Let me tell you something about climbing mountains, and this is coming from someone who has tried it and, well, failed spectacularly. Climbing mountains does not just involve strength and endurance, as I initially supposed. It involves skill as well. It takes skill to walk on steep slopes, put your foot on loose ground, and not come tumbling down. It takes skill to haul yourself up walls of rock and find spaces for your feet among the crags. Skill, and a certain kind of courage, or maybe faith, that gravity will not take you down the mountain as it has every right to do.
My third day in Sablayan was spent in the company of a group of NGO workers, volunteers and local government staff participating in the Global Positioning System (GPS) training that Don was conducting. The training was organized by the Samahan ng Sablayenyong Mapagkalinga sa Kalikasan (SASAMAKA), a local environment NGO. The first of the two-day training was spent on lectures and basic lessons on handling a GPS unit. The second day gets the trainees to apply what they learned under real field conditions, and so we hied off to Sitio Pandurukan, a Mangyan community in Brgy. Pag-asa, Sablayan, the site of one of the rainforestation projects being supported by SASAMAKA and the local government.
The idea was that the trainees, divided into four groups, would take coordinates of the boundaries of the different forest plots the Mangyan farmers were taking care of, so appropriate maps can be developed. Indigenous tree seedlings have been planted in the sites a few months before, and they seemed to be growing nicely, with one of the Mangyan farmers boasting that in his plot, only 3 out of some 100 seedlings died.
So there we were, gingerly making our way up the steep slopes. We weren’t even on a mountain, it was basically just a clump of hills so the elevation isn’t that high, but the slopes were steep. You plant the trees partly to help prevent erosion, after all, so you plant them in steep, landslide-prone areas. And it’s not like there were well-laid out trails to follow, we were basically just following the Mangyan guides because they were the ones who knew where one farmer’s little plot of forest ends and another one begins.