On January 16, 2010, at 1:00 in the afternoon, nine hopefuls, including two guides, finally reached the peak of Mt. Palay-Palay (Maragondon, Cavite) after six long hours of trudging and slogging up and down its steep and rocky slopes.
We were there, 664 meters above sea level, awed and charmed by the rewarding panoramic and picturesque view of the vast seas and mountain ranges. The sun was glaring hot but the tiredness and thirst drifted away with the cool and calming breeze that brought a genuine feeling of accomplishment.
The nine hopefuls were the three ladies of PRRM’s Corporate Affairs and Human Resources Office (Goyi, May, and Andee); four PRRYA Cavite Chapter members (Sherwin, Flovel, Neil, and Jay); and two local farmers who served as our guides.
The climb commenced at around 8:00 in the morning. With some light essentials (food, water, first-aid kits and cameras) in our backpacks, and with pounds of guts (and trust in our guides), we followed the trail leading to Pico de Loro.
On our way up, we were met by various wondrous wildlife species. The grass and the trees generously handed out their branches and roots that seemed to reach out to our struggling bare hands while the huge rocks offered our almost flimsy legs with sturdy steps. Thanks also to our guides who were kind enough to make us some makeshift and faithful canes, we were climbing with extra legs and assurance.
But even in the midst of the woods, the lush forest, and the intensifying force of gravity, we still managed to crack some jokes, sing songs, and strike a number of poses. And the higher we get, the heavier our steps became, and the stronger our will to reach the peak grew.
We paused for some snack and water breaks, one of which was in a nipa hut surrounded with a vegetable garden, to fuel our arid throats and hungry stomachs. Then we kept trekking until we came across a signage that read “To the waterfalls”. It was a bit out of our way to the summit but we thought we might never pass the same way again so we might as well grab our chance. Besides, we’ve already climbed for four hours so why fret about an extra 15-minute walk. Luckily, it turned out to be a good decision. It was a modest waterfalls but still pretty calm and refreshing.
On we went until we reached the shoulder of the mountain. We took some time to relish the view and then pulled out our appetizing packed lunches wrapped in fresh banana leaves. Three cups of rice in one sitting wasn’t usual for us (girls) but not on that particular day and not on that particular moment. It was truly one satisfying lunch for all of us and it was something that we surely needed to keep us going up.
Another one hour of trekking and climbing until we were just a few steps away from the top. Surprisingly and almost frustratingly, those few steps were among the hardest to make since we only had some soft but really strong grass to hold on to and rely on.
Finally, the peak of Pico de Loro! It was unbelievable and so real at the same time. From above, the rocky hills and slopes that we had to go through seemed like a carpet of soft and green grass. The high skies did not feel so out of reach, and the birds that I saw for the first time did not seem so unfamiliar.
We spent some time at the peak and then we finally had to go down. Truly, it is one thing to go up a mountain, and another to go down. It took us another five grueling hours to get to the other side and reach Sta. Mercedes, a coastal community formerly known as Patungan, and about which is another story to tell. Thankful and exhausted, we finished the climb before dusk, safe and in high spirits.
To say that conquering Pico de Loro was a difficult and fulfilling uphill battle for us would be an understatement. Words are not enough to describe the climb but to experience it would be more than enough to gain appreciation and respect for the bounty and power of nature. And just like the song says, it is not about how fast you get there and not about what is waiting on the other side. It really is just the climb.
At the foot of Mt. Palay-Palay lies the coastal community of Sta. Mercedes (formerly known as Patungan) where we were warmly welcomed by some of PRRM-Cavite Chapter members and local community partners after our day’s hike.
Its shoreline touches the South China Sea and Manila Bay, on which the fisherfolks mainly depend for their livelihood that is now sadly being threatened by the relentless polluting of Manila Bay. Still, being a coastal, and an innately happy community, Patungan offered us a lot of sea bounty and unforgettable hospitality.
Arrival at Patungan
Rumor has it that one should not sit at once after going on a hike as it might trigger a stroke or heart attack. To shed some science to the belief, PRRM-Cavite chapter president, Prof. Leo Lavilla, explained that since blood circulates too fast in the body after hours of climbing, sitting or bending right after the trek would have the blood rushing abruptly to the brains and cause a stroke. So, we had to remain standing until our blood slowed back down to a normal pressure level.
While waiting for our much-awaited chance to sit and relax, PRRM area manager in Cavite, Neneng Lava, suggested we dip our weary legs into the sea. Apparently, seawater minerals help rejuvenate tired muscles and prevent spasm. True enough, the water seemed to have slowly washed out the exhaustion until we were ‘back on our feet’ again.
Kids at heart
We then headed to the bunkhouse to take a bath at a communal artesian well and change our sweaty clothes. Electricity was ran by a generator and was available only from 6:00 to 10:00 in the evening so children, unfortunately (or fortunately), didn’t have the luxury of killing time just watching TV or staring at computers. They, however (and to our envy), had an entire stretch of shoreline as their playground, and all the time to run around and dance around without any worry just like every child should be. In just a short span of time, we made friends with those young souls who seemed to always have some ready and beautiful smiles to warm the hearts of visitors.
Dining and laughing
Dinner was waiting for us in a cottage a few meters away from the sea. On our way, we saw some fishermen docking their boats to the shore and unloading their rather meager catch for the day. According to them, the waves were quite strong so they could not go far out the sea, and hopefully, the sea would be kinder and more generous the next day.
Over dinner, we merrily talked about our Pico de Loro experience and a lot more. We were joined by Prof. Leo, and Nanay Zeny and Tatay Eddie who have been very accommodating and treated us as their family.
Finally, the eventful day took its toll on us and so we returned to the bunk house and fell sound asleep.
Rise and Shine
Waking up to another day is a good thing but waking up at a beach that greets you “good morning” is a wonderful blessing. From inside, we could hear the bracing sound of the waves and the laughter of children playing at the shores. The fishermen were preparing their boats and fishnets for another day at the sea while Nanay Zeny and Tatay Eddie were busy preparing breakfast for us.
We ate breakfast to our hearts’ content as we couldn’t resist the tempting tortang dulong and fried samaral matched with sinangag (fried rice). It hasn’t been long since we finished breakfast when Prof. Leo invited us to a halo-halo treat. Of course, we couldn’t say no to the invitation since we’ve been looking forward to it since we arrived from the climb.
While enjoying our loaded halo-halo, a number of kids entertained us with their dance numbers to the tune of ‘Nobody Nobody but You’. They danced over and over again. We had so much fun we didn’t notice we were already behind schedule.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye. We were supposed to take a boat ride to Naic but the waves were quite strong so we decided to travel back to Naic by land. Mickey, PRRM community organizer in Cavite, suggested we have lunch at Mandaragat, an arcade of seafood restaurants in Silang, Cavite, and as expected, we enjoyed a sumptuous seafood lunch and a relaxing ambience in one of the restos.
Truly, the exciting adventure of conquering Pico de Loro and experiencing life with hospitable people in Patungan even just for a day, etched memories and lessons to cherish and share with for a lifetime.
There is truly so much more to what meets the eye when we look at mountains, seas, and their appended communities from afar. This, we will be able to fully understand and value only when we take the time to experience its benevolence and get to know how these natural riches and the people are affected and shaped by our constantly evolving way of life.
March 8, 2014, Cocoon Boutique Hotel
Quezon City, Philippines