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ho doesn’t know Quiapo? Manila’s busy downtown diversely populated by people from different walks of life. Colors everywhere. I have been planning to go back to the streets of Manila and shoot. So when a friend invited me for a walk around this district, I bumped a couple of appointments that day and said yes.

Axl and Dennis are friends who like me, loves the city. But what sets them apart is their immense knowledge about its history. I love walking with them as it makes me feel that when we talk about history is something common and a part of our daily lives.

We met up at Kasa Boix, a Spanish era house currently owned by the Jesuits. The house has a long history of neglect bounded by the unwelcomed settlers. About a hundred families live in the house. Just imagine the stress it gives to the structure. Not that I am heartless, but you are living free and uninvited at least respect the structure and do not alter it. Anyways, its a long story though.

Axl’s group are trying to help survive the house with its beautiful and intricate architecture. The battle has been long and still is on to save the house. But they are not giving up. I got interested with the history of the house. The smell of mold invading the house as the wind blows was a bit of a challenge for breathing. I wonder how these families keep up. Axl enthusiastically retold  a bit of the stories of the house from the spanish till the early 70’s when it became a boarding house.

We moved on through alleys I’ve never been to. There were are lot of old houses with bits of history told to me as we walk passed by and sometimes through them. Sometimes it gets a bit sad hearing how elegant these houses used to be but has now been left to despair. After a few minutes we found our selves along what used to be Manila’s most beautiful street, Hildalgo street.

Hidalgo street used to be lined with magnificent houses of Manila’s elite. It used to be called as calle San Sebastian as it leads to the beautiful sole steel church in Asia imported all the way from europe, The Basilica of San Sebastian.

The church is specially popular for weddings, no wonder that there was one when we arrived. Walking pass the side of the church I was reminded how the church was endangered by a former parish priest.  He attempted to bore a hole at the back of the church using an acetylene torch to the horror of conservation activists. 

I was telling Axl and Dennis about this eclectic looking building that I found somewhere within the depths of the internet. So I was really excited to find out that we are actually going to visit this iconic heritage building, the Ocampo Pagoda. I wanted to go inside but apparently the structure has been converted into a dormitory and people actually live there. It may not be an ideal situation for the structure but as long as it would help survive the building, I am for it. At least they didn’t tear the thing down.

The original property was huge. We can find various remnants of the entire compound. Even the fire box can still be found near one of its former gates. Thank God, no one has attempted to take this! Further down in one of the alleys, Axl took us to one corner. We found a statue of three people dear to the owner’s heart. His wife and two kids.

Next  on the list is the Quinta Market. The district’s old market was demolished to give way to the new one. I didn’t take photos inside the new market. It was just sad and too dark inside. Outside though is a different story. Commerce is alive, everyone is busy transporting their goods from one place to another.

Furthere down the street is this conic building being used by SM as their outlet store. This used to be a hotel with the top as a revolving restaurant, the first in the country.

a lola waiting for the bus to pandacan

Later that day, we found our selves at the famed street of Escolta. Coffee was good at The Den found in the ground level of the First United Building. This artsy cafe’s interior will just stimulate your creativity and make you want to work more on your projects. It was a nice breather before going to our last stops. The coffee shop was a perfect oasis from that day’s scorching hot air.

Dang, I could really never get a perfect photo of this building. I just don’t know what’s wrong. This is the central Post Office of the Philippines. I am not sure if it is the light or something but I could never be satisfied with my photo. We decided to call it a day at Estero de Tondo. It was a fun and productive day for my brain. I can’t wait to go on a walk around this city again with these awesome duo!

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As I attempt to start this story, I try to recollect my memories on how it all started. How did I got my self hiking this monstrous mountain.

Towards the end of 2015, I finally faced my fears and hiked solo. It was something that I have always wanted to accomplish. This fantasy of walking around nature while thinking about things in life. I am glad I did. On this solo hike I went the down the mountain with a couple of friends. Then one of them stuck out and together we hike some more. Meet Louie. On one of our hikes, we randomly joined a group of hikers looking for people who can fill slots. This is where we met Jurish.

Life got in the way of hiking. My friend and I hiked a little lesser together till work totally hindered me from going. But she together with Jurish hiked on forth.

Even though I never get to join them in their hikes, Louie still updates me with them. Luckily, I got a bunch of leave credits that will expire and I was forced to take them ^_^ . So I plotted my dates and prepped for the hike.

Conquering Mount Ugo

With a bag full of things that I am not quite sure that I’ll be using yet still feeling under-packed, I joined the team waiting in Kamuning to start our journey.

One butt numbing bus and a monster jeep ride later we arrived at the jump off point in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya. Last minute preps were made before we said our prayers to start our hike. I was nervous, this inexplicable butterflies in my stomach started making my heart pump harder. My brain started creating these thoughts of what ifs. What if I never make it to the end? What if I fall off a cliff? What if some rebels kidnap us? Yes I was silly nervous. But I didn’t let it show, maybe it actually manifested more as excitement.

The trail started with a series of stairs up to a village. The first few hours were a series of assaults that made us start thinking of the usual lines “what have we gotten our selves into?” LOL.

Long walks are nothing if you are with friends, oh yeah I almost forget, I invited Prei (my former officemates) and John (Prei’s boyfriend) and it was epic. I was really impressed how they managed the whole trek even though this was their mother mountain. Yes, a major hike for a first hike…. Hahaha well I did warn them yet they still pushed through, I was really happy.

After the walk through the series of stairs through the mountain side village, the scenery started to become like a park. It actually felt like we were in one of Baguio’s parks with all of those pine trees. We decided to take some good rest at this area, we knew that we will still be facing some serious assaults.

The sun wasn’t showing it self that day, we were lucky; It made our hike relatively leisurely. The clouds slowly embraced the trail giving this mysterious feel like it was trying hide something from us. As we progress into the trail the heavens showered us with drizzles of rain as if it was playing us making us switch on and off from our rain coats.

It was a busy day for the mountain. Aside from a few groups including ours hiking that day, trail runners were every where vying to be the king of the mountain. We took rest in one of the sheds along the trail where we met one of the runners. He was a bit disappointed because he didn’t made the cutoff time. But then as soon as his friends arrived they pushed through and conquered the trail with or without any recognition, a true athlete indeed.

As for us, we continued our journey to the summit. Honestly I didn’t knew how long the trek was going to be, but that wasn’t an issue all I want was to scale the mountain with friends. That was enough for me.

The trail continue to be as picturesque as it promised on the photos that I’ve seen online. As usual I and Louie are last on the pack, we just can’t help but take photos.

Light started to become scarce as we progress, but it was a show by it self. The sky started playing with colors with hues that just takes my breath. Then darkness fell and the rain started pouring. We were still last on the trail with one of the guides. Thankfully, Jurish went ahead of us. He was the kindest of all that I have ever met. He went ahead and made sure that our tents are pitched on the ground to shelter us when the rain pours. Then it happened. The rain fell from the heavens and the strong wind on the summit wasn’t helping at all. I tried to help with the remaining tents that needs to be pitched but the cold got the best of me. I surrendered and retreated inside our tent.

Socials

One of the best part of hiking overnight are the Socials. This is a moment where hikers get to know each other but sharing stories over food and drinks. This was my first. Honestly, I am uncomfortable with such events. But I wanted to make this first one memorable. So with all my energy I went out of my shell. I prepped my psych to mingle with others. I was ready. But then the rain wasn’t stopping.

I collected everyone’s food assignment while Jurish started preparing food. There was something more special about this climb though, it was Louie’s birthday. Jurish connive with me and Amy to surprised Louie with a improv birthday cake. We made all excuses for louie to stay stuck inside our tent while I and Jurish joined Amy in her mansion-like-family-size tent! LOL! We then called Louie to come in, as soon as she opened the tent’s door we started singer her birthday song!

The rain started to weaken to a drizzle, eventually stopping. We called everyone who was still up, it was funny how tried to fit everybody in Amy’s tent. Eventually people started joining and we had to move out of the tent. We shared our first mountaineering experiences and why we climb mountains. It was a good experience for someone like me. I feel icky when I have to do things as such. But I was there all prepped up to interact, so I did. It was a pleasant experience.

The wind got colder and the rum wasn’t helping at all. I decided to retreat within the comforts of our tent. Louie got a head of me, so i found her all tucked in and cozy. I tried my best until I found a good spot and fell asleep.

The Morning After

The air was crisp and fresh. The wind wasn’t blowing as hard as last night but the temperature was still almost freeing. Wrapped in our cold weather clothes (yeah, I can’t say they’re winter clothes. Hahaha!) There was a bit of clearing and a promise of a sea of clouds. I can see this sheet of clouds starting to move in and form some kind of pool, I put my hopes up too soon though. The wind started to blow real strong and broke the clouds into fog. Soon enough there was nothing to see in the horizon, just a massive curtain of white clouds.

After a few group photos, we decided to move on and reach for the true summit from the campsite. The trail to the summit was simply stunning. Lush flora can be found as if it was a garden perfectly tended by someone. We thought that that was it, there’s not going to be some sort of clearing. But patience does pay a lot. A few more moments the sea of clouds was back and we could see the horizon. It was magical. We took as many photos as we could of each other, solo, group. Whatever that we can think of! Hahahaha! I was like thinking hell yeah I’m gonna take as many photos as I can cause I can’t imagine my self trekking that long again. Or am I talking too soon? Hahahaha We’ll see.

Time came that we need to start descending. This time we had a schedule, a time to meet. The jeep that we hired was only going to wait for so long. But trail, it just so picturesque and yes we were last among the pack.

The trek down hill may not be as difficult as going up, but it was a bit more taxing on our knees. It was all worth it though. The scenery along the trail was worth every step that we took. This trip has been some sort of a challenge for me, emotionally and socially. I am glad I did it.

As we have washed up, we boarded our monster jeep and headed to the municipal hall and received our hike certificate. Yes, it is written on paper. We completed 32 kilometers of the entire trail. It was a trek worth remembering for a life time.

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