Oh, Pico De Loro

I’ll take a breather from writing about food just this once and feature a break in the monotony – I conquered my first mountain trek! Admittedly the new year brings so much positive juju and at one point I was just stuck in this state of yearning to cross items off my bucket list. I wanted to let go and just see the world. Travel! Pick Strawberries! Go on a food tour! (All the while Temper Trap’s “Fader” is in the background)

Mountain climbing was a more humble (and cheap-o) entry on the list, and this was a decision that was made relatively fast. Two of my friends and I didn’t make any thorough plans. I’m not sure who even suggested it in the first place. As soon as the suggestion was made we all jumped at the chance.
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We chose Pico De Loro in Cavite, a good two-hour bus ride away from the Metro. It’s a relatively friendly trek for the uninitiated. The bus dropped us off at Ternate, after which we took a tricycle to the jump-off point. There’s no need for a guide because the trail was straightforward.
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How my body took me through it is another story. The climb was a solid three hours with a few stops, and halfway there an internal battle between my mind and body ensued. I kept on asking myself how much longer this damn climb will last. It was good that the mountain is pretty popular among enthusiasts, because we kept on meeting people going down from the summit, so with heavy breathing and sweaty faces we would solicit a few words of comfort from them. Of course there will always be that struggle to catch my breath every now and then as the air grew thinner. Yes, it was a walk in the park. Kidding aside, sticking to the trail, it’s absolutely doable.
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At the back of my head I wanted to subject myself to the experience because I had a few things on my plate that I wanted to address. I thought that climbing the mountain would be cathartic – it would disrobe the mental and emotional baggage I carried with me and leave it behind me as I traversed father and higher. And maybe I also wanted to commune with God with the capital G. Somewhere along the way I found my unreligious self farther and farther from where I’m supposed to be. I was never a Jesus-freak but I thought we could maintain an amicable relationship, if not a simple, understated closeness.
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Oftentimes the journey is far more important than the destination. But it doesn’t hurt that the view that awaits you after an arduous trek is, in a word, beautiful.

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The summit is one attraction. Getting there was challenging. But the monolith is another, and getting there necessitated another twenty-minute climb, this time definitely steeper. We didn’t/couldn’t go up the monolith itself, though I had this impression that it was allowed. But the chill and the view were all worth it. One one side was Cavite, the other side Batangas. Blue skies. A cove. Forests.
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“How big are your problems?”, I had to blurt. I was definitely giddy and stoked that half the battle was won. Even just for a moment I felt lighter, that the brunt of my problems seemed so miniscule.
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We could have taken the easy way and gone down the same way we went up. But we decided to take a guide with us down the path not usually taken by trekkers. I took us two hours going down but the first half was incredibly painful and required a certain physicality. At one point it was also dangerous. The climb down would bring us to Batangas, not Cavite. We started at the side of the monolith, it was steep so we had to sit down and carefully descend in some parts. I fell on my butt around five times, thanks to the withered leaves that made the deceptive path uneven.

But we finally reached the end of the trail and relief washed over our grimy, sweaty faces. Exhilaration coupled with relief is always good.

Over a late dinner in Tagaytay where it was extremely cold that not even our steaming bowl of bulalo could withstand, we talked about the day’s events. In retrospect it was dangerous for us to take the Batangas trail down. We didn’t meet anyone going up or down, and what if kuya was an insurgent rebel who might take us hostage? What if (we were exaggerating at this point), we really had no kuya leading us down the mountain afterall? (Gasp!) We decided not to err on the side of recklessness next time. Despite this being a cautionary tale, we wanted to do it again and again.

I’d love to say that the mountain trek was transformative, and that I’m a new person, filled with so much optimism about myself and the world. But no, that only happens in the movies. What it did leave me is this yearning on how I should fill my days and hopefully, years. I think I might have found a new hobby!

Money can buy a better pair of hiking shoes (If my dead toenails are any indication), but the sweeping views and the live-for-the-moment adrenaline-pumping exhilaration? Priceless. It’s not so bad feeling small when you’re surrounded by kickass grandeur.
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