I am not the superstitious type despite the provincial upbringing I had when I was little. I grew up fearing the tolling of the eight o’clock bell at night but it was more of a fear of the belt against my behind than the agta, or the kaskas, or the aswang, or whatever elemental my parents’ wild imagination could conjure out of the woody, thin countryside air. I can say I grew up to be rather the pragmatist than the pious man my mother dreamed of despite the rather backward indoctrination I got when I was young. Still, I wouldn’t wish to cross paths with a headless friar on a moonless night.
Imagine my ambivalence about spending a night in the mountains of Naga, which, without any intention of resorting to regional stereotypes, is known for stories of paranormal happenings at night. I got an invitation from a friend to an overnight camp on top of Naga’s quite the famous peak, Mount Naupa, which stands at 584 masl in the middle of the Naga, Minglanilla and Toledo ridges, and I couldn’t help but allow my mind to wander off a bit to the lands of goblins, half-bodied flying women and bovines in ridiculous wooden sandals.
Truth be told: I am not the strongest mountaineer. I don’t have the endurance or the leg power many mountaineers boast of. I tire easily and I am not really the outdoor juggernaut I often wish to be. What I have, however, is perseverance and a sense of purpose, and I think these are more than enough. I may not be the strongest mountaineer but I am a good one – – I hope.
We decided to go and visit Mt. Naupa a couple of weeks ago. I was with a team composed mainly of beginners in outdoor camping and so I had to act as their guide hoping I would be able to impress on them the etiquettes of a good mountaineer – – that is if following the Leave No Trace principles makes you one.
Days before the camp, I could already feel the hesitations. All I could do was give them the smiles and assure them it’s going to be great. The little doodle of clouds with THUNDERSTORM below them on Accuweather didn’t help one bit. Oh, it’s going to be great – – so I told them with dwindling conviction each time.
THINGS TO BRING
It was Saturday and we agreed to meet at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. We planned on taking the bus to Tungkop, Minglanilla, which was really not a good idea on a Saturday. The terminal was jammed with people waiting for the buses and it was difficult for us to get a ride from there. So, we decided to take a jeepney to Punta Princesa and hailed another jeepney for Tungkop.
The jeepney ride to Minglanilla was surprisingly comfortable. There were fifteen of us and the driver did not pick up more passengers on the way. It was already two in the afternoon when we reached Tinong’s Bakery in Tungkop. This was where the motorcycles for Cogon Chapel, which was the jump-off point, were waiting.
The habal-habal (motorcycle) ride to the jump-off was a bit rough. The road wasn’t exactly paved and there were some areas which were soaked in mud due to the heavy downpour the night before. Thankfully, the sun was up that day. Though there were some portents of rain, it was a great day for a hike.
Before we began our climb to the campsite, we said a quick prayer to thank God for the safe journey and ask for his continued guidance. Personally, I needed it. What with the not so enjoyable habal-habal ride and the imposing trail ahead of us! It wasn’t really a difficult trail but I hadn’t done any strenuous activity for a while and I prayed I wouldn’t pull anything during the hike. I was carrying a 75-liter backpack and an 80-kilogram obese body – – I really needed God to be with me that day.
We asked a couple of kids to lead us to the campsite. It was already half past three when we began our trek. The one-man path wasn’t really that bad. It was muddy alright but it wasn’t slippery. There were sudden ascents and descents but they were nothing we couldn’t handle.
After more or less fifty minutes of drudging along ravines and dirt paths, we arrived at the campsite. There were campers pitched on the main camp site already so we camped on the lower hill near the big tamarind tree. The campsite was aptly called Sambagan (sambag = tamarind). Carlo and Angelo, our guides, helped us set up camp and bade their goodbyes after. We still had time to watch the sun hie away behind the eerie and gray silhouettes of mountains in the west casting a crimson backdrop as it went down. Oh, what a beautiful break from my smartphone-and-laptop corporate life in the city!
We cooked dinner. We had marinated pork the day before so that we wouldn’t have to bring spices and condiments during the trip. We had prepared our food at home and placed them in ziplocks. This way, we could save time. We had pork steak and mushroom soup for dinner. Thanks to Lynnz for the sumptuous meal.
We gathered for a quick chat after dinner. We got to meet a few people who were new to the group. We had a good laugh but the night was cut short by the rain. We called it a night and crawled into our warm cozy tents.
We woke up early the next day to catch the sunrise, and we did catch Mr. Sun’s shy head hidden behind the clouds in the east. And, yes, there were no flying half-bodied women anywhere.
I loved the wet and woody scent of the morning earth. There was something nostalgic about it. It reminded me of my grandparents and their rickety shack in the mountains. I missed the rooster crowing every break of dawn and the warm, sweet cup of sikwate my Lola used to brew to keep us warm in the morning.
There were other campers around, too, and they were polite and nice the way most mountaineers are. They camped atop the main campsite so we could see them clearly from where we were. For some odd reason, I felt glad seeing many people drudging around in the cold trying to warm themselves by staying close together wrapped with whatever warm things they could get hold of. It looked so intimate without the malice we usually put into things — if you catch my drift.
We had the usual selfie and groufie sessions, of course. We wouldn’t be millennials without the instant high we’d get from social validation through Facebook and Instagram, would we? I feel good for our grandchildren. They wouldn’t have to feel creepy seeing their grandparents’ black and white, stern and Victorian photos like we did. Wouldn’t it be nice for them to see our stupid duck faces and the equally stupid heart-shaped thumb and finger reminiscent of the Korean “oppa” madness instead?
We prepared breakfast. We had omelet, corned beef and salted anchovies for breakfast. Camping food could never get any better than this – – believe me. We broke camp right after. The sun was already blaring hot up high when we started our descent to Cogon Chapel. We took the usual habal-habal ride to Tungkop.
I have one confession to make. I am a big cheapo. I don’t really beg but if there is a way I can get things for free, then I’ll gladly do so, which we actually did on our way to the city from Tungkop. We saw a government coaster headed for the city and so we raised our thumbs up and hitchhiked.
The coaster took us to SM Seaside in Mambaling where we boarded the bus to Park Mall. I liked these SM buses, which were affably called the My Bus. They looked like the buses in the animes I watched – – you know, those with seats facing each other and hand grips hanging from the steel bars above. I was half expecting to see No-Face and Chihiro in those seats, but, of course, they were not there just as there were no mananangal and aswang in Naga.
This Naupa Peak camp we had was particularly special for me. This was when we officially created our travel group, the Reefs To Ridges (R+R), and this would also be my first blog update since March of this year. It had been more than six months already since I wrote something in my blog. I had been busy, you see. Life happened and I could not but say yes to it. And, I was glad I was finally back. See you on our next trip. We’d love to have you with us. Let us tell our stories from reefs to ridges.