Who needs Bed and Government on a Saturday night when you can dance and party the night away on a mountain? The 20th Guys4Mountain climb at Mt. Tagapo was a blast. It may not be the best mountain nor even the best climb, but it was the best socials ever. Leading the pack was Adam with his portable sound system (thank god for Ipod), and dance. You just gotta give it to this guy, he’s in a class of his own. The last climb I had with him was Gulugod Baboy back in 2006. That was another memorable socials but this just really rocked! I almost skipped this climb as I had been out of town for the past 2 weekends (Holy week followed by the FitPhil seminar in Baguio) and had planned on a lazy weekend with nothing but my dvds and perhaps a pint or two of Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Rolls. But Tagapo seemed interesting enough and Monday was a holiday Besides, I had already convinced JM to go for his first G4m climb. Fortunately, meet-up was reset at 9 instead of 7am, so there was enough time to get my laundry and pack.
Binangonan From EDSA-crossing, it’s an hour-long jeepney ride to Binangonan, a small town in nearby Rizal province. I’ve always associated Rizal with mountains, particularly Antipolo. I’ve been to Angono a couple of times and do know it’s a lake shore town. So it was quite a surprise to me to step-down from the jeep and find myself at a pier. We were at Laguna de Bay and it seemed huge. Manila suddenly seemed so far away. The sight of the bay, the boats, and the beating sun just made everything so, well, rural. But scouting for a place for brunch, that small town feel quickly vanished when turning around, there it was— the smiling face of Jollibee!. In the 7,100 islands of the Philippines, no town is small enough to have a Jollibee and there was Greenwhich to boot. We had lunch at a roadside eatery but I did go to pay my homage to the busy bee for some fries, actually an excuse to use the restroom.
The water is wide More than the actual trek, what i liked most was the hour-long banca ride in Laguna de Bay. Like plane rides, boat rides are a major psychological event. Id usually be in a corner quietly praying for clear weather, good sea craft, and safe passage. But surprise! Surprise! I didn’t get jittery on this one. Ok.. I did ask Jasper, the Expedition Leader, if there would be any waves and I did mutter a quick prayer. Still, I was ok. Urbanites usually think of Laguna de Bay as a stinking mass of water where derelict tilapia live and are harvested for dinner. From the smoggy south expressway it doesn’t really look like much. But cruising it on a large banca made me see how expansive and dare I say, beautiful it was. Fish pens abound but don’t seem to crowd the lake. On one side are rolling green hills and stone cliffs. More surprising was our destination—Talim Island. I thought there was only Rizal and Laguna bordering the lake. I didn’t know there was actually an island. The waters were calm and the cool breeze was refreshing.
Talim Island Disembarking at the small pier and immediately you sense the great divide when it comes to development. We had originated from ortigas with its fancy malls and office areas, and a couple of hours later and a jeep and boat ride away, we were in a small island in the middle of fish-penned hemmed lake, where people speak Tagalog with a lilting accent, live in small squat hollow-block houses set along a small network of streets, and no real bathrooms, just pozos. There wasn’t any Jollibee and the only softdrink they had was the 8-ounce RC Cola. Undeveloped or simply laid-back, Talim Island seems worlds away. We didn’t see any fish market, but the baranggay where we disembarked, Bgy. Janosa, had that fishing village feel. We met our guides and porters, checked our water supplies (no water source on top) and headed to the mountain, starting off from the side of the church, past some houses, until we reached the trail head.
Into the Grove Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” and Ryonosuke Akutagawa’s “Into the Grove” were playing on my mind as began the trek. It was all bamboo and we were heading deep into the grove. There wasn’t any thief and being raped was definitely out of the question. There was about 20 of us and we were more likely to be raping the men who passed us by. Hahahaha! The sun was out in full force and we were dripping sweat. It was just so hot and the thought of an exposed trail and a waterless campsite was already making me crave for a cold bottle of Coke. Tagapo, including its summit could be seen from the pier and really looked more like a hill than a mountain. There were about a couple of hundred meters of slightly steep terrain, but it was a really easy climb. It was just the heat and the cracking dryness of the ground that gets to you. Only when you’re surrounded with so much bamboo do you understand why bamboo is a grass and not a tree. No tree perhaps could grow that many in clumps in a single space. They do look beautiful, though, especially when they reach up high to the sky. We stopped to catch our breath and stave-off the heat at a small clearing. Again, I remember “Rashomon” especially the part where the thief tries to catch the woman. It was in a clearing just like the one we were in. JM had already gone ahead and soon I left the others. It was quite funny that the guides and the porters were the ones who needed to take breaks and were actually telling us to wait for them. I guess since the mountain doesn’t really offer much by way of anything usuable for them (bamboo is available at the lower levels) they don’t climb much. They were huffing and puffing and seemed ready to blow all the bamboo down. I don’t really like taking long breaks as it stops my momentum. The trails are easy to follow though it branches-out at some points. The sensible thing to do is just take the one that leads up and seems more trodden by. At one fork though, I was fortunate to meet a group of climbers on the way down, otherwise I wold have had to wait for the rest. Adam caught up with me and went ahead. Less than 20 minutes into a leafy grove of more bamboo, and I broke through an exposed trail of cogon grass. A few hundred meters more and I was at the campsite. JM and Adam were already there and behind me was Joseph. Another group had already pitched tent so we had to make do at the smaller clearing. It’s a totally exposed campsite with a few patches of trees to escape from the heat and absolutely no water source. Though the area is wide, there’s not much of a clearing as the terrain slopes up towards the summit. The locals burned the ground to keep the cogon from growing as they expected a lot of people to be climbing.
Small mountains have big surprises sometimes. A steep 10-minute walk to the summit is rewarded with a grandly sweeping view of Laguna de Bay, the skylines of Makati and Ortigas, and the coasts of Batangas and Cavite. People once believed there was gold, hence the open pit on top. Clouds obscure the sun as it set, but we were rewarded by the lights from the cities. It’s strange feeling to be on top of a mountain and see the city with all its lights glittering at you from a distance. It’s as if you’re so far and yet near at the same time. With the absence of the camp chefs, Bluefairy and JCK, camp food was really that–camp food. JM had 5 gallons of water so we had more than enough to boil our instant pancit and shrimp balls. I really wanted to bring a lot of stuff for some fancy meals but with the absence of a water source, anything instant would be the most convenient to prepare. I took a nap during the socials to skip the drinking but joined later in the evening. There was just too much fun with everyone just snapping pictures, having group hugs, and dancing. Mostly everyone was drunk by then. Even Congressboy was tipsy enough to dance solo. It was unbelievable how the guys drank-up all that grandma. Surprisingly, the straight dudes were all asleep. Either straight guys are really, well, straight and somber or gay people just really party hard. It was close to midnight when the fun ended.
The next day dawned clear and bright with gusts of wind still threatening to blow my tent down. I have to really buy new pegs as they’re all bent and crooked and could hardly be driven to the ground. We quickly broke camp and were back to the village in about an hour. Sunday mass was in full swing and we were going from one pozo to another to find a secluded spot to bathe. Thankfully, one of our porters brought us to his house on a side street away from the plaza where we could wash-up without being the town showcase. A banca ride after, we were back in Binangonan for our jeepney ride to Ortigas. It was around 12 when we arrived and we trooped to Shang mall for some aircon and lunch. Thank god for the cute labrador sniffing dogs at the Shang we were spared from opening our bags. I could just imagine if we were at SM.
I’m not really used to be back home so early in the day after a climb. It was barely mid-afternoon when I stepped back into my unit in Makati.
Mt. Tagapo isn’t a popular hiking destination which means the trails aren’t well-trodden, you don’t compete for camp space, and the area is relatively clean. It’s a nice enough mountain if you want a quick get-away. The boat ride on scenic Laguna de Bay is a bonus.