Igbaras in Iloilo is my second home since we always visit my mom’s beloved hometown every so often. It is one place where the feeling of familiarity and family (up to relatives of the nth degree) still pervades. In short, one can easily enter most homes, introduce one self (I’m Ines’ eldest son) and be offered a warm meal and hearty conversations on end. But with so much to do, one needs to abbreviate the house hopping and endless gatherings for something like climbing up its highest peak, Mt. Napulak. But proper planning and preparation should never be discounted.
Ours began months before when Jessica, a cousin from the States broached the idea of holding a climbing expedition when she comes over in June. So as early as 5 am of June 7, we were ready for an adventure of a lifetime. We were four climbers (including Pau & Tin) with five mountain guides (a.k.a. porters). With my cousin’s not so normal number of bags, we needed all the help we can get so we hardly have any weight to carry in our ascent. Jess apparently had everything planned out from the drivers and vehicle to the endless supply of trail food, water and daily meals.
Mt. Napulak with its steep slopes is always a challenge to climbers so imagine us novice hikers struggling to get our butt up every step of the way. With its ragged terrain, it has become a favorite training base of the armed resistance. Our main man Murut, in fact, used to be a member of that group before becoming a guide so he knows where to take us, fast and safe.
The first time I climbed this mountain was in 2006. It was hellish, to say the least. I was wearing ill-fitting, pseudo-hiking shoes so we reached the top after traveling for 8 hours. We were tired, hungry and wet since the fog and the rains were unrelenting throughout the night. We hardly had any sleep and subsisted on unappetizing meals.
4 years later, we were trekking a shorter, more scenic route, armed with all the yummy snacks and energy bar we needed throughout the journey. I had my cousin’s SLR camera dangling by my neck, documenting the interesting scenes along the way – Raffleasia flower buds about to open, us sipping from a natural spring, our coterie of porters grunting from a mountain load of luggage, and of course the breathtaking views of the verdant mountains and dark jungles.
Months before, we had built on our endurance by running regularly so this time around, the steep and winding trails posed little challenge. The scheduled 6-hour travel was trimmed down to 4 hours, with none of the expected aching, itching results. By 11 am, we were on top of Mt. Napulak, setting up our tents (Ok, it was them porters), and lounging under a rock the size of a house.
A drizzle or two later, we were hauling up our posteriors into the giant black boulder to get a panoramic view of the island of Panay (Iloilo/Antique side). Just below, we could see the town of Igbaras, surrounded by snaking rivers and endless barren fields. The perilous limestone labyrinths around the boulder serve to protect it from would-be loggers so old growth trees were in abundance in the area. We marveled at God’s enormous creation and felt so insignificant and minute.
On top of the boulder the size of a church, we witnessed the changing of the weather in the surrounding areas – a rainfall here, sunshiny weather there. A blanket of fog would later wrap us and bring in the rains. That’s our signal to go down and run for cover in our tent. Darkness enveloped the peak early – it was peaceful, relaxed and eerie. With the sounds of silence and occasional insects around, the setting was fit for a horror movie – one reason to up the scare-o-meter. Sorry but I had a blast scaring Jessica and the girls throughout the night with stories of Ilonggo supernatural creatures….until I myself had to take a pee in the dead of the night.
I wake up with a damp, aching back. Apparently, I had slept on the tent floor jutted with rocks while the girls’ were covered in soft blades of grass. A jolt of coffee would energize us on our journey down. Despite our sleepless floating state, we managed to descend the mountain in record 2 ½ hours, sans injury and ready to take on the next peak…