Thursday, April 15, 2010


IT IS A COLD early Sunday morning of December 20, 2009 and I braved the even colder water offered in my bathroom. I am, at last, free from being a slave with office work and the chance to stretch my leg muscles again is most welcome. My hawk feathers will hang again from my head and they will dance in the breeze.

Well, Ernie Salomon would be with me today and that satisfies my requirement of good company for this important activity in the hills of Napo. I carried a camping stove for this occasion for I aim to cook lunch and spend time with the Roble family. I also prepared a gift of three kilos of rice, a kilo of brown sugar and 250 grams of rock salt for them.

I carried a heavy backpack today but I added three cheeseburgers and 50-peso worth of bread for the Roble kids. Later, I bought and carried another kilo of fine-grounded corn to be cooked at noon, as well as two packs of instant noodles and two sachets of pre-mixed coffee and cream.

First things first, we took breakfast on the road halfway between Guadalupe and Napo after hiking on an empty stomach. The lady there cook a tasty beef broth; the sweat fell from our brows slurping the steaming soup. I decided to buy a piece of beef estofado afterwards to complement our lunch later.

You know what, I added a few kilos of weight during my inactivity of six weeks. Imagine that: SIX WEEKS! It seemed like a year to me. My eating habits have gone uncontrolled, my knees suffered, my physical preparation interrupted and I have to play catch up. Today is my day of vengeance and it is served in cold weather. Although there is a shining sun, but it had been drowned out by a very cold wind.

From Napo, through the snaking trail along the Sapangdaku River, we arrived at the second of three river crossings in just a little over thirty minutes. Unbelievable pace huh? I filled my Nalgene water bottle from a natural spring and drank the excess. We rested for a full twenty minutes discussing the breakaway of Mindanao mountaineering clubs from the MFPI1 and ultimately formed their own umbrella group.

Finally, some clubs have finally reached the limits of their patience and they are a worthy lot. Their cause is a valid one and I embrace them for I carry a voice similar to theirs. Anyway, I have overstayed my resting time and now I paid for that as I gasped for air following Ernie up the trail to Sitio Busan then to the house on the hill occupied by the Roble family.

3-year old Jucel met us and his happiness could not be described as I gave him the burgers and the bread. The rest of my cargo I gave to Fele, his father; while, from a great distance, I saw red-shirted Manwel leading a long line of Boy Scouts up the steep route of Ernie's Trail. They looked like small ants from where I stood.

Manwel, for those who don't know, is the boy that I, Ernie and Boy Toledo nurtured to become a trail guide in all the trails this side of the Babag Mountain Range. We also taught him to love nature and care for his environment. People living here cut trees for a living and process it to commercial charcoal. We are espousing for an alternative though and so, Manwel will make the difference on the lives of other youths here if they follow his path.

Manwel had been earning as a trail guide to many people who are brave enough to climb Mount Babag. Today he is servicing the troops of the Sacred Heart School for Boys. I am happy for Manwel and what he earned is for a good cause – to pay for his and his sister's schooling. Besides that, he help his family earn an extra when local tourists and hikers request young coconuts to quench their thirst. With a big smile, he will climb one for you.

Ernie and I make a good tandem cooking our food. I provide the stove and he the cook set and we have not even discussed this cooking thing. It came out naturally. Call it teamwork. Second guessing. We call it responsible backpacking. There are no politics involved in it and it is molded by experience and long hours on the trails.

After the meal, I drank water from one young coconut. Oh God! It is perfectly sweet. Just imagine if you have this privilege everyday and you will feel like Manny Pacquiao. You know what I'm talking about. What spiced my good day is the sight of one Brahminy kite hovering in circles just across us. It is so beautiful!

The raptor flew higher and it dove at a great speed and suddenly braked in mid-air to perch effortlessly upon a high tree below the summit of Mt. Babag. A nest, perhaps? A nesting sea hawk is a rare sight in these area where activity of humans is always present.

I held my two feathers up and thanked the day for the good fortune it brought upon me, Ernie and the Roble family. In effect, it had provided me a chance to escape the monotony of urban living and, at the same time, bringing goodwill and charity to those who have less in life that gave warmth to their lives and gave meaning to the spirit of Christmas.

Finally, Manwel arrived from his “work”. Earlier before this trip, Boy Toledo, Ernie and I pooled cash as a Christmas gift for Manwel. The boy received the envelope and peeped into it. Was he happy? Yes! We were rewarded with a big smile and he is feeling like he is in heaven. We felt the same too. God bless be on him.

I felt, at this hour, I need to have a siesta. I lay on the long bamboo bench perched above a small fishpond. The rhythm of falling water from a spring hose into the pool lulled me to dreamland. I slept, I estimate, for an hour. I awoke at the sound of Ernie doing conversation with Fele.

Two-thirty PM. We packed our things and say goodbye to the Roble family. I looked at the summit of Mt. Babag and I said to myself, “Not today, my friend. I am too heavy and I ate a lot during lunch. The next week, perhaps.”, and turned around. We reached Napo at 3:15 PM and walked the long road to Guadalupe.

Ernie and I parted ways at seven in the evening after downing three one-liter bottles of Red Horse Beer. I proved today that my stamina have not diminished or, if it had, I quickly recovered that. Today opened me to an opportunity of passing goodwill to people who I chose to embrace as my brothers. We are all brothers and we are children of a One True God.

Merry Christmas Freewalkers!

(Author's note: There were a lot of good images taken on this hike, sadly though, the camera/cell phone from where it is stored got lost in Napo the next week on December 27, 2009.)

1Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. is the main umbrella group of all the country's mountaineering clubs and outdoor organizations. It is founded in 1979.

No comments: