Mount Manabú was supposed to be an easy climb. Until we lost our way.
Everybody’s favorite Pinoy Mountaineer, Gideón Lasco, wrote: “Because of its easy access, short trail, and very beautiful environs, Manabú Peak is a great introduction to hiking for beginners.” And so after years of prodding, I was finally able to convince Yeyette to experience the “chilly thrill of being up there” by trying out this easy-to-climb mountain in nearby Santo Tomás, Batangas.
We left early morning last 30 May, during the last days of summer. We did not plan to stay there overnight. We do not have camping gear. And even if we did, I am not really fond of staying up there even if for just a night. Yeyette even forgot to bring extra shirts and power snacks. Upon reaching the entrance trail to the mountain, we were lucky to have found a small store there where we bought a couple of junk foods. This lack of preparation was my fault: I shouldn’t have let a neophyte hiker do the packing for us.
We started the hike at around 9:30 AM. As we followed the trail, we passed by thick grasses and foliage, encountered wild mountain flowers and even farm animals which urban people don’t see anymore for obvious reasons. Although we have been to such places before (especially me), this abundance of nature never fails to thrill both of us.
The estimated time of arrival was 11:30 AM to 12:00 PM. I planned for us to stay at the peak for about an hour or two.
But that didn’t happen.
Confusion began as soon as we reached the grotto. After staying there for awhile, we followed a small sign which says Station 8 that was perched on a tree branch to the left of the grotto. Underneath the sign was a trail, or what looked like a trail. But to the right of the grotto, there was another trail. And it sloped so high and looked a bit difficult to tread on that we quickly assumed it might lead to nowhere (because before reaching the grotto, the trail to the top has been an easy one)
After what seemed like hours of difficult climbing (we were virtually using our hands to hold on to trees and the soil just to keep us from rolling down to sea level!), I realized that we were lost. I knew that Yeyette knew that we were lost, but I did not want her to panic. The reason why we refused to go down is because of the Station 2 map whose photo we took.
Besides, it is pretty tiring to go down just to look for the correct trail and then climb up again. And worse, our water supply was not enough. To our mind, trudging upwards will lead to the same peak, anyway.
Little did we realize that we were already on the wrong mountain. Not on the wrong side, but literally ON THE WRONG MOUNTAIN.
We reached the top, at last. But it did not fit Gideon’s description of Mount Manabú — because we were in the middle of a tropical forest! The sounds that unseen animals and birds produce from up there were quite eerie. We have exhausted our bodies, and I was on the verge of dehydration (I drink a lot of water even at home). There was nowhere else to go, and we could not even find the “trail” that we were following anymore.
During the climb, I was looking at our digital camera from time to time, probing the picture that I took of the trail map from Station 2. Suddenly, I thought of tilting the camera sideways, then realized a scary mistake.
We were following a different trail which is not really a trail! After thoroughly examining the photo, and using my “mind’s compass” by checking out the position of the sun, I turned my head through the foliage, and there. From afar, I saw the mountain where we were supposed to go…
There was no other option but to descend. And while our ascent was tiring and difficult, the descent was almost impossible, for the way down tilted crazily, almost vertical. Some of the sites that we passed by was possible to climb on, but virtually impossible to descend to. There were just so many ravines. And I could even feel my legs and knee giving in whenever I use them to balance my body with gravity. Twice, I almost rolled downwards when I stepped on loose soil, or when some plants that I was holding on to keep myself from falling also gave in. And during those times, my wife immediately grabbed my arms, thus saving me from getting killed or paralyzed.
And I loved her even more for that. =)
For all the bravado that I have of being an experienced mountaineer, a neophyte –and my wife at that!– saved my @$$, hahaha!
We continued the perilous descent, shouting occasionally for help, hoping that somebody will hear us and lead us to the right track.
Finally, in what seemed like forever, we noticed that we were finally on level ground. But we were still lost.
Finally, people! We saw some a small settlement of Batangueños who told us that Mount Manabú was far, far away!
Darn, we descended on the wrong side of the wrong mountain!
We told them that we were already climbing the said mountain, until we got lost. They were very surprised to hear how we reached the peak of a mountain that is never visited even by residents of Santo Tomás. Then, in true Pinoy fashion, some of them recalled stories of how some mountaineers did lose their way in the past, perhaps due to unseen and playful spirits (probably of the infamous ticbalang). Of course I didn’t buy it; my provinciana wife did, LOL!!!
But at the very least, we were still in Santo Tomás. The mountain which we climbed was a nameless one (but some of them call it Santa Cruz). They said that people rarely go up there because it is very dangerous!
It was past 2:00 PM. It was OK for me to go home. Anyway, what we climbed was a mountain. But Yeyette was still raring to go for Mount Manabú! ¡Guay! That was the mountain we came for in the first place.
One of the old ladies there (the one with the eye patch) accompanied us to the main road (actually a dirt road) and pointed to us the correct way towards Barrio Santa Cruz where we can start our climb to Mount Manabú once more. We also asked if there was any nearby sari-sari store where we can have eat and buy drinks. Luckily, there is one about half-way towards the entrance trail to Mount Manabú, and it’s owned by her relatives. The road had no vehicles, somewhat deserted. So we had to walk about a kilometer towards that store.
After refreshing ourselves at the store, we met a certain Tanó, also a relative of the one-eyed lady we met earlier. He offered to guide our way so that we won’t get lost. And he knew of a nearer trail from the store. It was almost 3:00 PM, but he assured us that we will reach the peak before dark.
I asked Yeyette again if she still wants to pursue the climb. She said yes. She was enjoying every minute of our adventure, and I’m happy about it. So off we went for our second mountain that day!
Finally, we reached Mount Manabú peak a few minutes past five in the afternoon. Because it was just her first time to reach a mountain peak, all of Yeyette’s exhaustion suddenly vanished! But I could not wait to lie down on the ground for a quick rest!
Mang Pirying: the keeper of Mount Manabú
Although it was still summer, the climate was very cold at the peak. But of course; we were on top of a 2,494.75-foot forested mountain. A few minutes past 6:00 PM, we bid goodbye to Sierma and her friends who were staying there overnight. This time we followed a different trail which will pass by the hut of Mount Manabú’s famous resident, Mang Pirying.
Mang Pirying was a very humble man. A hermit, he has been living in the midst of the mountain for a long time. He introduces himself as a 48-year-old man, but he looks older (Cuya Tanò says that he could be in his 60s already). Many people living around the mountain know him. Also, it is not uncommon for hikers to visit him. Besides, Mang Pirying offers them perhaps the best tasting café baraco that I have ever tasted (and it’s all for free)! Freshly brewed! And the coffee beans are from his small plantation beside his hut.
I told him that he’s quite popular in the net among local mountaineers. But I don’t think he understood what the internet is.
We told Mang Pirying of the early day’s adventure, of how we got lost and found our way down. Then he told us that it could have been us who he heard shouting for help from the other mountain which he called Aluyan. So that first mountain is still officially nameless, indeed, for people sometimes call it either Santa Cruz (or Holy Cross in English, perhaps named after Barrio Santa Cruz where Mount Manabú is situated) or Aluyan. Ironically, Mount Santa Cruz has no cross. But Mount Manabú, which has a white cross on its peak, is not named as such.
After the brief pleasantries, we had to leave because it was very dark already.
Truly, an incredible day. Especially for wifey. Who would have thought that, on her first climb, she will conquer two mountains?! And she’s raring for her second, nay, third, climb with me as soon as the rainy season has stopped.
Enjoy nature, guys, while it’s still there. Because, sadly, it appears that there is no stopping the curse of urbanhood, i.e., pollution, deforestation, . But I pray that Monte de Manabú’s bounty of natural beauty will remain until the end of times.