only a few minutes after we left katiting falls, i surrendered my position in front of our group in order to address a complaining belly. i had eaten a burger earlier that morning, but the calories might not have been enough to sustain me for what would turn out to be an 8 and a half hour ordeal on the slopes of mount lobo. located on the coast of batangas just south of the pier and west of san juan, the many-peaked range of lobo stretches eastward from the fringes of batangas city until it joins mount daguldol. it is a good 4 hours from manila to reach the town of the same name, which is tucked away from everything else by narrow roads winding around hills. i've been to lobo before to climb the banoi peak with what were then complete strangers. only 9 years later am i able to return, and the experience is completely new to me.
the climb was organized as part of this year's BMC: a means to initiate nearly 50 applicants of AMCI to the sport of mountaineering. the first training climb is always the most attended. members who usually lack both practice and physical exercise prefer to join climbs when the scale of difficulty is close to zero, although many of us did not expect we would be roasted along the trail. the first group had left the nagtaluntong elementary school about an hour and a half ahead of us, and despite lacking in sleep, i patiently waited for our turn to start with my eyes wide open.
the trails of this part of the lobo mountain range are well-worn paths used by locals who live as high up the mountain as can be reached by water. there is a stream at the beginning which is crossed several times. the intense heat had parched the slopes so badly that water thins and disappears at the trail head. there are homes, horses, dogs, goats, cows, poultry, boys, girls, and adults all along the trail, and while we sat under the shade of a tree waiting for coconuts to arrive, fanning ourselves deliriously to ward off both heat and flies, someone asked me why some people prefer to live far away from the reaches of civilization, and my response was to ask: why do we escape civilization whenever we can?
the trail gently rises as we approached the last hut underneath nagpatong peak. parts of the way have been paved by concrete steps, since some of those who live here make a daily trek to the village and back. there are many other trails leading perhaps to farms and plantations, and although the way to the summit is rather established, there are precious few trail signs that made me wonder out loud if those barely visible yellow strings were so rare and expensive. the vegetation is not as lush as in other mountains, and in the distance, there are visible signs of recent landslides. patches on some peaks have either been cleared or burnt. mango trees and coconuts are scattered everywhere. the season for harvesting mangoes had just ended, and in some portions of the trail where overripe and rotten mangoes had fallen from their perches, giving off this sweet, pungent smell, i had to keep my mouth completely shut for fear that even just one of a million buzzing fruit flies would wander in.
after drinking the juice and eating the meat of two coconuts, i was suddenly possessed by renewed energy and was reunited with my group in the area where they had a long, leisurely lunch and apparently a short nap. i towed one of the trainees with me as we scaled the steepest part of the trail towards nagpatong peak. at this point i realized how important it is to be familiar with the itinerary as my expectations were like a small fire doused by a bucket of water when i expected to reach the campsite. it was apparently just a place to take a photo. there was a view of the verde island passage, verde island, and the imposing mountains on mindoro. my brain was stewing in a pot of boiling grey matter so i wasn't in the mood to celebrate my arrival there. on another peak which was separated from nagpatong by a deep bowl of earth and forest was a large pink parawing. i sighed as i wondered whether that would be our campsite. it felt too far away in the heat that suggested that mount lobo must be closer to the sun than anything else on earth. i walked through a corridor fenced by thinly-leafed bushes, poured out onto a hill occupied by short, bent, leafless trees, and found other people resting in the shade. of the 8 and a half hours i spent on the trail, probably 3 were devoted to rest.
from there, the campsite was only about 30 minutes away: a standard reply by mountaineers when asked how much more we had to walk. we passed another house, a banana plantation, and a thin, ghastly-looking man who stared at us blankly even as we said hello. and just like that, it was the campsite: a sprawling area that could easily accommodate twice our number, and we were already 140. i immediately got very busy on the campsite, although i was unable to prioritize photography. there were some nice views of rocky walls and the mountains shrinking into plains. the rest of my group arrived about half an hour after i did, and we quickly went about setting up camp, erecting our kitchen, and pitching our accommodations for the evening. the sun was setting behind the trees, but i was too busy demonstrating how i make my perfect rice to even look up. evening quickly fell as dinner was cooking, and pretty soon, as is to be expected in any AMCI climb, the alcohol was making rounds.
we had the presentation at 9PM, which is really just an opportunity to heckle the trainees regardless whether they do good. few seemed to have understood the theme, and the judges themselves seemed to be confused as to what constitutes a good performance, but at least our expectations were fulfilled: we all had a good laugh and will remember people based on how far they went to embarrass themselves in front of the rowdy members. the rest of the evening passed me by like a whirr. i remember talking to people, avoiding some, drinking suspect liquids, passing out. it was half past 3 in the morning when i sat up from the kitchen that wasn't ours, holding up my painful head, and waving at trainees who were going out of their tents for a pee. i moved into my tent and woke up in time to eat. somehow our trainees managed to prepare breakfast even though none of the members were present to supervise.
breaking camp was faster, and we were ready to trek even while some members of the lead pack were still eating. from the bangkalan peak, it was a speedy descent along the trail that was steep at the beginning, only to taper off after the Y trail. one trainee was only too happy to trek at my pace, which he described as quick but not tiring. although it wasn't part of the plan, we had overtaken all but a couple of persons from the group ahead of us, and were soon retracing our steps back to the school. we waited for our jeepneys to arrive and take us to gerthel beach resort, which is said to be the first resort in lobo. i don't doubt that at all and it seems little has changed since it opened. although this is the same place where we bathed the last time i was here, i had no recollection of it. we ate lunch, swam in the sea, bathed, changed, had our post-climb assessment, drank beer, and took the bus for the ride back home. after 4 hours, i was back in makati.
despite the sometimes unbearable heat that drained my energy, i rather enjoyed mount lobo, more for the fantastic company than for the mountain itself. for someone who has invested 10 years gallivanting in the mountains, new trails come very far and very few between. this looks like a promising year to set foot in fresh destinations. cheers to this year's batch of trainees, and i'm looking forward to seeing you through to your induction.