Humans, including yourself if you are as normal as every Juan, have this burning desire to compete and win – consciously or otherwise. It may be a competition against others. More often than not, it is to win against our very selves. We breathe and live to win, so much so we formulate mantras to live by based on our strong desire to outdo, to outperform or, perhaps, to outlive anyone or anything. Sometimes we call it the “rush”. Biology, and those who claim to know what it is, explains it as the sudden burst of energy from an increase in the hormone and neurotransmitter adrenaline — hence, adrenaline rush — usually caused by a traumatic stimulus. We, lesser humans, live content defining it as simply that feeling of being alive.
The corporate world is a bog. And, it is easy to be dragged into its mindless routine marred only by the ticking of the clock and the shedding of the pages of the calendar. From time to time, we want out of the rut. We want to be more than what our job description and resume say about us. We want to outdo what they say we can do. We want to outlive who they say we are. It is in this same carping vein that a group of friends and I decided to try mountaineering — despite the apparent lack of bulk in our hamstrings. We wanted to win against who we thought we were and what we thought to be our limits. After all, people say that the only limits are the ones we give ourselves. Empty platitudes or not, we were about to find out.
We chose to climb something near and cheap, and the Sirao Peak (also known as Kan-irag) was our best pick at the time. It was famous and it was just in the city to boot. (This was before it became a big trash bin for tourists with nothing else in mind but the likes they would get from their Facebook photos. I wonder if this was what Andy Warhol meant when he said each of us would get our own fifteen minutes of fame.)
The first thing we did was look for a guide. Several mountaineering groups here in Cebu are very willing to offer their services to rookie mountaineers and tourists alike. We were lucky to get the much-needed guidance from Jason (phone number: 09324537249). He is a seasoned mountaineer conquering several mountains in and out of Cebu.
This was one of our beginning climbs and we did not have any inkling about anything. We didn’t know what to prepare and we didn’t know what to expect. All we had was our sheer excitement about being able to get out of the couch and stretch some unknown shreds of muscle we probably had. This was just a day tour and we were hoping to finish the climb before sundown — which we did.
We met at Gaisano Grand Talamban and we started the trek by hiring a habal-habal (motorcycle taxis, as some of our sosy friends would call it) near the gate to the Sunny Hills Subdivision in Talamban. There are two ways (at least, these are what I know) to this adventure. One is to start the trek from Ayala Heights in Busay, climb down to Kabang Falls and then to Talamban. The other is simply the other way around: start the trek from Talamban, climb some boulders in Kabang, brave the assault (how do you like my summiteer slang?) to Sirao Peak, and exit through the relatively easy trail to Ayala Heights in Busay. We chose the latter simply because… we could (insert Superman in Batman‘s cowl and laughing like the Joker here). As it turned out, we got more than what we were ready to make a bargain for. But, we made it nonetheless.
The habal-habal ride from Talamban to Budlaan was probably what you call a not-so-smooth ride. The road was uneven loose stones and dirt. The steep drive up didn’t help one bit at all. I was expecting to stroll wide-eyed like a new mountaineering phoenix born from some corporate ashes but I was too busy holding on to dear life… and to what I ate and drank for breakfast. But, it didn’t dampen our vigor alright. We were tossed but we weren’t drown, so would the people in Paris say. We registered ourselves at the barangay hall in Budlaan (just a quick stop) and proceeded to the jump-off point — which we had to reach by passing a road so steep I forgot the difference between lying down and standing up. And, finally, we were at the jump off, too happy to get off the habal-habal that we immediately hopped on our way to Kabang Falls leaving the not-so-happy driver and his punctured tire. (Yes, the poor man’s motorcycle just couldn’t handle us.)
Silence was the only adjective I could think of at the moment considering the death-defying bravado we had to go through. The place was silent except for the occasional chirping of birds and the rustle of the blowing wind. As we went deeper into the forest, we eventually heard crackling laughter from afar complemented by the unmistakable roar of Kabang Falls. There were several people when we arrived at the falls making a dip less likable, but I did swim and, perhaps, drink somebody’s bodily excrement.
We rested for a few minutes preparing for the unexpected bouldering. We didn’t even know what the heck was bouldering at that time. Apparently, it was a cross between between swearing and praying. We were trying to climb over big solid rocks made slippery by the slow but regular cascade of water from the river nearby. We crawled. We hung on for dear life. We only had one way to go. Forward. Otherwise, we would fall down to the river several meters below. Halfway through all the acrobatics we thought we could never do, I was silently regretting that moment I decided the couch was not good enough for weekends. Apparently, it was way better than a gurney or, knock on wood, a coffin. But, I climbed on trying my best to take a firm step with my shaking knees and tired feet. And, I survived.
After that long climb over boulders, we emerged into a steady climb amid jungle bushes and trees. Slowly, the path became friendlier and we finally stopped by a store in the middle of nowhere for our lunch. It was only then that we realized we were hungry. We were too busy calling all the saints we knew to hear the call of our stomachs. We shared our lunch among us like the good Marxists that we were. It was the best lunch I had ever had in a long time.
Refreshed and recharged, we resumed our climb on a friendlier terrain. It was a path cutting across flower farms and well-rounded hills. The view was great from atop a small hillock where we could see the towering buildings in the city below against the crimson afternoon sky. It convinced us to climb a bit faster so that we could reach the peak with the sun still up. The view should be more magnificent from up the peak. After several hours of steady climbing up we came to a sea of cogon grasses as tall as… me (unfortunately, I am vertically-challenged so I don’t know if the comparison serves the purpose). We waded through seemingly endless razor-sharp leaves until we reached the clearing on top. Finally, we were on top of Sirao Peak.
The sun was just at the right place in the sky when we reached the top. It was neither too high nor too low for our eyes to feast on the panorama of the city skyline below. There were art students (at least, that who they said they were) trying to steal the magnificence of that one afternoon with the Sirao Peak below our feet, the scarlet sky in front of us and the dying light of the sun at our back. It was a catharsis for me, a cleansing — if you may. It was more than I conquering the mountain, winning against nature. It was I knowing the previously unknown me. It was I realizing life is more than worn-out work jackets and endless loads or reports. Life is also about breakups, voting, Facebook likes and everything in between including your hidden dirty undies and unpaid house rent.