You can if you open your eyes like a child — a sense of wonder and excitement and never judgmental- Copernico Villaruel Jr, a spine surgeon and artistic genius, when asked how I can see my travels the way he captures his through his camera
Surprises could be one of either two things: Surprisingly bad or surprisingly awesome. Which one of the two we had on our recent Lake Sebu Adventure, you’ll all be the judge!
At 8am, we’re all still at Bennox Chicken waiting for everyone to settle and start our journey to Lake Sebu South Cotabato. I’m already restless and perky knowing we’re all late for an adventure we don’t have any idea of. I mean beside the jump off point?!
“Where’s you’re old Canon camera Sir Joy?” I asked. “At home, do you want it?” Sir Joy replied. That’s the short story of how I got my new cam. He has a new Nikon D90. I never had second thoughts when Sir Joy offered his Canon EOS to me. It was a payable gift to me. I was really on the verge of inherent apocalyptic self destruction of my antiquated point and shoot digicam.. Nine years as a second hand cam? I was in fact overused its projected lifespan beyond what the Canon said. Surprise number one, I got a new DSLR.
By ten AM, we were at Mountain Log Resort listening to the guide Sir Jojo (President, Tboli Tourism Council) handpicked for us. We haven’t met Roy, our guide before. Together with a porter guide and Sir Jojo, they oriented us to the trek were about to take.
We will go to Sitio Kangko, birdwatch in the afternoon, stay overnight, bird watch again in the morning , then traverse to Mahel Falls then go back here,at basecamp.
Trail difficulty, easy to moderate. And the terrain? Roy said it’s virgin tropical rain forest. “What about Mt. 3kings, the ones we actually wanted to climb?” Chris asked Roy. “Sorry sirs, but that mountain needs some exploration first. it’s never been explored before. Not even me. Besides, trail difficulty level is high, not fit for children surely” Roy said. I don’t know, but it somewhat dampened our trekking drive a bit. So, surprise number two. No three kings for us this January.
After we had lunch ( the sun is directly above us) we hiked towards Sitio Kangko-a far flung community of Lake Sebu just before you cross the Saranggani Mountain Ranges. “ It’s a walk in the sunlight churned park”. That’s all I can say of that long trek passing through several lowland T’boli communities and until we arrived at the foot of a mountain leading to the upland communities. Under the scourging heat and continuous uphill push, this uphill trek is totally exhausting even for us adults. But the kids is leisurely breezing through the trail. The long uphill trek ended up in Sitio Kangko, that highland tboli community on the edge of what seem to be a no man’s jungle.
“Diri ta ma camp?” Sir joy was really surprised at where our guide is planning to camp us. No offense meant to the guides and local community but yeah, we didn’t walk through that hell just to camp under a bahay kubo. “I mean, I’m here for the forest!” Sir Joy was half shouting. Sir Joy, who had his last climb more than a year ago, is itching for the ‘forest”. And we understand his laments.
So we all decided to take a hike uphill and look for a nice place to camp near the jungle and away from the community. The birdwatching area is still about a hundred meters up, near the forest line. we were all panting when we got there. With quite an astounding view, and a sort of clearing for viewing birds, the site doesn’t have any water source. No birds yet, this time. And the jungle doesn’t have any signs of trails or path to enter. Roy said, “sometimes monkeys,snakes and wild boars go out of the forest and hunt in the clearing for food”. I shiver at the thought that these friendly neighbors will most likely visit my tent. “No man. Thank you.” So we all decide to stay in the rest house below, in the community. A good decision indeed, since it rained hard just as we reached the house. Talking about “swerte”. Surprise number three, camping inside a bahay kubo.
At night we cooked and ate our meals then went chitchatting. It’s the first time that Team TAMAC Core is complete. Sir Joy, Chris, In, JP and me. Plus we got 3 kids with us, probably the next generation of TAMAC climbers. Who knows? The chilling rain swept us all to doze off early. I gotta admit it , you have to have some thick skin and blood to live in this high altitude. It rained hard that night. And my tummy is having all sorts of rattling.I let go of butterflies around 4AM. What a glorious moment for my stomach!
“Our cooked meat is gone!” Ian woke us all with his discovery. The darn dogs ate all our packed meat left inside the cooking utensils. “Darn dog, it didn’t even asked for permission!” I laughed. So we all ate corn soup, Maggi noodles and rice, more than enough to feed a not so hungry stomach. Good thing we did ordered maize from an old T’boli lady for our meryenda and lunch. It’s all that saved us from hunger uphill and in the falls, later on.
We went uphill again to bird watch while grilling some corn. It was still cloudy that time , and were quite unlucky says Roy. Birds don’t usually come out to feed if there’s isn’t much sunlight. Great, so what are we going to watch then? We only got 2-3 hours before we head for the falls. It’s time we get photos of ourselves I said. Rarely is TAMAC complete, so why not do it now? So we got all sorts of these pictures.
Just when we are about to enter the jungle and head for Mahel Falls, a few soaring birds showed up, but I can barely make out their features. At least we were able to see birds not monkeys or snakes.
Surprise number five. The trek down Mahel Falls is definitely not easy trek. A downhill trail based on a hunter’s foot trail, it’s not someplace often visited by humans. Numerous animal traps litter along the trail, and you need to be careful not to hold on those traps or you’ll certainly know what those wild boars experience! Uh did I say that we used ropes to go downhill? The soil is loose, with barely a recognizable root part to hold on. Poison ivy plants abound, which actually did inflict irritations on Chris skin. I slipped several times and I wonder how the kids are doing downhill. I must say, they’re pretty much resilient on these type of hardcore trekking! They’re not as whinny as I am! And they wanted pictures huh! While dangling on a rope! Beat that!
I thought our pitiful downhill trekk is over when we reached a lush, brilliantly clear river down valley. It was actually the start of a river trek. A river trek that reminded me of my Penek Busay misadventure. River crossing isn’t my forte and neither are these kids. It’s good we brought ropes with us. Plus this river is densely populated with leeches I can picture them waving to us whenever we step on the stones their attached to! Something nice and wonderful wouldn’t come so easy for me. I have to break myself to earn it. Literally. Like this one. Oh why would such outdoor beauty couldn’t come so easily??Why oh why?
Another cycle of river crossing and downhill trek led us to the most wonderful falls I ever seen in my trekking life so far. Hidden untouched and almost inaccessible to humans, Mahel falls kept its serene beauty to itself, until we invaded its turf. We thanked the nature deities for giving us a chance to be awed by its beauty. It is this type of serenity that always attracted us to go outdoors and beat the trekking odds. The price to pay to view such pristine nature wonder is steep, but it rewards our eyes and soul heavily. For once we can claim “oneness” with the beauty that nature has made for us. A heaven on earth.
We enjoyed our boiled maize corn while picnicking near the falls. Natur-ish indeed. We took so many souvenir shots we basically tired off my hands shooting. “Pagka lamig!!!” shouted everyone The swim in chilling cold, falls waters is fantastic! After we all satisfied our thirst for this beauty, we all cleaned and packed up to leave.
Leaving nothing but footprints, we headed up again towards the next community somewhere below us. To do this, we still have to pass river crossings. It was during one of those river crossing that one of us got “sucked” by a leech in his lower eyelid, a gruesome look but a harmless one. Though I got bitten by leeches myself that time (and previously in my treks) , this is the first time I’ve seen one that got into an eyelid. I easily took that sucker off his eyes with ..pliers. It’s not that hard though and you don’t need pliers to pluck them. It’s just that we don’t have pullers or forceps that time! How uncool??Pliers?
After another long and tiring trek downhill we passed through another sitio, Sitio laboy, which we naughtily call Sitio Playboy because of the rhyming name. On our way Roy told us there where old road tracks nearby for the loggers who frequented the place before it was declared a protected area. Truly the meter wide mountain roads seem odd in those perilous jungle. The irony is they can make roads for this type of business while for the people living there you rarely can you see their road “paved” as these logger tracks. Another what the…???
It was almost 4pm when we arrived at Mountain Log Resort. We all freshened up and ate our late lunch while waiting for our sundo. We paid our guides and porters and went broke after, hence Sir Joy asked his brother to fetch us. This was one surprise that awed us all. Expenses. Just how we “overshoot” ourselves isn’t for me to tell. I myself bought a camera that time and is languishing happily in satisfaction and debt. So who’s expensive now?
The one thing I’m sure though,we all did enjoyed that trek we went through all the odds just to make it happen! The least we can do is enjoy it! And that’s how we did it!
(Special thanks to Sir Joy for some of the pictures shown here. Big thanks aso to Sir Jojo ofMountain Log resort, president of Lake Sebu tourism council,Roy our guide,Roger our porter.)