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.
The others did all right, but for me, it was pure agony. I was lousy climber. I was unsteady on my feet, had a lousy stance, numerous times I had to be hauled up so I can manage a rise, or else caught tightly by the hand so I won’t go slipping all the way down. At one point I totally lost my footing and found myself just clinging onto a small root stump for dear life, with my feet frantically scrabbling for firmer ground. Like that time I was sitting on top of a waterfall in Siquijor gathering courage to jump off, a part of me was thinking, why the hell do I put myself in these kinds of situations?
“Don’t crouch, stand steadily,” I was told by one of the locals, because, as Don told me afterwards, my fanny was always sticking in the air because I was crouching all the time. I wanted to be close to the ground, see, so I can easily reach out and grab something in case I slip.
“Sundan mo lang yung ano ng bundok,” I was also advised. I forgot what word he used specifically, but it had something to do with following the “shape” of the mountain, knowing in what groove or crag I’m supposed to place my foot and how I’m going to place it, so the soil won’t shift and I won’t break a bone. Aha, I thought, it’s a “being one with the mountain” kind of thing. The mountain wasn’t having any of it. It was constantly trying to bump me off and send me tumbling down to the bottom. I was always slipping and sending showers of soil and rocks down the slopes, and I was in fear not only for my life but for that of the new seedlings, which I might accidentally kill during my wild ride to the bottom.
At the end of the hike, I had scratches and bruises everywhere, my white shirt was practically colored brown, and to top it all it rained. Mercifully we were nearing the bottom when that happened, so I was able to free my hand of grappling at branches and was able to hold one of the banana leaves they passed around to be used as umbrella. Slowly I regained my breath, enjoyed the sudden coolness, and managed to come back to the Mangyan settlement more or less intact.
You know when after great exertion people would say something like how they felt pain in muscles they didn’t know they had? Well, I certainly gained a closer acquaintance with my thigh and arm muscles for days after that hike; it’s like they were coming up to me, jumping up and down and saying howdy, then going back to the end of the line to do it all over again.
The question still is, of course, why do I put myself in those kinds of situations? Because, just because. And would I do it again? You bet your ass I will.
on the way
cutest tree house ever
more pictures in multiply