In my quest to find people to go with me on the Mt. Mantalingajan climb, I got an email from a guy named Dante saying he and his friend are interested in joining. Now, I’ve watched way too many episodes of Dexter and Criminal Minds that I’ve started assuming everyone is a serial killer unless proven otherwise. The Manta climb is a five-day trek in the jungles of Palawan. I can’t possibly go there with two strangers who might slit my throat and eat my brains.
So when Dante invited me for a meet-and-greet day hike in Tarak Ridge one Saturday, I readily said yes. I figured if I did get hacked to pieces by serial killers, the police would have an easier time retrieving my body in Bataan than in Palawan. Besides, seven people would be joining the climb. That’s way too big of a group for a clean murder; someone is bound to go soft and squeal. (Yes, I’m really this paranoid in real life.)
Thankfully, they didn’t turn out to be murderous psychopaths. In a weird coincidence that proves it’s a small world after all, three of them are colleagues of one of my best friends since college and they’ve also gone on a day hike with him. (Hi Bryan, I just stole your hiking buddies. And they complained about you being a big nerd at work.)
We left Manila at 2am, had an early breakfast at a roadside karinderia that served the best sinigang and bopis I’ve tasted in a long time, and was at the jump-off by 6:30am. The trail going to the Papaya River was an easy one-and-half-hour trek of mostly flat terrain. After the river, the slope got significantly steeper. The trail was still forested though so it wasn’t that hot.
Once we got to the grasslands, it was time to get our brains fried. The sun was glaringly angry and I could feel my skin getting roasted.
Going to the peak was a slow, confusing hike that entailed ducking under shrubs and following a trail that looked like it hasn’t been used in a while. Dante and Tom stayed behind so the six of us were left walking aimlessly and looking for we don’t know what exactly. I wasn’t even sure if we reached whatever summit view deck was there but we still managed to get some decent photos out of it.
After about half an hour of wandering around and getting hit in the face by wayward branches, we decided to go back down. We had lunch in the campsite near the grasslands and took a nap afterwards. I’m of the masa style of hibernation (masandal tulog) so I was still in dreamland when Dante started bellowing my name to wake me up. They were all standing around me with amused grins on their faces by the time I was jolted back into consciousness. I was probably drooling and snoring the whole time.
The descent back to Papaya River took about half an hour. A whole village of tents has sprouted on the camp grounds when we got there and the river was teeming with people. We stayed for a while, filling our water bottles and soaking in the water (they did anyway; I stayed dry because I’m an old woman who still believes in pasma).
We then headed back to the jump-off and then to the roadside karinderia that served the best-tasting sinigang and bopis. We had our fill of barbecue, isaw (chicken intestines), adidas (chicken feet), betamax (chicken blood), walkman (pig’s ears) and of course, Mountain Dew. On our way back to Manila, we stopped at Razon’s in Pampanga for halo-halo.
I started the day meeting seven strangers and ended it hanging out and laughing my head off with seven people I’d gladly have as friends. They were welcoming, unpretentious and funny as hell. Good thing they didn’t have any serial killer hang-ups or I’d be one sad, paranoid weirdo hiking along Tarak Ridge.