our mouths were still bubbling with stories of size, lengths, textures, fear, surprise, going deep, shapes. it is a lot like sex, i would suppose. while we waited for our turns to bathe at the only available water pump, people began comparing the number of their interactions. nette won out with her exaggeration of 30 butanding interactions, although her certificate indicated only 16. after a while, we boarded our jeepney and headed for daet. the trip, said niel, would take about 4 to 5 hours. this proved to be yet another one of niel's predilections for miscalculations. his favorite expression: "malay ko ba."
we left donsol just a shade after noon, and we gave instructions to have lunch somewhere along the way. we reached daraga in about an hour, and i made comments about the driver being really fast. since we were in bicol, after all, and since bicol's crown is the still majestic mount mayon, we decided to have a photo taken with it at the background. ai haggled for a short stop at the cagsaua ruins and i was almost sure that it would no longer be there. devastation is a word that aptly describes the virtual no-man's land that once was the busy, peopled entrance to the ruins. now, only about 3 or 4 homes, rebuilt from scraps of wood, concrete, and zinc roofs, stand there, and a good number of payloaders, bulldozers, and trucks are in attendance. and everything else were mounds of dark volcanic pebbles, chunks of rocks, and sand. but the ruins were still there. the belfry of the church was not about to endure another onslaught of the volcano. it was almost amazing that the ruins were spared, since all around it, there was nothing but faint signs of life. everything had been covered in the landslide brought down by torrential rains, and few things could be saved from excavation.
after a few photos, we left, and later found ourselves eating at a restaurant at the border of albay and camarines sur. there was a tent city nearby, and many of the eating places had no food, it being good friday and all. they all served traditional bicolano food, and it was a good thing we walked a few meters down the road and found a place that actually served meat. by the time we had finished our late lunch, a slight drizzle began. it was still a long way to daet, and we had to pass through an entire province to get there. had the butanding interaction pushed through on thursday, we would have been on our way since early that morning, and maybe get to camsur watersports complex earlier. when we arrived at the facility somewhere in pili, passing several processions where they pull on trolleys with statues of saints, and follow them on foot, walking really slowly, sometimes with lit candles on their hands, sometimes in costume, it was already well after 4pm.
i had heard of the CWC previously, and i wasn't too excited to go wakeboarding, noting that my first experience in anilao didn't even get me anywhere. but when i stepped foot on the impressive, world-class resort, i was possessed by this desire to try out this über-coño, very superficial, at-times-pointless, poseur extreme water sport for the adrenalin rush that it provided. as we walked along a fake beach which had maybe half an inch of imported beige sand and watched as golden-headed hipsters flew to the air as water splashed in the most amazing way that sombre, cloudy, good friday, i was very fascinated. to be fair, wakeboarding seemed to attract a certain stereotype, and regardless of the fact that all these bums looked shallow, many of them were beautiful people. i had a good dose of celebrities that day, seeing joey marquez(!), marco alcaraz, and paolo paraiso. isn't angel locsin so into this sport as well? i used the toilet and i was mighty impressed, although many of the locks might need some repairing.
we walked around the CWC. the lake is man-made, dotted with a few ramps where these experts hurl themselves up and perform all sorts of maniacal flips and turns while strapped on ridiculously large boots attached to boards. the boards themselves are very very visually appealing. around the lake are giant lights that allow for wakeboarding at night. the cables overhead are supported by metal towers that surround the lake, and an apparatus hurls lines down to the take-off, which are fashioned with hooks that attach themselves to the rotating cables. two wakeboarders might, at any given time, share the same cable, and they hold on to different lines. the mechanism simply intrigued me. there are also bungalows, seats, and palm trees damaged by the recent typhoon. and i had to keep knocking myself on the head: this is in pili, 8 hours from manila! and there are tons of tourists too! gov. l-ray villafuerte must be very rich, young as he is, and gifted with foresight too. we actually wanted to try out the sport, no matter how funny the beginners looked when they could barely get past the take-off ramp while these show-offs performed to a very appreciable crowd. locals there laughed at the beginners (i did too), but it was to a point that wasn't fun anymore. i wanted to say, can you even afford that?
when our driver arrived, we left for daet. half an hour after we left CWC, we had a flat tire, and while it was being fixed, i went to a nearby store and bought myself a red horse. it was a good thing the blow-out took place there and not within the bicol national park, which was a serpentine path that wove through more than 30 minutes of road that had neither houses nor approaching cars. just trees on both sides, with hardly any sky above. that was quite scary, to be honest, and since i was awake the entire time, i kept imagining seeing things.
at 9pm, we finally arrived in daet, at the ancestral home of niel's wife nicole's parents. they're in the telecoms business, and operate the local PLDT in the area. the first thing i thought about actually was dinner. we were welcomed by chem, nicole's brother, and niel's kids. after we ate, we tried to make sense of things. early the following day, we would head for mt. labo, about an hour from the capital. i went with chem to a nearby liquor store and bought a torres. it was good brandy, actually.
with close to 3000 units, there are more tricycles per square kilometer in daet than anywhere else in the philippines
when we woke up that saturday, we took our bags out and niel's mother-in-law wondered what we had packed inside each of them. we had breakfast, which was actually really good, and since we had local hosts, the municipality, which was celebrating the bantayog festival (named for the first monument of rizal which is located in daet), provided us with a banner! it was quite funny that we were merely mentioned as "guests" while there was only one host from the local oriol mountaineering club.
mt. labo is a little further down the road, on the way back to camarines sur. it is a dormant volcano, and was once the site of a PNOC geothermal exploration. we began our trek along the road that once was the access point of trucks and 4x4s going to the plant. we started the trek with a prayer, which i said in filipino. somehow, i find it hard saying "tuktok" and still say summit. i stayed close to our guide, and in the next 20 minutes, everyone else would disappear behind us. at one point my guide stepped over a banded snake which he didn't notice. it was still young, about a foot in length, but looked ready to spit venom. at that point, i asked the guide if there was a place nearby where i could possibly take a crap, and while he explained that there was a house about 5 minutes ahead, i dropped my bag and ran! apparently, it had turned into an epidemic since all of us had the case of the runs. yuck!
lunch was at a river. at first, i marveled at the geology of the river. it looked as if long, vertical sections of the rocky bed were scraped off, letting the water fall in sheets to a deep pool below. upon closer inspection, however, it turned out not to be part of the bed, but was made entirely of concrete. in the days of the PNOC, a spillway had been built over this river called wala (or left, while the other river was named right) to let trucks access site A. it had been destroyed, and big chunks of rock and soil placed in the middle of what once was the road to prevent the entry of illegal loggers and poachers.
water fell down to a pool probably about 10 feet below. leo was the first to jump, and when i learned it wasn't shallow enough to hurt my feet, i took the plunge as well. many times, in fact. after lunch we proceeded to resume the trek. it wasn't as hot as we feared, and the canopy of trees provided us much shade. it was almost hard to believe that what we walked on used to be a road that could even be accessed by small vehicles. we were told that the last climb was over a year ago -- in february of 2006, and the plants have grown so much, it crowded the trail. someone had said it would be a fun, easy climb, and i wore shorts, so immediately after lunch, i began to feel burning sensations on my legs. grass really do have blades, and the makahiya plant can irritate the skin, even tough skin like mine. i also worried a lot about insects since bites from them would give me flare-ups i could ill-afford.
by the time we had reached the second river crossing, i had several scratches on my legs. it looked pretty ugly, and my only assurance was that we were near. our guide, tiyo ani, was very precise: 2.7kms to go. ha! i run that distance in about 15 minutes! but the forest got thicker, and the foliage even more. about an hour and a half later, we arrived at what they refer to as site A. it hardly looked like a campsite, since wild plants had taken over. we cleared places for our tents, and us mountaineers, well, we were just going about our business preparing for dinner, while one of our guests, macoy, seemed all too spent. "you don't look wasted," i told him, even as sweat formed little beads on his face. "pare, you just don't know," he replied.
we prepared dinner. and we had lots to eat. at one point, i thought there was too much food. the locals asked if we always prepared for a fiesta, and i wanted to say the meals were actually far from complex. that evening, we dined on very unhealthy food while i bashed la salle with impunity. it was part of my routine, actually, but i think i rubbed roger the wrong way. he was asking me strange questions, even challenging me to "tell what everyone is doing". i took him up on his challenge, and gave very precise details about everyone in AMCI. i was told, much later, that he was a rabid la sallian, having run for president of its student council. someone asked me, "bakit ba galit ka sa mga lasallites?" and i said they don't like being called that and prefer the term la sallian. and then roger butts in to tell the story behind that story. "so i could tell my other friends," he said. the gist is this: sometime decades ago, la salle graduates decided to drop the term la sallite in favor of la sallian because the first one sounded too, well, rich. after he told the story, there was an uncomfortable silence, and i broke it by saying: i don't think that changed the impression. i asked him how long he and niel had known each other, and he said they were classmates at la salle zobel. "we were both part of the star section." star section! now that's something i hadn't heard since, well, high school! haha. anyway, i was far from being drunk, but i attacked la salle all night long while circulating shots of torres. i even had the opportunity to disabuse the local mountaineers of their misimpressions of AMCI, particularly relating to the mt. apo issue.
then the other camp ran out of alcohol although ai and leo both looked very drunk, so we moved our asses there with some granma. ai quizzed nette about the sexuality of one of her guests, and that didn't sit well with her. i generally don't categorize people according to their sexual preferences, but this guy, well, he shops at the teens section of the mall for his shirts, wears a buri fedora hat, and has tons of wax on his hair. and we're at the beach! he also showed nette a shirt he bought for his "GF", holding it at the shoulder seams with the index finger and thumb, while the pinky, ring and middle fingers were all curled up! it was just funny how we talked about him and his, uhm, fashion sense.
finally, it was time to go to sleep since leo appeared very wasted. i carried genie to her tent, and she woke up saying, "what? ha? bakit? san tayo papunta?" in a very troubled, distressed manner. leo went to a corner to relieve himself, but kept falling. paul and i had to hold his back, but he would tell us, okay lang ako. when we let go of him, he would fall again. this would happen several times until we told him that he can't keep himself up. even genie had to answer a call of nature, and since she was also severely drunk, i told her to just do it beside the tent and i'll cover her with a blanket.
macoy and i slept peacefully that night while both of us were in the middle of a conversation. i woke up though early when i felt cold, and i heard him mumble something. my alarm went off at about 5am, and i very grudgingly got up to prepare breakfast. there was still the 4-hour summit assault to reckon with. after eating a rushed meal, i followed our guide as we clawed our way to the summit. jenny, genie, nette, roger and monica stayed behind. he did say 4 hours, and i hoped he was exaggerating. the trail up the summit somewhat reminded me of mt. matutum in terms of flora, and of kalinga, in terms of how we appeared to be mindlessly wandering lost inside a forest. the trail was hardly visible, and at one point, i had to tell him to make hack marks.
all that time, i was behind mang ani. i would ask him time and again if we were almost there. there were parts of the trail that were very steep and "technical", a term we in philippine mountaineering use rather loosely to refer to instances when we needed to be on all fours. the route to the summit allowed us to see spectacular plantlife: giant pitcher plants, gnarled and wet trees wrapped in moss, and all sorts of crawling vines and orchids. it was drizzling for most of the assault, and although i felt that my pace was fast, i just could not shake off cheryl, who was behind me the entire time! it got to be really cold at some point, and just before 3 hours expired, we were at the summit. we were told that at most, only 5 tents could fit in the small flat there. but standing on knee-high shrubs, fenced by bald branches of trees, i couldn't even imagine where 1 tent would stand. on a clear day not like that balmy palm sunday morning, it may have been possible to see both the pacific ocean and the sea between quezon and marinduque. but the view we sought was not to be found that day. eventually, the entire team arrived. and even the newbies looked fine.
after about 20 minutes there, we started a long, punishing descent. it would have been hell, and far from fun had we been burdened by backpacks. not once did mang ani's son, ali, and i stop. we just kept going, with cheryl close behind me, even though we weren't sure if the rest of the group had lost their way. i refused the temptation to slide down on my butt, and made sure that i would be erect for the most part. there was a section there that i was almost sure people would slip or fall (and macoy said he did, actually, sliding down head first; it must have been a bit harrowing for him, since he is about to swear off mountaineering). we arrived at camp at around 11.15am. the rest started trickling in at about 11.40am. we were in a frantic search for our pots and pans at the campsite, but apparently, roger et al. took them to the waterfalls. by past 12nn, we still had no pots, could not cook lunch, and started begging for food. besides, we still didn't have enough food to cook. and this was possibly because i had nothing to do with the meal planning, so things went a little awry.
on the way back, i blazed the trail. i somehow knew the path, and just kept walking and walking, even as my exposed legs received all sorts of nicks and scratches. i was hiking with great speed, that it almost appeared as if i was running away from something. i almost feared looking back, and i could see myself from the outside, hiking alone in a forest overrun by the most inhospitable of plants. it was only when i had reached the river that i actually paused to rinse my already smarting legs. and it was also at the river that i realized i was not alone in the hike. from here, paul and chem had both overtaken me, and they rushed towards the river. i made many pauses, looking around, admiring the scenery, the pale-colored trunks of the great lauan, the chirps and calls of birds, and even insects, picking up a millipede and taking it along with me along the hike.
i reached the wala river at around 4pm. i immediately stripped and took the first of several jumps into the pool. i actually planned on doing a flip, but decided against it. paul actually found neil's rudy project sunglasses at the bottom of the pool, and we told him to treat us to beer upon our return to daet. chem told paul in bicolano that he should just have kept the sunglasses. i told both of them that i understood what was just said. haha.
we proceeded to our pick-up point and waited on everyone else to arrive. i decided to topload once again, and before we left, nicole called me up saying they were starting to worry. both chem's and niel's phones had no signal. not smart. anyway, i'm no stranger to being lines between mountaineers and their loved ones. later, i'd tell that funny story about nicole's SMS to me.
when we reached daet, a warm dinner was already waiting for us. i collected money from people and bought beer and booze at a nearby store. since we're such misers, we just opened a tarp and sat down to drink. nicole and paul also joined us. chem couldn't even peel his back off of his bed. he was really dead tired, and nicole was a lot surprised how we still managed to have socials despite all our ordeals. the following day, when we busied ourselves with packing our stuff, hanging stuff out to dry, nicole's mom asked me if all my vacations were this hectic, and i haven't really given it much thought, but come to think of it, i could not even recall a time when i took many days off that i actually just chilled and relaxed. we were always busy cramming things to do into our days, that 24 waking hours in a day were at times not enough. our holidays are defined by itineraries and backed by research on places to visit and things to do or see. and although i also appreciate slow-moving saturdays, and lazy afternoons spent watching the movements of clouds, i am not complaining. one lifetime is not enough to experience everything, nor are there enough years left in me to see the world, so if i cram my holidays with hectic itineraries, it's because my zest for life is insatiable.
that morning, as many of our companions packed for their return trip to manila, genie, maida, jay, and myself decided instead to sell our tickets. on that monday when everyone was expected to return to manila, getting rid of the seats was easy. the trip back home was going to be uncertain for the 4 of us, but we decided to worry about such things later. instead, we took a trip to nearby islands that dotted the fringes of the pacific ocean with niel, nicole, and her brother maui. we took one of the telecom company's vehicles past barangays with odd names such as mocong, angas and taba-taba. i didn't know at first that it was called that, so when someone on apuao asked me, "taba-taba po ba kayo?" i replied, "obvious naman po na payat ako."
luke and alvin had told us previously that they encountered the biggest waves going to apuao. we wondered whether the pacific waters that splashed only a little into the hull of the boat was what they thought were big waves. in as short as 25 minutes, apuao grande appeared before us, a short, albeit impressive stretch of white sand lined with pine. previously, the city boys marveled at the beach and the pine, although this wasn't anything new to me since i'd seen it before in anawangin, and that philippine pine does grow on beach sand. the minute we set foot on apuao, we marveled immediately at its raw beauty. there were other picnickers there: locals trying to escape the punishment of summer. we rented a hut where we left our stuff and immediately proceeded to hit the water. the sun was terribly hot, but the water was cool and inviting. we were warned about large jellyfish in the deeper parts of the water, but that didn't prevent me and genie from getting too uncomfortably far from shore. nevertheless, i was extremely proud of myself because i managed to stay afloat for many minutes at waters of more than 10 feet deep.
for a short moment, we left the water to have lunch. it was a good thing we had taken carbonara with us, because there was a scarcity of food on the island. apuao island is very very interesting. it faces the rough waters of the pacific ocean, which almost sounds like an oxymoron. breaks are already visible, and in the distance, the ocean is lined by white froth. the island is dissected in two: there is a stagnant sea in the middle, and a section that divides the island where a sand bar stretches out at least 25 meters from the beach, and bends like a scythe. the locals refer to it as ilog. in the middle of the pool is a small mangrove area where the water is less clear, and very warm. it was said that australians planned to build a resort here, but it was destroyed by a typhoon. it may have been a good sign. we also got to talk, albeit briefly, to maui. he has a tatoo on his lower back featuring an upturned dinosaur and an alibata of some expression. he is about to finish a degree in photography from CSB. i was surprised to find out he was already 21 when he looked like a kid.
temptation island: jay tries to separate warring beauty queens
we would've stayed longer on the beautiful island, which i imagined must have fantastic sunsets and sunrises, but we still had to return to daet. and to complete our island-hopping experience, we dropped by another island which seemed deserted, but which turned out to be owned by the same family who runs canimog restaurant in manila. at canimog, we had our treasure island photos because it gave that deserted vibe. there were lots of birds there, and what seemed to be a dry bed. we returned to taba-taba, which sat at the foreground of a mountain range that is referred to as sleeping giant because it looks like the profile of a man's face. later that afternoon, we found ourselves having a snack at k sarap.
when we went back to the hidalgo household, we packed and were about ready to head to the bus station but nicole's parents invited us for dinner. we were actually already full, but we obliged to thank our gracious hosts. what amazed me about nicole's family, aside from what she refers to as "superior genes, is that they are extremely down-to-earth. i asked her mom if they were in any way related to cristina pantoja-hidalgo, and it turns out that nicole's mom had ma'am jing as her professor in UST. i told chem that i held him and his family in high respect for their industry and humility. chem, who dropped out of UP with only about a semester left, says he's a farmer. he has a keen interest in plants and birds, and has a coconut and pineapple plantation somewhere in the outskirts of daet. nicole's dad is a lovable man. he had a stroke, a long time ago perhaps, and he struggled to find the words to express what he wanted to say, but he did talk to us and asked about why we climbed. they are clearly unlike most rich people i've met.
at past 8, we proceeded to the superlines station. there was a long queue there, and i estimated there must have been at least 300 people waiting in line for a trip that might not materialize. maida and jay proceeded to philtranco and try their luck there while genie and i stayed. we figured, with us separated, we might have more luck. eventually, maida and jay did get aisle spaces onboard a philtranco bus, and we were left waiting in line still. it seemed almost hopeless. as the last aircon bus was about to leave, i employed all the diplomatic skills i learned and haggled with the bus conductor for room in the aisle. there was a pause, and i had to follow the conductor to the office, and i said, we didn't mind having no seats. he agreed, and i took genie onboard. i hauled my backpack up the bus, put it down the aisle, and sat on it. when it was possible, i actually lied down so i could at least get some shuteye. my legs were spread apart, and in between, genie sat, her head resting on my inner thigh. of course, the bus moved and wobbled, and there were times that genie's head would slide down and rest on my crotch. we were both very exhausted, so i didn't wake her. that must have been the most difficult bus ride i have ever had. but for the time we spent in apuao, it was worth the risk as well as the adventure. i may not have gotten tired from my hectic holiday, but i started feeling pains all over my body because of the bus ride home. but what mattered was this: i arrived in manila at 6am. genie managed to get a decent seat at alabang. i got to sit properly at magallanes.
that same day, i still worked half-day, and dropped by the spa where i willingly let the therapist literally lift me off the ground. a good massage is probably the best treat you can give yourself after willingly exposing yourself to all that blissful stress.