Where do broken hearts go

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Apparently, these days, in Sagada. Thanks to the movie That Thing Called Tadhana, tourism is picking up in that place. I was supposed to forgo this trip. I got a bit lazy researching for good reviews and arranging my itinerary. Besides, I am not even in love, let alone broken-hearted. All I want is to eat yoghurt at the Yoghurt House. It has been in my bucket list  since I saw a segment about it on the tv show Game Plan more than a decade ago. But I don’t usually pass up an opportunity to check off an item in my bucket list, so to Sagada I went.

Like all my other travels lately, this was (again) a last minute decision. With no reserved bus tickets, I had already anticipated that time will be wasted on the road or waiting for a chance to get on the road. What I did not expect though was the people I met along the way. And as usual, they enriched an otherwise ordinary experience.

The great enabler Jenith took this trip with me like as if she's not busy with her PhD. LOL
The great enabler Jenith took this trip with me as if she’s not busy with her PhD. LOL

On our way to Baguio, Jenith and I lined up as chance passengers at the Victory Liner bus terminal. While waiting for vacant seats, we were blabbing in the Visayan dialect, when all of sudden, the guy next to me asked, “Are you from Ateneo de Davao Law?” Like a bolt of lightning, I tried to recall if I said anything offensive or incriminating in the last 30 minutes. But the guy graciously introduced himself as a panyero (a fellow lawyer), so I figured that he might have heard us talking about the results of the recent bar exams. It turned out he is also a graduate of AdDU Law. I mean, what are the chances I will meet one in the overpopulated Metro Manila? More surprising is the fact that he is a pioneer member of the organization I joined in law school. It was like meeting an ancestor! Haha And an even more amazing detail is that he works for the Office of the Solicitor General, the only government office I want to work for. Indeed, what are the chances?!

Respect the place and register as a visitor
Respect the place and register as a visitor

So after 20 hours in transit, we arrived at Sagada. Because of our limited time there, we decided to just try different restos the rest of the afternoon/night. Of course, the first order would have to be the holy grail…

Nothing fancy, just good food
Nothing fancy, just good food
Another item off my bucket list
Another item off my bucket list
i was voraciously hungry. I can't even pose for a shot.
i was voraciously hungry. I can’t even pose for a shot.

Restaurants and sidewalk stalls lined up the road. For a quaint rural town, food here are quite pricey. Even the lowly, bland hotdog-on-stick costs more than what we have in Davao. In this place, I found the local pinikpikan more satisfying than the over-hyped lemon pie, which failed to meet my average palate standards.

I actually indulge in street food for the side conversations, rather than the taste.
I actually indulge in street food for the side conversations, rather than the taste.
I tasted Mountain Dew instead of lemon.
I tasted Mountain Dew instead of lemon.

We stayed at Isabelo’s, which is a stone’s throw away from everything (bus stop, town hall, police station, etc.) The family that manages the inn was very accommodating and friendly. They will help you explore the place like a local. There were times when I found myself helping out with the chores, because I just feel so at home. Some said that we should have stayed at a homestay, but I think Isabelo’s was just as homey (if not more).

The remaining half day was spent exploring nearby tourist attractions. The movie Tadhana introduced every broken-hearted person to Kiltepan View. Famous for its sunrise and billowing clouds, Kiltepan was jam-packed when we got there. You could not take a selfie, without someone photobombing you. The reflective and emotional atmosphere depicted in the movie was a lie, an illusion. How can you reflect if you stand at the edge of the cliff like sardines?!

Kiltepan sunrise
Kiltepan sunrise
Running the trails leading out of Kiltepan
Running the trails leading out of Kiltepan
Not missing the forest for the trees
Not missing the forest for the trees

Last stop was the famous hanging coffins. We were running short of time, so we decided to go to the nearer coffins at Echo Valley. It was a tough hike going there. But for a chance to see this rare archeological find, I will climb anywhere.

The treacherous downhill leading to the hanging coffins
The treacherous downhill leading to the hanging coffins
What an honor to be part of the mountain even after death.
What an honor to be part of the mountain even after death.

We also found interesting town scenes…

The morning flea market place
The morning flea market place
This place does not run out of fresh produce.
This place does not run out of fresh produce.
I made a wish on this church.
I made a wish on this church.

So another place explored. Another weekend well spent. As I go back to my daily grind, I now have something to look back on. I don’t know why, but Sagada charmed me. I might go back. My destiny (tadhana) beckons.

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Taking a hike

Some mountains are not meant to be run.
Some mountains are not meant to be run.

I’m not immune to depression. No one is. That DNF really hit me hard. My race calendar was built around the Mt. Ugo race. I planned to run (not necessarily finish, as I can also be realistic sometimes) my first ultra this year and just like that, the plan went down the drain. It’s bad enough that I have to travel to run decent trails, now I have to scour for races to accomplish this goal. Given the nature of my work and the need to reboot my training, I was not very hopeful. Thus, the sinking heart.

Without a finish line or cut-off time 

Like her namesake savior, Christ, my sorority batchmate and overall  personal bully, pulled me out of the rut. We had previously planned to climb Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain peak, even before the Mt. Ugo fiasco happened. She told me that perhaps I should lie low with races for now and enjoy the mountains. She organized everything for the climb and bombarded me with photo tags and reminders that made me look forward to visiting the mountains again.

Sure, the rush of a race will not be there, but exhaustion, danger, and wonderment can still be expected. I am not one to back down on a challenge, so with just a day pack on hand, I escaped the bustle of the city and embraced the wilderness again. This time, no pressure. All just for fun.

Drowning the pain with more pain

Where are we going, map?
Where are we going, map?

On paper, the trail did not look intimidating. I’ve run greater distances and longer hours before, so how hard could this trail be? It also did not hurt to know that the trail is a “rainforest”… or so I thought. I pictured a Garden of Eden kind of atmosphere, less of the jungle survival type. This one, unfortunately, was the latter.

 

Getting to the jump off point was already very demanding. I thought Christ’s multicab will breakdown midway, but with a couple of offload-pushing, it unbelievably held on and went through the precarious terrain. What a prelude to our impending adventure. Goosies.

We initially planned to set camp at the plains of Lake Venado, but we did not want to trek in the dark, so we pitched our tents at the closer Bob’bong campsite instead. It had the last clean water source and I later wished that I had at least taken a quick bath there. Christ prepared a fairly sumptuous menu for the entire hike, all hearty and balanced meals. As we retired our exhausted bodies for the day, Christ and I had our usual conversation, which had become rare these days. When stripped off of all the conveniences of modern life, I believe people can express their thoughts and feelings in a more genuine fashion. Humanity is magnified. Appreciation is great and endless.

With just one more day to spare for a summit assault, the group decided to set camp near the peak. We obviously went there for the elusive Davao sunrise, so if we must hike four or five more hours that day, till dusk, to get to the Davao peak early the next day, we will. I did not anticipate the super cold temperature though. By the time I reached the outer crater, I could no longer feel my upper lip. I could not stop shivering. For fear that I might be in the early stage of hypothermia, my companions ducked me under layers of sleeping bags. After sipping hot soup and taking a shot of brandy, I was fine.

 

Truly, this mountain is the king. There is not enough superlatives to describe the experience. From the breathtaking sunrise to the stunning views, from the agonizing ascent to the detestable descent, the memories are so overwhelming. Mt. Apo made me forget my emotional pains by subjecting me to physical torture. There were moments when I wanted to stop and bawl and prayed for a chopper to save me. In those moments, I received various help from my companions — from Christ’s tough love to Joseph’s porterage to Jojo’s gait tutorials. My self-talk went from “What the fuck is this trail?!” to “Just one more step, Elaine.” Reflecting on the climb, I thought it was a metaphor for life: the journey teaches you a lot about the destination.

 

 

For 27 years I have looked at Mt. Apo from afar and it has existed without meaning. Now, its mighty silhouette reminds me that I can dig deeper and find the mettle to endure life’s challenges.