text | Carla Ocampo
photography | Wing Larase, Yo Muan and Lester Valle
“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves… in finding themselves.”
- Andre Gide, French author
‘Twas all rhetoric to me… Until I met the teacher that is Mt. Pulag… and in giving her the guise of the quintessential maestra of Filipino culture — the ever-firm but loving teacher of eager students — I wielded the freedom to call Pulag, Ma’am.
And before she taught me a whole lot about myself, my human capacity, and my life, Ma’am Pulag first showed me things that I may never again see in another place and time.
SHE TAUGHT ME ABOUT BARE SPIRITUALITY
The mountain is peopled by the Ibaloi, the Kankana-ey, the Karao, the Ilocano, the Ifugao, and the Kalanguya (to which our guide Teddy Aguinse belongs). Just how sacred is Pulag to these indigenous Cordillerans?
A vivid illustration is written by Charles M. Skinner, a turn-of-the-century American author who documented “Myths and Legends of Our New Possessions and Protectorate” (Lippincott, 1900)… of course he was writing about the Philippines. He recorded the Ifugao version of the Creation Myth, which went:
“The sun god began his creation with a mountain, Pulag, now the highest peak on the island of Luzon. Beneath Pulag, he made the whole earth.
Luzon is the center of the world, the original piece of the planet.”
That explains it. Do you recall how, in any classroom, the rowdy students don’t get any of the teacher’s juicy lectures? Atop Pulag, when every other drunken group couldn’t care any less about the palpable solemnity of the place, we felt it… whilst biding our team’s precious (albeit short) Alone Time on the peak. We were among the first ones to summit; on that crucial dawn, no one was there save for another group of five who were equally quiet and waiting for the sunrise.
No icons or statues. No temple walls. No words… aye… not a word. It was the serenity one could feel only in the most silent silences, on top of a mountain readying herself to kiss the Sun God who created her before creating the world.
SHE TAUGHT ME ABOUT INTERDEPENDENCE
I failed to do my homework, unwittingly or otherwise, and Ma’am Pulag made sure I will be punished for it. See, I never found the time to do some REAL jogging. An hour’s worth of walking and climbing stairs everyday, yes, and jogging-in-place… but apparently, nothing beats good-old jogging across distances to prep your heart for the Akiki Trail.
That spelled disaster.
Covering the team’s climb for the Living Asia Channel, I became a multi-tasking hiker handling two-kilos worth of videography equipment. As you all know, excess baggage is never good for any mountain climber. Soon enough, I needed HELP… which I even refused at first! I was thinking, “No, I should carry this weight and be one with the team. They have their own loads to carry, why shouldn’t I get on with mine?”
That spelled DISASTER.
Physical unpreparedness, mental multi-tasking (minding the camera, minding the subjects, minding the trail, minding the cold), and pride… these did me in. I was the team’s weakest. A few meters up the assault just after Eddet River, I turned pale and panted furiously. By the time we reached the Mossy Forest, the thin air was killing me. I plopped down on the bonsai bamboos of the Grassland… and when at last I reached the Saddle Camp— boom— OUT COLD.
Then again, it is in these difficulties that we begin to realize… we’re no Superhumans. I am not even a superhuman toenail, and if not for these guys, I would have been a casualty.
A roll-call of The Kayumanggi Trails’ pinaka-swabe team to date:
Teddy Aguinse, who went beyond his duty as a mountain guide and became my porter in difficult sections during the climb to the Saddle Camp. Mild-mannered, humble, and articulate, he was the perfect guide for the team.
Yo Muan, who was thoroughly a considerate Sweeper. NEVER was there a moment where he overtook me along the trail. The man is a joker with such great timing, he buoyed my spirit from the Akiki trail head, all the way down to Ambangeg. He was also the team’s “Iron Chef”, manning the camp stoves together with Lester even when everyone else was dead tired from the hike. Tag words for Yo: pasta, pasta, Swiss Miss and Piolo coffee. Hehe.
Sisters Nadja and Rosa Castillo, who practically transformed into nurses when I collapsed at the Saddle Camp. Everything was a blur then… all I remember to this day were the gentle hands that covered me with blankets and jackets and sleeping bags, and the gentle voices that told me that it was time to transfer to Lester’s tent… I realized then, that I was inside the Castillos’ shelter, and my eyes opened to a cup of hot soup… and then, again, a blur… but I knew, I was rescucitated to ample mobility by Nadja and Rosa.
Renan Juniosa, Nadja’s sweetheart, who paced the team and threw in some punchlines when the need arose. He was from a different circle altogether, but he did not find it difficult to gel with the rest of the group.
Rap Rios… I will not forget him for this incident: at the Mossy Forest, exhaustion got the better of me. In a breathless fit, I hurled a nasty “Put!@#na,” into the wind. Rap, two meters behind me, quickly reversed my desperation by smiling and chirping “Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts…” And so, that cuss word was the first and last one I uttered during the entire trip. Never spew it again.
Wing Larase, who proved to be the most effective non-medical medic any team could find. I mean, he’s no doctor, but he had this reassuring smile that was half-relieved and half-silly when he felt my pulse and told me, “Pagod ka lang, kelangan lang ng pahinga.” I was then inside Lester’s tent, recuperating from my troubled respiration. The energy I had while shooting the sunrise the next morning told me that Wing REALLY knew what he was talking about.
Is someone missing in this list? Not really, for Ma’am Pulag sure knew how to save the best lesson for last.
During climbs, I have gotten used to the set-up where Lester is sensei and I am the poor wimpy student. Luckily, I have been improving my skills and know-how with every mountain we summit, but Akiki was just… damn.
Throughout the ravines and steep trails and narrow paths, Sensei was generous with his “Rule Number 95, Kid, Concentrate!” sort of spiels… too generous perhaps, that I was sulking by mid-climb. Am I not his girlfriend? Am I just another of his wannabe-students out to make him proud? Emo. Sigh. But I was hoping for even just a kiss on the cheek along the trail. Nothing came. I really felt like a ninja-in-training suffering under an emotionless master.
But sensei-mode automatically shut off the moment Lester sensed the first signs of my depleted strength.
He was beside me everytime I plopped down on the grass. He was beside me when I was nervously crying at the Saddle Camp, where all I could say was “Nalulunod ako… Nalulunod ako…” for I was really goddamn drowning in thin air then… He was beside me inside the tent, never minding his own freezing body, just so he could help the immobile wimpy me put on seven layers of clothing, three pairs of thick socks, and a big plastic bag to protect me from hypothermia.
And the biggest revelation yet, was this… I went through all those hardships to shoot the famed Pulag sunrise for the Living Asia Channel, only to back out 15 minutes away from the summit. At the Saddle Camp, I was whispering, “I can’t shoot the sunrise…I can’t… I simply can’t…”
But Lester was there. And he knew how badly I wanted this. He knew I would not push myself to the edge if not for that goddamn footage of the rising sun.
So, instead of meekly offering “Let me shoot it for you…” he told me…
…to get up.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brought tears to my eyes.
I realized that a real partner knows when to push you, and when to help you out. He knows when to give you the softest touch, or the loveliest words… yet ultimately knows well when to whip you with life’s harshest realities to see you rise above your imagined limits.
Ma’am Pulag taught me that true love, thru ways both bitter and sweet, will always lead you to your most fervent dream.
© 2010 The Kayumanggi Trails | All Rights Reserved
- Mt. Pulag: Playground of the gods (thebenjlife.wordpress.com)
- Let Us Journey To The Clouds (manacled.wordpress.com)