The sun was directly overhead, punishing in its heat and intensity. I smelled like sweat and sunblock – the smell of adventure, I had quipped earlier. I was covered head to toe in dust, and there was muck and grime underneath my fingernails. I could feel a twinge in my left knee, the remnant of a cheerleading accident five years ago where I dislocated the joint in a stunt gone wrong.
I was also having the time of my life.
The Mt. Batulao shenanigans began with me wondering what to do over the Labor Day weekend last year. You’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to the annual environmental catastrophe that is Laboracay, the land of the #sunkissed and #blessed. So obviously that wasn’t a solution.
I got inspiration from some mountain climbing photos on Facebook .So I Googled “mountains near Metro Manila”, found Mt. Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas, and
forced coerced cajoled got five of my friends to come with.
We met up around 9am at the McDonald’s near the Gil Puyat LRT‐1 station, then grabbed a DLTB bus to the Evercrest Golf Course in Lemery, Batangas, which is the nearest landmark. From there, two tricycles took us to the jump‐off point. We hired a guide, Kuya Julius, who recommended that we take the Old Trail to the summit, then head back down using the New Trail.
Others may prefer otherwise, but I found Kuya Julius’s advice to be pretty sound. The Old Trail is much harder than the New Trail, but it’s also got trees so there’s more shade. Personally, I’m okay with the sun beating down on me as long as I’m headed back down. I’d rather have the shade going up. Plus, taking the harder trail going up just made the spectacular view even more satisfying, considering what we’d gone through to get up there.
The trek normally takes two to three hours, but we took a whopping four hours to reach the summit. One of my friends (in the yellow shirt) wasn’t used to this level of physical activity and kept stopping to rest, plus her legs kept cramping. She was terrified of the parts of the climb where you had to use ropes to pull yourself up, and the final assault to the peak tired her out like nothing. But she made it!
Halfway up the trail, it started to get real cloudy and windy. The change in temperature galvanised everyone into picking up their speed. It started to rain, but it wasn’t bucketing down – just a slight drizzle just this side of refreshing.
We got to the summit at 3:30PM,and let me just say, the feeling of seeing that rock with the words “Camp 10” written on it was nothing short of nirvana.
When the sun was beginning to set, at around 5:00PM, we decided to head back. We really didn’t to head down in the dark, and we also didn’t want to take another four hours to get back to the jump‐off point. So we asked Kuya Julius to get L a horse so she could give her aching knees and calves a break. Kuya Julius went on ahead to find a horse to hire, leaving us to navigate the first half of the New Trail by ourselves – which, by the way, is pretty doable! The trail is easy to see and, aside from a harrowing stone ridge about two or three feet wide (with a straight drop down a cliff on either side if you step wrongly), easy to negotiate.
(No photo of that ridge because I got down on my hands and knees and scooted across it like a bug. I’m not afraid of heights, but that ridge was terrifying. Also, I had this article in the back of my mind.)
It was eight in the evening by the time we got back to the jump‐off point. We didn’t have any flashlights, but the full moon and Kuya Julius’s surefooted steps (“Sanayan lang po,” he answered, when we asked him how he was able to go down the mountain in the dark) helped us find our way. Locals offered us showers for 20Php per head, which we readily took advantage of considering that we were covered head to toe in dust.
We finished cleaning up, paid Kuya Julius for his guide services and for the horse he got, and dashed across the road just in time to catch the last bus heading back to Manila.
I was barely clean, the quick five‐minute water‐and‐soap treatment washing away only the initial layer of dirt. There was still dust in my hair. I could feel the beginnings of a cramp, and the twinge in my left knee from earlier had come back with a vengeance. I only smelled slightly better than when we had left Batulao – that is, the stench of sweat and sunblock with a layer of Safeguard.
I fell asleep and dreamt of the open sky, of wind in my hair. I dreamt of the taste of freedom in my mouth. I dreamt of more mountains.