Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TRAVEL - There and Back Again to Mt. Amuyao

A day-by-day recap of our Mt. Amuyao adventure together with one of the top explorers in the world Mike Libecki.

September 24 (Monday) - Manila to Banawe

Manny in awe of all of Mike's stuff
With me not being able to get my backpack the day before our hike, I had to do my packing the night before our trip. While the timing is usual for me, doing it at the parking lot of Trinoma is not.  It was crazy laying out our stuff at the floor for everyone to see but the adrenaline rush was much better compared to doing it in the confines of my room.

It doesn't help as well having a security guard stare at us the whole time.

Best part of the day was us being informed that our assigned driver to Banawe had to back out due to being sick.  Same goes for the alternate driver.  Finally having a replacement, he was dumbfounded to know that we are going to Banawe, Ifugao...all the while he thought it's just Banawe, Quezon City!

September 25 (Tuesday) - To the Summit of Mt. Amuyao

If this looks good to eat, I did my job as a photographer
Encountering heavy traffic along Dalton Pass, we arrived in Banawe around 8am.  I was quite disappointed that we did not dine in our usual Banawe stopover that is Greenview Lodge...instead we went to Halfway Lodge.

Food was so-so...and choices bad.  After enduring almost 12 hrs. of travel, imagine just having an option of either a Hotsilog or an American breakfast composed of just toasted bread and spam!?  When in Banawe, do yourself a favor and go to Greenview instead.

Mike, Jan, Bunny and Manny doing a "topload"

After a not so pleasing breakfast, we went off our way to Barlig.  It was close to a 3 hour ride with majority of it being in rough terrain.  But it's not that bad considering the views, not to mention having the spoils of lying down the jeepney seat as my co-climbers decided to get a good sunburn by riding "top load".

I've done my share of this stunt and given I forgot to bring my wide brimmed hat/ arm sleeves, I opted to pass.  My wife will kill me as well if I go home with a burned nape.

View of Barlig a few minutes from our hike.

We arrived in Barlig close to 12pm wherein two of our co-climbers together with our guide and porters were waiting for us.  We took a quick lunch, did our last minute packing and around 130pm, started off our hike to Mt. Amuyao.

Weather was just perfect when we started our hike.  Sky was blue and the clouds added drama to the photos I took.  Unfortunately, with us on a tight schedule, I didn't have much time to do some long exposure photos.

Nice to look at the first few hours of the trail
But just like that, less than an hour to our hike, we were greeted by rain showers and all the amazing landscape scenery I intended to take photos of were covered with haze and fog.  So much for me bringing all those filters and stuff...good thing though I have a porter carrying this for me :)

Last time I was in Barlig, it was also from a climb of Mt. Amuyao but we did the more challenging route that is coming from Batad.  I expected a gradual ascent with some wooden steps going to the peak but damn...I got more than what I bargained for!  Just when I thought I'm near and at the highest point of the trail...another set of steps was right there to greet my aching legs.

It was close to a 6 hour of full ascent and one of my co-climbers even considered backing out.  But work needs to be done and we all sucked it in.  We finally arrived at the summit past 6pm.

While we had some slight rain drizzles at the peak, generally weather was fine which made cooking easier.  It was a big help as well that there were water tanks beside the bunker where the caretaker/s of the erected tower is residing.  After dinner, with my body getting it's first taste of a major climb after 5 years and paying for it, I opted to snooze early around 8pm.

September 26 (Wednesday) - Descent to Pat-Yay Village

Like the peak of Mt. Pulag, Mt. Amuyao offers stunning views of the Cordillera mountain ranges.  I already have my eyes set how my photos will look like...clouds flowing like water as it pushes it's way in the mountains of the Cordilleras.  A warm glow from the sun painting the scenery in yellowish hue.

So when my alarm clock woke me up, I immediately opened the canopy of our tent and voila!  It was raining like crazy and everything was all white.  Talk about big time disappointment!

While the rain managed to stop, haze and fog didn't leave much views for us to admire and take photos.  This is actually the best shot I managed to get and even had to extract details using Photoshop.  A couple of minutes after this opening, view was all white again.

The mountain ranges of Cordillera...just imagine if we had the perfect sunrise

We started our descent around 830am.  It was supposed to be an "easy" day with trails being all downhill going to Pat-Yay village. With established trails, we pretty much blazed our way to the first rest stop which is also almost half of the trail already.  As it turned out though, this just served as a warm-up.

Surprise surprise...a crablet at 1,300m ASL
The succeeding trails were composed of a mossy forest infested by limatiks.  And if that wasn't enough, we're talking about loose rocks and slippy terrain.  I almost fell twice to a ravine and so did majority of our team.  To make matters worse, some of our team mates even brushed their skin to some poison ivy (thank goodness I was wearing pants).

Reaching the terraces part, I thought I found my saving grace.  Then out of nowhere, we see ourselves walking blind as trails were covered in waist deep grass.  We were slipping and came close to breaking our ankles on slippery rocks hidden underneath.  It was fun and hellacious to put it mildly.

We managed to reach the village of Pat-Yay around 4pm.  As with the peak, I expected lush and vibrant terraces but unfortunately, they just finished their harvest and the gloomy skies didn't help adding color to the landscape.  My only solace was sunrise provides a much better view of the terraces so I was banking on taking better photos the next day.

In the meantime, I decided to do a panorama shot instead...using my iPhone...

Pristine terraces of Pat-Yay village
We pretty much spent the afternoon lounging around and appreciating the serenity of Pat-Yay.  Other than being a stop over on our way to Batad, we did a mini-humanitarian project by donating a solar powered LED lamp that doubles as an AC power source.

Manny and Mike teaching how to operate the solar powered
 lamp we donated
Pat-Yay is not a household name on tourist brochures and websites and I am actually glad that it's not.  Unlike its neighboring villages such as Cambulo and Batad, they have managed to preserve their heritage and environment that really represents what the province of Ifugao is all about.  Yes technology has caught up with them with their use of solar panels as electrical supply but this is very much it...and should be.

We spent the night in one of the native huts which was welcome news as it allowed us to stay dry given it rained the morning the next day.  It also gave us the chance to have a much needed rest after 2 nights of almost no sleep.

September 27 (Thursday) - Hike to Cambulo/ Batad

Upon waking up, I saw what I dreaded the most...grey skies, wet floor and rain drops.  And if that wasn't disappointing enough, I felt leg pains I never felt before.  But to hell with it, I came to this trip with the main purpose of enjoying the outdoors...and I will embrace the pain doing it.

One of the local kids enjoying the baby sweet corn
These misfortunes were suddenly negated when one of the locals offered us a freshly cooked mountain rice together with baby corns.  Partnered with a local SPAM, we were in food heaven.

Our itinerary for the day was to reach the village of Cambulo, have lunch then hike to Batad.  Just when I thought it will be more mellow specially the downhill part, I saw myself taking baby steps due to the terrain's loose rocks and eroding soil.  To make matters worse, my knees and legs were so tired, I lost confidence to let gravity assist my descent.  This was the time I started to accept the fact that I'm getting old...but I see it more of me being out of the game for so long.

Reaching the village of Cambulo, I was struck with what I saw.  The school ground where we used to pitch our tents is now covered with a steel roof!  I actually had mixed emotions about it but I guess this serves more good than harm to the people of Cambulo so I will leave it at that.

Mike, Manny, Bunny, Joyce and Bobby enjoying the
view of Batad
After a hearty lunch of chopseuy and mountain rice, off we went to Batad.  At this time, my legs are feeling a lot worse so I took some Ibrupofen to lessen my muscle pain.  It proved to be effective as my pace got faster...though it also helped having a flatter terrain.

Upon reaching Batad, I had a huge sigh of relief.  Finally we finished our 3-day ordeal and can now look forward to just chilling out.

We stayed in one of Ramon's Native Huts.  I again felt a slight disappointment as I was really looking forward to spending the night in my favorite inn Hillside Inn.  But beggars can't be choosers...and it was Mang Ramon's place that offers native hut home stays which honestly is not that bad, except for the steep price.

Mike and Manny getting their groove on with the locals
We pretty much spent the day drinking some beers, eating local pizza (Hillside Inn is still the best!), sweet potato fries and pinikpikan.  Given we have a special foreign guest, a cultural presentation was arranged as well.

With our bodies aching, we decided to have some local massage.  This was the first time in my life I had one, though it was more of hilot as I need to freshen my legs for some more hiking the next day.  It was a good way to end the day with everyone having a good time, relaxing and laughing our ass off for every grunt we shout out.  One of our co-climbers even fell asleep in the middle of his massage!

September 28 (Friday) - Bachang and Back

Jan, Mike and Manny doing their share of Bachang
Feeling refreshed and filling our tummies with heavy breakfast, some of us went our way to do some "Bachang" project.  I was supposed to just take photos and document this initiative but the Bachang spirit caught up with me.  Just like that, I saw myself sliding my way to one of the terraces and doing my share arranging the rocks and together with the team, help remove huge boulders buried beneath the soil.

This proved to be the highlight of our trip.  Not only was it a great feeling to take part in restoring the rice terraces, we also exemplified teamwork at its best.  And we did this like kids on a playground.

View of Batad

Manny with one of the Batad locals hitching a ride with us
After getting our hands dirty and getting a good sunburn, we called it a day and headed back to our inn for the hike back to the saddle and Banawe.  It was a bittersweet moment as our 5-day adventure officially ends but on the other side, I was really looking forward to see my family again.  Which as I see it, was the biggest change compared to my younger years.

I used to dread going back to my so-called reality, but at this point in my life, reality is something I look forward to getting back to.  What this trip taught me though was there's no reason for me to limit the things I can do.  I used to say I don't have time to go outdoors again and even exercise for crying out loud.  This trip changed all of that.

As to the words of our new friend Mike Libecki, "The time is now...what are you waiting for? No excuses".  And now my most favorite..."Loving life!"

With that said, I am now back to doing what I love to do.  And this time, I don't have anything to dread going back.  How can you not love life?

The Team: Mike Libecki, Manny Batungbacal, Joyce (Princess of Itogon), Bunny Soriano, Jan Cabanos, Bobby Acosta and myself

GEAR INFO:  Photos taken with a Canon 5D with either a 17-40 4L or 24-105 4L IS except for the Pat-Yay Village panorama which was taken using my iPhone 4 and DMD app.

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