It was a climb that never was. First of all, it was hurriedly planned and except for Congressboi and me, no one was really sure who was joining. So it was on the evening of April 30 that Congressboi, me, Trojan5, Sagittarius, Adan, and Charlie found ourselves without a bus ride to Naga, the starting leg of our climb to Mt. Isarog. Congressboi did get us some climb permits but we forgot about reserving a bus ride. It was supposed to be a dream climb for me. For one, I’ve never been to the Bicol peninsula and have never climbed a volcano. But as luck would have it, we were totally unprepared. Nobody thought of buying tickets in advanced (we didn’t expect people would be flocking home to Bicol) and Adan and Charlie, Saggitarius’ guests were newbies. Thursday was a holiday and we had all filed our leaves for Friday. Damned if we were going to be stuck in Manila. Fortunately, Kelly’s Trek Aurora was scheduled to meet-up at 11 at the ES Bus Station along EDSA for the outreach and beachineering activity in Aurora. After a few phone calls, we got ourselves some slots to the activity (WE LOVE YOU KELLY!).
To go or not to go
I did find ourselves a bus at Raymond (I think that was the name) which was just a few blocks across from ES. There was a Naga-bound bus at 12:30 and there wasn’t a line. The catch being an ordinary bus. Much as I would really love to go to Isarog, I didn’t exactly relish an 8-hour bus ride on a rickety non-reclining no-aircon bus. We decided to go along with the Aurora trip as we’ve already caused too much trouble to Kelly to accommodate us. Besides none of us had ever gone there before. Isarog would have to wait.
The longest ride of my life
Cabanatuan is the entry point to Aurora. After a 3-hour ride, we found ourselves at the main terminal around 4am for the rented vans that would make the 8-hour trip to Casiguran. I thought the 6-hour Manila-Baguio and 6-hour Baguio-Bacun trip was the longest ride I would ever have. But the 8-hour trip with half the time over excruciatingly rough road was just sheer butt-torture and nerve-fraying.
The van was comfortable enough and there were just 9 of us. The road started innocently enough. Smooth concrete out of Cabanatuan as it made its way to Aurora. Gradually, we made ourselves out of the city, past rice fields and greenvalleys. Concrete gave way to paved and then to not paved and then to no road or what passed off as a road. It was more of a path of rocks or what looked like a dried river bed. It made the Pinatubo road seem like the autobahn. But that didn’t deter our driver from driving like he was in the expressway. It was simply crazy! We should have worn helmets. Worse still was the drive on the mountain ridge. With barely a foot away from the ravine and kingdom-come there was nothing to do but either admire our driver’s skills or pray. Just as the driving left us breathless, the view was breathtaking. The coastline was straight out of a postcard. Jagged clliffs, unspoilt stretches of sand, and sparkling blue water. The best thing about all these was there was not a single commercial resort in site which meant no loud music, no trash, no stupid tourists, no nothing. Just the sun, sand, and sea.
We made a few stops along the way to stretch our legs, snack, go to the restroom, buy some provisions, or relax our nerves after all that hairspin turns. We finally ended-up at a stretch of road that terminated on a little pier where the motorboats would bring us to Bgy. Cozo. The ride lasted less than 45 minutes. Mangroves lined the beautiful coast that wound along small coves. Cozo is a small village nestled among trees and hills. Small wooden houses lined the dirt road where children played. After setting camp at the open field by the baranggay hall, we went exploring and found a hall-halo stand to cool-off the mid-day heat. Evening was of course socials night. We had our own little socials around our campsite. We put Saggit on the hot seat most of the time.
We were at Aurora primarily to bring school supplies to the Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta (SPA). This was an indigenous school for the Agta who make the Sierra Madre their home. It was about an hour’s trek to the school, crossing rivers and forest trails. It was a pretty walk with nothing but the sound of the river accompanying you. We were greeted with a song from the school children composed mostly of young kids and adolescents. They were in pretty pink traditional garb and we were each given a pin and led to the school grounds. I was quite disappointed that they sang a western pop song rather than one of their own. There were speeches from the school administrators, baranggay officials, and of course from Kelly, the organizer (another hooray!). One of the teachers was telling us how it was very difficult to run the school as they were not getting any funds except from a European NGO and most of the Agta kids were only relying on the school even for their everyday meals. We shared a lunch of pork adobo, spaghetti, and steamed rice with the community using cut banana trunks for plates. My belly was bursting with so much adobo and rice as I’ve not eaten adobo for the longest time.
We broke camp and piled onto a dump truck for the trip to Dilasag, the northenmost tip of Aurora and the last town before hitting Isabela. It was another endless ride along the dirt roads that wound along the coast and in the forested mountains. It was almost dusk when we reached the town and set camp at a strip of beach. Night fell and it drizzled. Socials lasted till past 2 and Congressboi was hesitant to go back to his tent as he could feel elementals hovering around. Trojan said that there was a not-very-friendly elemental watching us. Well, taking a bath alone at the pozo in pitch dark and nothing but my headlight for illumination, I did feel something. I hurriedly finished washing-up. After that Gulugod Baboy experience, I wasn’t gonna take any chances.
Morning broke and the water beckoned.