61st Courier Anniversary Issue
Beautiful Baguio: Relax, enjoy, and have fun
Being a minority across time
Exotic and mystical Abra
Home of the Isnag Tribe
Benguet has it all
Ifugao, home to bountiful heritage
The Pride of Kalinga
The land called Mountain Province
Benguet farmers'
woes over vegetable prices
Festivals for peace and progress
in Mountain Province
Kalinga: A roadmap to progress
A Napulawan experience
Displaced binga folks:
Pesky footnote in Napoco's legacy?
A peek into Cordillera’s last nature frontier
A taste of Abra
Atty. Federico Muñoz Mandapat Sr.:
A story of a war and sports hero
61st Anniversary Cartoon
A Napulawan experience
by: Ria Germaine Balabag

Since our arrival in Hungduan, Ifugao, I have often heard about Mount Napulawan. It is one of the famous tourist spots in this municipality, and it is near Barangay Hapao.

Hapao is where the high school, I along with two other volunteers were assigned as volunteer teachers or Gurong Pahinungod, is located.
We lived in the community for 10 months.

They say that Mount Napulawan is the second highest peak in Luzon, and the locals would talk about its historical role as where Yamashita hid himself and his treasures, how wonderful the view there is, or the “magical” sights at the top that tourists can visit. Students who have gone there tirelessly write or talk about it. Any local who has climbed the famous mountain gains pride and a certain prestige. And so my co-volunteers and I set the goal to climb the famous mountain before we left the area. Also, the climb would serve as the finale to our service as volunteers in the area, and we wanted to share the experience with some of the students who have become our friends.

A start
We invited students to accompany us. There have been rumors of hold-upping of tourists along the way so we wished to have as many locals as possible to accompany us to ensure safety from prospective bandits.

We were able to convince one girl and seven boys to come with us. Our most important companion was Johnny, a senior high school student.
He has gone to the mountain more often than any kid in the area and he is also a tourist guide.

Most of the kids who were with us were seniors. Our rule was ‘no liquor’, but Johnny’s pa-rents prepared a bottle of baya (rice wine) and we couldn’t refuse.

There are two routes going to Mount Napulawan. One is passing through Poblacion, which takes four hours to hike, but the way is steep. The other one is going up from Hapao, and takes five hours to hike but the way is more bearable, according to Johnny. We took the longer route. The children did not expect us to walk as fast as they did.
Johnny predicted we could do it in eight hours — the typical speed of a tourist, instead of the ideal five hours. He even presumed it could take us till sunset, judging from the way we walked.

At first we walked as one group, but eventually the variety of our speed made us divide into three small groups. The two fastest boys, Bernabe and Sylvester, formed the first group. The second group was composed of Shenny, me, Romar, Johnny, Marvin, and me. The third group was composed of my co-volunteers Ran and Rein, accompanied by Ryan and Ricky. The boys in the first group were way faster than us.

One of them carried my bag, the biggest and heaviest, but they were still able to take naps while waiting for us. In my group, I was, of course, the backlog. I was the weakest climber. I used to hike, jog, and run, but I’ve gotten older and I developed pain in both my knees, which my friends call rheumatism. My knees were fine during the hike but admittedly the boys were really fast for me. Shenny led our group. It was also her first time to climb Napulawan but being a native of the place, hiking is not a problem for her. I liked it that she was ahead of me because I had to cope up with her speed so as not to be a problem for the three boys behind me. Johnny stayed at the back of the line.
The third group was also going way behind us.

The way up
There were moments during the hike when my heart was already in my throat and it felt like it wanted to jump out of my mouth, and it would never stop thumping so hard until it did so. Those were the times that signaled me to breathe one, two, three, four, five, then go. Every five to ten minutes, either Shenny or I would stop to demand for rest.
Johnny is a patient tourist guide and leader. He let us stop when we got tired but he didn’t like rests for more than two mi-nutes. He also told us what to look forward to. He would tell us about a campsite or viewpoint ahead where we could take longer rests.

We stopped by more or less four campsites or viewpoints along the way where the three groups met and separated again. The first campsite was halfway up and every stopover was an opportunity for leeches to attack. Some kids were attacked on the legs and two on the sto-mach. It is good to stay far from damp soil, short grass, and wood, and wish for a hot shining sun if you want to avoid leeches. Johnny knows the kind of grass where leeches can’t go. If you are really afraid of leeches, it’s better to have some salt in your pocket.

After the first half of the hike, which we took for three hours, we went through mossy woods where the sun can only peep through because of the thin tall trees. It felt so cool under those trees and among wet fern leaves that touch your face. Everywhere was every kind of moss, from the ground to the plants, even on tree roots, trunks, and branches. The moss was a good sign that the mountain has not yet been invaded by human abuse. The only bad thing is that the moss becomes a camouflage for roots or cut trees. Many times I almost tripped over a root or protruding trunk along the way. Our pants, shoes, hands, and faces were getting wet from the damp woods, but it helped to keep us cool down and keep on going. Most of the second half of the hike isn’t as steep as the first part so I was able to cope up with the speed of my group, always conscious of my knees. We got hungry along the way but my backpack where I packed the food was always kilometers ahead of us. We ate what the rest of us had and moved on. We finally reached the top of Mount Napulawan on the eighth hour.

The view on the way to the top
For the first two hours of the hike, you can still see Hapao from above.
You can take a rest while enjoying the view of the rice terraces, the river, the mountain, and buildings. Walking through the mossy woods was also very enjoyable. There were ferns of all sizes and the trunks were bent or webbed together in pursuit of sunshine as they grew. I used to think I can only see such magnificent sights on TV or the movies. Large roots form tunnels, which we had to crawl under or climb over to get through. You can sit on fallen trunks or lie down on bended trunks or branches and enjoy the view of the leaves above as they shelter you from the heat of the sun. Or you can just sit and enjoy the silence and fresh air. The sight of the trees around and above was majestic; add to that the different sounds of birds nearby. The kids say there are deer, wild boars, wild cats, and mountain rats in the woods.

Hunting is still practiced there although not that much anymore. When we were in the mossy woods I feared for mires and snakes but we only encountered leeches.

The day was a bit cloudy so every time we reached a viewpoint, all we could see were clouds. When we reached the top, we were able to see the breath-taking view of green, yellow, and orange leaves of nearby mountains but after a while the clouds covered the mountain and it rained a bit. It was cold at night and we had to squeeze our bodies together for warmth. In the morning the scene of clouds that lay on the mountains was so calming. Afterwards the orange sun rose and warmed us up.

Caring for the spot
It is sad to think that not many of the townspeople of Hungduan get to see the views that we saw. Even most of the kids we had with us were also first timers. Sadly, they saw Apocalypto first before seeing the woods and Mount Napulawan. Some who have come to this place appreciated it in a different way. Along the way, we passed through some spots where some trees were cut down for firewood. In some campsites there were few pieces of plastic that were left behind and firewood simply left scattered around. At a campsite at the peak there are pits that were dug for garbage, and on one spot bottles of liquor were dumped. Some local youths go to the top for one reason — to drink their hearts out without being seen and heard by most of the townsfolk.

My co-volunteers and I realized that tourism in Hungduan is still budding and so the people are not yet conscious of preserving or taking care of the tourist spots. The tourist guides are not yet organized and there are no notices on caring for the environment even at the peak of Mount Napulawan. The trees at the peak provide unlimited supply of firewood and locals and campers should be conscious about this. Since there are no limitations in using the trees, it might mean that the more campers come and go, the lesser the trees could be seen in a span of time. Hopefully as mountaineers, tourists, and environmentalists get to know about this mountain, we could all help to maintain the beauty and sanctity of this place.

Back down
In the morning, Johnny planned our trip down at 11 a.m. We couldn’t go earlier, one because we had to let the sun dry up the track first and keep the leeches away. The kids got to enjoy the “Mirror Mountain” and dead lake while Ran and I rested in the camp. I could have gone around with the rest if I weren’t preserving my energy for the trip down the mountain.

We went down with the same small group we had and I was grateful that Shenny’s speed going down was faster. I figured that going down was easier if you just ran down slopes. So I ran and tried to catch up with Shenny, despite slipping my wet shoes on mossy roots dozens of times. Johnny was kind enough to carry my bag for me so I only had a staff to support my weight. If we didn’t wait for the third group to catch up with us, we could have made it back by four in the afternoon. I enjoyed my chats with my groupmates. We were like in a talk show where each of us took turns to be the hosts, asking questions and getting to know each other. Eventually I came to appreciate them. Since they were not in my classes, I only got to know them during this trip.

A memory worth keeping
I didn’t get to see the rest of the top of Mount Napulawan but I can say it was a worthy finale to everything that we have been through in Hapao as a Gurong Pahinungod. The trek was similar to the challenges of a typical teacher and volunteer. I enjoyed hiking it the most not only because of the sights and the good feeling but also because I got to learn about some of the students who became our friends, whom we eventually admired because of their character. My Napulawan experience can be said to be different from those who climbed it for the sake of accomplishment. We climbed it for the purpose of ceremonially putting a mark on the good experiences and people we met in this place.

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