A full work week can be exhausting; people often need to relax and use the weekend to replenish their energy. So, some lazy days in bed, a season of Futurama, and some instant pancit canton are the perfect ways to unwind after a long week, right? Wrong. What you actually need to do is exhaust yourself further by trekking up a mountain!
Since my childhood, I’ve always been an explorative soul. The culmination of living in four different regions of the United States and spending three years in Montana, where outdoor activities are more plentiful than people, has affected the way in which I interact with the physical world.
So, in such a naturally varied and beautiful, country I was itching to climb a mountain (or five) in our free time. And climb a mountain we did!
At 5 am on a Sunday morning, we dragged ourselves out of our apartment in order to catch a jeepney that would take us to the bus headed for Batangas. The streets were dark and quiet, reminding me that I had no business being awake and outside at that hour. Once on the bus, I split my time evenly between cursing myself for agreeing to go on the hike and sleeping.
A far-too-brief, hour-long bus ride segued into another jeepney ride, which delivered our bleary-eyed group to the base of the mountain. A short walk through a local barangay led us to the guide, Kuya Ryan, who helped us up to the summit of Mt. Maculot.
Fortunately, the day was overcast, ensuring that the hike would be cooler than usual. However, given the high humidity, twenty minutes of walking built up a sheen of sweat to complement the greasy layers of sunscreen and insect repellant (Ya gotta love the smell of deet in the morning). At just nine AM, we reached the official starting point of the hike.
Kuya Ryan had warned us that the trail would be slick given the days of rainfall that the area had just received. However, the “trail” was more akin to a muddy water slide. The thick foliage provided plenty of vines and trees to anchor oneself to, but falling became inevitable as our shoes grew heavy with muck. The mud gradually became caked on our hands, arms, and legs over the course of the two hour ascent.
The climb was physically demanding, with stretches of significant altitude gain juxtaposed by brief pockets of flat ground. On every flat portion, there was a local vendor selling either fresh buko juice (young coconut water) or other beverages and snacks to hikers passing by. Given the near vertical climbing at points, I did not envy that their day job involved carting ice chests full of liquid up a mountain.
As we ascended, we were teased with small slivers of the lake view that would reward us at the top. So, with many five minute breaks sprinkled in, we hiked, crawled, and huffed our way up the 700 meter (2,200 feet) mountain to reach the campsite and vista at the top.
The best hikes result in a view that makes you forgot how tough the climb was. When we broke the tree line at the top, I knew Mount Maculot was one of those hikes.
We were greeted by a panorama view of the lake, which was studded by many inconsequential islands and one exceptional one: Taal Volcano. In spite of its size, Taal is the second most active volcano in the Philippines, with thirty-three historical eruptions. However, we were far too giddy to have summoned to be fazed by our trigger-happy friend.
The vista on the other side of Maculot was equally stunning; miles of jungle reached toward the horizon, with white barangays providing brief reprieves from the field of green. The lake lay smooth, punctuated only by fisherman’s nets. Kuya Ryan led us to a rock jutting out of the mountain that was perfect for picture-taking. Many locals were confidently posing on the uneven outcrop. My modeling career, unfortunately, was short lived, as 2,000 feet looks quite daunting from a cliff edge.
The trek down, though less physically taxing, was comically difficult. Planting ones feet and letting go of the trees trunks or roots resulted in what can best be desribed as encouraging and participating in a mud slide. As a result of of the conditions, we suffered several (minor) injuries and one fatality on the descent. RIP Shravya’s iPhone screen. Apparently you did not like being caught between a falling human and a rock. You will be missed, and then forgotten when replaced.
Additionally, we experienced some light rain that prompted us to scurry down much faster than we ascended. On the way down, we encountered the largest spider I have seen in my whole life. Pencil thick black legs arched out of a shiny, hockey-puck body. Though perched on a delicate web off the path, we passed with extreme caution. I wanted a picture of the beast, but the mixture of rain and horror made me inch away from the arachnid.
In the end, we all survived the hike with just some faint bruises and generous helpings of mud as our souvenirs. After washing up, we were able to enjoy a famous regional dish, lomi. The salty corn-starch-thickened broth and noodles were loaded with pork and liver, with chicaron served on the side.
Though it was one of the more tiring weekends spent in the Philippines, it was a pleasure to see a small but magnificent slice of beauty that the Philippines has to offer.