that illusion when we’re walking closer to the mountain, it looks like it’s getting farther.
I was grateful for the straight and flat paths after the climb through the forest. Ate Imelda said, however, that it would get steep when we’re nearing the top of the mountain.
Across these long straight paths, we saw cows grazing.
I’ve had separate conversations before with my Mom and Dad – how it would be nice to live in a farm, and play with all the farm animals and take care of them.
I was glad to see all the fauna we saw. I was also happy to see the flora of this region.
This orange, pink, and yellow flowers are of the alagaw, said Ate Imelda.
These, meanwhile, I didn’t get to ask for the names, but our guide did say they were ‘damo’ or grass.
During this part of the journey, Sir Alexis and I were trailing behind the team. We got to talk about how speed isn’t always the measure of how good of a climber you are. When you’re focused on the time you get to the top, your journey will be rushed, you will only look at your feet and the ground mostly, and you won’t get to appreciate the beautiful things around you as you walk your way up.
This conversation reminded me too of another my cousin Jango and I had when we climbed Cowles Mountain in San Diego with Kuya John C (but we only reached the halfway point, while Kuya John C continued on to go to the peak). We both preferred to take walks slowly and look around. We also liked listening to the sounds we heard around us like the rustling of leaves, the wind, our steps on the ground, birds singing…
I also got to talk with Ate Imelda. She shared how they would climb this mountain once a day to guide tourists and mountaineers, how it’s often windy here, how some people would still climb even if it rained a bit in this area. I can only imagine the mud one has to go through.
I asked her too about Mt. Talamitam. She said that it meant “punong-kahoy” which is Tagalog for ‘tree.’ The mountain was named as such because it used to have many trees planted there. I wondered how everything would look like with trees all around us too.
Then Ms Abi asked what Batulao meant. Mt. Batulao is another mountain one can climb in Batangas. She already climbed it too, and she shared that it has many rocks in the trail and to its sides are cliffs already. Ate Imelda said it meant ‘bato’ or rock.
I was grateful for the chance to get to know more about this mountain we were acquainting ourselves with through Ate Imelda’s knowledge and sharing.
Before beginning the actual climb to Mt. Talamitam’s peak, we had another rest.
When everybody was ready for the uphill hike, we say hello to the tall grasses of the mountain.
Ms Abi warned us about the tall grasses. We call them ‘talahib’ in Filipino. They’re fine and thin, so we were careful not to touch them the wrong way or angle, as we could get cut.
When we got farther and farther up, I kept thinking of how much I wanted to get to the top already. The weather was getting hotter, my back and arms were wet with sweat, and my left knee started to have this small searing pain. When we would climb up and I would look to the sky, I could only see the tops of the tall grasses. No peak was in sight. I was also advancing too fast, as I would hit my head on Ms Sarah’s bag a few times.
I disciplined myself to ease my pace and to not rush.
I also secretly wished for an Escape Rope (a disposable item in Pokémon that you can use when you’re in a cave to get you out immediately), so we won’t get to go down the mountain anymore. Haha!
Ah, but where’s the sacrifice in that, where’s the challenge in that?
Lahat ng bagay, pinag-hihirapan.
Then at one point, we had to stop in our tracks, because one of our colleagues, Sir Kenneth, felt tired. I wasn’t sure if he had cramps, but Ms Abi rushed from behind me to get to Sir Kenneth. Eventually, when we reached the top, we’re glad to know he felt much better.
Since we needed to be there for our teammate, we all rested in the track, wherever we were. I didn’t know how much more we needed to climb. Behind us were our tour guide and a man who sold popsicles in his ice box. I thought about how exhausting it must be for the man to carry the box strap on his left shoulder, while he waited with us, until he decided to move on too.
Then after a while, we heard voices of other groups coming in with their guide. We had to let them through in the narrow trail. It was nice that as they passed, they said good morning, and we said it back. Ms Lhet too offered to help one woman climb up a rather steep step.
This shared passion and interest in adventure in the form of mountain-climbing gets us all helpful with one another. Shared trials, shared responsibility of assisting one another up.
I thought on this, while another thought came. I looked behind me and spotted the path we took, and the places we were in earlier. You get to appreciate where you are when you stop and look back to see how far you’ve gone.
When Sir Kenneth was feeling okay, we elevated. We went a few steps higher. I waited patiently to hear that first cry of joy, that first yell of relief, signaling the end of our uphill trek.
My left knee hurt more and more as I put my weight on it whenever stepping up. Up to now, I still wonder how I got to climb and walk without it giving up on me, because it really hurt. I thank God for sustaining me and my teammates during the climb…
And then, after 15 or 20 minutes – I didn’t really know – I heard that we were almost there. I heard one or two of my colleagues breathing a sigh of relief.
I pushed myself further too to give out that same sigh of relief.
And suddenly, all that pain of climbing Mt. Talamitam was forgotten the moment we got to the top. I glimpsed around, just a short glimpse, to see the view, but I needed something cold to refresh me first. My body needed it.
When we got there, our teammates who were ahead of the group were there already, drinking buko juice and refreshments under a shed.
This little dog too had his own taste of the coconut meat.
When I got refreshed already, that’s when I turned around and let my eyes linger and stay. Now I could take it all in, accept this gift from God.
This is all free for us to experience and see… Lord, the Earth praises You.
That courage to go sit or stand on a rock cropping…
That fist to the air, saying boldly, “We did it!”
All the pain we went through as a team, enduring together, helping one another up, was worth it.
Truly, rest was essential for the weary. We may have been weary physically, but I know and feel that we all enjoyed this experience. And we would do it all over again.
Of course, not right away!
I reveled at how many shades of green I saw, from the grasses to the trees far away.
In his book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,’ Haruki Murakami wrote: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”
When I slept last night, my left knee hurt whenever I would move it or when there’s pressure onto it. When I woke up this morning, the pain was gone, but instead, both my legs hurt. Putting my feet down, walking, and standing up from sitting hurt.
Instead of talking about the pain during and after running this time, there’s also the pain of climbing a mountain. You know there’s going to be pain, but will you suffer for it? To suffer is to endure patiently.
Though my body hurts right now after our climb to Mt. Talamitam, yesterday, it is the kind of pain I would endure patiently. It is the kind of pain I wouldn’t mind to feel again when we’re about to climb a new mountain.
There are several things you can learn from signing up for an adventure like this. To get to the peak, you will go through challenging trails, you will get hurt, you will be tested, you will need to rest, you will have to trust your companions, you have to share the energy and pain and joy and success of them as well.
The same goes with life.
Then after all you and your team hike through, the tall grasses and trees blocking your view will disappear. The sky appears wider.
Eventually, the pain you’ve been feeling since the first step from the foot of the mountain is forgotten…
After some well-deserved rest, at around 10 or 11, we began our descent.
I was convinced to say I had a harder time going down than climbing up. Though it was a different path we took this time with no more ‘talahib’ to worry about, some parts were still steep. The sand too would make your shoes slip more easily if they don’t have spikes underneath. That’s why it is important to invest on hiking shoes if you’re serious about committing yourself to this kind of lifestyle or adventure.
I’ll forever remember how Sir Francis, Sir Kenneth, Sir Jolo, and Sir Jaymark would help us get down whenever we needed guidance. I can say the same too to Ate Imelda who’s been patient and helpful with us all throughout the journey. They would all teach us too which trunk or patch of grass to hold on to, how we should step down sidewards, where we should put our foot next…
I can only imagine having to go down the first trail we took. This was much easier.
On our way down, however, Ms Je, Sir Jaymark, Ate Imelda, and I weren’t able to wait for our colleagues who were left behind us. We got word only later when we reached our other teammates resting under the shade of a tree already at the bottom of the mountain.
Archie had cramps, so they had to rest first.
We had conversations. I listened mostly to them and rested. I heard too from our tour guide, the one who was leading our group, that the mountain in our horizon was Mt. Batulao indeed. Ms Abi was guessing earlier when we were still at the top that it could be Batulao. Our tour guide also shared that we can see Pico de Loro too, but we had to go back again up to the mountain to get a glimpse of it – if we do want to see it – as it’s in the other side of Mt. Talamitam. Haha!
When they finally got down, we let our teammates rest first and have popsicles – popsicles from the same man who was following us on our uphill climb! Thank you, Sir Jack, for the popsicles! Maraming salamat din po, Mamang Sorbetero! Whenever we finished our popsicles, he would get all our trash himself. We too who are strangers of their province must have the same ardent desire to keep everything clean wherever mountain we decide to climb.
Another lesson from this man is that he works hard. I don’t know if this is his only source of income, but imagine having to climb every day up the mountain and descend it… A young boy too who was selling the refreshments at the top of the mountain with probably his sisters or relatives inspired me about hard work. We saw him afterwards at the bottom of the mountain already, and then a third time again when he was asked to gather kamote crops from the field. He put them in white plastic bags and walked after us, carrying the crops in his two hands.
That’s when I realized why an exercise routine Jango taught me last January was called ‘farmer’s walk.’ I saw my cousins walk from one point to another while just carrying two weights with both hands. The boy was doing the same, only he had kamote crops.
To be young and know work already.
Sir Jack said that if one member needs to rest, we will all rest. It reminded me of the term ‘ubuntu,’ which came from the Southern African region. It is like humanity or compassion towards other fellow human beings, how you all share the same humanity.
I knew this word for the first time back when I was working at our schoolpaper organization in college. My second Editor-in-Chief had a Japanese philosophy of kaizen for his motto: improving what is improved. My third Editor-in-Chief, meanwhile, had ‘ubuntu’ as his.
We shared this climb, my colleagues, superiors, and I, along with our tour guides, the people we met along the way, fellow mountaineers, and the people who were there to give refreshments.
As we got off the mountain and walked farther away from its foot, Sir Alexis said, “It’s like we were there a moment ago,” in Filipino.
I kept looking back whenever we would walk farther and farther from the mountain. I smiled up at Mt. Talamitam, thanking it for its hospitality and simultaneously welcoming and challenging us.
In retrospect, I loved being here. I loved climbing this mountain. Mt. Talamitam is a mountain I would climb again someday.
The hike ended with our passing through a river. There were kids taking a swim there, and further along, there were other mountaineers too just wading in the water.
Some of the boys were ready to swim, but we didn’t get to swim anymore. Instead, our adventure ended with a lunch treat from our boss in Tagaytay! We’re very grateful for it and his generosity after the calorie-burning activity we all had.
On our drive back to Tagaytay, everyone kept talking about a good long bath and sleep. I thought about that too.
And I also thought about our adventure together. I thanked God for keeping us all safe for the trip from Makati to Nasugbu, from the registration point to the summit, from the summit back to our starting point, from Tagaytay back to our homes and families.
It is unmistakable. That joy. Those smiles. The laughter after the adventure.
Every pang of pain we felt, every complaint of the heat of the sun or the exhaustion, was worth it all.
So yesterday, I had to be brave a little bit and trust in God more. And in trusting Him, I trusted our team, I trusted our leader/facilitator Ms Abi and Sir Francis. When you go climb a mountain, it is important to have that element, because you will need each other to pull one another up, to encourage each other, to heal one when he is tired, to rest, and to share the pain and joy together.
I was thankful for my Mom and Dad too for letting me go. I was supposed to come home to my Mom for a personal reason, but she kept reassuring me and said that I should go and not miss this experience. My Dad too gave me helpful reminders on what to bring.
This was our first hike as a team. It was Cosmotrek’s first hike, and I couldn’t be more thankful and happy to feel and suffer shortly due to this pain in both my legs, knowing we endured the slow and steady climb together from the registration point up to the summit itself. This little pain pales against the character building, going through hardships together, and endurance we had on this day.
We grew tired although the morning weather was slightly cool and the sky was cloudy. Feet weighed like bricks, legs felt like steel, but I felt the dedication and drive of my teammates. Though we expressed exhaustion, we carried on. Hopefully, in our next climb, Cosmotrek will welcome new interested members.
My colleague and friend Ms Abi is right – that there are many lessons you can learn from climbing a mountain, and it won’t be enough to say in words, so you have to don your hiking shoes and backpack and conquer that mountain you’re facing head on. Experience. That’s the word.
So go climb that mountain.
Thank you, Ms Abi for sharing your love for mountain climbing with us, for organizing this hike with our management and Sir Francis’ guidance as well, and for showing us our limits and telling us we can go beyond it and be better people and lovers of nature. Thank you to our management for this new beginning, fresh and exciting and challenging in every way possible for us all to build our friendships and relationships together as a family. And to Sir Jack, Sir Cheford, and Sir Francis for bringing us all safely to wherever the team needed to go. Thank you to our tour guides for their patience, guidance, assistance, and knowledge they shared. Thank you to our teammates who kept one another encouraged and helped us when we needed assistance in going up and down and when we were about to slide, you were alert, pulling us in time before we got hurt. Thank you, Mt. Talamitam – you are a place that taught us important lessons. Most imporatntly, thank You, Lord, for watching over us since dawn up to safely climbing down the mountain, and sustaining our energy and strength.
Kahit nakakapagod at mainit, kahit ilang beses madulas at mahulog, kahit ilang beses nating sinabing pagod na tayo, nagpatuloy pa rin. Iyon ang importante. Nagpatuloy pa rin tayo sa pag-akyat at pag-baba sa gitna ng mga talahib ng Mt. Talamitam.
Until our next hike!
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Jon Krakauer
Outside the comfort zone, it’s a whole lot dangerous but it can teach you the most important lessons.
Thank You, God.