While I was hiking through the Ambangeg trail that would eventually take me to the summit of Mt. Pulag, I couldn’t help but think about how much my idea of travel has changed.
When I was a kid, traveling meant going to Disneyland and Universal Studios and Six Flags Marine World, riding all the “grown up” rides my mother repeatedly warned me not to, visiting shops that sold barrels of different candies and lollipops and jawbreakers, eating all the pizza and ice cream I could get my grubby little hands on, and seeing the “real versions” of my favorite cartoon characters walking around the park, signing autographs and gamely posing with my peers. That, to me, was the adventure of a lifetime.
Now, adventures mean taking myself out of my comfort zone. It also often means forcing myself to face my fears. Two years ago, I surprised myself when I literally threw caution to the wind by jumping off a cliff and into the ocean. Twice. Now that may sound a little cocky, but damn it I earned those bragging rights—I ended up spending two weeks in total agony after I hit the water wrong. My upper body went bust—it hurt to breathe deeply, and every time I used my arms to push myself out of bed, white hot bursts of pain would shoot up my chest. And yet even through that blurry painful haze, I knew that if given the opportunity, I would gladly take the leap again.
I haven’t revisited cliff-jumping yet, but almost every trip that’s happened since would always be tinged with adrenaline…and a certain degree of difficulty. While I do enjoy leisure trips where I get to do absolutely nothing but eat, drink beer, space out and bake under the sun, I realized in the last year that I enjoy physically challenging trips just as much. I may tend to whine a lot while in the middle of a gruelling hike (mostly in my head), but another part of me is filled with glee because I am pushing myself and actually succeeding.
This was exactly how my trek to Mt. Pulag was like. The trip is no joke. You have to ride a six-hour bus ride from Manila to Baguio, and then endure—yes, that is the word—ENDURE a four-hour long jeepney ride from Baguio to the ranger’s station. Half of that is spent driving through uphill rough road, which is fun if you’re the type who enjoys getting multiple enemas. By the time you arrive at the ranger’s station for a late lunch, you’re tired, hungry, most probably in need of a pee, and running on empty.
And that is when you begin your initial ascent :D
The moment you hit the trail, however, things will pick up. For one, it’s hard to sustain a good sulk when you’re surrounded by all the beauty nature has to offer. You’ll immediately see that there’s truth to Mt. Pulag’s being dubbed as “Playground of the Gods” because nothing but a higher being could conjure sceneries so beautiful.
You’ll see neighboring mountain ranges and vibrant rice terraces beyond, and up close, you find yourself wondering how a random collection of trees, plants and vegetation could look so put together. It’s like entering someone’s artfully landscaped garden, only this one’s made by none other than Mother Nature herself.
Upon arriving at the camp site, nature will once again knock your socks off because a breathtaking sunset awaits.
The sky transforms into a riot of colors—grey, cerulean, yellow, orange, vermillion—and the clouds change shapes so swiftly as if in a dance. Staring into the sunset will make you forget all about the biting cold wind and the discomfort of the climb.
Our group was quite lucky because we were blessed with perfect weather that weekend. Some friends made the trip earlier in January and they were met with a really muddy trail brought about by incessant rain. By the time they made it to the camp site, the cold and wet had seeped into their bones. We were incredibly lucky to be there when we did—the cold wasn’t as unbearable, it didn’t rain at all, the night sky was clear and perfect for stargazing, and it happened to be a full moon so when we made our final ascent to the peak at 3:30 in the morning, the moonlight made it easier for us to follow our path.
It took an hour and a half to finally make it to the summit—and my God, the moment you stand on Luzon’s rooftop at 2,922 meters above sea level, you will be rendered speechless. On one side you will see the crack of dawn—the dark sky slowly revealing slices of color, waiting for the sun to make its lazy way up the horizon; and on the other, you’ll see the lady moon quietly making her graceful exit.
When the sun finally makes its grand debut, you’ll see it: The playground of the gods. The summits of the majestic Cordillera mountains jutting out of an ocean of clouds you can’t help but want to dive into.
It is a sight beyond words.
I wanted to freeze time and just marvel at the grandness of it all, but we had a long trek ahead of us and had to pack up.
On our way down, when I saw how narrow the trail we took to the summit was, I was amazed I didn’t feel fear. I’ve always had this selective fear of heights that would resurface from time to time. The last time it happened was during my last trip to Batanes, where I couldn’t even bear to stand, let alone walk, on top of the rolling hills of Vayang. Mt. Pulag is much higher than that hill, and there I was, standing and enjoying myself without a care in the world.
I guess somewhere along the way, because I’ve been constantly putting myself through trips in the last year that really pushed my limits, I somehow managed to conquer that fear. But we’ll see if the altophobia is really gone, because I saw a photo of the Parrot’s Beak at Mt. Pico de Loro and it gave me the shivers. It also made me want to climb it. So maybe Mt. Pulag won’t be the only mountain I’ll be conquering. Bring it :D