Sunday, April 17, 2011

Destination: Mt. Pinatubo by Lj Salceda

In my late 20's I made a list of 30 things I want to accomplish before I reached 30 years old. Although I've tried my very best to fulfill everything in my list, majority of them still remain undone, or unfinished and some are on hold for now.

I am a firm believer of planning and preparing for the future and working hard for my dreams. However, I also submit to God's perfect time and his wonderful will. So it may be a few years late in my timetable, but I'm proud to say...


I never thought I'd climb Mt. Pinatubo since I grew up near Mt. Mayon and I've witnessed how destructive and powerful these creations can be. Not that I'm scared of volcanoes. As a matter of fact I've already climbed or visited at least four in the past (Mt. Mayon, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Banahaw and Taal). It's just that I was aiming for a "higher" peak, Mt. Pulag or Mt. Apo perhaps. Ambitious, I know, but I always dream BIG or HIGH in this case. :)

So when my friend, Doc Mavic asked me a few weeks ago if I want to join them for an adventure, who am I reject such an offer? I started doing my exercise (brisk walking and jogging) frequently and bought a new pair of hiking shoes. I took a half day off from work in preparation for our early morning trip to Tarlac (our convergence point) and to meet with the rest of our climbing mates.

First off, I'm glad I "trained" and prepared for our trek. It might have been doubly hard and painful if I did nothing to condition my self. I am still sore from the all the walking, jumping, climbing and traveling.

But it was TRULY worth it in the end! The rugged, varying terrain to Mt. Pinatubo is almost comparable if not at par with the scenes/location in the movie Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, unless there is a need (or someone will pay me) to climb Mt. Painatubo (Just kidding!) I won't do it again. :) Siguro nga tumatanda na ako. (I guess, I'm getting old.)

Kidding aside, I'm grateful I was able to glimpse and admire another side of the Philippines. Very beautiful and blessed talaga ang bansa natin! (Our country is indeed beautifully blessed!) So if you're interested to conquer Mt. Pinatubo, here are a few pointers.

1. PLAN AHEAD. (In most trips, planning is really an important aspect.) Get in-touch with a local or surf the net or the tourism website so you can secure a 4x4, a driver, a tour guide and most of all a permit to enter the Mt. Pinatubo zone. It is a bit expensive to climb this mountain and on-the-spot decisions won't work for this trip. There is a check-point where an army personnel will sign your required paper to travel/climb and you need the proper vehicle and authorized person to accompany you or your group.

After we descended Mt. Pinatubo, I heard on the 2-way radio inside our 4x4 a conversation between tourism officials about the "hunt" for a foreigner who apparently "escaped" the checkpoint, he was riding a motorcycle and did not have a tour guide. They were informing drivers/tour guides on the way to report and stop the said tourist and his Filipina companion.

2. BUDGET. As I've said, this is sort of an expensive climb. I'm glad someone took care of my expenses. The 4x4 car that will transport you from the assembly area to the drop-off point has a maximum capacity of 5 passengers. It costs between P4,000 to 4,500 (roundtrip) and includes the payment for the driver, tour guide and permit to climb. According to our tourguide, Kuya Wilson, from the total payment: P280 goes to them, 20 goes to the handler, 500 goes to the skyway (the short cut route), the rest goes to the driver/owner of the car and to the local gov't/tourism office. If you decide to stay over-night, you also have to pay for security. At least 2 soldiers or airforce staff will accompany and protect you, plus the assigned tour guide and driver.

3. RESERVE. Tour groups offer packages including transpo, food and other fees. We didn't avail of the packages, so our friends brought our food and drinks. Try to bring as much water as you can, although there is a spring where you can get clean water for your use but if you have a sensitive tummy it's better to be safe than sorry. There is a small store up the volcano that sells overpriced drinks like sodas and energy drinks (P70 per can). There is NO available food at the mountain top, either you will bring your own food or wait until you come down from the mountain to the assembly area and eat at the nearby Korean/Filipino resto. They also offer spa services there.

4. ZZZZZZZ. Have enough rest and sleep prior to the climb. It will exhaust and push you to the max physically and mentally. I won't recommend this trip to people with health problems esp those that have severe asthma attacks, rheumatism, hypertension etc.

5. TEAM. As much as possible go in big groups. This way you can encourage and help each other. You can have someone to take your pics or swap stories with. As we say, the more the merrier and it might save you some money too.

6. PROTECT. Use your most durable footwear and bring extra flip flops especially if you want to experience the cool water from the streams along the way. Bring sun glasses, face mask, cap, face towel, sun screen, extra shirt, medicine (if you got allergies/asthma/tummy aches), tissue paper or wet wipes, extra batteries and memory card. Eat enough before the climb but not too much that might upset your tummy (like what happened to me). Some hikers bring umbrellas, sarong or malong and jacket to protect them from the sun. There are rest stops and CR's along the way if you need breaks.

7. HELP. Preserve nature and tourist destinations. Bring extra gifts/food for the Aeta communities on the way to the volcano. Bless your tourguide/driver and give them a bigger tip especially if they've carried your bags and have been of great help to you.

8. HAVE FUN! No travel is perfect. Don't let bumpy roads, dust, super hot weather or complainers ruin your adventure. Make the most of every trip. Do everything you can to have a safe and memorable tour.

Climb another mountain. Checked! :)

Some photos are c/o of my friend Doc Mavic.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Life is Bananas by Lj T. Salceda

As if the cool breeze was telling me, "Look, take a closer look behind you."

At the back of our dorm a few feet from where I was tackling two weeks worth of laundry,
stood a group of *banana plants. Rows and rows of tiered (buwig) young banana fruit protruding from one the main trunks as they gently dance with the summer wind. Although it is a pleasant sight, it is nothing new much more extra ordinary to me.

“Can you see it?” as if the Wind is asking me.

“They look like the same bananas I’ve seen the past seven years that I’ve lived here.” I silently answered.

“Look again,” commanded the cool breeze.

Feeling a bit irritated I hesitantly gave in and replied, “Ok, am I missing something here? They’re the same bana.. nas…”

My thoughts trailed back to my childhood in the province. We’ve always had bananas in our yard when we were younger and it amazed me then how they never last longer than the rest of the trees in my grandmother’s yard. There’s the towering mango tree at the corner of our lot or my favorite place to hang out- the caimito tree still alive to this day or the aratiles tree a favorite of caterpillars (higad)!

I remember some of my grandparents’ lessons in the life of bananas: they sprout from nowhere, grow really fast and die young (2–3yrs max) after they bear fruit just once in their short life span. Amazingly though, offshoots spring from their base after their death. Pretty much like the coconut trees, they offer unending use from their leaves to their trunk to their fruit up to their flower (heart).

Hmmmm… Now, I think I know what the Wind was trying to tell me. They weren't exactly the same bananas I saw when I first transferred to our dorm. However, isn’t life pretty much like banana plants or their flowers or the early summer wind – here today and gone tomorrow or a few years the most?

I guess the more important questions to ask are: are we producing any good fruit or positive deeds before our expiration date? And are we growing or mentoring any offshoots (students, sons or daughters, disciples) as our legacy for when we're done and gone?

My Ma always say in her sermons, what is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual. Meaning, what works in our physical, temporal world or in our day-to-day living can be applied in our faith or relationship with the Lord.

Whenever you eat banana que or turon (jumping jack we call them in Bicol) or order a halo-halo with bananas except for the nutrients and other benefits they provide, may this amazing fruit remind you: how short but productive (or enjoyable or important or crazy) life is. So, do your part – bear fruit and be a mentor to someone while you can. Learn from the BANANA!

Interesting banana facts:

* Bananas are not trees, they are from the herb family.

* Bananas are excellent source of vitamins and minerals especially protein, raw sugar, vitamin B and fiber.

* Bananas are naturally and slightly radioactive.

* The Philippines is the second banana producer/exporter in the world.