43 days in…
Now that the leak from our rusting tin roof has dried and my taste buds are still savoring the flavour of the two best mangos ever grown, things feel distinctly relaxed. But the Philippines has not always been so easy.
I’ll reserve judgement on Manila as we will be going back there at the end of our trip with Mike competing in the runrio half marathon. So we shall pick up in Lucap, gateway to hundred islands national park. Christian took us out in our own chartered boat, though as much time was devoted to getting it started, restarted and refuelled as to getting us to the islands; but once there we explored the bat filled caves, jumped into the sea from rocks and piers and snorkeled to see giant clams- along with all the other tourists; we were now very much on the beaten track, but it was not westerners rather filipinos enjoying the bounty of their own island!
Alas, two days near a beach is enough to get the toes itching to make a move, and Baguio was our next stop, although this was very much a transit point to better things. A sprawling hillside city full of all the trappings that high unemployment and overcrowding bring. That said, the food market and night market were most definatly the places to be and rarely did it feel overwhelming or threatening, just a little grubby.
So it was a swift exit to Kabayan, home to Mount Pulag. We had chosen to climb up the 2922 metre bulge of mountain via the Akiki trail- the killer route. With our medical certificates signed and our guide blazing ahead we battled up the massively steep sides for hour after relentless hour. At around 1pm in the blazing sun and after repeated assurances, Ryan accepted we had passed the water point and the next was two hours away..! Our mouths were beginning to resemble the dried fish found all over the plaice (!). Not wishing to give up, Mike found a water pipe and we could continue up, whether Helen would declare this a great discovery is less than certain. So after 8 tiring hours we reached the claggy campsite, 100 metres below the summit. The aim was to pitch my tent, get some rest and food, then up early to witness a dramatic sunrise and stand above a sea of clouds. Well, Meatloaf may have said two out of three ain’t bad, but after all that effort it was hard to greet the morning fog with joy. Not only this, but the way down was even harder going than the up and we were now soaked; still, it’s not as if Helen got lost in the mist on the way back to the tent and caused a bit of panic!
So another day, our first Jeepney ride (unnerving and vastly overcrowded) and we arrived in the highland town of Sagada. Here in Sagada they (very occasionally) still practice the tradition of hanging coffins, fine for those who are dead, but jolly tough on those doing the climbing! The last coffin to be hung was 4 years ago, and just to make sure the deceased could relax, they strung his chair to the coffin as well; fortunately they don’t have LayZboy recliners out here yet! Of course, if you are not high class enough to get your own cliff top view, then it’s into a cave with the other coffins for you, which means a messy pile of rotting flesh and wood, nice! Another feature of Sagada is the waterfalls pounding down amongst the rice terraces. A guided tour (as walking without a guide is a fineable offence) through an underground cave lead us out to Bokong falls for a spot of cliff jumping, and another steep trek took us to the 30 metre high Bomod-Ok cateract for a much more bracing swim! Despite Sagada being a big tourist draw (Filipino and Westeners alike) and full of places to eat, there is a 9.30 pm curfew, which did put a bit of a halt to our night out with our travelling companions Andreas and Marika but did also rescue us from a heavy conversation of the disputed islands of the South China Sea with a local who is off to die for the cause (there was really no need to encourage him Mike!)
Time to dash, it’s approaching 4 pm which means the afternoon down pour is looming and I’ve still to get in a quick interval hill session- you called it Kirsty, this running malarkey is hard to give up.