March 30 Friday
The day was spent stitching a pair of torn socks and arm guards, tinkering around the kitchen to come up with something tasty and filling to eat for the trip, and endlessly poking the Internet to exactly find out what we're getting ourselves into once the sun shows up in the east again to herald another day that is Saturday. Friday ended with a newly-stitched trekking paraphernalia, pork and chicken adobo sitting atop the rest of my stuff in my backpack, but still clueless as to what waits for us once we scale Mount Panamao in Biliran Island.
A scanty piece of information came through an undated geocities article by Bruce N. Ragas. Proud and intimidating, he wrote of the mountain shadowing the island in all its grandeur and mystery.
"Myths and folklores of giant snakes and deadly creatures. Forested ridges. Slippery trails. Grassy cliffs. Alpine peak assault." These images lifted from Ragas' piece were enough for me to be more psyched up than the usual pre-climb prep and jitters. I recall that there is such strange comfort in not knowing. Yet fresh from Mount Hibok-Hibok's long and unplanned night trek ( which was primarily a result of the very long delay in the ferry bound for Camiguin) last month during the Fourth Annual Cebu Friendship Climb, I had visions of wet and mossy trails in the dark again. Needless to say, we were jumping on a ship bound for Ormoc and the chances of delay are highly probable again when traversing the ocean.
At 2230H, there were six of us who went aboard Roble Shipping's MV Wonderful Star- Tiki, Peri, Karen, Agta, Chong and I. Time spent at sea wasn't not really that wonderful, what with the ship jam-packed with passengers bound for Ormoc. I reckoned most of them are heading home for Lent’s promise of a long holiday. I talked to a fellow passenger, a middle-aged man traveling with his wife and three little ones. Are you from Ormoc, sir? Yes. Have you heard of Mount Panamao in Biliran? No.
Thrill, uneasiness and dread were by turns making my stomach churn while the waves rocked us to a dreamless sleep.
March 31 Saturday
The ferry arrived on time which took us six hours or so. While looking for transportation to take us to our next stop, Chong and I stuffed ourselves with puto and coffee (the rest had hot choco) and hardboiled eggs. In less than an hour, we were already tucked inside a van for hire bound for Naval. The road to Naval was a feast on the eyes; wide lush greens and lofty hills and palm trees on one side, long stretches of the ocean and the seemingly endless shore on the other, with the occasional huts and concrete houses dotting in between. The sun rose behind the towering mountains, lending the sky a bright orange hue.I was reminded of Negros and the views from the the bus we took at San Carlos City on our way to Kanlaon last year.
We set foot at the Naval bus terminal after a two-hour ride. A public market was nearby so we decided to stop by for breakfast and purchase our food supplies. Afterwards, we then headed off to look for our guide's house. Half an hour later, we met Sir Dodex and Sir Jeprox. They were also the local guides of Tiki and Peri when they scaled Tres Marias last year. We freshened up and had last minute prep at Sir Dodex'.
At 0915, we were on our way to our jump off point in Biasong via the dependable habal-habal. By the time we were there, the sun was already out in its full glory and a good weather-climb loomed ahead as evidenced by the clear blue sky.
The beginning of the trek covered open grasslands. We started off at 1005 H. After an hour of walking beneath the searing heat, we found ourselves on a rising hill overlooking the entire island and its neighboring isles. It was another feast on the eyes. I lost track of the names of the islands mentioned by the guides; I was chowing down my own fill of deliciously ripe guavas plucked nearby. I recall hearing Maripipi and Sambauan islands. Later on, it drizzled a little but the sun decided to come out again and we welcomed it with relief.
A large portion, if not most, of the trail upwards was an ordeal of pure assault. Sir Dodex already told us beforehand that it will only take us three to four hours to reach the campsite but we should ready ourselves for an intensely exhausting trail ahead.
The thorny and slippery climb began when we reached the thick forest— the air was thinner, the trail was steeper, and my pack seemed heavier. The locals at the jump off point casually mentioned that it rained the other night, thus the muddy trail. Like what I always do during steep ascents (and descents, too), I clung on to whatever there was I can held on to: fat branches and gnarled roots and giant rocks. But lo and behold! Panamao is not only filled with anything green, it is home to anything thorny green. While gripping on what looks like to be a fat solid branch,I realized that it’s soft to the touch after all and couched with thorns! Slim versions of this vine-like thorny plants (uway in local dialect) clung to anything it can attach itself with-- rain covers, arm guards, buffs, leggings, hands and yes, our faces. Chong unluckily had one stuck on his nose. I still find it cute though. :D
We reached the mountain's only water source after hours of struggling with the uway surprise attacks. The rocks by the water source served as our last points of rest before reaching the campsite, expected to be fifteen minutes away. The campsite was supposedly the venue for our hearty lunch but we ended up finishing the rest of the adobo leftovers and Agta’s lechon manok right there at the water source. Fifteen minutes more of an empty stomach seemed unbearable.
Reaching the campsite earlier than expected, we decided to trek to the summit the same day. The original plan was to scale Panamao's peak early morning the next day. We left our packs and what was supposed to be an easier trek ( with a lighter load and having rested long at the campsite) to the peak proved to be initially difficult and directionless. The supposedly trail to the summit was covered with trees and vegetation and the same uway that mauled us before we reached the campsite were ominously present. Sir Dodex has to clear the area so we can pass through. We were a bunch of lost trekkers for a while there. But wasn't it what we were aiming for? The thrill and anxiety of losing direction and finding one’s way again.
I was reminded right away of Mount Talinis in Dumaguete when we set foot at the summit. Unlike other mountain peaks with flat surfaces for weary mountaineers to rest and roll unto, there was little space at Panamao's summit for us all eight to run and frolic around. We stood and lined up by the ridge and waited for the fog to leave us alone for even a few minutes so we can marvel upon the scenery before us. We waited. We took photos. We waited. We laughed at each other's stories. We waited. We silently prayed to the Universe. We waited. Finally, we decided to come down and go back to the campsite. It was getting cold. Sir Jeprox and Sir Tiki got lost the second time around. The trail they took led them into the water source instead of our campsite. We called out for them and fortunately, they found their way back to us.
While traversing Biliran’s highest peak, we came across a good number of unique fauna. There’s the yellow toad cleverly camouflaged along the trail, the wood-colored snake the length of one’s forearm who crossed paths with Sir Jeprox, and the seemingly proud banog (hawks) hovering above our campsite.
We were back at the campsite before the night completely swallowed us down the trail. We pitched our tents, and marveled at the marriage of rust and gold in the sky. Dusk has arrived in Panamao. We had a very filling supper and the rest of the evening was spent telling each other stories. We had the stars as our blankets and the dark forest watching us dream while we slept.
April 1 Sunday
We all woke up at around 0600H. We planned for an early descent so we can still head off to neighboring Sambauan Island later in the day. We broke camp at 0820H and commenced our way down. After traversing the same muddy and thorny trail when we had our ascent the previous day , going down wasn't as difficult on the way up . An hour or two away from the hill filled with guava trees, we were lost again for the third time. Thankfully, we found our way again back to the guavas and the jump off point and the world and the Universe. :)
The group reached Biasong at 1115H. One of the locals was generous enough to offer us humba and karabaw paklay for lunch. We decided to head off to Kawayan to catch a pumpboat ride to Sambauan Island for some ocean love.
Photos by Tiki Allado.
Detailed itinerary here.