Aug 3, 2014

Mt PULAG : This Way To The Clouds

“I’ve got to find my way to the clouds”, that’s what I promised myself when I first learned how majestic the sea of clouds phenomenon looked like at the summit of Mt. Pulag. More than a decade passed, that goal remained an idea, owing to several excuses I usually tell myself when doubt and fear of the unknown set in. Until the opportune  time presents itself through a reader’s dare which involved great perks when fulfilled, hence saying “NO” would be very foolish.



Sea of Clouds at Mount Pulag
Dream fulfilled! The sea of clouds in all its splendor ;)

Mt. Pulag is the highest mountain in Luzon, 3rd highest in the Philippines, with an elevation of 2,922 meters above sea level. How I made it successfully to the summit without much trouble, I owe it to the right attitude, having the appropriate tools, some physical preparation, and God’s provisions. There are four major trails up the summit, the Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan from Benguet and Ambaguio from Nueva Vizcaya. We did Ambangeg, the easiest trail suited for beginners.

Preparation / Tips

Ambangeg trail may be the easiest trail, but it’s not like any walk in the park as others put it. An uphill walk for more than a couple of hours to reach the base camp was no easy task. My friend almost gave up midway the climb, exhausted and was gasping for air most of the time. Obviously, he took my reminders lightly in preparation for this climb. First time climbers will benefit from the following pointers below before going to Mt. Pulag:
  • If you can climb some flights of stairs without any difficulty then you can handle the Ambangeg trail to Mt Pulag.  Just develop the endurance to do that activity for 3 to 4 hours.
  • For beginners like us, joining an organized and experienced tour group made our Mt Pulag climb hassle free and stress free. We joined Travel Factor and their Conquer Mt Pulag tour package costs 4,100 pesos inclusive of transportation, food and tent accommodation.
  • Wear the necessary climbing gears, bring the right tools and be sure to have the appropriate clothing to withstand extreme weather.
  • Develop the attitude of gratitude, a happy disposition and a sense of adventure.
  • Don’t underestimate the cold weather at the base camp and at the summit. You’ll be sorry if you did.
  • Finally, remember this quote :
“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” - Nemann Buhl

Getting to the Ranger station

The ranger station is located at Kabayan, Benguet. We left Manila on a Friday night on board a Byaheng Victory exclusively assigned for Travel Factor participants bound for Baguio. We arrived Baguio at past 4am and transferred to our designated jeep with our assigned  group leader. Our 1st stop was at the nearest restaurant to have breakfast. This meal is still on our account, the succeeding meals, however were handled by Travel Factor. Next stop is at the DENR office to register for the climb and to hear a short briefing about the DO’s and DON’T’s of climbing Mt. PULAG. We skipped the talk in hopes of arriving earlier at the ranger station to secure a better spot in preparation for the climb. After 3 hours of winding road travel and one  more stop to buy water, we reached the Ranger Station.
Register at DENR for Mt Pulag Hike
DENR

At the ranger station, porters are lined up waiting for their names to be called, but given the ample number of climbers during that weekend, I bet everyone got hired. Cleaning up and changing to suitable outfit for the climb was first in the agenda while here. This is the last stop where we still have access to a basic bathroom and a running water. Porter service is not included in the package, but hiring one for 500 pesos made my Mt Pulag climb easier.
Porter Station, Ranger Station, Mount Pulag
Porter Fee is 500 pesos for every 15 kilos of load

Trek to Camp 2

Travel Factor, Conquer Mt Pulag
with the Travel Factor tour leader, Ron
After our hearty lunch, we started the trek at past 11am. There were several local guides to lead the group and assigned sweepers to assure that all the participants will find their way regardless of how slow they ascend. Apparently, we’ve became close with the sweepers, well, to put it lightly, hehe! Thanks guys.

Interestingly, the real adventure began when we entered the seemingly never ending mossy forest trail. "Aren't we there yet?", we quipped, each time our friend, Cooky would show signs of wearing down. But he carried on amidst the difficulty, step by step until we reached Camp 2. We were fortunate enough, it didn’t rain that day, otherwise a muddy and slippery trail would’ve taken us a couple more hours to reach our camp.

The scenic views and the cool weather made the hike bearable and engaging. Stopping numerous times to snap selfie moments, take a breather and then amuse ourselves with how laughable our condition was.
Mossy Forest, Mt Pulag

Under these favorable weather conditions, our leisurely pace took us 4 hours to reach Camp 2.

Camp 2, Mt Pulag
our tent, 2nd one at the top in an inclined position
LATRINE - an outdoor toilet that has a hole dug in the ground
You should be done with No.1 and No.2 before dark sets in because the latrines are above up there and bring plenty of wet wipes and sanitizer to finish the deed.

After dinner was served, all I can think of was dozing off in preparation for the hike to the summit tomorrow before dawn, but that alone proved to be a challenge. Lying down steadily at our inclined tent made sleeping difficult and despite wearing several layers of clothing and a sleeping bag the cold still seeped through the skin. A throbbing headache and an acid reflux made the feeling worse. I only felt better after throwing up and afterwards managed to sleep for 2 hours until we heard the wake up call to be ready in 30 minutes.

Trek To The SUMMIT

Armed with headlights, trekking poles, bonnets, gloves, thermal wear and wind breakers, we headed to the trail, mindful of our every step. The weather was perfect, the moon guided our trail and the lights coming from every hiker helped lead our way to the summit. 
Mt Pulag Trek to the Summit

After almost 2 hours, we reached our goal just before sunrise. And boy, you have no idea how elated we all felt upon reaching the summit. The rewarding experience was more than worth all the difficulties we endured.
Mt Pulag Summit
Summit, Mt Pulag
Mt Pulag Summit /2,922 meters above sea level
Thank you Mr. Patrick Paguyo for providing the way to make this adventure happen ;).

Sea of Clouds, Mt Pulag
The sometimes elusive sea of clouds phenomenon showed up in all its grandeur. Thank you God for allowing us to access your playground. :)

Grassland, Mt Pulag
Grassland, Mt Pulag
The magnificent view of the grassland unfolds as we trekked down from the summit. This was not evident during our hike to the peak and little did we realize the possible danger of losing your balance while navigating the narrow trail at night.


Camp 2, Mt Pulag
after breaking camp and heading down
"Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time."
Ranger Station, Mt Pulag
Finally back at the ranger station with our constant company, the guides/sweepers


 
Set the settings to HD for better viewing. This is how we found our way to the clouds. Catch our journey to Mt Pulag in action here in this video.

Jul 20, 2014

BATANES : Drizzling NORTH BATAN on Day 3

We had two days of pleasant weather while exploring South Batan and Sabtang Island and a drizzling day 3 going around North Batan. The drizzling wasn't at all a downer, in fact, it made the whole Batanes experience complete. We explored North Batan on foot, on a bike, on a jeep and on a trike and we had a field day.
Biking around North Batan

I've read how some travelers successfully toured Batan Island on foot while others did through pedal power. I'd love to see someone do it on a long-board just like what Walter Mitty (portrayed by Ben Stiller) did from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty while cruising the road leading to Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced as eya-fiyatla-yokut) in Iceland. That scene is a picture of bliss. Maybe someone can pull that stunt going around North Batan.
 
this scene from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

We didn't do anything differently, but we have the whole morning to try an activity locals normally do before our scheduled North Batan tour that noon. Lucky for us, right after our Sabtang tour the previous day while having our hearty merienda of camote cue and pancit bihon over a cup of coffee at the restaurant of Batanes Seaside Lodge where we stayed, one kitchen staff overheard our discussion and volunteered to help make our morning plans happen. 

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RENT A BIKE

Bettina, the gracious kitchen staff who volunteered to accompany us that morning already informed the bike rental shop the other day that we will be picking up the bikes ahead of their opening hours, at around 6:30AM. She also acted as our photographer and my aide, positioning herself at my side since I was lagging behind from the group, struggling during the first 20 minutes of pedaling and can't seem to find my balance while navigating the inclined slopes going to Valugan Boulder Beach. 
when pedaling becomes so exhausting ;)
It was such a relief when the downhill road came into view after Basco Airport. I kept my speed at a relaxed pace, fast enough to feel the cold breeze yet slow enough to allow me to appreciate the stunning views around. After 2 hours, and 7 kilometers of biking, our bike rental charge was only 50 pesos for each. Whew, that activity was almost free! Indeed it's true, the best things in life are free. :) Thanks a lot Bettina.
Does it look like a scene in a Korean telenovela? lol  :)

VALUGAN BOULDER BEACH 

It's not your ordinary beach where people flocked to for swimming. The shoreline is filled with smooth boulders that actually came out from Mt Iraya when it erupted in 1454, and with big waves crashing on it. You could go here for some quiet time while communing with nature while photographers won't go wrong taking awesome shots from every angle. Too bad, we didn't make it here before sunrise.

Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes

Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes

BASCO TOWN PROPER

The Town Plaza is just a few walks away from where we stayed. From there, you'll see the Basco Cathedral, the Provincial Capitol, restaurants and lodging inns and you'll have a view of Naidi Hills where Basco lighthouse is standing tall.

Basco Town Plaza, Batanes
Basco Town Proper, Batanes
Basco Cathedral, Batanes

Come noon, a bit rested and groomed after the biking and walking activities, our tour guide arrived to fetch us at Batanes Seaside Lodge together with a group of new visitors on board a jeep. Our first stop was Amboy's hometel where we had lunch.

Amboy's Hometel, Batanes
Lunch at Amboy's Hometel with the enthusiastic host Mr Roger Amboy

VAYANG ROLLING HILLS/VAYANG RANCH

The drizzling started to gain strength coupled with strong winds that hindered our plans to go down and explore the place. Photo ops at this beautiful spot became difficult as we have to take cover inside our service jeep and wait until we can visit our next stop.
VAYANG ROLLING HILLS/VAYANG RANCH
Vayang Rolling Hills

TUKON / MT CARMEL CHAPEL

From within distance is the Tukon Chapel or Mt Carmel Chapel resting on top of a hill and offering a panoramic vista of Batan Island. It's built using the same principle in building Ivatan's stone houses.
Tukon / Mt Carmel Chapel, Batanes
Tukon / Mt Carmel Chapel, North Batan

DIPNAYSUPUAN JAPANESE TUNNEL

It's a Japanese-constructed World War 2 tunnel used as a shelter for soldiers.
Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel, Batanes

NAIDI HILLS featuring BASCO LIGHTHOUSE and BUNKER'S CAFE

Just a little more than a kilometer away from Basco town proper, you can get here easily on foot, on a bike or a trike. Best time to be here is before sunset. At Naidi Hills, you can see the Basco Lighthouse, the Bunker's Cafe and some remnants of telegraph facilities used by Americans during World War 2. If you plan to have a dinner at Bunker's Cafe, be sure to have prior reservation to secure a seat. A set meal cost around 300+ pesos.

Bunker's Cafe and Basco Lighthouse at Naidi Hills
Bunker's Cafe and Basco Lighthouse at Naidi Hills
Bunker's Cafe, Naidi Hills
view from Basco Lighthouse
Dinner at Bunker's Cafe
while waiting for dinner to be served

FUNDACION PACITA

I had the chance to stay here but opted not to for practical reasons. Batanes is all about the outdoors and since our scheduled tours would only allow us to spend the night here to sleep, shelling out that much for accommodation is unwise even if someone offered to pay for it. But then, it's also a must to make it a point to visit this iconic lodging nestled on a hilltop.

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Fundacion Pacita
It's not a part of the North Batan tour package and your guide will only show Fundacion Pacita from afar. To get inside, we reserved a 7pm dinner that night and arrived there 2 hours earlier to better appreciate the views while there's still light.
Fundacion Pacita
Despite the overcast skies posing threats of an oncoming rain, the scenery remains beautiful and serene, quiet and cool.
Fundacion Pacita, Batanes
Inside Fundacion Pacita, the lovely countryside interior put us all in a cozy mood. My eyes travel over the ceiling, down to the floors, then drawn to the walls where the colorful works of Pacita Abad are displayed.

Dinner Set Meal at 700+ per pax
The meal was lovely, but getting back to our place on a rainy night posed a little challenge. It took us an hour to convince a trike ride to pick us up. Fog, rain and almost zero road visibility made the trip a little bit unnerving but nonetheless fun.

North Batan tour got us all worked up. Thank you Batanes for the surreal experience.

Jun 26, 2014

BATANES : FALUWA and SABTANG TOUR on Day 2

If I need to mention the highlight of our Sabtang tour, it must be the thrilling experience of riding a Faluwa boat going to Sabtang Island. Faluwa is a sturdy traditional Ivatan boat built without outriggers to withstand the often rough and turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. It is no ordinary boat ride. Back then, the thought of riding a Faluwa scares me hence the thought of skipping Sabtang Island from our itinerary always crossed my mind. But on second thought, the stomach turning boat experience is one I have to endure, to claim the bragging rights: I've indeed experienced BATANES.
FALUWA BOAT RIDE, BATANES

Our day started really early; We're done with breakfast by 5:30 AM and on the road by 6am. Sitting at the back, I opened the window on my side and turn my face into the cold, chilly wind as our van travel along narrow coastal roads, while occasionally extending my hands outside, holding a GoPro to capture the stunning vistas in almost every direction. Blowing of horns is a matter of necessity here due to several blind corners that may conceal oncoming traffic.

I envy those motorbike riders behind us for the reason that I feel it's the best way to see Batanes without obstruction. Next time, I'll be in one, but with an experienced driver in tow, so I can concentrate on filming the scenic views. :)

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At Ivana Port going to Sabtang Island, Batanes

At the Ivana port, townsfolk and tourists alike were readying to board the Faluwa.You can easily distinguish which is which. Those donning neon orange vests like us, hurriedly look for seats at the back while the locals prefer to stand in front and enjoy the stomach turning ride that includes the occasional splashes of waves thrown their way. Our group took the front seats and seeing how calm the faces of the locals while the Faluwa gyrated to the waves gave me a good sense of security. It's like them saying "this is nothing but normal my dear". 

Faluwa Ride to Sabtang Island, Batanes


After 30 minutes, Sabtang island came into full view with this lighthouse prominently standing to welcome us. 
Sabtang Lighthouse, Batanes

On Sabtang Island, population is even smaller than on Batan Island but stone houses are still in abundance. The island also boasts of spectacular rolling hills, white sand beaches, beautiful coastal roads and rock cliffs. We also saw from a distance a 3000 yr old fortress carved into the mountain used by warring tribes in the island.
Tricycle at Sabtang Island

Although we didn't have to utilize a tricycle during our Sabtang tour (although I feel it will be a lot of fun riding one), it's interesting to see how they use indigenous materials to build its side car.
Coastal road at Sabtang Island, Batanes

Instead, we found ourselves cruising along the coastal roads of Sabtang Island on board a van with the doors open (upon our request) to fully enjoy the scenic views that surround us, as we hop from one place to the other.

STONE HOUSES AT SAVIDUG AND CHAVAYAN VILLAGE

BATANES and stone houses have become synonymous with each other and it's here on Sabtang Island where you'll see them in abundance. Ivatan stone houses are designed to withstand harsh elements and are made of limestones and corals with roofing made of cogon grass.
Savidug Stone Houses, Sabtang Island, Batanes
Stone Houses at SAVIDUG
Old Beaterio at Savidug, Sabtang, Batanes
OLD BEATERIO AT SAVIDUG

Stone Houses at Chavayan Village, Sabtang, Batanes
STONE HOUSES AT CHAVAYAN VILLAGE



Chavayan Village CHURCH, SABTANG, BATANES
CHAVAYAN VILLAGE CHURCH


If you're intrigued how the traditional Ivatan headgear called VAKUL is made and how you'd look like wearing one, visit the Sabtang Weavers Association here in Chavayan Village.
VAKUL HEADGEAR, BATANES


CHAMANTAD-TINYAN VIEWPOINT

If Batan Island has Racuh-A-Payaman aka Marlboro Hills, Sabtang Island on one hand has Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint to show off.  

CHAMANTAD TINYAN VIEWPOINT, SABTANG ISLAND, BATANES
CHAMANTAD TINYAN VIEWPOINT

You need to follow the foot trails to get to the viewing area where a beach cove is hidden between rolling hills or you can choose to frolic around and then reenact one of the famous scenes of the Sound of Music. :)
BEACH COVE BETWEEN ROLLING HILLS




Rocky cliff coupled with strong wind prevented us to go down a bit further, but that didn't stop us from admiring the place any less.

MORONG BEACH/NAKABUANG BEACH

You've probably seen this natural rocky formation called Nakabuang arch on travel magazines that is widely associated with Batanes. This iconic beach is located in Sabtang Island. The white sand is fine and the waves are tolerable enough for a swim.  

MORONG BEACH / NAKABUANG ARCH, SABTANG ISLANG, BATANES

There's also a restaurant in this area where we had a filling Ivatan lunch as part of the tour.
Morong Beach Restaurant, Sabtang, Batanes
lone resto at Morong Beach
After a satisfying lunch and an awe-inspiring experience despite the short stay, everyone needed to be at the port by 1pm to catch the Faluwa ride going back to Batan Island. It's possible to book a home stay at one of the stone houses at the Chavayan Village. Immersing oneself to the charm of spartan living is probably the most ideal way to experience Batanes and I'll do that next time I have the chance to visit this place again.

Stay tuned for more Batanes posts to come. If you visit Batanes, don't skip Sabtang Island for fear of riding a Faluwa otherwise you'll blow your chances of catching a glimpse of Batanes in it's most unadulterated form.

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