These past few weeks, I’ve been a riot of emotions because I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I felt muddled, unsure if my judgment was clouded, but I was sure some quiet time would help give some clarity. As with so many of my recent trips, this one happened with not much planning; a friend decided on a place and offered to provide transportation the night before, so I agreed. It was a treat for me to sit back and relax as I’m usually the one left with having to find all the details and rally people to join us.
We left the city at 5:00 am, like we regularly do when heading for Rizal, and we arrived at a junction after a little over an hour. To get to the Barangay Hall for registration, we had to go through roughly 9 river crossings if my memory serves me right. In retrospect, it was the wrong day to have picked a tiny, subcompact hatchback when we usually travel in my large 4×4. We had to clear some of the larger rocks from the river to get through safely, and I decided to step out at each one to lessen the weight of the car and prevent snagging on anything underneath. It took us almost another hour to get past everything and finally park beside an open court.
We registered at Sitio Laiban, and was assigned a tour guide, Uncle Ampay. He started by giving us a short orientation, showing us what trails we were taking as well as the other trails in the area. He reminded us of the need for water, and pointed out where the next water sources were located on the map. Then we were off! Itinerary: 4 stations of Mt. Lobo, Mt. Ngusong Kabayo all the way to Tangwa Peak, then a back route to hit the waterfalls named Laiban Quatro.
With seedlings in tow, Uncle Ampay led the way. The trail had a very gradual ascent, which we managed on a good pace in the crisp, early morning air. After walking about 2km, we stopped to put the seedlings where the sun shone directly on the earth. I smiled thinking about how many trees there’d be if all hikers were mandated to plant something on every visit. Since this trail was only recently opened to the public, we can’t expect to see much of a change immediately, but I can imagine how nice it would be 5 or 10 years from now. I asked him if all those species of trees could co-inhabit the forest without any negative effects, and though he didn’t sound certain of his answer, I trust that these farmers know their stuff.
My smile was turned upside down, momentarily, as we reached the first station of Mt. Lobo. From there, our guide named the other mountains around us, and then pointed to Mt. Binutasan in particular. Just the past weekend, a huge fire spread across the summit and down its side, with causes still unknown. The week before that, Mt. Batolusong suffered the same fate. I would like to believe that there was no human involvement, but it’s only started to get hot… what is the possibility of a wild fire? In any case, everyone should take extra care, because the damage is extremely hard to reverse, as you can see from this nasty bald spot.
At some point between the first station and the summit of Mt. Ngusong Kabayo, the sun came bearing down angrily, and I immediately regretted having forgotten to apply sunscreen like I usually do. The result was an awful
tan sunburn on my neck, the exposed part of my shoulders, and arms. By this time, my skin stung from the sun, and I was getting desperate to cool off at the waterfalls.
Like always, just seeing the water instantly refreshes, but swimming in it just washes everything away from sweat to troubled thoughts. This was my first time to hike with pre-/teens, and I loved watching them cross and climb and jump with relish. Nature is a playground, and it can bring out the child in anyone.
After spending hours playing in and around the water, it was time to head back. En route to the jump off, we passed an idyllic scene of sprawling fields, a quiet stream, and some cows resting under the sun. Most of the cows shied away the moment we were a stone’s throw away, but I was very taken with this one that wanted to interact. At first, I was wary and moved away when it inched closer, but it later approached one of my friends and appeared to want… cuddles?! Yes! Have you ever met a cow that wanted cuddles? This one was acting like a needy puppy, sniffing us, leaning into our legs and hips, and even licked my feet! Suddenly, my resolve to reduce my meat intake was stronger than ever… all I’ll have to think of is Cuddles any time I want to eat a burger.
For post-hike grub, our guide recommended a good place for Lomi, a thick, eggy noodle soup with a variety of meats. It was at the corner from where we parked the car, and their version was chock-full of liver, pork, and slices of a Chinese beef sausage called kikiam. It looked so good with their farm-to-table chili oil, but I opted for this unusual ukoy instead. The ukoy I’m accustomed to is made from a batter of tiny shrimp and cornstarch. This one was more like a sweet potato fritter with flecks of shrimp, for a savory flavor. I ate it with aforementioned chili oil, and I loved it. I had two, and these were bigger than my hand. I’m going to try to make some at home some time.
After that, we said our goodbyes to the cooks, our guide, and the other people at the community center. We had arrived in the middle of a meeting, and some of the local government leaders were deliberating on making another trail open to the public. Really exciting stuff that I hope will be well-thought out, with utmost consideration for the preservation and care of the surrounding areas; because really, there is no ecotourism if we lose the eco aspect. Hope to be back soon, there’s still so much to explore.
Watch the video below to see some of the pictures move. Tips below the clip.
“Leave no trace.” Always, everywhere.
Bring lots of water, especially if it’s going to be a hot day. The first fresh water source is not until the first waterfall, the second is at the third tier.
Wear sunblock! and good/wet-dry foot wear because the rocks can be slippery, and there are plenty of water crossings if you don’t want to get your shoes soaked.
Some people may want to wear gloves, in Rizal generally, because some of the rocks are jagged.
If taking private transport, choose a sturdy utility vehicle that can go over large rocks and cross feet deep water with ease. It will reduce stress ?
P500 – tour guide
P100 – registration fee/head
P10 – seedlings