The rain wasn’t letting up.
It was morning but the sky looked like it was going to be nightfall soon.
There’s this lingering fear in me that wanted me to stop stuffing my backpack and just return to bed. But at that moment, I’m more concerned about how my new friends would feel if I stood them up over my fear of death (which is stupid).
So, out into the rain I went.
PAG-ASA said there was a legit storm that day. And I thought it’s absurd to hike on a mountain on a stormy day. It just doesn’t sound right. Who does that, anyway? Fools, maybe. And I’ve done quite a lot of foolish things in my life.
Throughout the commute to Ternate, Cavite, where we’ll be starting the hike, I’ve been racking my brains to come up with the perfect excuse to not go. Yes, I was planning a last-minute back-out (who wouldn’t?) only because I don’t want to die.
But for some reason I never seem to come up with one (I used to be so good at making the most plausible excuses to not go to school back in the days) or maybe because nature wrapped its hypnotic arms around me.
Several minutes later, I found myself deep in the woods of Pico De Loro.
To my surprise, I’m enjoying it.
Even though it’s still raining–hard.
It was a pivotal moment in my existence. With each step I took on the muddy ground of Pico De Loro, all my concerns about getting stranded, encountering a snake, getting lost, and dying deep in the heart of a jungle dissipated one by one.
It was a grueling climb, especially for a beginner. Our guide said that Pico is a Level 3 mountain (there’s apparently a rating for mountains based on difficulty) and that means Pico is not recommended for first timers.
I have to admit though that it added to my motivation to get this done with because it sort of gives you some bragging rights.
I was hauling a stuffed backpack that’s not designed for mountain climbing. I remember one of its straps was close to getting un-stitched so I had to constantly check if it’s still intact. On my left hand was a gallon of water and on my right was a stick, to serve as a walking cane. Thank God for that stick because it became very handy on trails that are slippery and rocky assaults. I was also ready to use it as a weapon against a snake.
Walking through the jungle was somewhat therapeutic.
The soft splashing sounds our feet create when we step on the mud was rhythmic. When combined with the staggered chirping of some distant birds and the brushing of leaves against each other because of the strong winds, our movements on the ground seemed to create a symphony.
It was the first time I felt really connected with nature.
For some reason, it also felt very spiritual.
The trails were challenging. Some are on level ground but was very slippery and made walking very difficult. The inclined paths (assaults) were often riddled with rocks or huge tree roots. It’s almost impossible to haul ourselves up because of all the stuff we were carrying. And then there are the steep downhill trails. It’s literally a miracle that I didn’t break any bone or banged my shin somewhere.
It was freaking difficult. It was the most difficult 6 hours of my life.
Let me remind you that the rain still hasn’t stopped.
To entertain ourselves, we exchanged stories. It also helped distract our minds from the difficulty of the climb. It also helped make the jungle a little less scary because we were all alone. For the first 2 hours there was no sign of other human being on the path. Just the three of us.
The sky was dark because of the storm and it was even made darker by the tall trees above our heads. It was like it’s close to nighttime.
We came to a clearing that indicated we were halfway to our destination. This served as a pit stop for climbers. There was a wooden building which I guessed was home for its caretakers. There’s a small store, a restroom, and some tables and chairs.
After a few minutes of rest we resumed our trek and came across a big group of mountaineers who are on their way home. It was a few seconds of relief knowing that we’re not totally alone in this enormous forest.
It’s certainly scary when you’re making your way through a thick forest in the middle of a storm and there’s no one around you. It’s looks like a scene out of movies like Wrong Turn or something. Your imagination will run wild.
Then out of nowhere, a stray dog appeared. It followed us for hours. There were times when it’ll disappear from our sight and then re-appear a few kilometers later. We learned from our guide that these canines are guides to all climbers. Stories say they will guide you until you reach the summit and won’t leave until you’ve returned.
Creepily enough, it’s what happened to us.
It was past 6 o’clock when we finally got to the top of Pico de Loro. Relief washed over my drenched, exhausted body. It’s only a few minutes until sundown so we hurried to check out the view from the side of the cliff. Unfortunately, storm clouds blocked our view.
But I wasn’t disappointed.
I wasn’t really excited about the view. My joy came from the climb itself.
It’s really true that it’s always about the journey and not the destination.
Right that moment, uploading something on Instagram was the least of my concerns. For some reason, this climb, which I was reluctant to join in the first place, became a transformative journey.
As we made our way through the difficult trails–through muddy ground, up and over sharp rocks and huge tree stumps, and around other natural obstacles while being peltered by the rain–I was able to overcome some of the fears that have paralyzed me for years.
And I’m not talking about my fear of rain. Or dying a horrible death in the jungle.
For the first time in a long time, I was able to get over myself and finally listen to my gut instead of my brain. I pushed past the unwarranted concerns and baseless fears and stop entertaining the idea that something’s going to go wrong.
It’s like the rain has washed all these away.
Maybe that’s why it rained on us for almost 24 hours.
And once we reached the summit, I felt like a slightly different me.
Sitting there on the edge of the cliff, with a strong, cool wind blowing on my rain-drenched face, grateful for this new experience, I reflected on all the times I reneged on different things that might have been as exciting and fun as this simply because I was scared of something.
I guess I had to wait until I am 664m above the ground to realize that I am bigger than all my worries and fears. I had to wait until I meet strangers to restore some of the confidence that was taken away by the very people within my circle. I had to wait until I’m soaking wet, shivering in the cold, and exhausted by a 6-hour trek to remember I had the strength to conquer my own mountains.