When I was younger, I was taught to bow down my head, put together my hands, and close my eyes when praying. They say that by doing so, I can feel the divine grace and be able talk to the Heavens about the conquests of my heart. It paved operational for quite some time, but somehow, when the conquests became bigger and more difficult, no matter how hard I bow my head, clasp together my hands, and close my eyes, I can no longer find such intervention. And no matter how deafening the silence of the room can be, peace remained intangible. So I set forth and started looking somewhere else.
It was eight in the morning when I decided to pack my things and go for a hike. I arrived at Guadalupe Church by nine then hired a habal-habal to bring me to Napo. When I reached the bridge behind the store near the jumpoff area, I knew there was no more turning back. My feet started to walk on a fast pace, trying to familiarize the trails we recently tracked two weeks ago.
For someone who’s not that good with directions, I felt a slight amount of victory when I see a familiar sight within the area. Then my heart began to flutter when I saw the small house of tatay who brought tears to my fellow carolers last Christmas when we learned from him that just few days before the grandiose celebration, his wife died. He was busy watering his plants when he saw me. He asked for me to rest for a while on his humble abode and even offered water. I politely refused both, but we continued our little chitchat. He shared varied information of the vegetables he was growing and the myriad activities he does daily.
I continued the hike and met several trailrunners along the way. Whoever would see us would think that we were longtime friends, when in fact, it was the first time I saw them. Yes, this is a common practice amongst people on trails – you find your common ground and then talk your way from there.
When I reached the familiar mango tree where we usually take a stop, I saw a group of hikers several meters away from me. Their presence gave an assurance that I am on the right track, so I sped up to shorten the gap between us. I was able to catch them near the river where two trails diverged – one short and steep, the other one long and easy. They took the former, and I silently trailed behind them. In between those steep ascents, were queries and exchange of knowledge. They then began to include me on their discussions; it was later that they found out that I was not part of their group. HAHAHA. Told you.
I could have advanced; however, I found it unnecessary to speed up. I started to enjoy their stories of adventure and their songs of worship. They were Adventists by the way. What made it more fascinating were the fifty to sixty years old couples who brought with them their children – a unique kind of bonding along the challenging trails of Babag.
When we reached Babag, I learned that I was twenty minutes late before the departure of Sir Jude’s group. Upon knowing this, I immediately bid farewell to the group. The elders were hesitant knowing I would be going on my own and that we didn’t take lunch yet. But well, I promised that if I wouldn’t be able to catch them until Muffin Peak, I’d reroute and head to Pamutan then go home.
Twenty minutes was long. But if they were on a regular pacing, with chitchats in between, I’d be able to catch up with them. So to save time, I ate an apple along the way. Believe me, it was scary. Again, I’m not that good with directions and Babag has numerous trails to choose from. I would ultimately feel relieved every time I passed by a local. However, it was already a secluded part of the city so it’s already a bonus if I’d meet someone. The trek continued until I reached the base of Muffin Peak.
Much as I wanted to celebrate because there were four kids playing around the area, my heart sank knowing I didn’t reach the group I was running after to. When I arrived at the peak and sat quietly, the kids gave me a questioning look. Then one braved to ask: Are you alone? Or are you with those people there? (pointing out to the exit trail). My invisible antenna instantly popped from wherever they were hiding. I picked my bag and hurried to where the voices were coming from, and alas! I saw familiar faces! Hurray!
The group was actually parting. Sir Jude and his friend would be going to Pamutan (my supposed-to-be exit) while the other led by Mak (the same guy from the previous Babag hike) would be exiting to Campo Cuatro via Bitlang (the route we’re supposed to take last time). When asked if I’d like to join the Bitlang group, I gave a resounding yes… to which… nevermind (I know they’d be laughing at me with this again). So to Bitlang we go!
But what Mak failed to explain to us was that from Babag, we have to go down to Buot-taop, cross the river then hike up to Bitlang then down again to Buot, cross the river again then hike up to Babag Range’s Crossing then down to Cabatbatan then up again before finally crossing the river leading to Jaclupan – technically traversing four mountains in a row! Good thing the trails were too beautiful to complain from – rolling hills to rivers and boulders, to forested sites, and Bitlang monolith.
It was in all a 20 kilometer hike covered within 12 hours. Exhausting. Believe me, there were times I wished I had taken the opportunity to ride a habal-habal in going back to the city when we were still in Buot proper, but pride is gentle killer. It was the first time I totally felt frustrated every time I ask the group to halt because my knees could no longer bare the anxiety and pain. I felt guilty with the delay I have caused them – told you, pride is a gentle killer – but what almost brought me to tears were their comforting words and patience in dealing with all the adversities given to us.
We finished the hike at around nine in the evening. Tired. Sleepy. Hungry. Good thing, Sir Jude prepared a sumptuous meal for us as his house was along the way from Jaclupan. Thank Sir!
I wasn’t able to sleep immediately when I reached home. The experiences were too much to contain in a day. It felt like the Heavens slapped me hard on the face: this is what you asked for. But the atmosphere was calm, the kind of calm after the storm. My prayers were answered. Maybe sometimes we don’t literally need to bow our heads, put our hands together, and close our eyes to pray. Upon going over the conversation with tatay, the interfaith dialogue with those Adventist hikers, the empathetic words of my fellow hikers, I knew I was able to converse with Him. Truly, in the words of Matthew: Whatever you do to your brothers and sisters, you do to me.
Would I go back to this trail? Yes. I wanted to feel the pain again until it hurts no more. I wanted a revenge: a second round. HAHA. Wild hearts don’t die easily, right?. See you on trails?
To entice you, here’s a short clip on what happened during the hike: