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It has been five years since I’ve first been to Marinduque. The island province has been one of the first places I’ve traveled to, and one of the spots I got to check out back then was Gaspar Island.

The first time, I tagged along with my MBA classmate Ate May and she took care of everything, so, basically, I knew nothing. This time, I went with my husbandand Myong of Marinduque News, and DIY’ed our way to the island.

We came from Boac, and it was already late in the afternoon when we set sail – around 3PM, I think. This turned out great as we got to witness a marvelous sunset on the way back. However, we had to rent a tricycle to take us to Torrijos where we’ll be staying the night – no more jeepneys by 5PM.

At any rate, in case you want to visit the island, especially now that getting to Marinduque has never been easier thanks to Cebu Pacific’s thrice-per-week flights from Manila, here is a quick guide.



BACKGROUND
To understand how Gaspar got its name, we must go back to how the island of Marinduque itself came to be – at least according to local folklore.

There was once a princess named Marina who fell in love with a commoner – Duque – who returned her feelings. Her father, the king, disapproved of the pairing and went to great lengths to break them apart. The couple eventually eloped, and the king tasked three princes to pursue the lovers. Tired of running away, Marina and Duque chained themselves together and dived into the ocean where they both perished. From the spot where they sank rose the island of Marinduque. The three princes also died in pursuit of the lovers and their deaths also birthed three smaller islands.


Tres Reyes – “Three Kings” – represent the three princes. I used to think they were named after the Three Wise Men of biblical origins. Turns out the names Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar were relatively new ones. The old names for the islands were Pulo, Mannga, and Pangikug, respectively.

Pulo is inhabited while the other two are not. There is an old American lighthouse on the furthest one – Pangikug aka Baltazar. A gorge in the ground that looked suspiciously like a giant's footprint can also be found on the said island.

THE BEACH
Gaspar’s beach is made of bits of corals. This is where the town of Gasan – where the three islands are located – got its name: “gasang-gasang” which is the local word for corals.

On the main beach, there are plenty of cottages. The waters are clear and turquoise, and the swimmable area are defined with buoys – the water here gets deep abruptly. A sandbar also appears when the tide is low.

If the main beach is too crowded for your liking, you may request your boatman to take you around the island and look for a “secret” cove. There’s a good chance you can have one to yourself.





GETTING HERE
From Manila, Cebu Pacific flies every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday to the Boac Airport in Marinduque. One-way regular fare is around Ph3,000 to Php4,500. Travel time is just under an hour. Once in Boac, get on a jeepney heading to Gasan and ask to be dropped of at the docks going to Gaspar Island. Alternatively, you may also rent a tricycle to here.

There’s also a direct bus/RORO trip from Cubao. Jac Liner serves this route.


You can also get on a bus in Cubao bound for the Dalahican Port in Lucena (Php280). Jac Liner plies this route. Travel time is 3 to 5 hours, depending on traffic. Once in Dalahican, get on a ferry to Balanacan Port (Php290). It takes about three hours to get there. From Balanacan Port, get on a jeepney or tricycle to Gasan and alight at the docks to Gaspar Island.

Once at the docks, ask around for an available boatman.

SAMPLE ITINERARY
2:30PM to 2:50PM - Balar Hotel in Boac to Gasan (Dock to Gaspar Island)
2:50PM to 3:00PM - Arrange boat
3:00PM to 3:30PM - Gaspar Main Beach
3:30PM to 3:50PM - “Secret” Cove
3:50PM to 4:30PM - Chill
4:30PM to 5:10PM - Back to dock

EXPENSES
Per person unless otherwise stated
Jeepney Fare (Boac to Gasan) - Php25
Boat Fare (Dock to Gaspar, rountrip) - Php1,000, good for 3-4, including trip to Secret Cove
Tricycle Fare to Torrijos - Php300, good for 3-4

OTHER DETAILS AND CONCERNS
- Practice the LNT Principles at all times (Read: 8 Basic Etiquette Rules Every Modern Traveler Should Know)
- Public transportation in Marinduque is scarce and are non-existent by 4PM – 5PM at the latest.
- There’s a toilet at the main beach.
- A few sari-sari stores can be found at the main beach. You may bring your own food.

Check out more Travel Guides.

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Getting to Marinduque has never been easier thanks to Cebu Pacific’s thrice-per-week flights from Manila. The flight cuts the almost 6-hour land/sea trip to just under an hour – you’ll spend more time in the airport than on the plane! This makes the Heart of the Philippines more accessible to intrepid travelers.

Aside from the beaches and islands, subterranean wonders, and heritage sites, Marinduque also has something for those into hiking.


BACKGROUND
The highest point in the island, Mt. Malindig’s distinctive, looming form is ubiquitous. It measures 1,157 MASL and is located on the southern tip of the province. It is said to be an inactive stratovolcano and the nearby Malbog Springs strengthens this claim. Insurgents also used to inhabit the area until the military got a hold of the situation and established an outpost near the summit.


Cell sites and radio towers are also perched within the mountain’s vicinity. Our guide, Kuya Rodel, tells that in the first few months after a telco tower was built, a row of coconut trees started dying – the leaves turning yellow, perhaps from radiation.

The mountain is part of the greater Marinduque Wildlife Sanctuary.

THE TRAIL
The jump-off to Mt. Malindig is located in Brgy. Sihi in the town of Buenavista. One must register at the baranggay hall and get a guide, which is required. Make sure to also get a permit – you need to show this to the military outpost before summiting.

Once settled, you’d have to walk through the highway and take a left turn into a grove of coconuts. This will go on for about twenty minutes. The path winding into a steady incline.




The early “assault” could be a shock so you may want to check out the view deck before proceeding. The steppe affords a nice view of the Marinduque mountain range as well as the Tres Reyes Islands.

From here, the trail continues upward, passing through mini-farms and cogon grass. There is no tree cover. It then mellows into an open-area, dotted with a number of coconut trees. This is the perfect camping ground – a view of Buenavista on one side, and the peak of Malindig on the other. The night sky from here must be spectacular!


A short, inclined walk follows this, leading to the military outpost just before the assault to the summit. You’d have to sign a log book here, and show your permit to the officer. There’s also a small hut where you may have your lunch or snack before going up the summit.
Beyond the outpost, the forest of Malindig begins. It’s filled with ferns and epiphytes. Trees are covered in thin, fuzzy, green moss. The wild songs grow louder. Oh, and it’s also a full-on assault. This part reminded me of Mt. Matutum with its steep inclines that was a test of thigh strength.

In about thirty minutes to an hour, you’ll arrive at the summit. It is a covey of crooked trees covered in moss. You could barely see the sky from here, and the grove looked like it had an “emerald filter”. It is significantly cooler here, too.



Our guide said you may also pitch a tent here.

POSSIBLE SIDETRIPS
Malbog Springs
The nearby Malbog Springs is fabled for its sulfuric waters said to originate from Malindig. It’s popular among those who are looking to cure their skin ailments as well as anyone keen to relax.

To get here, just get on a tricycle and ask to be dropped off at the springs.

Gaspar Island
Gaspar is one of the Tres Reyes Islands. It’s also a popular venue for family and barkada outing. It has a nice beach and “secret” coves where you can swim.

The jump-off to Gaspar Island is in the town of Gasan which is right next to Buenavista. For more details, check out this Gaspar Island Travel Guide.



GETTING THERE
From Manila, Cebu Pacific flies every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday to the Boac Airport in Marinduque. One-way regular fare is around Ph3,000 to Php4,500. Travel time is just under an hour. Once in Boac, get on a jeepney heading to Buenavista and ask to be dropped of at Brgy. Sihi. Alternatively, you may also rent a tricycle.

There’s also a direct bus/RORO trip from Cubao. Jac Liner serves this route.

You can also get on a bus in Cubao bound for the Dalahican Port in Lucena. Jac Liner plies this route. Travel time is 3 to 5 hours, depending on traffic. Once in Dalahican, get on a ferry to Balanacan Port. It takes about three hours. From the port, you may get on a tricycle or jeepney to Brgy. Sihi.


SAMPLE ITINERARY
7:00AM to 7:30AM - Register at the Brgy Hall, secure permits and guide
7:30AM to 8:00AM - To Viewdeck
8:00AM to 8:20AM - Rest, photo ops
8:20AM to 9:00AM - Camping Ground
9:00AM to 9:15AM - Military outpost
9:15AM to 9:30AM - Rest, prepare for assault to summit
9:30AM to 10:30AM - to Summit
10:30AM to 11:45AM - Back to the Brgy. Hall

EXPENSES
Per person unless otherwise stated
Bus Fare (Cubao vv Dalahican Port) - Php280 x 2 = Php560
Ferry Fare (Dalahican Port vv Balanacan Port) - Php290 x 2 = Php580
Jeepney Fare (Sta. Cruz vv Sihi, Buenavista) - Php80 x 2 - Php160
Permit Fee - Php45 per group
Guide Fee (required) - Php500 for four

OTHER DETAILS AND REMINDERS
- Practice the LNT Principles at all times (Read: 8 Basic Etiquette Rules Every Modern Traveler Should Know)
- Public transportation in Marinduque is scarce and are non-existent by 4PM – 5PM at the latest.
- There’s a toilet at the Brgy. Hall
- A few Sari-sari stores can be found near the Brgy. Hall. There are no carinderias.

Check out more DIY Hiking Guides.

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My recent trip to Marinduque was not only hassle-free (thanks to Cebu Pacific’s thrice-per-week flights to the island) but also eye-opening. I knew the Heart of the Philippines has a lot to offer, but, it turns out, I had no idea just how much.

I knew of its beaches and islands. I knew of Mt. Malindig. But I haven’t heard of its subterranean offerings. And Bagumbungan Cave was a pleasant surprise.

My standard of caves is quite high. I have seen and been inside Angel Cave in Pangasinan. It’s a Class 1 Cave – a classification given by the DENR to the most pristine, most biologically diverse (and, thus, vulnerable) caves in the country. But Bagumbungan Cave held its own and did not disappoint.

Before we proceed, the Leave No Trace Principles:


BACKGROUND
Spanning the villages of San Isidro and Punong in the town of Sta. Cruz, Bagumbungan Cave got its name from “bago” and “bungan”. The former is a tree whose leaves can be used for cooking, and is abundant in the area. The latter is a term for a piece of bamboo meant to catch and route water, like a pipe. Bagumbungan Cave used to be frequented by men collecting swiftlets’ nests, but a cave enthusiast brought it to the attention of the DENR. In 2009, exploration led by the agency commenced. Mapping of paths and routes were conducted as well as cataloging of wildlife and speleothems. The cave was given the classification of Class 2, meaning some sections of it are off-limits and that tours must be lead by competent and trained guides. By 2013, a management system has been laid out and the cave was deemed ready for tourism.



THE TRAIL
Before starting the activity, guests must partake in an orientation. Here, the history as well as the features of the cave is discussed. Reminders about the dos and don'ts are also given.

The trail begins with a cemented path that leads to the cave opening. It has several chambers and takes about three to four hours to explore through and through. One has the option to go halfway and do a back trail, but I highly suggest you finish it all the way to the Punong Exit.



There’s a host of rock formations – speleothems – most of them still “alive” and glittering. Flowstones, rimstones, shelfstones, your usual stalactites and stalagmites, – the works. There’s plenty of “river” crossings, too, so prepare to get wet.




There are also parts where you’ll need to hoist yourself up via rope. Your quads will also get some work out from all the duck walks to get you through the low-ceilinged areas.

At one point, your guide will ask you to turn all your lights off and experience total darkness. This is my favorite part. It was meditative. Calmed me. I had the urge to just lie there and rot. Cue in Hozier’s “In A Week”.

But I digress.

Bagumbungan Cave is a prime example of community-based tourism. Everyone involved is a resident of Brgy. San Isidro – from the administration to the tour guides. The guides are well-trained.  The village of Punong, where a portion of the cave is located, also maintains a cooperative role.

I should also mention that all the guides know what they’re doing and exhibit a clear love for the cave and the surroundings. There was a sense of great pride in them that must have stemmed from a great deal of empowerment and support from the community. This makes me so happy.

GETTING THERE
From Manila, Cebu Pacific flies every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday to the Boac Airport in Marinduque. One-way regular fare is around Ph3,000 to Php4,500. Travel time is just under an hour. Once in Boac, get on a jeepney heading to Brgy. Lamesa in Sta. Cruz (I think this is the town proper). Here, there is a jeepney terminal heading to Brgy. San Isidro. The jeep leaves at 9AM. Travel time is about one and a half hours.

You can also get on a bus in Cubao bound for the Dalahican Port in Lucena (Php280). Jac Liner plies this route. Travel time is 3 to 5 hours, depending on traffic. Once in Dalahican, get on a ferry to Balanacan Port (Php290). It takes about three hours. From Balanacan Port, get on a jeepney or tricycle to Brgy. Lamesa, Sta. Cruz and get on a jeepney to Brgy. San Isidro. Jeepney trips from San Isidro to Lamesa is only until 1PM so make sure to finish your activities before then. Otherwise, you may rent a habal-habal or a tricycle to get you back to the town proper.


SAMPLE ITINERARY
9:00AM to 10:30AM - Brgy. Lamesa to Brgy. San Isidro
10:30AM to 10:50AM - Pay fees, orientation
10:50AM to 12:50PM - Explore Cave
1:00PM to 2:30PM - Brgy. San Isidro to Brgy. Lamesa



EXPENSES
Per person unless otherwise stated
Jeepney Fare (Boac vv Lamesa) - Php50 x 2 = Php100
Jeepney Fare (Lamesa vv San Isidro) - Php20 x 2 = Php40

Caving Fees (Halfway, up to the "Falls")
Entrance/Environmental Fee - Php15
Entrance Fee (LGUs) - Php35
Cave Guide Fee - Php55
Equipment Rental (Helmet and Headlamp) - Php35
Right of Way - Php10
TOTAL: Php150/person

Caving Fees (All the way, up to Punong Exit)
Entrance/Environmental Fee - Php30
Entrance Fee (LGUs) - Php70
Cave Guide Fee - Php110
Equipment Rental (Helmet and Headlamp) - Php70
Right of Way - Php20
TOTAL: Php300/person

OTHER DETAILS AND CONCERNS
- Practice the LNT Principles at all times (Read: 8 Basic Etiquette Rules Every Modern Traveler Should Know)
- There are restrooms in the registration area
- The minimum number of guests is two. So if you’re by yourself, you must pay for two people.
- If you’re a group of ten or more, you may request for a “kamayan” lunch to be prepared. It’s Php300 each for a minimum of 10 pax.
- Helmets and headlamps are provided and are included in the fees
- Bring a change of clothing in case you want to freshen up.
- You may leave some of your stuff in the registration area.

Check out more Travel Guides.

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“I’m ready to die,” I told my husband as we sat inside a dim cafe in Marinduque.

We’d just been talking about the recent earthquakes. And while most came to grips with their mortality, realizing they want more out of life, I realized I welcomed death.

I didn’t think of it as a secret at the time, but uttering those words felt like a confession, like I’ve committed sin and the only way to absolve me of my crime was to let someone know.

I was ashamed. But also relieved. 

“The only reason I’m still here," I continued, "is because I don’t want to hurt anybody. And I’m arrogant enough to believe that many will get hurt when I go. And so I’m staying. But I’m ok. I’m ok to die.”

I meant every word. My husband replied with a deep breath. He knows me best, but most of the time, he still doesn’t know how to deal with me.

To be fair, I still couldn’t figure out how to deal with me.

I’ve told a few of my friends the same thing. All, save one, worried about me. I’ve assured them: I’m not suicidal. I’m not depressed – no, not at the moment. My psychiatrist will attest to this. In fact, I’ve never been happier. I’m fit. Productive. Healthy. And I think I’m looking my best. It’s just that I believe there’s nothing left for me here anymore except the people that tether me.

I am done.

In the past, I’ve made similar pronouncements, but this time I mean it. I believe it. It’s real.

My recklessness is proof. 

Lately, I’m finding myself in a constant chase for sensations. And this place that I’m in is a vortex. A warp zone that pulls me in opposite directions. It sounds destructive but it's what keeping me sane.

It's paradox, see, this life I'm living now. For example, I’m taking good care of my body, but at the same time, I’m keen on abusing it. I work out. Meditate. Eat good food. Sleep early. And then get shitfaced and jump off cliffs and run barefooted and get wounded and bruised. It’s like I want to be saved, but not really. 

And while I love my husband above all else, I’ve noticed – and this is the most significant indication of my recklessness – I’ve become such a huge, well, flirt. I should be embarrassed, I know, but it feels empowering. Addictive. So much so that I’ve been kissing cheeks, shoulders, and foreheads that are not my husband’s. In the words of Vina Apsara, “I want more than what I want.”

The most ridiculous part of this is that these random body parts mean nothing to me. There is no sensation in these acts. And perhaps that is why I keep doing it. 

There is still one thing I treat with care, however: a relationship. A person. I’m just afraid that by doing so, it would be misinterpreted as indifference. So let it be on record that it’s not. This beautiful mess has occupied so much of my life that I am here, writing about it. I’ve placed so much value on this that I’m reserving the rest of my recklessness for it. I'm ready to be wrecked.

To be clear, this is not the first time I’ve found myself in such a situation. It was so intense back then. So quick. Like a whirlwind. It got out of hand. Emotions got in the way. It was a disaster. It did not end well obviously. All got broken. And I didn’t even get what I wanted.

So this time, I’m enduring this painfully slow unfolding. The uncertainty, the thrill, is so extraordinary and delicious that I’m torn between wanting it resolved and just dragging it out for as long as possible. (Hey, if you think it's you I'm talking about, then you're probably right. Your move.)

But then again, I’m so certain of our impending doom – with climate change, China, our shitfuck of a government, and all the horrors of life – that I badly want to act on it, to cross the line and see if there’s anything on the other side, or if I’d just fall head first off a cliff and get annihilated. Either way, I’m game. We're all going to get destroyed eventually anyway. And, you know what, we hurt most from the risks we didn't take, the words left unsaid. Chasing sensations, amirite? 

I’m so ready to die that my moral compass has become whacked. It’s irretrievably out of order. It’s ridiculous. But, hey, I’m still here. 

I’m a year older now. And this pattern of living – this aimless, fearless way of life – is new to me. But, like I said, there’s nothing left for me here besides the fact that I don’t want to deliberately cause pain. And because I’ve nothing real to live for, I’ve nothing real to lose. That sounds wrong, but don't worry. I'm fine. I’m living a year in a week. I’m using up all my fuel to burn bright instead of merely sputtering out.

It’s reckless, but this is how I breathe now. Holler if you want a taste.

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Photo by JH Miranda via DIY Travel Philippines

A few days ago, I saw this trailer of a local movie called “Banal”. It’s about a group of friends who decided to go up a mountain. In the movie, there are claims that once you reach the mountain’s peak, you could ask for a miracle and it would be granted – and this was apparently the motivation of one of the characters. However, what was supposed to be an adventure turned into some Blair Witch Project kind of wild. There was a lot of weird stuff going on in that trailer. There was some hacking and slicing of bodies. Lots of blood. Really unnerving. Check it out for yourself:


See that part right at the end? It said “inspired by true events”. And that got me curious.

My earliest memory of what you would call a paranormal encounter was when I was eight, back in our house in Sorsogon one summer night. I was vacationing in the province while my parents were back in Rizal. An aunt stayed with me and we had the humble bungalow to ourselves. 

I slept in my parents’ bedroom, on a rickety wooden bed pushed up against the wall – a jalousie window ended right where the headboard began. I never had a problem sleeping with the lights out – I’ve had my own room since I was six – and that night was no different. 

In the middle of the night, I woke up from a dream. I couldn’t recall what it was about, but I remember turning to my other side and then glancing up the window over my head. There was a bit of light outside – perhaps from the lamppost by our gate – so there was no mistaking what I saw: a silhouette of a hand pressed against the frosted glass. Half-asleep and confused, I lifted my head a bit to take a second look. The hand was still there and it remained unmoving. I was tempted to crack the window open but I was a sleep-greedy child so I shrugged it off and slid right back to slumber. 

The next morning, the first thing I did was go out to our porch and check where the window looked out to. About two feet of “garden lot” separated that side of the wall from the tall wire fence, and the only way you could stand immediately outside that window was if you hop over the porch’s balustrade and walk over bougainvillea shrubs. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could do that, especially so late at night and with the locked main gate. 

Over breakfast, I told my aunt what I saw and she was pretty much dismissive about it. Several other curious events took place the following nights: when I got up to get some water, I saw how a curtain rise so high up as if blown by a breeze, only there was no breeze. In the living room, while watching TV with my aunt, I kept seeing scuttling shadows through the gap between doors and the floor, even though there was clearly no one home besides the two of us. 

I don’t remember being particularly frightened. Nervous, maybe. And mildly annoyed. As I grew into adulthood, things like this kept happening, I feel (and even see) presences, but I got used to it. One thing I can tell you, however: the mountains are alive

I’ve heard many stories about strange things happening in the mountains – tents being ripped, sandals going missing, supplies getting pilfered, trails going in circles, the works. All mountains have its fair share of “ghost” stories, but none as plenty as that of Mt. Cristobal

Formally known as Mt. San Cristobal, this inactive volcano has the reputation of being the “Devil Mountain”. It’s right next to Mt. Banahaw – the Holy Mountain. The Yin to its Yang, as some Chinese philosopher puts it. Locals say Cristobal absorbs all the negative energy of Mt. Banahaw, so while the latter gives you the feeling of peace and calm, the former is just pure kilabot

But many stories also surround Mt. Banahaw, most of them involve “alien abductions” – people vanishing without a trace. But these days, Banahaw is more popular for its miracle springs while Cristobal remains notorious for its creepy encounters. 

This reputation can be traced back all the way to the Spanish era when Filipino revolutionaries made the mountains their base. They started making up and spreading “ghost” stories to ward off the Spaniards, and to practice colorums – indigenous religions. In fact, one religious sect had set up camp in Banahaw: the Watawat  ng Lahi (Flag of the State) movement who believes Jose Rizal is the reincarnation of Christ.

In the mountaineering community, meanwhile, this is what we know: Cristobal takes hikers. A prevalent story is that of a couple who went on a night trek and never came back. Then, one day, a rowdy group of friends went up the mountain and met the couple along the trail. They followed the couple, believing them to be experienced hikers. At some point, the two vanished and the group found one of their members hanging off a cliff. Fortunately, he was saved. 

Encounters of a creature known as the Tumao – a kind of malignant spirit, similar to the West’s Big Foot, said to waylay hikers for his own amusement – is also many. One group even claimed to walk for three hours only to find themselves back at the same spot where they saw the Tumao.

Perhaps the most interesting story I’ve heard about Cristobal is from veteran mountaineer and trailblazer Sky Biscocho. In the campsite, while inspecting maps and marking routes with his exploration buddy Lester Susi, Sky saw another person sitting beside his companion. This newcomer was wearing a white loincloth, built like the indigenous Aeta, but was faceless. It sat on its haunches, seemingly fascinated by the maps the two were studying. Sky finally told Lester there was somebody else with them. Lester looked up, rolled the maps slowly, and calmly told Sky they should pack and descend. As the two men raced through the trail, Lester admitted that the faceless Aeta had been “riding” on his backpack the entire time. They kept running until they felt the presence disappear. 

Many more tales are told of Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw. Even the locals that live around it have their own accounts. Most mountain guides even wear amulets and talismans to “counter the evil spirits”. 

Personally, I’ve been wanting to visit Cristobal. The forests here are said to be one of the most pristine in Luzon. And, well yeah, to maybe get a feel of how truly evil the Devil Mountain is. Too bad the mountain is indefinitely closed for hiking.  

You could say that, of course, there are logical explanations for some of these strange mountain encounters. Like the “unexplained” forest fires that were later determined to be caused by honey hunters and slash-and-burn farmers. But I think it’s not wrong to believe in the unexplainable. God, after all, cannot be explained away, and many of us still believe in Him/Her/It. 

The world is vast, see, and there is plenty of room here for the supernatural.

Have you had any encounters in the mountains?

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Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

It’s been almost five months since my husband and I spent our first wedding anniversary in the outdoors. Teaming up with Earth Explorers Travel and Tour, we hiked through two of Bukidnon’s many mountains: Mt. Kitanglad, and Mt. Dulang-dulang. 

Mt. Kitanglad is an ASEAN Heritage Park, but this is not about Kitanglad – not yet. This is about Mt. Dulang-dulang – the second tallest mountain in the country, and the most beautiful I’ve ever been.

I will not speak so much about the events that led me through its hallowed paths – it’s murky. The passage of time has put a significant distance between me and the details of this memory, thus the image, when I try to recall it, is blurry. Pixelated. Not enough data. From afar, however, when all other elements appear greater than the void, it looks perfectly fine.

And so I repeat: Mt. Dulang-dulang, you are the most beautiful mountain I’ve ever been

Someday, when I’ve walked more trails and scaled more heights, I might return here, take back this superlative, and offer it to another peak, but, for now, it belongs to you

There is one thing I remember clearly: you did not spare us. I – whose threshold for hardship borders insanity – was almost on the brink of resenting you. Yet as soon as I stepped into your velvety groves, I new this to be true: nothing worth it comes easy. You were difficult. And you were worth it.

At one point, I remember plopping down on the ground, legs tired and shoulders aching. I was reclining on my backpack, letting my eyes trace the trees, from their trunks all the way to their lofty canopies. “This is home,” I kept muttering. My heaving breaths lost amongst wild songs.

I remember how the sun shone through the gaps in the trees, like wonder-beams illuminating. The branches crooked, carpeted in chartreuse, and the cold, cold air. The way the light fell here was equal parts eerie and dreamy, like there lurked both faeries and beasts. Above, canopies interlaced – a lattice of leaves that fractured sunlight. Roots and boughs weaved below, leaving the landscape textured and furrowed.

The cold was unforgiving, and it seeped through our bones. Every inhale sliced my lungs. My lips were cracked. And my fingers felt like they were about to fall off. In the evening, it was even more relentless, and more than warmth I prayed for death... er, sleep.

In the morning, we tried for a clearing. But there was none. Only drizzle and fog and gusts. But it did not matter. This was why, to me, Dulang-dulang is best. The views it affords do not define its beauty. It simply is.

These are the things I remember. And I’m aware they sound incomplete. Fragmented. Discursive even. And they are. And I regret not writing this memory down sooner. But this would have to do. And it’s enough.

In cases of remembrance, whatever is left – no matter how scarce – is always enough. 

Besides, I have videos:
Being Vegan in the Mountains + Plant-based Eats in Bukidnon Part 1 - YouTube

Landscape Photography | Hiking Mount Dulang-Dulang (2nd HIGHEST Mountain in the Philippines) - YouTube

———
If you want to see Mt. Dulang-dulang for yourself – and you should – get in touch with Earth Explorers Travel and Tours. 

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Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

In the woods was a path lit up by new light, where branches crosshatched overhead. Panels of sun came through gaps in the tree trunks, like slender fingers gripping. Every surface was glazed with a glimmering sheen of yellow and green, and in the midst of all these was I. 

I'd like to tell you I was by myself, but I was with a whole team of outdoorsmen (and women). The line of hikers stretched before and behind me. It was the inaugural trek through Mt. Hibok-hibok’s Itum trail, and the light was tripping fantastic.

I suppose, for a place known as the Island Born of Fire, I shouldn’t expect anything less.
While already enjoying a top billing in the country’s tourism showcase, Camiguin, it turns out, with its immaculate shores and fecund lands, has more up its sleeves.

The last days of March meant the firsts for the province’s latest program: Mountain Tourism. Climb Camiguin, it beckons, and with astonishing trails like the one we were currently on, the question is not a matter of will or won’t but when

Mt. Hibok-Hibok is no stranger to footfalls. In spite of being a chainlink in the so-called Ring of Fire (i.e. a legitimate active volcano that could erupt any minute), people have been scaling its peak(s) – crater(s) – since time immemorial. There are established trails, the most popular being the one starting at Ardent Hot Springs. The Itum Trail, the one we were on, was a “new” one. Its jump-off is at the DENR office in  Mambajao

This trailhead lies sandwiched between Hibok-hibok and Mt. Timpoong. Here, we spent the night on a tent, facing the looming form of the former. The cool breeze made for a good night’s sleep, which was just what we needed, for it wasn’t even dawn when we began our trek. 


Daybreak found us on the fringes of the volcano’s forest. As we moved deeper, the light turned brighter and the grandeur of this path came into view. Deciduous trees, more tall than thick, shot up the ground in all directions, the leaves of which tinged sunlight with an emerald hue. For a few beautiful moments, I walked through the trail as if in a trance: the forest is most beautiful in this soft light. 

After about an hour, the light turned harsher and the air a tad cooler and the trunks and branches became plush. Carpets of yellow-green fluff covered their surface, like a cozy blanket to keep them warm. Rough brown to green velvet. Enter we did to the mossy forest.

It was not as grand as Bukidnon’s Mt. Dulang-dulang, but the way the fuzz fell over branches like curtains, how it gathers into clumps like a pouf, made it feel like we were walking through Nature’s living room: the boulders the sofa, the stumps the chaise. 

Not long after, the moss disappeared and in came lofty Pandanus. Their massive stilt roots arched over the trail, striding the path like multiple pairs of giant legs. These limbs created a whimsical maze before they tapered off into a single rough bark with a fountain of slender leaves at the crown.

As we neared the top, these giants relented to the dwarves: a pygmy forest dotted with wild flowers and pitcher plants. Soon, the shrubs and reeds that flanked the path curled into each other, swirling into patterns Tim Burton would approve.


Images of Lord of the Rings kept flashing in my mind. Perhaps it was the abundance of juxtapositions: rough and velvety, enormous and miniature, old and new, the familiar and the strange. Tolkien’s Middle-earth has plenty of this, too: Gandalf and Frodo, Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn and Arwen.

I guess I was rhapsodizing. There I was, doing something I prefer to do with a few close friends, with a whole cavalry. The mountains – in this case, the volcano – always feel like home, going back always feel familiar, no matter how different and unique the path seems. And the newness of hiking with such a large group had me contemplating. 

I tend to get selfish about places – sometimes, not often. I know how tourism, when done well and properly, can transform a place for the better. But there are times I worry.

As a travel writer, I witnessed how tourism can alter the landscape of a community – economic, social, cultural, and of course natural. In most cases, tourism dilutes a destination. A place and everything about it becomes a commodity, and often, this is for the worse. To allow others, more people, to enter means we risk losing our own little pockets of paradise.

These thoughts swam in my head as I moved further into this fantastical trail, this place that could give Lothlorien or Doriath a run for their money. I asked myself: is it really a good idea to let people in?

Soon, we reached this trail’s end – a platform jutting out of a cliff’s edge – and we were greeted with an unimpeded view of the island. From here, Camiguin never looked more like a paradise. There’s the alarmingly short airport runway. A bunch of structures here and there. But how lush the lowland and coastal forests were! There's also one of the craters to our right. And beyond, the sapphire-turquoise gradient of the ocean, abbreviated only by a swirl of white that was the aptly called White Island.




It wasn’t too long, however, as tendrils of fog came rolling in, slowly but surely obscuring the panorama. Such were the whims of the mountains. We are used to it. We know the rules

Thankful for that brief but marvelous clearing, I came upon the answer to my earlier query. (I’ve always known this, but sometimes I forget, because people can be reckless and careless and the worst.) It is our duty to not only showcase destinations but also to communicate the importance of protecting these places from which we draw joy and inspiration. The conversation shouldn’t be “don’t let people know about this place, they will destroy it”. It should be “let’s educate one another on how best we can enjoy a place with the least impact possible”.

Keeping a place to ourselves won’t guarantee its safety – we’ve lost many a place without even knowing about it. I’m starting to think that, in the case of our beloved outdoors, sharing is indeed caring. 

In order for places like Mt. Hibok-Hibok to not be destroyed, we must care for it. In order to care, we must understand. To understand, we must experience. And to experience, we must open the gates. 

Looking back, I still have my inhibitions, but based from what I’ve experienced, and from the “vibe” I got from the local authorities, they are keen on keeping the pristine state of the volcano. It is, after all, an Asean Heritage Park. They are confident that they can, to boot, hence the doors are slowly being opened. 

Well, as I like to say: we protect what we love and how can we love something we don’t know? 

————
As of writing, Mt. Hibok-Hibok is closed for hiking because of El Niño. If you’re interested to climb, do get in touch with the Camiguin Tourism Office for updates and procedures. 

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Weeks have gone since I’ve been on the mountains and I wanted so bad to forest-bathe. After a derailed trip one weekend to visit Mt. Makiling that turned out to just be a “traverse” of Angono to Cubao, my husband and I tried again on the Day of Valor.

But first, the Leave No Trace Principles

BACKGROUND
Mt. Makiling can be accessed via two trails: the Sto Tomas Trail in Batangas, and the Mariang Makiling Trail in University of the Philippines – Los Baños (UPLB) in Laguna. These two trails can be utilized in a single hike, with entry from Sto. Tomas, known as “MakTrav” or Makiling Traverse. As far as I know, you can’t do it the other way around. You must enter from Batangas. 

You can do a “backtrail” from Batangas while only a backtrail is allowed in the UPLB side.

THE TRAIL
The Mariang Makiling Trail is located within the College of Forestry in UPLB. It is a lovely, forested trail that are sectioned into “stations”. The trail starts at Station 1 aka the Registration Area. Here, you must write your name on the logbook, leave an ID, and pay a 20-peso registration fee. 

It is about 7 kilometers of paved road from here all the way to Station 11 aka Agila Campsite. Early on this path, you’ll see towering century-old Toog trees! You’ll also pass by the jumpoff to the Flatrocks, the picnic grounds of the Makiling Rainforest Park, and the trailhead to the Mudsprings along the way. You may choose to visit these as side trips.

Related Adventure: DIY Guide to Nagpatong Rock

Going on foot via the cemented path would take about two hours. This could be taxing as walking on pavement is entirely different than trekking on raw earth. Should you wish not to subject your ankles and knees to such abuse, habal-habals (single motorcycles) are available in Station 1 and also in Station 11 for P100 per head, per way. Biking is also another option (you must bring your own of course).



From the Agila Campsite (Station 11), the road transitions into an actual forest trail. This part is canopied, flanked with lots of trees and vegetation. The sound of the forests prevalent and pleasant. The trail is mostly rock-strewn, in some parts muddy (but I bet it’ll be all muddy come the wet season), and Tiger limatik lurk in every corner – sometimes where you least expect it. It’s a gradual ascent, with the most difficult assault beginning in Station 22 up to Peak 2 aka Station 30 (which we weren’t able to reach because we were pressed for time). It takes around 2-3 hours to reach the last station.

We might have not gone up all the way, but mountains are not all about summits. The Mariang Makiling Trail itself is already a delight, a reward in itself. A perfect place to get your dose of forest love. Come between March and April, and you’ll get to see Malaboo (R. lagascae aka R. panchoana) – one of the species of Rafflesia that’s endemic to the Philippines.


SAMPLE ITINERARY
06:00 to 07:00 - Bus from Cubao to Los Baños Crossing
07:00 to 07:10 - Jeepney from Crossing to Station 1
07:10 to 07:30 - Registration, Prepare for trek
07:30 to 09:30 - Station 1 to Station 11 (Agila Campsite)
09:30 to 11:30 - Agila Campsite to Peak 2
11:30 to 12:30 - Peak 2, Lunch, Photo Op
12:30 to 14:30 - Peak 2 to Agila Campsite
14:30 to 16:30 - Agila Campsite to Station 1
16:30 to 17:00 - Wash-up, Get ID back
17:00 to 17:10 - Jeepney from Waiting Shes to LB Crossing
17:10 to 17:30 - Wait for Bus to Cubao
17:30 to 19:00 - Bus from LB Crossing to Cubao

GETTING THERE
HM Transport in EDSA Cubao has daily trips that pass by LB Crossing. Signboard says Sta. Cruz. Travel time is 1 to 2 hours depending on traffic. Ask the driver to drop you off at the crossing. Once here, walk to your right to the corner of El Danda St. where jeeps to “Forestry” are waiting for passengers. It’s past Robinsons Town Mall. 

Get off at “Makiling Road”. There’s a sign that indicates it’s the Mariang Makiling Trail. The jeepney ride is only about 10 minutes.


You may choose to walk the cemented path, but it’ll take you around 2 hours to reach Agila Campsite. You can just ride a habal-habal to significantly shorten this trip for P100 per head, per way. 

To get back to the Crossing, walk or take the habal-habal to Station 1. And then walk down to the waiting shed to wait for jeepneys that will take you back to the Crossing. From the latter, there are already buses to Cubao passing by. 



EXPENSES
(Per person unless otherwise stated)
Bus Fare Cubao vv LB Crossing - (Php107 x 2) Php214
Jeepney Fare LB Crossing vv Station 1 - (Php9 x 2) Php18
Registration Fee - Php20 (regular), Php16 (Senior and Student with ID)
Habal-habal Fare Station 1 vv Agila Campsite aka Station 11 - (Php100 x 2) Php200
Total: Php452

Suggested Budget per person: Php600

REMINDERS AND OTHER DETAILS
- Practice the LNT Principles at all times (Read: 8 Basic Etiquette Rules Every Modern Traveler Should Know)
- Wear appropriate clothing to avoid injury and wounds, put on some sunscreen too
- Guides are not required. I don’t even think there are guides. Just stay on the road unless you want to do sidetrips to the Flatrocks and the Mudsprings. There are clear markers so don’t worry.

- Rest Rooms are available at Station 1 and at the Picnic Grounds in the Rainforest Park. 
- There are also sari-sari stores in the entrance to the park as well as in the Agila Campsite. 
- Mobile reception (Globe) is iffy from Station 11 to Station 21. 
- Guests must be back at Station 1 on or before 4PM. 

Check out more DIY Hiking Guides.

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Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

There was a mighty roar but the path did not give. Tires kept spinning and engine kept revving but the “open” tricycle stayed in place. In this gravelly road, stones were now a-scatter, and a trio of grooves had been gouged.

It was an overcast kind of morning in the middle of March; the sky metallic and heavy. Kara and I were in the untold parts of Apayao, riding with two local women aboard this roofless trike. She rode with the driver, Kara did. The rest of us, along with our bags and a roll of linoleum, were in the side car.

When it became clear the tricycle wasn’t going anywhere, all four of us leapt out of our seats. Then off our ride zoomed up the incline as soon as we did, dislodging more pebbles from the rock-strewn path. We trudged until the ground leveled, then, aboard once more, we proceeded bumpily. For several more times, we did this graceless dance – each performance becoming slightly less enthusiastic than the last. We had a long way ahead of us after all, and I wanted to save my strength.

After about half an hour, we reached a place where the soil turned orange and the land gently rose. Houses made of wood huddled in one corner. Further up the slope was what looked like a school. A few fruit trees and shrubs lined the periphery. By this time, Kara and I were the only passengers left, and here we met up with our guides.

There were three of them. Well, four if you count the boy who tagged along. They will lead us into the wilderness of Pudtol, into forests few people have set foot on.

Before coming here, we’d had an audience with the town’s tribal representative. We’d been told – well, warned would be the more appropriate term – of many things, both of the physical and of the meta.

“You had no idea about all of that?” Kara had asked after our meeting. There was an accusing edge to her tone which surprisingly made me grin. 

I’d shrugged.

“I just saw it on Facebook,” I’d admitted.

Sasapakin kita eh.”

There’s a good chance I’d imagined her saying that, but I swear I’d heard her threaten me. But, take relief, no one had been harmed during this adventure. 

At any rate, it had been my idea to include this in our itinerary. While I mainly wanted to travel with her, I also wished to go further into this province. Might as well – It was my second time here after all.

“Can we go trekking?” I’d asked her tentatively a few days before our trip. 

I’d shown her that particular Facebook post, prefacing it with “let’s also go here”, and the first thing she’d noticed was the caption: it apparently took eight hours to reach

“I’ll bring tents and stuff,” I’d offered.

This conversation had been on Messenger, but I could imagine her rolling her eyes.

I’d resorted to downplaying the trekking time. 

“Since you’ve already been to Lussok, let’s do whatever you want after,” she’d relented.

But even then, nothing had been set on stone. Our first day had been ironed out – to explore Luna. But the next days had remained iffy. Nonetheless, arrangements had been made – just in case. And I think, at the back of my mind, I had known I was going to insist it

It was now drizzling back at the orange-soiled slope. I sighed. If it did not let up, I would be willing to retreat. But as soon as everything was set, the downpour eased and with things prepped and selves braced, our adventure veritably began.

It took us all morning and past noon, through bamboo copses, past a villager on his way back from fishing and who’d been trudging for three days, a quick stop at an upland settlement benefiting from an irrigation system whose course we also traced, and up stacked boulders and amidst giant rattans, to find a suitable campsite. Our guides went immediately to work, hacking and digging and kindling a fire. In no time, our room for the night was constructed, with boughs as poles and vines as twines and anahaw leaves for awning. See, I lied about bringing tents – I only had a poncho and a sleeping bag, but the poncho turns into a tarp and so our roofing was expanded just in time for another round of rain.




With hot rice and leftover fritters, all of us huddled under the tarps. Our guides told us to go ahead and eat – they’d be hunting for fish in the river in a little bit. And so Kara and I ate. The mood was somber, spawned, perhaps, by the rainshower and the hungry being finally able to feed.

The sky cleared again and the men headed for the river. We did, too, but instead of goggles and torches, we were lugging our cameras along.

It was time for photos.

Places like this were easy to photograph, but were difficult to describe. This was one of those experiences of landscapes that render you out of words, where silence seems like the only fitting response and anything else feels irreverent. But, we are here, and so we shall try. 

Bounded by coveys of trees, bristling and stratified, and a spread of schist beds and massive stones, the river glided along its course. Its celadon waters dark and glistening. A blanket of sounds covered us: chirps, hoots, caws, and a kind of high-pitched din that tied it all together. Underneath it all was the gregarious gurgle of the waterway.
A coolness, too, hung over our skins, like a sweet, gentle caress that teased and hovered – not really touching. Then there was the mustiness of the woods, a steely scent lingering in the air, and something primordial, like a long-forgotten dream. It might’ve been the way light fell, but despite the clarity, everything seemed unreal, almost as if one wrong touch and all would dissolve.

Fantastical.

On the trail to here, I already had plenty of my “secret smiles” – the kind that inevitably comes when I am in the woods. Barely have we crossed the threshold of this sanctuary when tall, ancient hardwoods started appearing, like proud sentinels standing guard over this realm. There were the usuals: akleng parang, tangisang-bayawak, bagtikan. And then came the forest leviathan: the white lawaan. This precious and rare dipterocarp was hard to miss, especially in an old-growth forest such as this one. It towered over everything else, and in a place where all is already lofty, anything loftier would indubitably stand out. The ones I saw, for example, were easily around 70-80 feet, their pale trunks stark amidst the sea of green.

The lush canopies made it hard to see the sky. Greens and shadows colored our path, and the foliage seemed to glow golden. The sounds, too, were loud and vibrant – both harmony and cacophony. Wild songs.

This place was ancient, wise, and very much alive.

How this large lowland jungle remains to be, how wildlife thrives freely and so fiercely here, we owe to an indigenous practice.

When a member of the Isnag dies, the elders declare a body of water or a parcel of land as sacred in honor of the deceased. For about a year or two, until the holding of the “say-am” rituals, such areas are off-limits, with penalties imposed on those who trespass. This tradition is called lapat

A word that means “sanctuary” in the local tongue, lapat, while mainly a religious practice, has become the core of Apayao’s conservation methods. Embedded into the culture whose concept is innately understood by the residents, local laws had turned these ethnic declarations into “Indigenous Protected Areas”, complete with forest rangers – dubbed as Green Guards –patrolling it.

Here in Apayao, punishment for cutting trees is worse than that of murder,” Luna’s tourism officer had quipped during my first visit. 

He’d been joking, of course, but the penalties for violations are, indeed, no laughing matter: a fine of Php10,000 to Php50,000 plus three months of community service. 

Apayao’s is the only local government that has culturally-rooted conservation laws, the enforcement of which birthed the largest forest reserve in the North. 

The Last Frontier of the Last Frontier. 

We weren’t even that far deep into this forest and already it felt like the modern world did not exist. Our cameras and phones looked out of place here, anachronistic. Disconnected and remote with naught but trees for company, time here moves deliciously slow. So even after what felt like hours spent on snapping images, we found that we still had plenty of daylight. 

On one side of our camp, where reeds gathered along the riverbanks, Kara hung up her hammock. On the other, on a nook in one of the rock beds, I lay. Our guides were back, and were feasting on their catch by the river. I politely waved when they offered me some. Jacket on, and earphones plugged in, I let my mind drift away.


To me, songs – man-made ones, the kind with words – are like vessels. A shortcut to memories, if you will. I like to distill moments like this into music, and while the forest made so fine a music of its own, I prefer something less complex. And so I listened to a few choice songs until one felt worthy enough to be associated with this place and this memory.

Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags
I've come to know that memories
Were the best things you ever had

I didn’t realize I fell asleep and by the time I came to, light has slightly softened. I sat up and saw Kara still in her hammock. I climbed down my bed of stone and walked to her side of camp. 

“Hey,” I began. “I’m gonna go swim. You wanna come?”

“Yup,” she said, disentangling herself from her red cocoon. 

Soon, we were neck-deep into the cold, cold river, talking about things – both big and small. I wasn’t a fan of the freezing water but I ignored my chattering teeth and let the cold took hold. We stayed there, submerged, even after it started raining again, until there was hardly any light.

Evening fell swiftly, and the darkness that came with it was thick and complete. In the harsh light of a portable lamp, Kara and I had dinner. Our guides off to the river to hunt once more.

When they came back, their haul included river prawns, and Kara, who’s a sucker for seafood, couldn’t say no when the men offered it to her.

“Oh my god,” she said, eyes wide. “This is delicious.”

I stared at her, amused. I would’ve rolled my eyes but that was her thing. 

Satisfied with our meals, we rolled out my sleeping bag and used it as a mat; Kara’s hammock we used as a blanket. A few moments later, there was another round of downpour – not hard, but enough to necessitate more anahaw leaves for awning.

I usually slide into slumber easily but that night I had trouble sleeping. Not that I was uncomfortable – our spot was cozy, warm, and dry. And the gentle patter of the rain was reassuring. I was just, well, overwhelmed you could say. I could not relax and I did not know why. (Well, I know, but that’s a secret.) I also kept looking out into the dark, expecting to see something. At one point, I saw a greenish flicker. A lone firefly. Had it not been raining, I was sure we would’ve seen plenty of them here.

We slept like dogs down by the fire side
Awoke to the fog all around us
The boom of summer time

The morning after was surreal. I rubbed the hard-won sleep from my eyes and reached for my glasses, gasping as everything came into focus. 

Mist was rolling and slithering, across trees and over rocks. It was like someone decided to add wisps of white paint in this already spectacular scene. I was awake but the place looked more like a dream.

Last night, Kara and I had mulled over the future. We were getting jaded with traveling, we felt. All the comings and goings had started to exhaust. At least she had a “main quest” to keep her on track, I’d told her. I, on the other hand, seemed simply aimless.

Most times, I feel that if it weren’t for the things (and people) that tether me, I would’ve ran aground a long time ago. I would’ve flown away. This whole life is starting to feel like a constant chase for sensations. Some call it reckless, I call it breathing

But then places like this give me... Well, it gives me life.

At the sight of the woods in that early morning light, I could almost feel my heart pumping a stream of renewed vigor. Like every cell in my body had fixed its flimsy hold on each other. My breathing eased. My limbs felt limber. 

Home truly is the forest. 

“You happy?” Kara asked me at some point. 

I beamed. Great companions, too, can resuscitate. 

“Yeah. Very.”

We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
As the old pine fell we sang
Just to bless the morning

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