Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Race to the Top

[[Feature article in the upcoming issue of Hamilo Post: Official Newsletter of Pico de Loro]]

The idea of traveling on foot up the mountains never really appealed to me, especially after I've injured my left kneecap almost two years ago. So when I got a call to join a trekking exercise with friends at Pico de Loro Cove in Hamilo Coast, I was not exactly fired up. Little did I know that, hours after the day was over, I would still be babbling about it...fondly.

We left Manila just as the sun was peering from the horizon. We hardly felt the two and a half hour drive, thanks to banters about office anecdotes, and comic relief from the kitschy and quirky 80’s decade. But that's a totally different story!

We knew we had arrived at Hamilo Coast when we passed by the majestic landscaped entrance and guardhouse. After a short drive of scenic, winding roads, we finally reached the Pico de Loro beach. When the trekking team was complete, we began the hike to the peak—walking on pristine white sand and passing through dense mangroves to reach the foot of the hills. The Hamilo Coast estate management (HCEM) staff who doubled as our guides, gear caddies, security, and first aid crew led the way through a lush growth of trees wild plants, dried leaves, and twigs. The idea of being in the midst of the wilderness, disconnected from the chaos of the city (though mobile phone signals were unbelievably strong) and in communion with nature was more than enough impetus to drive us higher up into the highland. Not even the thought of running into forest snakes (which we were told as very unlikely) or even encantos (nature elementals) stifled that strong impulse to reach the top. At some point, we were all quietly striding through the trail, all in awe of the sense of peace and quiescence of the woods.

While we had to stop every once in a while to take photos, we would grab every opportunity to soak in the beauty of the forest around us. It was quite a hike, and because I hardly touched my breakfast before the trek—how smart was that?—I started feeling weak. (I’m diabetic, so hypoglycemia started kicking in.) Everybody in the team, especially the HCEM staff, was very helpful: they offered water, a bite from their yet untouched Egg McMuffins from breakfast, and even helped carry my backpack. Using their two-way radios, the HCEM staff were even kind enough to be able to contact ground personnel to get my medication, which I had left in the van. Fifteen minutes later, I was back on my feet and we headed up again.

Three or four stops later, we finally reached our target—one of the numerous observation decks scattered in the mountaintops of Pico de Loro Cove. The view was astounding. No immobilizing--and not because we had acrophobia, but because you would best be completely still to absorb the magnificence of the view from the top. The surrounding mountains made us feel miniature with its majestic stretch; the lapis lazuli sky almost kissing its reflection on the tranquil waters; and the cool sea and mountain breeze embracing each other, muffling the heat of the scorching sun. For an amateur trekker like myself, this hike was utterly challenging, even daunting…but surveying the grandeur of God’s creation like that from where I was, it was definitely worth all the trouble.

We took a couple more photos on the observation deck, while at the same time imagining how spine-tingling it would be to experience the zip line (from the deck rushing down to the beachfront) once that amenity is completed. Below—luminescent flags along the shore, the unsullied powder white sand, the unruffled strides of the almost Lilliputian people enjoying the sun, and the sea competed for our attention. Since it was already noon, we decided to head back down to have lunch.

Less than thirty minutes later, we were back to where we started from—barely a quarter of the time it took for us to climb the highland. We enjoyed a feast of local delicacy, which the staff personally prepared for us. We also toured the cove’s marketing and visitor’s center—Pico Point—an architectural wonder that was like a big tree house perched on a steep cliff near the beach. After which, we spent a very relaxing moment lounging under a tent on the shores of Pico de Loro beach. All the aches we endured during the trek seemed to disappear, just sipping some iced-cold teas and vodka, and staring at the vastness of the cove itself.

In a few hours, we called it a day and headed home but not without passing through the town proper to feast on some glorious local specialties such as the renowned halo-halo and pork barbecue from Aling Seling's. The drive back to Manila was slightly longer due to the weekend traffic, but was still enjoyable and seemingly fast—what with stories of the day's trek, the gastronomic treats, and of course...more fun conversations and 80's trivia!

If I were to be invited yet again to join this spirit-stimulating, endurance-challenging, and nature-tripping experience, I will do this trek again in a heartbeat.

1 comment:

Empty Streets said...

You are quite a talented writer Ben :) hehe Hope you have a great weekend ahead :) xoxo