Today I give way to my youngest son’s account of their boys’ summer adventure to Mt. Pulag last weekend. Mt. Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon at 2,922 meters above sea level. The peak of the mountain is where the borders of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya meet. There are tour packages to choose from and it’s a worthwhile adventure that parents can have with their children, especially their sons. Going back to nature does something to the soul of urban dwellers. Let’s hear it from Anton.
An entire weekend with no wifi, no bathroom, no bed, no chargers, limited meals, and limited water – this was perfect recipe for a modern disaster. All of these were replaced with walking, lots and lots of uphill and downhill walking.
On April 25, 2014, the Fausto Boys departed on a bonding journey to Mt. Pulag to test not only our physical capabilities, but also our mental and emotional prowess. It began as we left on a Victory Liner bus at 11pm and arrived in Baguio at 3:30 am. We waited for our jeep and after some delays we finally left at 6:30 am. All along, I thought the challenge was only going to be the hike up the second tallest mountain in the Philippines, but I was never more wrong in my life. Our jeep, which could accommodate around 17 people comfortably, was now carrying a staggering and award-winning 21 passengers – nine people on each side facing each other and three in front, all squished together like sardines. A jeep’s saving factor is how it has an abundance of windows and a door for the air to freely pass through but yet again, life wanted to challenge us more. The windows could only open halfway and our door was shut tight that one of the passengers said, “Parang transferring of prisoners lang, papuntang gas chamber.” My first tactic was to sleep throughout the ride to speed up time but life knew about my plans and sneaked its way to be a step ahead of me. I kept sliding forward on my seat, making me use all my muscles to keep myself still. I would grip on the bar, crunch my stomach and firmly plant my feet on the ground as the jeep moved and the path reminded me of one of my favorite ice cream flavors, Rocky Road. But I didn’t like this Rocky Road because it caused the jeep to rock and jump like my dad’s stomach on a hyperacidity attack! The jeepney ride took around 3 hours but thank the heavens, we had two stopovers along the way.
We arrived at the ranger station, dizzy, hungry and hot but still trying to keep a happy and optimistic disposition since we all knew this trip was going to be a tough one and we needed to remain positive to enjoy it. After eating lunch, our hiking began. We contemplated on whether we should hire porters to carry our bags (around eight kg each), which cost P500 two ways. Only a few people were hiring porters and doing so would make us look sosyal and spoiled. We didn’t like that to happen but I guess the long rough ride that battered our bodies that didn’t have a good night’s sleep made us succumb to the temptation. After some debating, we hired two porters to carry three of our bags (my dad’s and two more). So my brothers and I took turns in carrying the fourth backpack. Another uncomfortable detail is that the porters assigned to us were two women. This went against all my moral teachings of being a gentleman with chivalry and a helping hand. Then I figured: These porters do this everyday and hiring them gives them livelihood…no matter how twisted it seemed.
So on to our hike. The real challenge in going up a mountain is that as you use more energy going up, the air gets colder and thinner, which makes it harder to breathe. Fortunately, my asthma didn’t act up but the four of us were visited by throbbing headaches, which made it more challenging for us to continue. However, struggles have rewards. We were gifted with breathtaking views of the mountains and terraces, sights a city-boy like me doesn’t have the luxury of experiencing regularly.
Hiking was tough, especially since this short-attention spanned teenager doesn’t really enjoy aimlessly walking without really knowing the destination. The four of us would converse but talking required energy and breath, things we didn’t have enough of at the moment. So I relied on my Mentos and my iPod but I had to play only a few songs and turn it off to save on battery for the rest of our trip. After four hours of countless steps and slips, sore feet, cold but sweaty backs and pounding heartbeats, we finally reached the campsite!
The feeling of relief rushed to me instead of the feeling of accomplishment. Two tents were given to the four of us. No one was expecting five-star accommodation but the funny thing was my brother and I could not stretch our legs while lying down inside our tent.
Dinner was served at 6:30 pm as it was getting dark. There were no light posts, appliances, buildings and other structures, just tents and lots and lots of space.
The silence and isolation had a certain romance as we just laid down our worn out bodies under the beautiful night sky. The stars shone brighter than anywhere else I have ever seen and I was reminded how tiny we are in this vast universe, and how much there is that we still don’t know about it. After dozing off in these thoughts, I woke up at around 3 am, half an hour earlier than our wake-up time. The cover of our tent folded on one side, letting more cold air in and my triple layered thermal-tshirt-jacket pantulog wasn’t doing the job anymore. We left our tents at 4 am to start our climb to the peak of Mt. Pulag to catch the sunrise.
It was pitch-black darkness everywhere and we only had our headlamps to rely on for our vision. The darkness turned out to be a blessing in disguise because only on our way down did we realize that we were walking on the edge of a cliff that one wrong step could send us rolling down like the stock market during the Great Depression. The sun followed us as it gradually rose, allowing us to see how far we have reached (and also how far we have to go back). After many cold breaths, sips of limited water and a few Are-we-there-yets, we finally reached the top! Wow! The view was majestic. The sky was slowly being painted orange, as the sun crept up from behind the mountains blanketed with fluffy clouds. We took our mandatory photos to capture the magic that was revealing itself before our humble eyes. This was the highlight of our whole adventure. This sunrise is the reason why so many people, both local and foreign, go through drastic weather changes, tiring hikes and countless inconveniences.
Growing up in Manila, it’s hard to imagine that this jaw-dropping sunrise happens every single day in Mt. Pulag. It’s the same sun rising over the same country but everything changes depending on your perspective. The beauty it brings is always there but it depends on you whether you choose to receive it or not. During the trip, there were times I honestly wanted to go home to my nice soft normal-sized bed. I missed the comfort of my daily life. Sometimes we have to be taken out of our comfort zone to appreciate the other beautiful things in life. In my case, I had to climb out of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, I find beauty in waking up at 10 am and playing NBA 2K on my Xbox until lunchtime this summer because it makes me happy but there are so many other breathtaking experiences out there just waiting for us. Sometimes we have to leave our comfort zone, embrace adventures in order to truly live. If you ask me if I would want to relive my Mt. Pulag experience and go through all the hiking and traveling again, my answer would be… no. But am I truly happy and accomplished to have conquered Mt. Pulag with the ones I love? Definitely!
Anton Fausto is the youngest among my three sons. He’s 17 years old and just graduated from high school. He is an incoming college freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University. He loves to dance and play basketball. He has been an investor since he was a little boy.
The Mount Pulag adventure that my boys took costs P3,188/head (without the bus trips from Cubao to Baguio and back) or P4,088/head (including the bus trips). The packages includes orientation prior to the hike, 3 meals, tour guides, facilitators, hike equipment like tent, etc., travel insurance, souvenir shirt and what Anton calls the Rocky Road jeepney rides-two ways.