in my many years of pursuing adventure, i have been on many conveyances of questionable worthiness. perhaps this is a direct result of my refusal to be labelled a tourist, and preferring instead the more intrepid, though no less overused: traveller. it is also intimately linked to my choice of passions. hiking in the philippines often requires sojourning through rough roads where only the most beat-up vehicles dare to tread. but i have been on an extended sabbatical: my last hike was in january, the same month when i had my last overnight climb. it seems i had used up all my credits for the off-BMC season that i ended up having a very dry spell. the annual AMCI BMC was my shot at redemption, an opportunity to end my surprisingly long break with a bang. but i was not expecting my return to be fraught with very tense moments.
the bus ride from makati to antipolo was too short for me to get any sleep, so i didn't even try. my eyes were wide open the entire time. when we moved to the jeepneys, thing turned bad. the rain poured endlessly that long, foreboding morning. the jeepney ride was longer, and i spent each minute up and alert. i sat directly behind the driver, and i noticed his windshield wiper did not function. he had to put his head outside the door to see the road, and still he missed his lane entirely, running at a snail's pace on the other side of the road. there was no oncoming traffic the entire time, but what if another vehicle suddenly appeared in that terrible darkness? i conjured images of a gruesome head-on collision in my mind.
when we turned into the fire road leading to brgy. sta. ines, things went from bad to worse. the lights inside the jeepney went out, and smoke started to come out from under the wheel. the driver calmed us down even as the smell of burning wires filled the jeepney. afterwards, the driver asked for a torch to light our way. we had to make 9 river crossings to get to sta. ines, with none but the glow of a flashlight to guide our way, and i made sure to keep awake, so i could give the driver a coup de grace in case he drove us straight into impending doom.
because of the excitement of that protracted ride, i couldn't get myself to steal any sleep, even though we still had time before the start of the trek. at no point did the sun ever show up, and we only had brief respites from rain from the time we set off for the 5-hour hike up to the campsite, and going back to the barangay. we started at the covered basketball court at the break of dawn, the sound of over a hundred pairs of footfalls accompanied by roosters, the honk of the pandesal peddler, and grumpy children unceremoniously roused from sleep. dogs walked out of open gates and sniffed our shoes. the unpaved road snakes through the barangay, crosses the same river a grand total of 11 times, before rising gently through hills turned into plantations and onwards to the fringes of a primary-growth forest.
at the beginning the views were drab, bucolic in the most ordinary way. there were beasts of burden here and there, homes and sari-sari stores appearing even in the most odd of areas. and then you realize that for the city dweller, notions of convenience and accessibility are entirely different from those who spend their lives dwelling in perfectly rural landscapes, where measurements of time and distance are somewhat altered. my lack of sleep was taking its toll very early in the hike, and it did not help that the climb staff were all infected with that rural relativity: they predicted we'd reach the campsite anywhere between half an hour to 2 hours from where i first rested, munching on the breakfast i nearly forgot i had.
we expected rain to accompany us throughout the hike, but for the most part, it was just overcast: the heavens were hanging low, covering the ranges in this gloomy cloud. i only learned that the hike would require crossing a river several times on friday, so i decided to switch shoes at the last minute. although water drained quickly, it didn't handle mud as well: there were times that my shoe would be suctioned into the mud that had been churned by rain and so many boots passing by. eventually, the trail passed a military encampment, where our valiant soldiers slept on cots or hammocks under makeshift covers. i didn't bother to inquire why the armed forces were present there, although i was quite surprised to find them trekking with us, carrying big guns instead of backpacks.
about half an hour from the last store, and at the end of a slope that slowed us down, we came upon a sign that declared we'd reached the campsite. at the far end of the campsite was an area arranged in terraces, where most groups had decided to pitch their tents. we pitched our tents close to the entrance, and i put up the parawing beside a small hole. it was just after 11 when i arrived, and i munched on a mcrib while debating whether i should join the summit assault with the trainees. the finicky weather clouded my judgment. finally, when all the trainees arrived, i made the decision to stay behind and just help in fixing dinner. besides, i reasoned out, i wouldn't manage to get good photos anyway given the forecast.
i finally got some sleep at the campsite. it was a long wait for the trainees to get down, and i visited other groups, got offered early shots and lots of food. eventually, the summit of mt. irid revealed itself, and my big mistake was to not take a photo when it showed up, because shortly after that, it was continuous rain. it rained as trainees trickled into the campsite, as stories of the difficult and steep trail that turned into drainage when the rain poured. food was ready too early, and it started to get cold. our trainees were among the last to arrive. the lateness of their arrival had so worried bajay that he decided on a rescue just before dark.
it was chaos all evening in the campsite. some areas became quickly flooded, and tents had to be evacuated to higher ground. entire kitchens were deep in puddle water. our area was spared the brunt of the deluge: parts of luzon was being battered by typhoon egay, and we were only experiencing rains at the periphery. even though my parawing was large enough to accommodate all of us, it was difficult to move in and out of tents. we had to force people to eat. when you're in the mountain, nourishment is essential, since there is still the matter of getting down. by lights out, i temporarily hid the mess of our kitchen under a tarp, and decided to pay the other groups a visit. much later that evening, i closed out the night at the SB area, where my tent was. before memory failed me, i decided to sneak into my tent, and woke up in the morning with a pair of feet beside my head. i moved out gingerly that morning. everyone was already up, it seemed, except those who stayed up very late. i walked back to my campsite, ate breakfast, and packed so quickly, the sweepers would be proud.
getting back to brgy. sta. ines should have been easier, but proved also to be a challenge because of the previous day's rains. at some point, the guide said there was a shortcut, and i mindlessly followed him, going through even steeper, though less slippery trails. by the time i reached the waterfalls we were already being instructed to go straight to the barangay since the rains might make the river swell, and prevent us from going home. so i only had one stop between the campsite and the basketball court: the short time i spent in kinabuan waterfalls, which in that unending rain had turned into a spillway. on the way back i was losing count of the number of times i was crossing the river, and in the process losing a little of my patience. many times i thought it would be the last, but my expectations were dashed. along the way we encountered a few bikers. it gave me an idea.
when i finally arrived at the basketball court, it was just a few minutes after 12, and i still had to orchestrate lunch for my group. i had the food, the stove, but none of the pots. i begged, borrowed, and stole from other groups. by the time my groupmates were there, all they had to do was eat. it began to rain again as we made our way to the wash-up in boso-boso resort, antipolo, and i made it a point to avoid the same jeepney that took me to sta. ines. it was such a struggle to get a bath, but with some will, i managed to get myself cleaned up, in time for an early dinner and the socials, which the previous night's rains prevented. it turned out the perfect venue actually, because we had a sound system, and an appropriate space for some interesting presentations. the idea was to have an AMCI's got talent show, and i happened to be one of the judges. i put in a lot of snappy, catty comments as i channeled simon cowell all throughout, although i did see a few things that have never been done before.
i was unable to attend the post-climb meetings for training climb 1, which should matter little since i always make it a point to write my observations on my blog. a lot of things were said about some groups needlessly carrying too many things. some groups lugged ice chests, while the SB group members were burdened by grocery bags and even a "cemetery tent", all part of a plan to outdo each other, and lay claim on bragging rights whose lifetime cannot yet be determined. the goal of TC1 is to initiate trainees into the world of mountaineering, the AMCI way. although these demonstrations of strength and culinary savvy can be healthy to some extent, if not to reinforce this outdated idea about AMCI's mountaineering conceit, i find it unnecessary when the individual participants suffer as a result of the exaggerations. as far as i know, trainees weren't made to share any part of the added burden. after all, that isn't part of their training. it was enough that they were shown the lengths we go to in order to let everyone maximize the experience and enjoy great food that tastes even better when eaten with friends on mountaintops. they say misery loves company. i say, the quality of the company you keep is measured by how they deal with misery.