Monday, December 1, 2014

A JOURNEY OF THE SOUL

IT IS 16:50 OF APRIL 17, 2014 – a Holy Thursday – when I start my solo walk to Mount Manunggal.  The van dropped me at the Transcentral Highway which I rode at the Citilink more than an hour ago.  I go on a half-day of work for this occasion so I could engage on my personal sojourn of righting my soul before my Maker and this year’s Lent is the most profound time for this.


Mt. Manunggal will just be a place where I will spend the first night and the jumpoff point where this penitence hike will start.  From there, I would walk on trails and some roads, cross rivers and valleys, climb mountains and saddles, and rest wherever my feet would take me.  I would follow the route I blazed with five others more than a year ago ending at Guadalupe on the third night.  Maybe.

That time we were many and I was fully provisioned.  This time, I am alone.  I would be fasting during daytime and will try to overcome the obstacles with less.  I would eat my food during darkness, cooked in primitive fashion without the convenience of a modern gadget like a stove.  I have to ration my two liters of water from two bottles for drinking and cooking only and the pots would be cleaned when there would be spare water.

As I walk on the dirt road to my first campsite of the first night, I silently utter a prayer for blessings, strength, protection and guidance for this journey of the soul.  Hanging by my side openly is my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie knife.  The shadows are getting long and soon it would be darkness.  There is a slight drizzle and it is cold.  I pick up a green bamboo pole and carry it with either hands.  It is 18:20 when I reach the place called the “parking area”. 

There is an unused structure undergoing a painting job.  While it is closed, its frontage is sheltered and a better alternative than camping near the Magsaysay Monument under the grip of gusty winds and a slight shower.  Here, I could sleep off the ground using the scaffolding and platforms made by workers as my cot and there are scraps of partly-moist coconut lumber that I could use as firewood.  Comfort with less can be achieved by using your common sense instead of being hooked closely with gears and then feeling sentimental about it. 


While I am occupied with my things, I feel something eerie as the hair on my back stood on its edge.  I look behind and I see a big black dog standing a few meters away from me.  I do not like surprises at this hour.  I imitate the menacing growl of an angry dog and the creature walked away.  I cannot explain how it suddenly appeared without being noticed by my five senses.  It took a “sixth sense” to do that for me.  How strange?

I make a tripod of sticks and forage firewood, splitting this with my tomahawk.  When, after a considerable bout of blowing a flame to life on moist wood, I cook milled corn in a pot suspended from the tripod.  Leaving that I prepare the viand.  I fry garlic and onions in oil and add a few wood mushrooms (Local name: kwakdok).  I pour half of my supply of mixed vegetables into the pot and stir it.  I pour water and let it boil then I just add salt.

I begin my simple dinner after a prayer.  I just eat half of the one-fourth kilo of the milled corn I cooked tonight.  I set aside the rest for breakfast tomorrow.  The sliced vegetables are crunchy and I liked that.  The soup gives warmth inside me.  It is raining lightly and it is very dark save for the glow of my LED torch.  Soon I will rest on the bed I made but, first, I will pray the five decades of the rosary. 


I split more wood after the prayers so I could use it for tomorrow’s breakfast and feed some to the fire for the rest of the night.  Fog enveloped me and it is cold.  I retreat to my bed.  I tossed and turned trying to chase sleep.  I hear a lot of strange noises.  There are, I believe, a lot of lost souls here on Mt. Manunggal.  For the rest of the night, I am on a “conscious sleep” until a man on a motorcycle pass by at 05:20 of the next day.

I hurriedly rekindle the flame of last night with so much difficulty until I get a flickering finger.  I boil water for coffee and then fry strips of eggplant smeared with egg.  I am not able to cook three-fourths of the sliced eggplant as the flame died on its own despite a considerable amount of time blowing it alive.  I leave it be, eat my light breakfast, break camp and leave at 06:50 for Inalad.  It is now Good Friday (April 18).

I pass by the Magsaysay Monument where the park caretaker, Leopoldo Bonghanoy, and his family lived.  I proceed immediately to a trail after acquiring water but I was warned that vegetation had claimed the path.  The heavy clouds of last night begins to evaporate and a promise of warmth begins to trickle in as my hike shoes pursues to negotiate some of the trickiest stretch of the trail going down to the valley of the Bangbang River.


The Bonghanoys have used part of this land where I traversed as a farm and pasture but, beyond it, thick vegetation obscures the trail.  It passes by woodlands, grass and brush and steep soft ground.  Nobody had used this route for a long time.  I should know because the feast commemorating the death anniversary of the late President Ramon Magsaysay was held just last month and there are no traces of footprints where there are supposed to be.

I forage Indian rhododendron leaves (Local: yagumyum) for cleaning the pots to save my supply of water and cut a forked branch from a Mexican lilac tree (Local: kakawate) as my staff.  The stick is most welcome, aiding my balance and getting the load off my ancient knees.  While I pass by thick grass, something big moved underneath and I jumped off the trail.  It is a rather large python and it got me excited!  I move away as fast as I could.  No hero stuff.  No pictures this time.

Winded, I continue on but my senses now are on a high notch and so is my pace.  The staff becomes a liability when the trail narrowed and it saps my strength carrying it.  It is seven feet long, the forked end snag on vegetation.  It can play its part though as my “cross”.  I step on a wet limestone and I fall on my butt.  Got to be careful next time.  Then I walk on another steep but soft ground and the stick becomes relevant again.

I cross several brooks until I reach the edge of a mountain settlement.  When you are among people again, paths crisscross each other and it temporarily disorient you for a while like I do until I get to follow the ones I remembered.  There are no more clouds and it is very warm.  The coolness of the higher elevation on an early morning was temporary and now this is reality.

When my right foot got buried in soft mud while crossing a brook, I used a lot of strength to get it off.  When I pulled it out, I staggered exhausted.  I rest for a while sitting on a rock contemplating if this personal mission is really worth it.  I am tempted to drink a good amount of water but I stop myself of that idea.  I soak my military-type meshed shawl with water from the brook and wipe my face with it.  Wow, the water is cool!


The blue house, now long abandoned, is a landmark and that is where I am going.  I will not be going downhill but up.  With enough courage, I push myself up on my feet knowing that I am now engaging in a very difficult battle against my mind.  I should be able to reach Inalad before 12:00 else a delay would mean that I am not up to the challenge.

This is so different than the last time.  My pace is a drag instead of a steady gait.  My bag weighs like lead as I approach the upward trail.  Is it pride that pushes me on?  Bravado?  Pride may have something to do with it especially when you announce this journey in public on Facebook.  But when you are a man you stand by what you said.  I am committed to finish this, unless a voice upstairs says otherwise.  So commitment is the right word.

I finally reach the blue house.  Why the owners abandon this big structure is beyond me?  Anyway, I could rest for a while here.  It is now 09:20 and I need to recoup my energy.  I feel a burning hunger inside me.  I cannot spare anything to chew on but I have coffee.  Immediately I make fire using dry pieces of bamboo and crushed dry palm leaves so I could boil water in my stainless steel cup the hard way.

After I had taken coffee, my confidence returned.  I stash pieces of the dried bamboo and dried leaves in a plastic bag so I could use this as fire kindling later tonight.  It had been raining days before, which is quite rare during this season, and I am not sure if I could find dry wood just like last night’s.  I drink a good amount of water too because at Inalad, I could have more of this.

I go down the steep trail following it into a valley.  The Bangbang River curl and cut across the land and it gives life to the farms.  By now, there are houses and one of these sells bread.  I buy one piece of bread and nibble it slowly while washing each swallow with water.  It is a hot day and sitting under a scant shade is already very welcome for me.  Before I go, I buy one more piece intending to consume it at Inalad.   


I cross Bangbang River on bare feet.  The staff had served its purpose well and I planted it on the river bank.  From hereon, it will all be uphill walk.  The sun will be at my back.  That piece of bread I had eaten some minutes ago will be my only hope.  I cross a small stream and pass by farms.  Shades are now few.  I closed my mind from the heat and the monotony of breathing takes over my attention.   

Slowly, in my laboured steps up a trail, I gain elevation and diminish the distance between me and Inalad.  At 11:50, I reach the saddle of Inalad.  This is the boundary between Cebu City, Toledo City and Balamban.  The Transcentral Highway pass by here and it is also a farmer’s market.  A lot of stores are open for business.  Cold soda drinks and hot food are available but I want none of it even though my body craved for it. 

I sit down on a cool place and close my eyes.  People ask me many questions.  I honestly answer all.  When I am alone, I close my eyes again.  I make the sign of the cross and pray.  Three hours from now, Jesus will be crucified.  Before He will leave this world, I confess all my sins to Him like the thief at Calvary who asked of forgiveness.  I am a great sinner myself and I spill tears while I am in the middle of my prayer.

I feel His presence and I tremble in awe.  I have discerned that this is the highlight of this personal quest and I am “released” of whatever troubles I may want to seek for myself on this journey.  After I had said the prayer and opened my eyes, I prepare myself for the rest of this day’s trek by securing water for my empty bottles. 

I see a coffee-vending machine across the street and I put a coin into the slot and take the filled cup.  I will need coffee to pair to the bread I bought at Bangbang River hours ago.  After that coffee break, I close my eyes and take rest for a half hour.  By 13:00, I cross the Transcentral Highway into a part of Toledo City. 

I follow a dirt road under the heat of the sun.  The shawl partly cover my face but I remove it everytime I meet people to give a smile, to nod or say a greeting.  I am going to the village of Tongkay.  This place is nestled in another valley with a river running across it.  There are some houses along the road and foot travel is sparse at this time of day.


It is 13:35 when I reach the village and I sit on the shade of a small store listening to a radio program about the Seven Last Words of Christ.  I am all ears to a long oratory describing the part where Jesus was heard to have said “I am thirsty”.  After 20 minutes, I walk to a public school where there is a ford at the back.  I cross the river stepping among stones and climb up a long ridge.  The trail is in good condition, very shady on some long stretches.

But I am already very tired.  The steep slope add to my misery.  I can feel a tell-tale sign of a heartburn and that is a bad omen.  I take it easy, careful not to push myself hard.  I will rest and pitch my shelter once I will reach my campsite.  I found it at exactly 15:00 after a long uphill struggle.  I relish at the idea of finding this place during Segment 1B of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project in October 2012. 

It is the only level ground around here that could accommodate more than five tents.  It is shady with lots of dry wood.  I opt to pitch my shelter at the place where I place it the last time I was here but, first, I will have to make a tripod, forage dry firewood, make fire and drink coffee.  Ah, coffee always tastes good when you are thirsty, cold or tired, even on a very warm sunny day!    

When my fire and coffee are now secured, I make my bedding.  I place leaves on the ground as a cushion.  Then I look for a straight pole and place it on the whole length of my planned shelter.  You know why I do this?  I will make it sure that I will not roll over.  I will also make sure that my body will be confined to just one place and save my body heat in the process.  Then I place a used advertisement tarpaulin over it as my shelter footprint.

I tie one end of a flat rope to a tree while tying the other end to two trees in a Y-fashion.  This becomes the ridge for my Apexus taffeta sheet in which the corners are secured by notched wooden stakes that I carved with my William Rodgers bushcraft knife.  When that is done, I make a seat made of cut poles across the fire and burying stakes so it would not roll forward and backwards.  

I cook a small amount of milled corn then next is the viand, which is similar in preparation as that of last night.  I have a lot of daylight hours to do all these things and I feel relaxed doing all.  I listen and watch many birds.  There is an abundance of bird life here.  One wild hen even made its presence felt by calling for a mate which two roosters answered from afar. 

I waited for dusk before I start my simple dinner.  After the meal, I wipe the rhododendron leaves on the insides of the pots to remove grease.  I prepare more firewood to keep the flame burning and ward off mosquitoes, ants and other insects.  I retrieve the rosary and pray the five decades aloud.  I watch the valley below even as I prayed and the folks there are having some sort of a religious activity.

I check my watch when I lay down on my bed.  It is 18:30 and too early to sleep.  The place is warm.  Credit that to the thermals that rise from the valley floor during evening.  I did not know that I slept well until I am awakened by gusts of wind at 23:30.  Well, that is good.  I switch on my light and I see a spider under the shelter some inches away from my face.  I remove it with a quick flick of my hand.

I listen to the night sounds but I feel nothing unusual here.  Not even mosquitoes.  I go back to another “conscious sleep” for the rest of the night.  When light begins to catch on the dawn sky, I rose from bed to answer the call of nature.  Today is Black Saturday (April 19).  It had not rained last night despite the presence of storm clouds from the southwest yesterday.


The call of a palm civet pierce the early morning silence.  The cat is just a hundred meters above my location.  It is very vulnerable at this hour since it had spent its waking hours during nighttime foraging food but I am not on a hunt today.  Probably, it had been attracted to the scent of my last nights’ cooking and of the leaves I wiped in my pottery with.

I begin again the process of making a fire and of preparing my breakfast.  When the flame flickered and danced, I boil water for coffee first.  Next I cook milled corn and, later, fry strips of eggplant in oil.  The same routines, very simple, practical and nourishing.  When I have finished breakfast, I break camp.

I leave the tripod standing.  It is my gift for any local who might visit this place.  Not the contraption, but the idea.  This system is way much better than the trio of stones that we are used to doing when we cook our food.  I let the leaves be on the ground, for soon, these will decompose.  I put out the fire thoroughly before I leave at 07:00 for higher ground.

I pray and ask again His guidance of whether He would want me to continue on my journey to Guadalupe or not?  It needs to be felt and discerned not by sitting but by doing the hike later.  If I think that it is pointless going on, I will cut the journey.  If the body is still willing, then I will push on.  It depends.   

I follow the path but I was misled by another one going up a farm.  I step on the rows of soft burrowed earth using it as steps but the effort is very strenuous.  I changed strategy and assault the steep slope in a zigzag pattern until I am at the high saddle of the mountain.  Oh God, when will this end?  I gulp mouthfuls of air into my lungs as I lean down forward and drink my last drops of water.

Across me is the peak of Mt. Tongkay.  I follow the back of the ridge and climb the peak and go down on the other side into another long ridge going to Mount Etwi.  Below this second peak is a spring where I could refill my now-empty bottles.  I drink like a dog and soak my shawl and press it above my head.  Driblets of water run down my face and it is so cool.

Soon, I will be at Maraag.  I follow the path and meet people and creature.  The long ridge of Cantipla covered the sun at this time while I am walking.  My steps are unsure, my knees wobbly, my gaze unsteady.  Just when I reach the last rise, something switched off.  I pause to gather my strength.  This is not good but there is a road ahead.  And a store that sells cold drinks.

I opt to buy a sachet of powdered orange juice and let it shake in my full Nalgene.  One bread is enough for me.  The juice quickly work on my thirst where water failed but it will just be temporary.  It could not provide a solution to a deprived body should I choose to cross the much wider Bonbon River valley and then climb up the Babag Mountain Range into Guadalupe.  It simply is not realistic on this very warm morning as I calculate all the risks and possibilities.

The road north leads to the Transcentral Highway and I may have to follow it.  It is far but I had already accomplished my purpose and this is a graceful exit.  A ride down to Cebu City is all I need.   I arrive at JY Square at 10:30 and a woman asks me five pesos so she could go home to Mindanao.  I am puzzled but, nevertheless, I gave her the equal amount in loose change. 

I got His message.  The coins’ weight were of the same weight that my spirit – a weightless matter – had been carrying all these years and I had just relinquished it happily away.  Alleluia!

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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