mountains are open for business

nearly everyone hiking through the lahar plains of mount pinatubo are part of some organized tour group

it has been 3 months since my last climb and it will probably be 3 months more before i ever see a mountain again, that is if i follow my doctor’s orders. i’ve never been in this outdoor funk before and this sums up what i fear most about being very close to serious harm whenever i’m pursuing my adventures. i always say that i would keep climbing mountains while my legs allow me, and well this time, my right foot has decided that i take a break. although quite admittedly, the first 2 months without climbs had nothing to do with my recent accident -- i was making plans for other things, all of which have been quickly changed since i hadn’t taken into consideration that i would have limited mobility for a while.

so i stay here at home during that time of year when most everyone i know is somewhere else doing the things that i love: traveling overseas, traipsing up and down mountain trails, frolicking on the stretch of beach at a secluded island. somehow, the infernal heat of this tropical country is always best experienced elsewhere. travel is not the exclusive domain of adventurers such as myself. it is also the escape of tourists: people herded onto buses to do what many others have done before them. these are people who are not interested in suffering the inconvenience of planning and research, who just want to pay an organizer for a tried-and-tested trip, eager for the most part to proclaim their conquest on their choice of social media.

see nagsasa cove differently: organize your own adventure

during my last climb i came across some ads promoting destinations that i know. i have myself organized several trips to many of these places, inviting friends and like-minded individuals to explore with me places only few are able to reach. when i started to pursue the outdoors with a passion i merely hitched with people who merrily assumed the pains of organizing these trips, and very early i realized that it wasn’t easy. it was often frustrating and tiring, that i was surprised to discover none of them was getting paid. when it had become my turn to put together these adventures, i turned the inconvenience of planning and research into a process that i enjoyed. the role of organizer became fun, that organizing itself had become a form of psychic income.

anyone can design their own mount kinabalu expedition

so i was a little shocked to find that many rogue adventurers have suddenly turned the world of outdoor travel into a cutthroat business. initially i was a little offended by it, as though they had entered a territory over which we had some kind of imagined monopoly. but now i’m just aghast at the exorbitant fees they charge. but what confounds me even more is that there are these guileless individuals who would allow strangers who promote themselves as travel professionals to design their adventures when they very well could do it themselves, at a fraction of the cost. neither ignorance of how things are done nor the fear of failure or even misery is an excuse to consign your memories to someone who is just after your money. if you have the slightest interest in communing with the outdoors or of roughing it up, then you should muster the courage to plan and choose your own adventure.

people pay a premium to watch the sun rise over mt. pulag's sea of clouds

take, for example, a climb to the the highest peak in luzon: mount pulag. the going rate it seems is around P4,500 inclusive of bus and jeepney transportation, a few meals, and tent accommodation. unless you’re coming from abroad, and visiting the philippines only briefly, there is no reason for you to stake a chance on a tour organizer. let me break it down for you. if you can round up just 12 of your friends, the actual cost will just be less than P2,200 each. so the tour organizer is actually making a profit of more than P28,000, less the cost of bringing their tour volunteers to accompany you during the trip. the business is apparently booming since they have gone on to advertise and sell “discounted” vouchers on group discount sites online. which makes the business even more perverse since these websites will keep a portion of the money you pay, so the tour organizers have to sell more vouchers to actually make a realistic margin of profit. neither could be good for the novice climber, nor for the mountain -- what’s worse than bringing 100 climbers to a trail is to bring 100 inexperienced climbers to the trail.

we hired professionals to take us to snow mountain in taiwan -- they took care of permits, equipment, and food, which we could not have done ourselves

of course one might say: but we don’t have gear; the tour organizer takes care of that. but what do they provide in fact? just a few dome tents and some cheap outdoor stoves used to prepare uninspired meals. they don’t rent out shoes, or backpacks, or any of the clothes you wear. which means a form of investment must come from you. if you plan to pursue hiking or camping as a hobby, you would soon realize that the extra money you pay a tour organizer would be enough to get you all the gear you need to do it on your own. and if that is impractical, think of the 11 other people who joined you on the trip. if you put together the tour organizer’s fees, you’d all have gear for your next adventures, and not have a stranger with pre-conceived if not tired ideas of how the trip should be done meddle with your plans.

my beef with these outdoor tour organizers is not so much that they are making money and i am not. i have myself sought the services of professionals on a few travels, outdoor adventures included. for the most part i enjoy the experience; i could not have planned it myself. but there it is precisely: if i could have done it on my own even with just a little persistence, then i would not have given up neither the inconveniences of planning nor the pains of research for the joys of discovering a new place on my own. and all of these outdoor adventures could be done by anyone.

find a group and climb with them often

the message here really is this: if you seek the outdoors, your reflex should not be to find a tour organizer, but an outdoor group. there are many ragtag group of friends who are always climbing or camping at the beach. many of these groups organize open climbs or open camps -- they still make a small profit from it, but the margin is not as appalling as what the business models do. if no one you know is part of a such a group, then choose one where everyone else is a stranger -- that way you make many new friends. and these friends, who are not likely hoping to make money out of you, are only too happy to find someone new to travel with. choose your group wisely; you’ll end up picking up their habits and values. love and respect for nature should be right up there with good, clean fun.