13.6 degrees centigrade according to my watch barometer. We were inside our tent. I could imagine how cold it was outside our tent hearing the unrelenting howl of the wind. It is 2:30 am and we’re at the Camp 2 of Mt Pulag, the highest mountain of Luzon and considered as the third highest in the country. I braced for the chill as I zipped open the tent door. A draft came in as I peeked outside. The sky was clear with stars jubilantly sparkling. The waning moon illuminated the landscape. “We have a clearing!” I gleefully thought. Thank god the weather was on our side and after almost 14 years, I’ll be back at the summit of Mt Pulag.
“I know what you are doing!” exclaimed an old man I crossed paths on the narrow paved road amidst a vegetable field in Buguias. “I’m taking pictures!” I replied with a smile. “No! You are looking for gold!” he answered with a grin on his face. He walked away slowly as I was a bit surprised by the conversation. What I do know is I have long been fascinated by Buguias that I finally had the chance to stop by this municipality where the marvelous Halsema Highway cuts through.
Looking out of the veranda from Suzzette’s Homestay in Maligcong, I have long wondered how the view is like from the mountains seen on the horizon. The peaks of Mt Matuon and its trails tease, along with otherworldly tales that its forest entraps people with its enchantment unexpectedly. As interesting as the local superstition seems, outsiders like me sees it as a place of conquest. Another trail to explore. I do respect local customs though so I waited for the chance. I was glad when Suzzette said we could explore the mountains with a local guide from Favarey on our recent trip to Maligcong. So in good company with Suzzette, Lagalog and three dogs (Kunig, Misty and Tiny) we ventured one morning to explore Mt Matuon.
Albay has a special place in my childhood. I have fun memories of many summers spent in Albay. My mom hails in Daraga and we would visit her home often. No matter how long the drive, it’s always the majestic Mayon, the imposing Daraga Church and enjoyable time with cousins and siblings. My last visit though was drenched in tears like the heavy rain that poured upon us the day we said goodbye to my dearest lola (grandma). I was close to her. Relatives always say I’m her favorite apo (grandson). That was more than a decade ago. When an photo assignment from InFlight came recently, I thought I guess it’s time to come back. Not only to retrace the steps of my youth but to re-discover Albay.
Clouds have always been a thing of fascination. People climb mountains often to see the play of clouds billow across mountain peaks like waves. Dissipating in a dance from nebulous to nothingness. When I heard about the Mt Ulap Eco-Trail which recently opened last October 2015, I was intrigued. The Eco-trail is also known as the Philex Ridge, named after the huge mining company operating in the area. The highest peak, was named Mt Ulap by an engineer named “Lagman” who marked the summit in February 1, 1939. He described that the mountain is perennially a magnet for clouds (which is “ulap” in tagalog). The trail has long been a playground for trail runners from Baguio and Benguet. Now the local government, particularly the Ampucao Tourism Council opened the trail to the public.
The beautiful blemish of the Earth, Mt Pinatubo, has constantly been an impressive sight to behold. It’s hard to imagine that the destructive power of this stratovolcano has transformed its surrounding area into a magnificent alien landscape that’s constantly changing and molding. I have been to Mt Pinatubo many times already on land and have appreciated its sandy trails and oscillating cliff walls. Recently I had the fortunate chance to take a helicopter tour of this famed volcano. The Mt Pinatubo Aerial Tour was offered by ArchipelagoPH as I accompany their photo contest three winners and document their winning flight. It was also my first time to ride a helicopter so it was an opportunity that’s too hard to pass.
A mountain is never the same. The looming form may remain but the trails, the ecosystem and the peak weather changes constantly. Call it moody but the micro-climate dictates whether the view from the top is cloudy or not. Such is the case when we climbed Mt Fato in Maligcong for the second time. The neighboring Mt Kupapey (Mt Kofafey) with its outstanding view of Maligcong Rice Terraces and nature trail may have grown popular to the visitors of the region but Mt Fato offers a different side of the terraces as well as the mountain peaks of Kalinga and Sagada. My first visit with Backpack Photography gave us a clear view, my return howevers was welcomed with a cold embrace from the clouds.