Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas ranks with Batulao and Pico De Loro in popularity as a hiking destination in Luzon. The traditional trail is short and easy enough for beginners, and it offers a magnificent view of Taal Lake. I heard the sunset there is also beautiful but I haven’t had the chance to see it yet.
The massive influx of climbers over the years has eroded the trail so much that local authorities decided to close it and create another one. The new trail was opened just two weeks ago, according to a local, and we were able to try it last Saturday. This was my second time in Maculot and the first time to do a traverse. Sir Naldy of Philippine Airlines Mountaineering Club invited me on this climb which his wife, Ma’am Crislyn, organized for beginners and old friends they haven’t climbed with in a while. I was neither a beginner nor an old friend, just a stray cat whom they were gracious enough to include.
Naldy, Agot (Ma’am Crislyn’s friend from college) and I took the traverse trail via Grotto while the rest of the group took the new trail to the Rockies. From Cuenca proper, we took a tricycle to Barangay Pinagkaisahan, registered in the barangay hall (registration fee is P5), and nearly caused the tricycle’s engine to burst into flames as it struggled on a steep road while taking us to the trailhead. I had pasta, rice, two sausages, fried egg and french fries that morning so I may have had something to do with it.
“Malapit na ‘yan. Lakarin nyo na lang (We’re almost there. You can just walk from here),” the driver told us, fearing that our weight might completely destroy his vehicle. From the paved road, it was a continuous uphill trek to the Grotto, where a statue of the Virgin Mary is erected. There were concrete stairs in some parts and open areas which exposed us to the mid-morning heat.
We reached the Grotto after about 40 minutes of walking, rested for a bit, and continued to the summit. The trail was now forested, which is a good thing since I’m not a fan of direct sunlight, but the slope was still consistently steep. There were two rope-assisted sections on the rocky parts of the trail but it is possible to climb them without ropes since stable handholds are available. A local we met also warned us that the ropes have been installed there for about 15 years so they’re not reliable anymore. They did look to be in poor condition, especially the second one, so I didn’t risk using them and just trusted in the strength of the rocks and tree roots I managed to hold on to.
The summit was about an hour and 15 minutes away from the Grotto on a moderate pace. It was my first time on the summit. I’ve been told that the peak of Maculot is disappointing because there is no view but I did see a nice, albeit partially covered, view of Taal Lake when we got there. I have very shallow requirements for happiness (literal translation: mababaw ang kaligayahan) so it was enough to keep me happy. We also saw some fascinating organisms along the trail.
From the summit, it was about an hour of continuous descent to the campsite. There were slippery parts on the trail; I even slipped and landed hard on my ass once. We reached the campsite at around 10:30am and waited for the rest of the group.
After lunch, all 12 of us headed to the Rockies, the part of Maculot that offers an unobstructed view of Taal Lake, Taal Volcano and the plains of Batangas and Laguna. You can even see Batulao in the distance on a clear day. The trek from the campsite to the Rockies takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. I did mention that Maculot is a popular hiking destination so the sheer number of climbers can create a bottleneck on the narrow trail. You’d have to pass through a ridge and do a bit of rock climbing to get there. It can be a bit daunting but the rewards are more than worth it. The view on the Rockies is as beautiful as ever, it never gets old no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
The descent on the new trail proved to be tougher than expected. The soil was loose and arid, which made it very slippery. A local said it is also slightly longer than the old trail, about 30 minutes of additional trekking time. True to Maculot tradition though, there were still several “7-Elevens” along the trail, those makeshift stalls that sell buko juice, banana cue and halo-halo.
We reached the last 7-Eleven at around 4pm and took a long break for halo-halo before heading down to the Mountaineers’ Store where our rented van was waiting. There was a slight drizzle that afternoon despite the weather forecast of a clear, sunny day. This proved Naldy’s theory that I’m a magnet of bad weather. He noticed the glaring pattern that most of my climbs have horrible weather (Kalatungan, Kanlaon and Bulusan to name a few). I’m starting to believe it now. I’m screwed.
Thank you so much Sir Naldy and Ma’am Crislyn for letting me tag along on this climb! I’m gonna go now and get splashed with holy water in Quiapo, make a confession in Baclaran, and offer three dozen eggs to Santa Clara. Any or all of that might get rid of the bad-weather curse. *fingers crossed*