I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain: Part 4 of I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain and Other Stories

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I woke up with tiny beams of sunlight pouring from the thatched roof of the nipa hut. Outside my room, I could hear feet shifting and utensils clanking. For a brief moment, I remained motionless on the papag, safely tucked inside the makeshift fort of mosquito nets. Today was the day I'd stopped being 22.

I'd slept that night with a massive smile on my face – it's not everyday you get serenaded by children. The otherworldly coos and caws, that would've scared the bananas out of other people, had helped lull me into sleep. I felt energized.

I changed into my hiking clothes before I went outside. Kuya Maulvi and the B'laan family I was staying with were already seated around the table. I sat beside Kuya Maulvi and said good morning. They returned my greeting and offered me coffee and bread. Our breakfast was rather uneventful.

It was past 6AM when Kuya Maulvi announced that we should be on our way. So we said goodbye and I promised them I'd return and stay longer.

"We'll be waiting," said the little girl, clutching the bag of candies I left her.

(I must come clean that I've forgotten their names. I know. I'm coming across as ungrateful right now. I will find their names out. I do intend to return there after all.)

I waved goodbye as Kuya Maulvi and I drove away. We passed by more fields of pineapple and arrived at Kuya Maulvi's house where I left most of my belongings. We were only doing a day hike.

Kuya Maulvi told me that he'd invited another hiker to join us so it'll be more fun. It was now three of us on the motorcycle and I was amazed at how he maneuvered us safely in and out of the rutted dirt roads. It took us another 30 minutes to the jump-off point.
Mount Matutum
Off to Matutum!
mountains in Mindanao
Like the ones to Linan, the road to Matutum is flanked by pineapple plantations
As it were, people were quite impressed when we told them that we were just doing a day hike. I hadn't seen the significance of this comment – not until we were actually on the trail.

Mount Matutum is not for the faint of heart – and knees, I tell you. It surprised me how difficult the ascent was. The trail was basically all assaults! It was nothing but inclines, slippery and thick with flora. Kuya Maulvi told me that they sometimes encounter a deer when climbing. I believe him. The trail was so thick and lush of vegetation, it was hard to believe this was the regular route.

To give you a perspective, if ever you've tried Mount Pulag's Akiki trail, Mount Matutum was a little bit like that – except there was hardly any clearings, nor there were any level grounds save for the summit. Think of all the difficult parts of Akiki, then you'll have an idea of how knee-busting the trail of Matutum was. I'm not overreacting here. My two companions, who were much more experienced hikers than I was, agreed that Matutum has a difficult trail. They said that there were some who conquered Mount Apo but couldn't take on Matutum on a day hike. Kuya Maulvi would even confessed later on that if he hadn't seen my performance on our short climb in Linan during the Do Good, Get Dirty stint, he wouldn't have allowed me to go on a day hike. He would've insisted we stay the night.

I had such a hard time that I didn't take a lot of pictures. Good lord. That was the most demanding climb I've insofar had – even more than when I climbed Pulag. Mainly because the three-day toil of Pulag got all compressed in a day at Mount Matutum.
I settled for a photo of "3 Generations of Sandugo"
Nevertheless, I thought it was the most fitting way to start my 23rd year of being alive. Nothing says "I'm stronger now" than outdoing yourself. 

It took us approximately five hours to reach the summit. That day, the clouds were low and the summit was filled with fog. It was really cold too.
south cotabato
Much like when I climbed Pulag, I didn't get any clearing. But it's not always about the summit.
We found a spot. Kuya Maulvi proceeded to make coffee while Ate Susan and I diced tomatoes we picked along the trail. We ate binalot and organic Arabica. The chill in my bones seemed to lift. It wasn't much, but I couldn't have it any other way.
trail food
Before we descended, we made an impromptu clean-up of the summit. We were hauling a bag of garbage as we went down Matutum. (Come on, climbers. You know better!)
clean up drive
Our guide dog standing guard as we pick up trash
It took us four hours to descend. It didn't get any easier on the way down. In fact, it was more dangerous. The assaults became steep drops and my knees were screaming from getting stronger. Thank goodness we were almost out of the forest when it had started to rain. Mount Matutum, however, wanted to be remembered – as if its hardcore trail wasn't worth remembering enough.

I was going over a huge overgrown root when I lost foothold and slipped. My right leg broke my fall. It was in such an odd angle, Kuya Maulvi thought I'd injured myself. Fortunately, I didn't. A large purple bruise the shape of Palawan bloomed on my right shin the next day, though. So, all in all, a successful climb.

This was the proudest moment of my life as a mountaineer.


Next on the series: I Cry Like She's Family

Read more of I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain and Other Stories

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