i cautioned my group to keep their voice down as i saw one of sky's trail signs flapping in the wind. we had just passed jone's peak and were approaching ditanan hill, which the laminated itinerary card hanging from my osprey kestrel's sternum strap indicated as being sacred ground. nothing but the blowing wind rustling the leaves above me and the faint footfalls and muted laughter of my friends could be heard. occasionally, i would hear a thump followed by an expletive. the trail was muddy and even the best of us fell on our backsides. i was getting used to those sounds until i heard something different: thok thok thok, it went, and i quickly cocked my head to the right, and in the half-light of the forest's noon, i saw sky, climbing back up jone's peak, about 10 meters away from me.
i called out his name, and he asked: ano'ng ginagawa nyo dyan? going down ditanan hill, i replied. he turned back and shouted: backtrack, nagkamali tayo. later on at the campsite, while everyone else had slept, he admitted that he couldn't recognize the trail after ditanan hill. it was as if he was being intentionally led astray. naengkanto. he spoke about things like dead branches falling on him, about the vegetation closing in to conceal the trail, about their bags suddenly feeling heavier, as though something climbed onto their backs. i must admit that i had been feeling disconnected somehow. i did not recognize the trail at all, despite my claim to have higher than average spatial intelligence. i had been through the malipunyo traverse before, but could not recognize or remember anything about the trail. perhaps it was because the trail resembled many other mountains, or that its features were so fine in its details that the trail sometimes appeared featureless.
since we left the unpaved road from the fringes of bgy. talisay, the trail had transformed into this dense jungle with a wide assortment of unnamed plants and trees. little sunlight fell through the foliage that clasped over our heads that even the early morning felt like dusk. i did my best to prepare my trainees for the task ahead, but i myself was surprised with the scale of the challenges that lay before me. i am no stranger to the difficulties one might associate with sky's trails, and consequently, i decline the offer to lead a group, because i shirk this kind of responsibility. but i was thrust to this role because no one else would take it. some members often avoid joining this climb because they are all too familiar with the dangers that accompany it. but then again, where else will you find the courage to rise after you have fallen, to stand up after you stumble, to forge on despite getting cut, bruised, and bitten. at the last minute, the very dependable lester joined our group and contributed his discipline and knowledge to the group.
so that is why there are those of us who never seem to learn our lesson, and year after year, we put our skin and sanity at risk to endure two days of pain and penance because we know all too well that it is when we are so close to danger, when we feel that our limbs are under threat or our lives may be are tottering on the edge, that we feel most alive, and we come home realizing how much better it is to be sleeping on a nice bed with sheets and pillows. suddenly, a trip to the spa for a full body massage gains more luster. everything tastes divine. and we learn to value our friends for their patience, the cheer that they bring when we are at our worst, and that wallowing in misery isn't so miserable when shared with them.
in truth, malipunyo has its highlights, but they come few and far between. on day 1, after getting past the column of water that took us to tebebes creek falls, which poured freezing beads of water onto a pile of rocks, we had to endure a steady incline that left us clinging to roots, vines, and branches to avoid falling. for the most part, my secondary goal in this trek, next to getting to the campsite before nightfall, was to never sully my butt. that much i achieved, including not having to rename john drop after me. we strung the next few landmarks until that spooky incident at ditanan hill where we stopped for about half an hour while sky scrambled to rediscover the trail. nearly 3 hours after, we were still trekking. the mud had rendered the traction on our shoes useless, and madie had declared it to be the most horrible day of her life.
and i guess that's why i choose to go through the experience that is TC2 every chance i get, even if i myself vowed never to do malipunyo again: it is because by going through something like this that i become less affected by misery, that i realize my limitations and exceed them, that i find possibilities where others only see dead ends. i did my best to provide encouragement by pointing out that the terrain was changing. suddenly, there were banana plants around us, and cogon grew alongside the trail. during the pre-climb, i told them that the remaras campsite was a field of cogon. and just like a light at the end of the tunnel, we heaved clichés when we came upon an opening that gave us a window into the province of laguna, which glittered in the evening. we walked into the campsite as one, found space to pitch our tents, and put our boots to good use flattening the cogon, before relieving our sore feet of our muddy boots.
we put up a kitchen tarp which impressed dong so much he couldn't stop gushing about it and quickly worked on dinner. as a treat, i prepared a tinapa pomodoro pasta, focaccia dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, food for the gods, and closed the evening with a few shots of vodka. when my trainees turned in for the night, i moved over with dex and JC to the next campsite for a few more drinks. but everyone must have been very tired, or low on alcohol, that we ended the session shortly after lights out. but i found the sweepers still passing around a few shots and decided to stay until i fainted from sheer exhaustion.
i crawled to my tent and slept like a baby until a strong wind flapped our parawing furiously and i had to rise and put it down before it gets blown away. when i woke next, my stove was already burning. we finished with breakfast quickly, and broke camp just in time for departure. unfortunately, i've been unlucky with the draw and we were scheduled to leave fourth. as planned, we wanted to trek as one, solid unit, the speed of the slowest member dictating our pace. it was of course doubly hard for JC, dex, lester and i, but this also taught us patience. while other groups broke their team apart so that others could go ahead, i stuck to the game plan, and we got our feet very wet in the next 7 hours.
in order to get to the trailend in bgy. atisan, we had to toil through mud and ford a milky river that ate up our reserves like a horde of termites. there was a slew of challenges: the vertical descent just beside a waterfall, the slight detour which i found unnecessary, the slide which challenged those who feared both deep water and heights, and the rest of the talatuanan river with its boulders and rocks, whose embankments transformed from imposing gorges to thick vegetation that arched over our heads. gone now was the backdive and a few other lagoons. instead, there was a dam used by the local community as a reservoir to bring water to the lowlands. huge water pipes slithered along the banks of the river and disappeared into the bush and reappeared again. this did not assure us that we were any closer our goal. when i was asked how far we were from civilization, i said look to the left: when you begin to see wires, that means we're near.
true enough, a shade before 6PM, i saw lines of hope. although i was still with my group, when i finally stepped on dry land, i just ran up the hill to the road, and the first thing i did was to buy two bottles of ice-cold coke so i could greet them with a glass: nothing could taste any better. i kicked off my shoes and waited for everyone else to trickle into the road. a pink sign was hanging on a tree, declaring it to be game over. when night fell and the jeepney arrived, i was concerned about those still dealing with the river. it is difficult enough to trek in daylight, but how much more under cover of darkness? we filled the jeepney rather quickly and were dropped off at the resort. the first thing i did was to sing two songs on the videoke machine.
dinner was actually very good. normally, we're shortchanged by enterprising resort owners who give us unsatisfying meals considering the difficulties that we just endured, but the more than ample food that they served us was very well-received. we all went through more or less the same things: walked on the same trail and plodded through similar worries and obstacles, but once peeled of the dirty, stinky things that we associate with the mountain, the stories started rolling out tongues: each one of us has something unique to tell. we begin comparing souvenirs, and things that others might hide are brandished for everyone to see: scrapes on the arms and legs, bruises the color of eggplants, bites begging to be scratched. an experience such as this one could result in one of two things: it will either make you decide to swear off mountaineering altogether, or hammer you into a tougher, stronger person, able to endure hardship and go through a lethal mix of boredom and misery smiling.
that everyone was still endowed with energy until half past 11PM when we loaded our packs into the bus meant that for the most part, all of us understood the reasons for having something like TC2. the climb pushes you past your breaking point. that you didn't snap means you're ready for everything. i congratulate everyone who finished this climb; it makes me damn proud to have had some form of contribution to the mountaineers that you will soon become.