Mt. Igcoron and Tears For Me

Friday, May 24, 2019

mt igcoron antique

Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

I want to look my best,” I announced to my roommates, a bit defensively. “I’m going up the mountains.

My right elbow was up. My hand on the side of my head, supporting the handle of the curling wand, which was setting a section of my hair into a coil.

Okay,” said Kara, in that judgmental drawling way of her that I was already familiar with. She was kneeling on the mattress on the floor in the middle of the bamboo room, fixing her things. 

An arm’s length from me, sitting on Astrid’s bed, Mujee snickered, which startled me a bit. I'd forgotten he was there.

Looks great,” chimed Astrid, smiling reassuringly.

I giggled.

I knew the curls I was making wouldn’t last long in the mountains, but I wanted something to do with my hands. I was worried that if I let them be, they’d start tearing my face off.

Was there such a thing as saltwater-coma? Because I was starting to unravel. Desa was right. It felt like Day 72 when it was only Day 6 – and not in a good way. 

I’d been having thoughts of dissolving, like I was reverting to my true form: mush. Slush. Liquid. The ocean heals in small doses, but I find frequent visits destabilizing.

And so, when the opportunity came that would allow me to retreat to the mountains, I grabbed it, held it close and refused to let go. I insisted, even if it meant being separated from my companions and missing out on activities. It meant being alone and abandoning the comforts of the air-conditioned van. But it also meant being up, not in or under. It meant solid ground.

Mariane wanted to come. Desa and Levy also. Astrid, too. Mujee was the last one to offer company.

You’ll only slow her down,” Kara told him, with certainty, with no room for argument. And that settled the matter once and for all.

She’d said the same thing when I’d asked her if she wanted to join me: I’ll only slow you down.

I wouldn’t have minded, not one bit, but I was grateful for it. And I think she – all of them – knew I needed to do it alone.

That’s her area,” I’d heard Potpot told Lala and Romeo (our “handlers”) earlier. He’d been backing me up, I knew. He’d been putting in word so they’d let me go.

Mountains are her thing,” he’d added emphatically.

I didn’t – couldn’t – tell them how much I needed to go. I did not only want it, I needed it. Badly. Like-my-life-depended-on-it-kind-of-bad. That sounds over the top, but that was the truth. I was losing my alignment and I was running out of ideas on how to stay intact. A birthday on Seco Island had been fun, sure, but after days already spent on and in water, I’ve decided there were better ways to celebrate. Saltwater-coma is real and no joke – at least to me.

And so I insisted, and got what I wanted. That night, I asked my friends to please watch over my stuff while I was away. I was determined to do my best to catch up to them, but I was also thrilled at the idea of having time by myself. Big groups could become unwieldy.

I wasn’t ready to turn in just yet and so I lay on a hammock by the pool and watched my friends sort floating plastic balls – the kind you find in ball pits – by color. It was kind of relaxing, I must admit, to watch them fumble and plod around the pool. I realized they were almost as crazy as I was.

When they were done, I went back to our room. 

That evening, I slept on a mattress on the floor. Could you blame me if I hummed “Cause if we don't leave this town/ We might never make it out/ I was not born to drown/ Baby come on” as I lay there on the almost-ground? Didn’t think so.

It was still dark and cool when I inched out of the gates of Kawa Inn the next day. On the other side of the street, I waited for a van. Half an hour had passed when I finally got on one. 

Later, I found myself inhaling sharply inside a tricycle. We sped past a road bordered by jagged peaks. The edges looked soft at dawn. Absolutely worth it.
mountains in antique

I got held up at the police station and spent way too much time asking around for the village head, but eventually found myself on the trail with my guide Kuya Ed.
celine murillo

He was a slight man, with a taut face and a few missing teeth. He did not look as limber as most of the mountain guides I encountered – he kept hawking, too, which worried me – but he was there. That was enough. 

Everytime there was an incline (there was a lot), he would stop in his tracks and turn to me.

Do you want to rest?

Each time, I would shake my head no and move to proceed.

He inquired why I was alone and if I had any companions. I told him I was part of a group but was a straggler out of necessity.

Too much beach,” I said simply. 

He seemed to understand.

We mostly walked in silence but when he found out I was a writer, he perked up with excitement.

What would your title be?” he asked with genuine curiosity.

I haven’t thought about it,” I replied. 

He got quiet and pulled out some tobacco from his pocket. He rolled it inside a dried duhat leaf.

How about ‘The Mountain of Antique where People Smoke Duhat Tobacco?”

I stared at the back of his neck, looking to see if he’s messing with me. He sounded serious.

Sounds good,” I said, cranking out a wide grin.

More than an hour had passed and we’d just blazed up a long stretch of slope, passing through rice terraces and distant views of layered sierras. The incline gave way to a prairie that reminded me of Heidi and the Sound of Music – it took all of my willpower to not kick my sandals off and gambol and spin.
valderrama antique

view from mt igcoron

Kuya Ed slumped under the shade of a lone duhat tree. 

We’re making good time,” he told me. “Let’s stop for a bit.”
mt igcoron duhat tree

I shrugged and surveyed the plain. To my right was the knife-edge of Igcoron, my destination. Before me was an expanse of grass that looked manicured. A cow was grazing. Farther were rows of vegetable plots. On my left was another peak called Mt. Igduaw. What did Kuya Ed call this place? Little Alaska? Little Batanes? Couldn’t remember. But it was picturesque. All greens and bits of yellow. Only the sky was blue.
mt igcoron campsite

I asked Kuya Ed to take a photo of me. Then, we continued up the final assault.
mt igduaw valderrama

It was an almost 90-degree slope, with loose soil and irritable quails that flap angrily when you approach. The lack of tree cover doubled the toil and the sun seemed specially intense. After about twenty minutes, we emerged on a narrow ledge. For a moment, I was disoriented.

The tight path zigzagged in front of me, rising and falling to look like widely-spaced razor teeth. There was hardly any space for both of my feet and the sun was making it hard to concentrate.
dayhikes in antique

I advanced. It was bizarre how quickly the images on my sides flickered past, like my peripheral vision had gone haywire. My pace wasn’t even that fast. When we stepped unto a wider portion of the ridge, I gasped for air – I hadn’t realized I was breathing shallow. 
mt igcoron diy guide

When my head cleared up and all was steady, I took in the view. And I had to gasp for air once more.

The village of Binanogan and the rest of Valderrama was a valley. I could see it now from where I stood. And around it were mountains. Land that soared and dived and rolled and bounced. The ones in the light were defined and I could see their grooves and edges. There were some in the shadows, behind banks of cloud, and these looked gentler and full of secrets. Beyond these chains of summits was, of course, the sea.
caranganan river antique

I held my camera up to my eyes and snapped away. 

I was glad Kuya Ed stood a distance from me. He seemed to sense I needed the space. He wasn’t ingratiating, not that keen to converse. He let me be, which was great because, all of a sudden, my hands started shaking. The skin on my face felt tight, like my skull was trying to escape. Bumps formed across my arms. My lips were trembling. For one scary moment, I thought I was having a panic attack. But I wasn’t. A bomb had just went off.  

Life is a minefield, see. Every moment holds the threat of blowing you to bits. Up until this point, I’ve only ever known two kinds of explosions: (1) my personal episodes that involved sharp fingernails and bloody palms, and (2) when memories of my mother crept into my consciousness and a storm of tears got conjured. But this wasn’t any of those. This here, right now, was a completely new form of being blown away.

A third kind of explosive.

It was the kind that felt like sweet surrender. Not "giving up", giving in. There’s a difference. It was violence that was followed by relief, repair preceded by grim unbecoming. It was inspired by beauty and the realization that your woes are no match for such, that the sublime trumps sorrow. All day, everyday. 

We don’t deserve this planet,” I muttered, letting the tears fall.

I didn’t linger here long – I didn’t have to. I’ve learned to not overstay my welcome in places like this. I take what was given and hit the ground running, and this had never failed me. Why mess with what works?

Kuya Ed lead the way and he was much quicker when descending, which made me glad. It meant I would be able to catch up with my group. This stint in the mountains gave me what I needed. My frayed seams gave way so I can be stitched back together. There was an explosion, yes, but I survived, and now I was ready to get back to the throng. 

In a few hours, I would find myself back in the air-conditioned van, carrying mountain memories and village gossip. I would be happy to be reunited with my friends and they would be happy to see me. I would get a Vitamilk Banana and a stick of bananacue. We would trade stories. They would tell me of their visit to a faith healer and how spooky that was. I would tell them I cried when I reached the top, because the view was beautiful. I would not tell them the whole truth: that the tears were for me more than anything, for the joy of my own company, for the pieces that held on, for accepting the broken parts and acknowledging those that still work, for the legs and limbs that took me up there, for the eyes that saw beauty in such scenes, and the lungs, and the heart that kept beating. 

Much later I would again be on an island, where I would spend most of my time scrambling up a balete tree. My companions would accept this as the norm. My natural habitat, they would say. But it was more like my aspired form. 

I am a seed blown by wind and circumstance, longing to settle and take root.

I long to settle and take root. 

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