That’s when it all made sense –sitting atop Pico de Loro, the highest point of Cavite. It was hard to stifle the sheer awe at nature’s bounderlessness and untouched beauty. At first, I found it difficult to understand why anybody would go through so much trouble and effort just to spend a fleeting moment appreciating a view, but it all became clear very quickly. The huffing and puffing brought about by nearly three hours of hiking had been transformed to a tranquility that I had seldom experienced. Life’s burdens had no place here.
It was incredible to think that just six hours prior, I was still in the hustle and bustle of the city, navigating clogged streets filled with impatient cars and jaded pedestrians. And now here I was, with only two other people, the gust of the wind the only sound breaking the silence. I was about as far removed as I could be from anything related to my natural habitat. After a surprisingly quick two-and-a-half hours of constant slipping on uphills and downhills, and participating in nonstop chatter, there was a need for some isolation–a chance to soak in the scenery undisturbed. What a spectacular view it was, one certainly worth all the trouble. At just under 2,300 feet above sea level, there was nothing around that could obstruct the view of the neighboring lavish green mountains that stretched as far as the eye could see. In front of me stood the parrot’s beak rock formation that brought about this mountain’s name. A quick twirl revealed history-filled islands such as Corregidor and El Fraile, engulfed in the glistening blue sea. Here, it was easy to appreciate just how grand and majestic nature’s design really is. I felt small, but in a good way. Looking at the utter beauty around me, the problems I brought to this peak seemed trivial, almost silly. Only hope and possibility prevailed here.
Of all the mountains in the Philippines, Pico de Loro is classified among the easier ones to climb. ” There’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a minor climb,” explained Eugene Martinez, our enthusiastic, and seasoned guide who had been up and down these trails for years. Being part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), he was certainly an authority in this matter, especially since what we were approaching was a DENR protected area. I relaxed, the way Eugene had brushed off my concerns, I felt this would be at worst, a slightly adventurous walk in the park.
Five minutes into our endeavor, and the road we entered from already seemed a distant memory as the forest quickly thickened. Despite the forecast of clear skies and sunshine, it had been raining lightly all morning. While I welcomed the respite from the blazing sun, my running shoes weren’t coping well with the slick conditions. As we navigated inclines and descents, on surfaces varying from boulders, loose rock, dirt and soft mud, I felt I might as well have been wearing rollerblades. So much for that walk in the park. I should’ve known better than to trust the judgement of a man that practically lived here. This was his backyard, of course he was going to think it was easy.
To be fair to him though, there weren’t too many sections that had us falling behind, but the trail was certainly challenging enough that the mind was constantly occupied, calculating the best spot to place each step. From time to time there would be a flat area with some firm dirt, allowing a brief moment to lift the head and take in the dense greenery we were immersed in. It seriously looked like we were walking through the set of the original Predator movie. Chances to wallow in the surroundings were rare and brief though, with the blur of the constantly changing terrain the most common view.
Inevitably, we fell into a rhythm of continuous forward motion, incessantly chatting, feet constantly moving, the time passing faster than usual. Before we knew it, we emerged unperturbed from a final 80 degree incline of loose rock. Waiting for us was one of the most stunning views we had ever come across.
After our dose of individual appreciation, it was time to make our descent. It was then that we were joined by three men who had traversed from the Batangas side of the mountain range earlier in the day. They were on their way home with packed sacks filled with empty bottles and other recyclable materials that they planned to make a profit from. I was shocked as they explained how the trip back would involve traveling almost two hours with their heavy luggage. On top of that, I realized that they were walking completely barefoot. Let’s just say I complained significantly less about my slippery shoes on our way down.
Physically fit and mentally active
It was barely five in the morning but we were already en route to our next adventure. Caylabne Beach Resort was the next destination, and it was there where founders of the Philippine Kayaking Association, Val and Didi Camara, were waiting for us. Although it was still gloomy out, I felt an instant warmth as we got acquainted, the couple’s sunny disposition spilling over like infectious laughter. It wasn’t long before fascinating stories of past trips came spilling out of them. Rappeling, mountain climbing, paragliding, wind surfing, and of course kayaking were some of the activities mentioned, but I go the sense those were just the tip of the iceberg. “We could go on and on,” Val confirmed, adding, “We’re always looking to add more stories to our tale.” Here were two people that really embodied the outdoor lifestyle. Despite their history of dabbling in just about anything that had them out and about, kayaking eventually became their primary focus.
“We introduced it in the country in the early 1990s and we’ve been spreading it throughout the nation ever since. We found that due to the activity’s easy-to learn nature, the interest wash igh from the onset. We founded the Philippine Kayaking Association in 1997, which also gave birth to the idea of making the Philippines easily navigable kayak through the Philippine Kayaking Series,” Val explained.
After a quick tutorial on how to properly maneuver a kayak, we paired off and ventured into the water ourselves. After about a ten-minute spell coming to grips with different strokes needed to handle our boats, Didi guided us into the mangrove area where the water was shallow and extremely calm. “It’s a shame we didn’t come during high tide,” she quipped, “We would’ve been able to drift in between the trees and get really close to the animals.” Although the prospect of getting even more intimate with the lagoon’s residents admittedly had me wishing we’d come a little later, it did little in diminishing my immediate fascination for the place. I could’ve spent hours here, gliding ever so smoothly underneath the flocks of birds flying overhead, the fish skipping on the surface of the water, and the monkeys hiding in the trees. Lingering wasn’t an option, however, and before long we were out of the mangrove area and braving the conditions of the open sea. With the stronger winds, and choppier surface, I couldn’t help but feel amazed at how the Camara’s would venture out in such conditions for hours on end.
As lunchtime approached, our little paddle out session came to a close. After a pleasant stop at one of the launch points of some kayaking events, Ternate Beach Resort, we made for our final destination, Utod Waterfall. There was a short trek down to the river through some residential areas, but fortunately not anywhere near the level of difficulty that was required or the climb up Pico de Loro. Upon arrival at the part of the river they had closed off for the landing of the falls, I found the urge to jump in too difficult to ignore. Floating on my back, the cool fresh water on my skin, coupled with the constant rumble of the falls, it was the perfect way to end such an exciting, but tiring trip.
“The greatest benefit of an outdoor lifestyle is being physically fit and mentally active,” I recalled the ageless Didi tell me. With my legs aching from the climb, my arms strained from all the paddling and my head buzzing with stunning images, I understood what she meant. I had just spent a couple of days completely immersed in the activities we set out to experience, forgetting any of the troubles that come with living in the urban jungle of Metro Manila. I was exhausted, but in the manner that made me want to smile. I was refreshed. So close to Manila,it was a wonder to me why I hadn’t really explored this side of the country before. Cavite is an adventurer’s playground. Whether it be on land, water or in the air, this nearby city escape has a little something everyone looking for a thrill.
Taking of to a great start
Words by Jerricho Reynaldo and Images by Zean Villongco
The sun had barely risen that morning when we set off for Barangay Lantic in Carmona to have a taste of freedom in the skies. Since 2009, paragliding enthusiasts have been taking off from the ridges of the vast, grass-filled plateau, but the year’s northeast winds ushered in a new season of paragliding, which the local government is opening to both beginners and experts, until the winds are in their favor, that is.
Paragliding is a form of human flight considered by many to be the easiest in terms of control and transportation. A paraglider’s armor includes only a helmet and a backpack in which he has stuffed his prized, non-motorized inflatable wing made of rip-stop nylon, attached to the flyer via sturdy Kevlar lines. That morning, we were joined by members of the Philippine Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association (PPHGA) who will be taking us with them during their flights.
The slopes and trails of Lantic were largely undeveloped, which I take is also an attempt to preserve the natural impression conveyed to the mostly foreign flyers that travel up. The rough drive to the take-off location, however, didn’t dampen our flippancy and excitement, and had most of us raving about what could possibly be our first flight. the experts, on the other hand, regaled us with stories about how they met, their many experiences with paragliding and where they will be off to next.
To kick-off that day’s paragliding session was Manjul, a 70-year old South Indian woman who was visiting her relatives here in the Philippines. According to her niece, it was Manjul’s first time to try paragliding but that she was one adventure-seeking woman who was eager to try adrenaline-pumping activities even at her age. As the team strapped the harnesses upon her and her belts were buckled, we cheered her on, and with a few steps unto the edge of the cliff, she and her flying partner took off for their 15 minute-flight, soaring over the fields of Carmona. Every minute or so, they passed along our spot and we could clearly see the old lady smiling upon her experience.
According to Joanne Bawalan, Municipal Information Officer of Carmona, the area serves as training ground to many foreign paragliding practitioners, with Europeans and Americans taking the bulk of the number, and a few Asians every now and then. Before the season end in April, though, she expects a bigger turn-out of local flyers especially now that they have the support of the provincial government and the country’s paragliding association.
My turn had me thinking if I’d chosen the right activity to participate in, but the opportunity was so tempting and the prospect of losing to a 70-year old woman so embarrassing that I had no other choice but to push through with it. Belts strapped and buckles tight, my partner and I ran on an easy pace until our para glider shot up to the sky and we were floating tens of feet in the air, dangling at the mercy of our expertly-handled wing. A small turn here and there, and we were either making our way higher to the clouds or closer to the ground. Before I knew it, my 15 minutes of fame were over and the grazing cows and overgrown grass were getting nearer. I touched down on the soft ground, amazed at the sights and sounds of freedom I relished upon the winds.
That’s one thing crossed off my bucket list, I said