Ode to Mt. Apo

Written during my first climb and included in my first book, “Beyond the Horizon”….

 

ODE TO MT. APO

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

You could have just been a dream…

Yet, here I am, biding my time

from where I’ll start my trek

over hills, mountains

thick forests, hot springs and lakes.

 

Please consider me one of your people…

those who dwell at your foot –

Bagobos, Manobos, and others

whose smile, warm and sweet

vanishes the fear and fatigue

of intruders like me and the rest.

 

Uncertain of what to find….

I don’t mind at all

for I know, I’m among a good people.

 

I don’t mind the trek from Makalangit –

past the Fourteen Stations

to Mt. Zion

or the nerve-rending leaps

from boulder to boulder

sixteen times across

the gurgling Marble River

that girdles your waist.

 

Ah, beloved Apo…

your sonorous Twin and Malou Shih Falls

delightfully blend

with the songs of birds

and chirps of cicadas

music that no man can feign.

 

Lake Venado, unruffled…

serenely mirrors your soul

and the seemingly drop of tear, Lake Jordan

furtively glistens under the searing sun.

 

Even for a moment while up here…

on the summit

I become part of you

as my wary soul is soothed

by your enchanting Lake Agko.

 

But there’s more to these…

Things that I need to understand –

those behind the curtains of moss

and orchids that hang

from the limbs of century trees;

those beneath your soft carpet

of lichens and grass

that swallow our steps

as if to muffle whatever

sound they might make.

 

You are the ultimate answer desired

by those who long

for adventure and mystery;

and, it may take a long time

for you to be transformed

from a dream into reality…

 

Negros Occidental

Negros Occidental
By Apolinario Villalobos

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Negros Island was known as Buglas. The Spaniards, however, who saw the island inhabited by Negritoes, called it Negros which stuck until today.

Starting as a military district during the occupation of the Spaniards, the western part was sparsely populated, with only Ilog and Binalbagan as the major settlements. For administrative purposes, the western part became a part of the Province of Iloilo with Ilog as the capital. The seat of government, however, was transferred to Himamaylan, then to Bacolod, the present capital.

Don Emilio Saravia was the first politico-military General when Negros was raised to the category of a politico-military province. Rapid growth took place in the last half of the nineteenth century during which there was a heavy incursion of migrants from Antique, Capiz and Cebu, who occupied sparsely populated districts. Sugar cane plantations mushroomed. Partly responsible for the remarkable increase of haciendas, were the opening of Iloilo and Cebu ports the ports to foreign commerce. As for the province, strategically located harbors became the site of busy days in hauling loads of sugar canes to barges and ships.

The island was divided into two in 1890, but the civil government was established only on April 20, 1901. The islanders were lucky for not having experienced a bloody revolution, unlike the provinces of Luzon. This could be attributed to the lax administration of the Spanish and the ingenuity of the Negrenses during the “actual” revolution which lasted for only twenty-four hours. Revolutionary plans which were closely coordinated with Aguinaldo in Luzon were also smoothly carried out on the island.

November 5, 1898 saw the forces of General Araneta converging at the town plaza of Bago and amidst shouts tinged with patriotism, proclaimed the “First Republic of Negros”. It was the beginning of the island’s own version of revolution which was full of bluff. The Negrenses were poorly armed, though overwhelming in number compared to the only three hundred but well-armed Spanish soldiers and two platoons of native civil guards who were concentrated at Bacolod. The governor-general during that time was Col. Isidro de Castro y Cisveros.

The Negrenses’ only armament consisted of three guns: a mauser rifle, a Remington revolver, and a shotgun. The rest were with knives, bolos, and spears. The ingenuity of Gen. Araneta made him thought of letting his men carry nipa stems to look like rifles and pull rolled “sawali” mats to look like cannons which they did at dawn. The effect was tremendous, that the outnumbered Spanish forces under Castro did not offer any resistance at all.

The bluff which probably was the biggest and most daring in the annals of the country’s historic past made Negros Occidental a free province while on the island of Luzon, lives were sacrificed and bloods were shed.

The Negrenses as the rest of the Filipinos in other parts of the archipelago had all the reasons to fight to the last for freedom’s sake. They knew the extent of the land’s fertility which is particularly suited to sugar cane. It once competed with Cuba and other sugar producing countries in supplying the world market with the sweet granules, reputed in the ancient times as the food of the kings.

Occupying the northern and western part of the island in the heart of the Visayas region, the province has an area of 774,000 hectares with 560,988 actually cultivated, the bigger chunk of which to sugar cane.

By sea, the province is accessible through the ports of Pulupandan on the west, Escalante on the north and San Carlos on the east. The northern and western portions of the province are characterized by vast plains. The rest are mountain ranges that vary in elevation. Sulphuric and medicinal springs are found in the province, but the most popular is Mambucal of Murcia. Rivers break the monotony of the coastal plain, with Silay, Ilog, Binalbagan, and Bago as the major ones.

The people of Negros Occidental, as those on the oriental side, may be called Negrenses, Negrosanon or Bisaya. A few of the Negritoes who were originally, the settlers of the island, can be found in the hinterlands. And, those who claim to be “natives”, are actually descendants of migrants from the nearby provinces of Cebu and Panay Island. The middle part of the Spanish era saw the peak of their influx and some had intermarried with these foreigners, a reason why some of the Negrenses are mestizos.

The Negrenses are characterized by their kindness and gregariousness. There’s always the presumption that those who come from Negros are rich, and this embarrases the real Negrense who is actually, humble. Very likeable, the Negrense easily trusts even strangers. Seldom can one find a suspicious Negrense. On the other hand, he will always find a way to help a stranger. A happy lot, they call each other and even strangers “migs”, a contraction of “amigo” or “amiga”, Spanish for “friend”. Eighty to ninety percent of the population speaks Hiligaynon, and the rest speaks Cebuano. Although, Filipino is taught in school, this is seldom used.

The 15,606 hectares of fertile land referred to by the natives as Bacolod is known before as “Buklod” or “Bakolod”, which means, “hump”. Governor General Narciso Claveria declard it as the fourth capital of the whole island in 1848. It was only later that the big portion of the land was planted to sugar cane, as during the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives were planting only palay, corn, and sweet potato in a settlement which was then called, “Daan-Banwa”.

The rich Hispanic heritage of the province is showcased in Castillian residences distributed throughout the province but with most, concentrated at Silay City, touted as the “Paris of Negros”. Foremost of these historic landmarks is “Balay Negrense”. Other remarkable landmarks are the Palacio Episcopal, San Sebastian Cathedra and the Capitol Building.
Serving as reminders about the rich past of the province during the heyday of sugar production, are the steam locomotives in some towns that used to carry sugar canes to azucareras.

Notable too, are the province’s nationally- recognized personas, such as Leandro Locsin for Architecture, and Conchita Gaston for music, the latter as an internationally- recognized mezzo-soprano. A unique Negrense art is well- expressed in the Victorias Milling Company chapel with a mural of the “angry” Christ as its centerpiece, a masterpiece of local artist, Alfonso Ossorio.

Negros Occidental’s enticement is not limited to its historic heritage, but also in its fiestas or carnivals. The most popular among these fiestas is the “Masskara” of Bacolod City which features colorful smiling masks worn by street dance performers. The rest of the festivals are “Pasalamat” of La Carlota, “Pintaflores” of San Carlos, and the “Bailes de Luces” of La Castellana. While the festivals have their own dates for celebration, they are showcased during the “Pana-ad sa Negros Festival” held every April in the vast 25 hectares Pana-ad Stadium. The so-called Festival of festivals, bring together all the 13 cities and 19 towns of the province in several days of collective activities that include tourist,trade,commercial and cultural fair. Exhibits, beauty and talent competitions, as well as, games are crammed in the limited days of the celebration.

For outdoor sports enthusiast, the province offers Mt. Kanlaon National Park that teems with different species of indigenous plants teeming birdlife. The mountain is the object of yearly summer climb of mountaineering groups and individuals, both local and foreign. Aside from the national park, other unspoiled natural charms of the province may be discovered, as one explores areas that are off-the-beaten trails…the non-traditional destinations, such as Cauayan, 133 kilometers away from Bacolod City. The town has its own white beach, the Punta Bulata, aside from its being the take-off point for Danjugan Marine Life Sanctuary which is a veritable dive and snorkeling spot, aside from the varied birdlife for the delight birdwatchers. The town’s picturesque Lina-on Bay offers a nice perch for a sweeping view of the Sulu Sea. It would also be nice to take a respite at the Punta Sojoton lighthouse for a view of the extent of the Cauayan coastline.

Other destinations that should not be missed because of their natural attractions are Sipalay with its forty-two identified dive sites, white beaches, and wrecks at Campomanes Bay; Hinoba-aan, the tuna capital of the province, also, with its white beaches, and Ubong Cave; Ma-ao with its Kipot Falls; and, Silay’s Patag Heights from where the breathtaking canyon of Mt. Marapara can be viewed.

The province can be accessed via flights from Manila, as well as, ports of Pulupandan, Escalante and San Carlos. For those who are interested to scale Mt. Kanlaon, arrangement should be made with the local government’s tourism office.

Across Mindoro Island On Foot and A Raft

Across Mindoro Island On Foot And A Raft

By Apolinario Villalobos

The plan to traverse the island of Mindoro from Calapan to Mamburao, was concocted at the house of Dr. Gus Guerrero of the Mountaineering Association of the Philippines (MAP). The invitation to join their small group was extended just after I, together with the PAL Mountaineers, concluded a cross-country trek of the Leyte Mountain Trail. At the house of Dr. Guerrero slides presentation was made to show the terrain of the Mindoro with all its rivers, tributaries and waterfalls. The plan was to start the trek from Villa Cervesa at Calapan, then trek up the forested side, and the Eagle Pass, to look for the source of Amnay River, then, using a rubber raft, drift down to the China Sea. Gus was confident that everything would be alright as he has explored the area during his stint with the PANAMIN, a government agency that worked for the uplift of the indigenous tribes during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos. There were four of us that evening, huddled over several bottles of beer while discussing the trek – Gus Guerero, Vincent Christian, Bobby Sison and I. The plan was to extend the invitation to a limited number of friends due to the “nature” of the expedition.

Finally, Gus was able to get confirmations to join from Bobby Sison, Dul Gemora, Fred Jamili and I. The inflatable life raft which Vincent and I picked up from the Philippine Navy Headquarters at Sangley in Cavite was through the courtesy of the then, Rear Admiral Simeon Alejandro.

Our journey started at a bus terminal in Pasay City on September 18, 1982 for a ride to Batangas City from where a ferry was to be taken for Calapan, Mindoro. There was a threatening storm on that day, so that our sailing from Batangas City to Calapan was not smooth. On board the ferry, Gus, a doctor by profession, briefed us on the use of an instrument for reviving a drowned person.

Dul Gemora who went ahead to Calapan days before to look for Mangyan porters was at the Calapan wharf upon our arrival. Everything was well coordinated as we disembarked from the ferry up to the time we left for Villa Cerveza, a sitio of Victoria, and a last-minute shopping for additional provisions.

At Barangay Cerveza, Dul introduced us to our Mangyan porters, whom he got from Baco, a nearby district. Barangay Chairman, Isabelo M. Malamanis of Villa Cerveza, accommodated us for the night. Casually, he asked us for our “mission”. He could not seem to comprehend that what we were doing was just for fun. We told him that, as gambling is for gamblers, liquor is for drunkards, so is mountaineering for us – nature lovers. He accommodated us for the night and introduced us to his two trusted men who would guide us up to the mouth of Amnay River.

Before we retired for the night, he did not stop from discouraging us by confiding that the river could have swelled due to incessant rains, and there was yet, the raging typhoon, and worse, the population of the leeches must have tripled due to the rainy season! All we told him was, we leave everything to the Lord!

At dawn, Fred Jamili had a nightmare. I had to nudge him awake to stop him from waking the neighborhood up with his shouts of “where?…where?”. When asked about it over breakfast, he told us that he could not recall anything. We just presumed that perhaps, he was dreaming that we got lost and in despair, he shouted.

Day 1

It was a pleasant day when we left the barrio to start our trek, despite the forecast the day before, about a typhoon that would whip Mindoro. We left just before the sun was up. In no time, we reached Aglubang River whose rushing water reached up to our waist at the deepest, and spans about twenty meters at its widest.

After Aglubang, we made it to Ibulo River in less than an hour, and which was swollen a little bit according to our guides. After crossing it, we rubbed our bodies, clothes, socks and shoes with laundry soap to deter the leeches which abound in the area.

After about an hour of trek, the leading guide pointed to the mountain ahead of us, indicating that it was Mt. Balagayon. It was yet a little farther, but which we had to cross before reaching the Eagle Pass. At the foot of the mountain lived Nganga, a Bicolano who had been in this part of the island for a long time, and came to be called such name because of his habit of chewing betel nuts that made his mouth, eternally blood red. He was supposed to join the guides up to the mouth of Amnay River because of his thorough knowledge of the area. Unfortunately, he was sick, so we had no other choice but be satisfied with the two from Villa Cervesa.

From Nganga’s house, it was an upward trek following a Mangyan trail that wound through the thick forests of Mt. Balagayaon. True to Mr. Malamanis’ words, leeches were at their thickest at this time of the year, and they feasted on us! We had to stop from time to time to check each other for the leeches that needed to be removed from our face, ear and eyes. Some clung firmly. Practically, the soap was no match against them. One after another, the Mangyan porters groaned under the weight of the 62 kilos life raft which each of them carried at an interval of fifteen minutes.

There was an intermittent drizzle before we reached Balisong which we targeted at noontime, but failed to do, so that we were forced to take our lunch by the river while taking a break for twenty minutes. The drizzle became a downpour. Along the way, I learned from one of the guides that the name of the place, Balisong, referred to a small waterfall that gently cascades down boulders covered with creepers and ferns.

Our going was slow because of the stops for the regular check we made to each other for leeches, aside from the slippery trail that we were following. While negotiating one of the ridges, Bobby unfortunately slipped on a flat rock. He was thankful to a bush which stopped his fall, though he sprained his left knee as a result. His fall caused a commotion among the Mangyan porters because they thought, he encountered a snake.

We reached Ugos River late in the afternoon under a heavy rain. Instead of tents, we decided to use three ponchos as shelter that we pitched on an elevated area. It barely accommodated the thirteen of us, including the guides and the Mangyan porters.

Day 2

The following day, we broke camp after a light breakfast and moved on despite the heavy rain. It was a tough start for us, while aiming for the Eagle Pass. The thick primary forest this time yielded one more kind of leech, a green one with yellow stripe, in addition to the black ones that abound on the ground.

From behind the thick foliage, we could hear the distant gurgling of a river which we were told was still Ugos. We were following a Mangyan trail leading towards the west as we moved on, and the forest becoming thicker. At about noontime, the leading guide told us that we had to follow another trail because the old one which they were using before was gone. Everybody became impatient, especially, Gus who told us earlier that we were supposed to come out of the forest into a vast cogonal area at about noontime. The group decided then, to blaze another trail leading towards the river below. Reluctantly, the leading guide consented while the other one was sent to find out the extent of the trail that we were following.

We went down the ridge, practically wading through thick clumps of cogon grass while Fred was left halfway to give signal to the rest if it was alright for them to follow us. Meanwhile, Dul took charge of the equipment. In half an hour, we were able to blaze a new trail. Unfortunately, it was not Amnay River that we found. One of the guides refused to join us further up, for fear perhaps of the several waterfalls that we had to negotiate. With just a mumbled instruction for us to wait for him, he went up again. We were left shivering in the rain for about an hour and a half. After almost an eternity, the guide returned with Tony, a Mangyan whom he found working in a “kaingin” on the slope of the nearby mountain. After a brief introduction, we were on our way again with Tony leading us. Halfway up, Gus stopped to bandage his left knee which was giving up.

After almost an hour, we came out of the forest into a sea of cogon grass! On our right, we could distinctly hear the sound of a river which Tony confirmed as Amnay. As if for a climax, the Eagle Pass made us gingerly trudge on its two-foot wide ridge with a length of about 400 meters. And, this we had to do without looking at both sides – practically cliffs covered with grass. Bobby got another scare of his life when he slipped again! Our effort was compensated with the fantastic view of the ribbon-like and foaming Amnay way below!

On the banks of the river were Mangyan huts that constitute Barrio Ugos. Barangay Chairman Garong allowed us to use one of the communal huts which could normally accommodate five families. Tony, the Mangyan guide who led us down refused to accept the money that we offered as remuneration for his effort. Instead, he asked for some amount of salt which we readily gave. The suppressed joy on the face of Tony upon receiving the bag of salt gave me a tingling sensation down my spine.

That afternoon, we tried the rapids of the river using the modular type life raft that the Philippine Navy lent to us. They had five separate air modules which we thought would be very advantageous considering all the threatening rocks and boulders. But during the test run, we found out that we were helpless against the current. Also, in our group, only Fred and Bobby were familiar with paddling. On the aspect of running this kind of river, everybody was zero in experience. So there was no disagreement on leaving everything to fate. We were already one day behind the planned itinerary.

Day 3

We woke up early to prepare ourselves for the start of our “critical” journey. There was no solid food taken, except for a bite of chocolate downed with coffee and milk. This, according to Gus would prevent choking when somebody gets drowned! That early morning, too, the guides and porters from Villa Cervesa left us.

Just when everybody was raring to go, we found the front half of the raft’s main chamber deflated! There was a hole, obviously, that we fortunately discovered after an almost thirty minutes of search. It got patched up eventually. Since the start of our journey that morning, we got stuck eight times and got caught in a whirlpool! We managed to run only about seven kilometers of the river when we finally stopped before a fast bend strewn with protruding rocks. The bend was where the Ugos also flowed, so that one can just imagine the current as a result of the merging.

We were trying to reach a consensus whether to avoid the bend by carrying the raft and our packs to the other side or go on when Pidyo Mondejar spotted us – from the other side. We introduced ourselves by hollering to him. We threw the life rope to him to support us while crossing the river to his side. He was such a helpful fellow and we found out that he was working at a nearby ranch owned by a certain Dr. Tolentino and Judge Abeleda.

He was told by a Mangyan about the presence of strangers – us, so he came to investigate. He warned us about the gorge and a waterfall that are dangerous down which we were targeting. An investigation was made, and it was confirmed, so that we decided to avoid the bend. We carried the raft on the other side then, and went on with the run with Pidyo who enjoyed the bumps and his occasional fall. We managed to cover about two kilometers until darkness caught up with us. Pidyo suggested that we spend the night at the ranch, and leave the raft by the bank.

The ranch was supposedly just “behind the hill” ahead of us. But the muddy trail made our progress sickeningly slow. Until finally, pitch darkness enveloped us. Pidyo admitted that he was sort of confused as he was losing the trail, despite the help of two flashlights. After about three hours of walking like zombies, we finally reached the ranch. Each one of us just tried to find a cozy corner for the night…without giving attention to the pang of hunger.

Day 4

The following day, Pidyo and Gus inspected the river for calculations. When they came back, they reportedly failed to see the gorge. In other words, there was indeed, a waterfall that drops to several meters!

After breakfast, we discussed our strategy. The plan decided on was to ride the raft until it reached the bend where it would be allowed to fall down the waterfall and go with the current up to the bend at the ranch where I would be waiting. Those who rode the raft, would retrace their way back to the ranch. At the last minute, however, they decided to ride on the raft and take chance in falling with it down the waterfall which they enjoyed, even the bumps on the boulders. Pidyo even fell down but before anybody could react, he was back to his place in the raft, as if pulled by a rubber band!

At the ranch, over lunch, Pidyo was excitedly giving hint that he would like to experience the run all the way to the China Sea in Mamburao. It would be impossible, except if one of us should give up his space. I decided to do it – give my place to Pidyo and trek my way to Mamburao over mountain trails with three Mangyan boys as guides.

Day 5

The following morning, the three Mangyan boys and I started out just before sunup. The boys were Nito, Lito and Canoy. They warned me of several mountains that we had to traverse and several rivers that we had to cross. I thought it to be just okey, considering my experience in the just concluded mountaineering and river trekking along the Leyte Mountain Trail.

First we followed Amnay River until we reached Labongan River which we crossed. It was waist deep but the current was strong. Ikbo river was next, and then, Amnay again where I was almost carried far downstream by the strong current, had I not taken hold of a boulder. From Amnay, we trekked up Mt. Kabalagonan where monkeys greeted us with their shrieks. We continued on to Tingo mountain without resting a bit until we reached Sipuyo River which we had to cross again, after which we went up Mt. Palasa and onward to Mt. Hibaltang where we met two Mangyans. This time, rain fell. We doubled out time to reach a Mangyan village at the foot of another mountain where we planned to have lunch. At about noontime, we found a Mangyan hut where we rested and took our lunch of rice, mushrooms found along the way, and shrimp caught in the river.

Immediately after our lunch, we started for Pentin, the last river that we had to cross. It was tough treading on the knee-deep, soft sandy and muddy banks of the river until we reached a safe portion which we crossed. I was wrong to assume that everything would be fine after all the river crossings. The typhoon that hit the island of Mindoro two days before, inundated many rice fields and caused the overflowing of two lakes. Mud was knee deep but we went on traversing the one last hill before finally reaching barangay Pinagtorilan.

Looking back from atop the hill, I consoled myself for having reach this far, alive after the trek over several mountains and twenty-six crossings of the major rivers and their branching outflows due to the flood. Pinagtorilan still showed some signs of the inundation which it suffered resulting from the onslaught of typhoon Ruping. Barangay councilman Jose Iῆigo told us that the water rose to about seven feet. The kind barrio official accommodated us for the night.

Day 6

We left Pinagtorilan early the following morning for Sta. Cruz. Earlier, I decided that we hike all the way to the said town but changed my mind when I saw Canoy limping. We therefore, just hiked for about sixteen kilometers over partly -flooded roads, then we turned left at a junction for Puyo where an outrigger canoe could be taken for Sta. Cruz which was another sixteen kilometers away, yet. The outrigger fetched us at about noontime and I was glad that we need not transfer to another canoe if we just follow the shallow part of the sea and negotiate a river all the way up to Sta. Cruz. While on our way to the open sea, we encountered four big waves that soaked my backpack including the camera which I failed to put inside a plastic bag.

Upon reaching Sta. Cruz, my Mangyan guides stayed behind for their trek back to their village, while I took a jeepney all the way to Mamburao airport where I found the rest of the group – Fred Jamili, Dul Gemora, Dr. Gus Guerrero and Bobby Sison, relaxing. Also, on hand to meet me was the PAL station manager who remarked that we accomplished something never done before, and during a typhoon, yet. I found out that those who took the river were able to make it to China Sea as planned despite difficulties, although faster compared to my trek and river crossing, as they reached Mamburao ahead of me by about four hours.

That day, there was no scheduled PAL flight so we had the whole airport terminal for our tired bodies. We consoled ourselves with the thought that despite our inexperience in canoeing, we were able to make it – traverse Mindoro Island, from Calapan to Mamburao, on foot and a raft in six days!