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The Calayan islands: Chasing a Humpy Tale

In Adventure,Culture,Environment,Hiking /Trekking,Landscapes,People,Photography,Portraits,Travel on August 8, 2009 by ayshey

Bigger Fish

I got back fifteen days ago from a wonderful but exhausting trip to Aparri up north in the province of Cagayan Valley. We also ventured into the un-touristy areas of Camiguin and Calayan Islands–both part of the Babuyan Islands. In fact, the Philippine maps are wrong when they refer to these islands as the Babuyan islands when in fact, they are the Calayan Islands. I should look into this again soon just so I can be more firm about my facts.

We left the bedlam of a Florida bus station in Espana at 10:30 in the evening. We were waiting for H  who was late–should I say, again? But she arrived in time and we then settled back into our nice Super deluxe seats. J had the misfortune of being seated next to a hyperactive little boy who wanted to befriend everyone that night. The Holy Week season always sends stressed-out people from Manila into the places we call “provinces”. And so  the bus rolled out of Manila and into the highway to the North.

It was the usual gang of R,C, J,H and myself. R had this brilliant idea of looking into these islands that no one seems to know much about. She asked someone from her Makati office if anyone knew of the area where the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) volunteers had sighted the humpback whales, where they do research. Looking back now, I think R wasn’t really into the humpbacks really–and there was no promise that we would see any since it was already April and they usually come around the Philippine waters in February and March. The idea was just to check out the islands because we have never been there before  and it was a “let’s just see what the place has to offer”. I think that was the attitude. That was good enough for all of us.

Canon G10 performs

I had a Japanese dinner with N and T –it was almost their birthdays, these photographer friends of mine. And then Wena arrived with her brand new Canon G10 and there was a short lecture on how she can maximize her camera while on her Tibetan trip–yeah, this was  another adventurous Pinay friend who will be traveling on her own to China. It’s a trip i would also like to do. But that’s for another time.

We arrived in Aparri at noon the next day. We went straight to St Patrick’s Hotel. We got this idea of staying at this hotel in Aparri from a guy we met on the  bus. He seemed to be the team leader of a group of backpackers. St. Patrick’s was reasonably priced and it was AC! Aparri was terribly hot and any cool air was welcome. That evening, we bought our supplies for the next few days. We also bought lunch and bottles of water for our boat trip to Camiguin, our first island for the trip. We enjoyed  the sweet custard cakes at Criselda’s. Later,we  decided to buy big plastic bags at the market  to protect  our food supplies and our backpacks when we cross the big blue sea the next day. R had to work so she went to a nearby cyber cafe. The rest of us went back to the hotel to repack our stuff and to take our much needed showers. Wake up call the next day was at 4am but we put our alarms at 3:30am. Geeze.

Rock

Next morning, while our bodies wanted us to continue lying in, it was Day 1 of our journey to a place /places we had never been before. We gathered our packs and struggled down to the main lobby with our  plastic bags of  food ( vegetables,red and white eggs,canned goods of corned beef,sardines,a bottle of gin,etc. ). We were ferried to the pier by a white pick-up which was probably owned by one of the guests, we really didn’t ask anymore. It was 4am! The pier was dark and there were voices speaking in Tagalog. I could hear the locals saying in Ilocano that the small banca will be bringing the visitors to the bigger boat first. The rest of them will just have to wait. Hmmm. That was so Pinoy –to think of the “bisita” first before the locals. But it was the rule of the morning it seemed. We got on the small banca with our stuff. It was still dark but light was coming up soon in the distance. Then we were on the boat called The Saint Vincent. We sailed for Balatubat, Camiguin island at around 7:30am after a Coast Guard inspection. The other locals had to go down because we were too crowded. J sighed in relief. Maybe I should have too but I was too busy thinking of things to shoot, what the stories will be about.

Balatubat, Camiguin. It is the center of Camiguin island. It is also where we would be based for the rest of the days but we didn’t know that yet. We went straight to the house of Manang Awit whose husband was waiting for us. Manang Awit’s son Jun Jun helped us with our stuff as we got down the smaller boat to land on Camiguin. Manang Awit’s house was the usual base for WWF volunteers, we learned later. It had a kitchen,a bathroom, rooms and beds and plenty of water. It was also near the beach where we spent much time playing around with our cameras. It had  great sunsets too.

Camiguin is just like any island town in the Philippine archipelago. There were rice paddies, mountain vistas,a water falls (Tappao Falls), and a fiesta.We arrived on the day of their fiesta. We did not go out to check  the action later that night. We were tired and had agreed to go to Calayan island the next day after R talked to the boat captain…After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

That same afternoon we arrived, we went to eat halo-halo at the nearby center of town. The fiesta mood was just beginning and the ice drop, the junk food, and other food was being sold.

I will just post pix  here so the story will be more complete. Enjoy!

Wreck 1

Wreck 2

I spent much time shooting these metal parts from some ship or other. I enjoyed the quiet time i spent on the beach. Great travel. Thank you, Ranhel for fixing this trip. Much appreciated.

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Spotlight 2 : Veejay Villafranca, Ian Parry Awardee 2008

In Culture,Photography,Travel on August 28, 2008 by ayshey Tagged: ,

Kat: Hi Veejay, we’re at a section called SPOTLIGHT which is a short and informal Q&A with Pinoy Photogs. So, welcome to SPOTLIGHT! Congrats, VJ–for winning two things–the Ian Parry Scholarship Award and for qualifying for the Joop Swart Masterclass! I know it is a NEW level for you and I am so excited for you …Ano yung unang inisip mo nung malaman mong panalo ka?

VJ: Well it didn’t sink in right there and then… I was in my usual hangout (Oarhouse) celebrating the birthday of a friend when suddenly my phone rings at around 1am. The first thing that the guy on the other end of the line told me was  “Welcome to the Ian Parry family” then they passed the phone to all the jury including legendary war photographer Tom Stoddard, Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen, 2 brothers of Ian Parry and other prominent members of the jury. Then I got down after I went to the small room at the back of the kitchen to hear clearer. I was stunned and then my friends asked who called and why I looked shocked. I told them briefly then I shouted and bought whoever was inside Oarhouse a round of drinks (good thing there were only a few!).

Kat: Hay buti na lang! hahaha. So, where will you use your Ian Parry grant winnings? I know you said in a previous email that you will use it in Myanmar but is there a particular project that you want to do? Can you talk about it, share it here?

VJ: I will do a documentary on the border countries surrounding Myanmar. India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand because as I said in my proposal, I believe that the people who are yearning for a better life push themselves to the border hoping that they will manage to find a way to cross to the other side.

Kat: What was your story in Myanmar? What was it like? How was it like being a Pinoy photog in Myanmar?

VJ: The original plan was instead of waiting in Bangkok for a visa we might as well peek into the Burmese culture and head for the Thai-Burma border. I stayed in Mae-sot alone for a week finding my way around and crossing to the Burma side twice for day trips since they don’t allow tourists to stay there overnight. And then my editor in Philippine Graphic came (this was a special project by my editor for Philippine Graphic by the way) and I showed her around and interviewed refugees in the camps.

Then we tried our luck in Bangkok and attempted to apply for a visa. But what do you know, the Myanmar embassy was burning down, well actually just a part of it which was the old building behind the visa section. So my editor decided to head back to Manila but told me to stay put and try again in a couple of days. As luck would have it, I was granted a visa and first thing the next day, I took the first flight heading to Yangon (Rangoon).

I had mixed emotions going to Myanmar. First, I was excited because I will have a first hand  view of what most people had only a glimpse of,and second, I was a little apprehensive because I know for a fact that this will be my most challenging assignment to date. So I landed in Yangon only to be greeted with a hard downpour.

My three-week stay inside Myanmar is considerably my most challenging assignment to date. There were a couple of factors that was making my shoot hard, initially it was the general rule of the junta that ‘foreigners’ aren’t allowed in the delta area. This was a big hindrance since the story is there. There was little news coming out because all journalists were being deported if not followed by intelligence. The next factor were checkpoints, there were at least 7 military checkpoints in the span of a 4-hour ride and this was putting unwanted pressure on my back since every time my vehicle will be stopped I thought it was the end but luckily I got through this. And lastly the constant threat of being detained, marked as a journalist and getting deported and blacklisted will be like putting icing on the cake.

Every time I went to the delta I was always with my guide and of course each time there was a threat to me, it doubles for him since he’s local. That’s why it was such an ordeal to execute just a day of shooting in the delta but again I was just lucky to get through that.

The intensity of grief and emotion of the people living in the delta region made it another setback in shooting. Most of the time I talk and interview subjects first and then ask permission to shoot. Maybe, its because of their isolation in the main towns that makes them very protective and aware of other people entering their world.

Kat: Wow. Hirap pala, VJ…after that story, pasensya na sa sunod naman na tanong ko  – anong mga pagkain  sa Myanmar na ma-recommend mo?

VJ: At first I tasted the national dish that is “Mohinga”. Rice noodles with pork vegetables and the dreaded fish paste. Of course what is the point of getting to know one’s culture if you wouldn’t try their food right? So I did and that was the time my stomach turned to mayhem. The sanitation process of their ingredients probably adds that “distinct flavor”. But don’t get me wrong, you can get mohinga in other ‘clean’ establishments. My favourite is the Shan noodles! Fresh rice noodles with pork/beef/chicken sesame seeds vegetables and other ingredients that make it so yum!

But when I want some comfort food and some beer I go to 50th street bar and resto which is quite near my guesthouse. They have American comfort food such as burgers, to-die-for pizzas and some local delicacies as well. And as Lonely Planet says, it is like you have been transported back to your favorite watering hole in your hometown.

Kat: I saw some of your works on the Chinese Mafia in Tondo–I didn’t know that they were Chinese–akala ko Pinoy yung mga yun? How did you know of their existence? What was your strategy to be able to document their world?

VJ: I met a group of rugby boys when some friends and I were street shooting inside Baseco compound. Then when I was chatting with them I asked if they had a group and they told me that they were the Chinese Mafia Crew which had its heyday as the most dangerous gang in the place before the compound caught fire a couple of years back. Then after several visits I found out that the kids were just kidding, maybe its from the glue, then they introduced me to one of the last remaining senior members of the group, Kryt.

He was the one who introduced me to the rest of the members of the group that included the number one holdapper in Divisoria market, an ex convict, drug peddler and so on.

I wasn’t worried at first that they might reverse roles and turn on me, I thought that if  I make have enough connection with these guys,I can do a documentary on them.

So after several visits again they got used to my facewhile I was on their turf and a couple of drinking sessions later one by one they were spilling their guts out on how they lived before and how they wanted to remove the stigma that the public has marked on them. So I developed the story during my course in Ateneo then edited a sort of a final essay for my final portfolio that I which I then submitted to Ian Parry.

There was no fixed strategy on shooting my story. And neither one of them were Chinese gang members, Italian mafia nor American crew. They are lost men who are trying to find their way back to the main road. There were times when I was visiting them just to have a chat and drink a couple of rounds of cerveza. So it was just like most personal stories where you are trying to put your feet into their shoes. I was very curious about their world so I devoted time, money and effort for this on-going project.

Kat: Hmm….pati yang kwento na yan, exciting!:)

So, you will be joining 12 other young photographers in the Netherlands for the WPP Masterclass. For photographers worldwide, it is such a big deal to be part of that elite group. How do you feel about that?

VJ: Kat, I am just as good as nominated for the WPP-Masterclass program but not yet included in the 12, so I will do what I do best and shoot the stories that I have in mind and develop it. My preparation for next year’s Joop Swart program will be included in my daily groove but not to shoot and live just to be able to fit in.

Kat: Sounds good, VJ…

Ok,let’s dream a little more here. Inside a big camera shop in Singapore or Hong Kong–o sige na nga sa NYC din–the owners tell you that you can grab a complete photo gear in just 1 hour which will be yours for free–what will you bring home?

VJ:  Leica M4-P, Leica M8, 24mm Sumillux f2.8, 35mm Summilux f1.4, 50mm Noctillux f1.0. A thousand rolls of film, chemicals and a sleeping bag so I can sleep comfortably wherever I am doing my project. =) And the new D700 of Nikon and a couple of lenses wouldn’t hurt.

Kat: Yahoo!!!Kelan ka magpapainom sa nga Angkor boys and girls? Hahaha….

VJ: Hindi lang ako magpapainom!!! Si Wawi ACC scholar!!!!! Wuhooooo!!! Lesdodis!

Kat: Ok! Salamat, VJ! Again, you deserve it, wooohoooooooooooooooooooo!

PS…Last I heard, Veejay will be at the Perpignan Photojournalism Festival in France (the biggest in the world that happens each year! ) this September. Hmm…that’s a good one to score, VJ! Again, my best:))) Mwah:))))

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My Nepal Summer: 2007

In Culture,Photography,Travel on June 13, 2008 by ayshey Tagged: , , , ,




H gets comfy in BKK while we wait for the 6pm Royal Nepali Airways bound for Kathmandu.



On the trail to Phakding.


mt everest on our way to pangboche

Mt Everest as seen on our way to Pangboche.

night shot, kathmandu

Thamel district, Kathmandu at night.

Arrival. My friend H and I were the last to arrive in Kathmandu at 11 pm on April 18. Pinoy summiteer Leo Oracion met us at the Kathmandu airport together with our Nepali travel agent, Henry Pariyar. We drove to the Sherpa guesthouse on Thamel where we met veteran mountaineer Fred Jamili from Bacolod who welcomed us warmly. The following night, we repacked out stuff and made sure that we would only carry the essentials: cold weather clothes, medicine, trail food, trekking poles ( which I had never used before ),one pair of trekking clothes, and our sleepwear. We already knew it would take 16 days for us to go up to the Everest Base Camp and then back down to Lukla, where we would begin and end our trek.

nepali food dalbat

Dalbat, the staple Nepali food.

Next day,we boarded a small plane for Lukla , a trip that took 45 minutes. We traveled with a big group of Americans and their guide, Marie. We flew above the Kathmandu valley , past low lying villages. In Lukla, the assembled porters and guides looked at our all-women group with curiosity. They all stood at attention outside the airport gates—most of them looking for work. We proceeded to the nearest guesthouse with our guide Ang Dawa , who we immediately called TL or team leader. A member of the Rai people, TL had Mongol features and fair skin. He had also previously guided the media crew of Abner Mercado last year who had covered the first ascent of Leo Oracion and Pastor Emata.

TL with Britney

Ang Dawa or TL with Britney.

Lukla to Phakding (2610 m). This was a 3-hour trek through mountain trails that followed the Dudh Koshi (“like milk” in Nepali ) river. We walked past stone houses, traversed long footbridges made of steel , and were introduced to the hardy Jopke animals that carried the baggage of many trekkers. The Jopke are related to the more popular Yaks. We slept at Sunrise Lodge, a teahouse where the bed was soft. Our meal that night was fried mixed vegetable rice- the first of many such meals.

newly wed chilean climbers

Chilean climbers we met at Namche Bazar.

Phakding to Namche Bazar (3440 m). We got up at 6am after a good rest and were served our meal at 7am.The night before, we had already placed our order for breakfast since it usually takes at least an hour for guests’ meals to be prepared. It would be a pattern we would follow throughout the time we were in the Khumbu region.

the most famous sherpa of all

Apa Sherpa of Nepal summited Everest 17 times.

The trail to Namche was pleasant and reminded me of Sagada, Ugu and Pulag. The pinetrees and the clean crisp air were a welcome change from the dust and grime of Kathmandu. In Namche, the view of Thamserku was an awesome scenery. At last, a Himalayan mountain covered with snow! What did we girls from a tropical country know of mountains like Thamserku? Yes, we were finally in the Himalayas!

at gorak shep lodge

French grunge climbers, Gorak shep.

That night, I had a slight headache. Another one in our group, J ,experienced loss of appetite. We realized from our readings on altitude sickness that we were now being introduced to AMS or altitude mountain sickness. We needed to get as much liquids into our system as well as be able to breathe deeply. J told me that at the altitude we were at, we were probably getting only 70% of oxygen than was normal.

usual sleeping form during the climb

H in her TNF cocoon gear. Lobuche

Next day, we slept till 7am and at breakfast, attacked our pancakes with enthusiasm. We then started trekking to the higher elevation overlooking Namche. We needed to further acclimatize and so we slept another night at Namche. We went as far as the Everest View Hotel on top of the mountain which gave a good glimpse of Everest on a clear day. Alas, it was a cloudy day when we reached the hotel which was built by the Japanese. Tea was definitely expensive at that elevation. Next, we went down to the Khum Jung valley and saw the Hillary School.

Shomare. Next morning, the slight throbbing in my head was still there but I started drinking my supply of“tatopani” (Nepali for hot water) and I soon felt better as we started our trek up to Shomare. TL decided we should sleep in Shomare. During breakfast,I was about to reach for a Maple syrup bottle on top of the table across us when J and the rest of my group said it wasn’t a supply from the teahouse. We then saw a group of Americans coming in to the teahouse. They had yellow tents outside and were just coming in for their meal. They had chosen a fully blown “safari style” way of doing the Everest base Camp trek. We saw that they had hot water too for washing their hands in the morning. They had a Nepali cook and other staff who were busy preparing for the group’s meal. Pwede pala ang ganun? Yes, if you had the budget.

Again, I had a slight headache in Shomare. And at the next table,I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the American group at the next table—some who were experiencing the signs of AMS had already been drinking their anti-AMS medicine, Diamox. We decided to hold off and see how far our bodies could go. Later, J would pop half a Diamox at the Lobuche lodge when she could no longer eat her meals. During the rest of the trek, three of us decided not to drink our Diamox tablets.

slow but sure

Group gets down from EBC to Gorak Shep and warm food.

Tengboche (3860 m) . This part of the trek to EBC was hard because it was cold, and we were more exhausted because of the higher altitude. We slept in stall-like rooms that were freezing. Without our borrowed goosedown sleeping bags, we would have frozen to death, I think. In the dining room of the Tengboche lodge, many of the guests huddled close to the stove. A CD of the Direstraits was playing again and again in the background. In the morning, we were excited to see a glimpse of Everest ( Sagarmatha as the Nepalis call it), the beautiful Ama Dablam,Tawche, Lhotse, and Nuptse. These Himalayan mountains more than made up for yesterday’s difficulty during the trek.

The 400-year old Tengboche Monastery was a charming presence on that mountain and the monk who was in charge welcomed us with enthusiasm. Inside the monastery were beautiful paintings and a large Buddha.

We then took a trail lined with lavender flowers while we looked down on the Dudh Koshi river. We traversed a steel bridge with the mighty Ama Dablam looming large on our right. Prayer flags fluttered in the breeze as we looked at the mountain which most of us had only read about. A Nepali guide who was at the Namche museum (which is a must for all interested in Himalayan culture) mentioned to his group that Ama Dablam was the most technical mountain to climb in the Himalayan range. During that entire trip, we met only one couple that was going to climb Ama Dablam with their Nepali guide.The rest of the trekking groups were bound for the Everest base camp.

Dingboche (4410m). We stayed at the Imza Valley lodge where we met our Sherpa cook and the Sherpa couple who owned the lodge. They seemed curious about us Filipino girls. They served our food in no time and came out and asked if it was to our liking. Didi (Nepali for older sister), one of the owners had been to the Everest base camp several times as a porter. She was very friendly to us. Next morning, I caught her outside drinking black tea. I took her portrait with the big Tawche mountain behind her.

Thokla (4620m). At 8:30 the next day, we left for Thokla despite the strong winds. Ama Dablam was our constant view even as it played hide and seek with the clouds. The sun came out but the wind was vicious on our skin. I imagined the harshness of winter and could only think how much more barren the land around Thokla would be during that season. It would most likely be unbearable. As we entered the Thokla teahouse, we felt the cold lessen because of the lit stove in the middle of the dining room. I remembered the bar in the Tolkien movie Lord of the Rings where many characters were lounging about in various costumes. Inside, a serious-looking mountaineer arranged his backpack laden with an iceaxe and ropes on the floor. That night, we stayed up a bit later than usual at the dining room while he talked about being a mountain guide on Tibet and on Everest. Turned out that he was a British military man who did guiding and also sold oxygen supplies to mountaineers. A Tibetan with his torquoise earrings tied up his sack of goods that could possibly contain China-made Nikes,TNF and Mountain Hardwear jackets and other goods. Three Americans working in an NGO in Chiang Mai, Thailand were also huddled close to the stove. A 65-year old German professor and two young Israeli backpackers were talking about their itinerary. A goodlooking Sherpa guide who spoke with a British accent came to our table and said hello. He asked us where we were from. We were the only Filipino guests. It’s a question we were always asked on the trail. And we would usually get surprised looks. It seems few Filipinos had ever come to the trails of Everest. Leo Oracion and Pastor Emata’s Expedition team in 2006 may have started a tradition of adventurous Filipinos coming to trek Nepal.

eating dalbat at pangboche

Inside the Pangboche Teahouse.

We also trekked through the Thokla Pass—where various memorials for those climbers who had died on Everest were erected by those who wanted to remember them. I photographed the memorial of Scott Fischer, an American climber who died as he came down from the summit in 1996.That expedition was a controversial one,I think. There were also climbers from Korea, Japan, and the memorial of Baba Sherpa, a famous Sherpa climber who had died after summiting for the 11th time. He fell down a crevasse

Lobuche (4910m). Going to Lobuche was another hardship due to the higher altitude. Breathing was more difficult at night and that made it also harder to sleep. H and I shared a room in all the teahouses. As roommates, it was good to have a buddy for when we needed to go to the bathroom each night. But it was in Lobuche where we met a tall Welsh novelist,Terence Davies who mistook us for the Pinay Expedition team. He said that Herbert Wolf, a German high altitude climber was waiting for us so he could give us our high-alti certificates. We said we were not the Pinay team. He then suggested we play a game on Herbert and so we trekked in the snow to the pricier Ecolodge (USD12/night) nearby. When we entered their roomy dining room, Everest summiter American climber Lily Leonard and German climber Herbert Wolf were drinking tea by a window that had Nuptse in the background. Herbert had already met Carina, Noelle and Janet so he knew we were not the team. We all laughed and had our pictures taken with the famous climbers. The rest of the people in the room just looked at us and maybe wondered about how we suddenly had access to these celebrity climbers.

Gorak Shep (5140m.) We arrived in Snowland Lodge from Lobuche after four grueling hours of trekking through harsh land. It was very cold and we were wearing all we had brought with us-fleece and goosedown jackets. Last night in Lobuche,I found it hard to breathe again as I listened to the howling wind outside. In the morning,it felt good to taste Filipino food for breakfast –bagoong and rice! Three Welsh guys next to our table eyed our food in wonder. But no one complained of the smell.Thank God.

pinoy reunion away from home

Pinoys have a small reunion,Pangboche.

The trek to Gorak Shep was not easy for me. I had to stop every now and then to breath deeply. Still, I didn’t think about drinking any diamox even after I felt a little nauseous. After a while, I felt better especially after doing some deep breathing. I was also hungry after only a couple of hours. We kept asking our Nepali porters, if we were near our lodge yet. Finally, when we saw a few buildings in the middle of nowhere, we knew it was Gorak Shep—which I later called Gorak Shit, we felt elated. Our lodge was at the valley just below Kala Patthar-where they said we would get our best view of Everest. But it was cold and we were tired so we didn’t look around anymore. We ordered teaand sat down and tried to absorb our surroundings. The huge dining room later accommodated two “safari style” teams –one German and one American. The rest were the Welsh and Russian teams and our group. Our rooms were at the second floor and it was bigger than any of the rooms we had in the various lodges before.

It was still hard to breathe that night but we managed to sleep a little. The next day was going to be our trip to the Everest base camp.We also met the famous Sherpa mountaineers Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa at our Gorak Shep lodge.They had put together an all-Sherpa team that would summit Everest.

Super Sherpas

Super Sherpas Apa and Lakpa Sherpa,the girls, Jaya,Chondra and TL, Gorak Shep.

Apa Sherpa was summiting it for the 17th time and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa was doing it for the 12th time. (Update: Apa Sherpa successfully climbed Everest for the 17th time in 2007 ) The all-Sherpa climbing team’s aim was to highlight the contribution of Sherpas in high altitude mountaineering and to promote Nepal and its people. We heard later, that they did summit successfully on the morning of May 16. Their recent feat was also documented and will later be part of a film on the Sherpa culture.

touching ice

C enjoys some ice company at the base camp.

Everest base camp (5364m).This was the hardest section of the entire climb for me. Breathing was a difficult task. My head throbbed. The boulders,loose stones and soil leading to the base camp of Everest were not easy to traverse. The wind stinging our faces was equally harsh like the land it was traveling through. We arrived at the base camp after 4 hours and went straight inside the popular Base Camp (BC) bakery, We had heard about their excellent apple pie and hot chocolate from previous foreign climbers staying at our Gorak Shep lodge. We just sat and soaked in the warmth of the bakery with its bread smells. After befriending the Sherpa baker, we stepped out and took pictures of our group while we blew on our “torotot” while a Nepali guide watching us from the sidelights was asked to hold the Philippine flag up for all the world to see. There were tents everywhere and flags of various nations were flying high.There were 44 expeditions that were going on at that time. Previous to that, while still at Gorak Shep, we heard that 2 Sherpas had died in Camps 1 and 2. There was a lot of garbage too at the base camp. It wasn’t what I had imagined the Everest base camp to be but I vaguely recall reading the National Geographic issue that focused on the Everest garbage. At Shomare earlier, we met a Nepali man whose work is to bring down garbage from the base camp. He is paid by the government to do the task.

torotot sa base camp

We asked the Nepalis at the base camp to join our Pinoy party!

We left the base camp at 3 in the afternoon as the wind blew hard again and the clouds turned grey.The trek back was not any easier except that we knew we would be going to get a warm meal and that was a great incentive to get down fast. We reached Gorak Shep as the light went out that day. I was the last to enter the lodge. I felt totally wasted as I sat and saw the blur of faces in front of me. Climber friends we had made at the lodge waved and said hello but I didn’t see or hear them. I went up slowly to our room and ate a bar of candy. It made me feel better and then I went to sleep. I woke up later and had a bowl of soup.

Kala Patthar (5545m.)This was the best day of all. We trekked up to the mountain of black stones (which is what Kala Patthar means in Nepali) in three hours. We reached the top and saw that small white cloud over Everest. There was Lhotse,Nuptse, Ama Dablam,Pumori,Thamserku and all the other Himalayan mountains which names we kept forgetting. We just sat and surveyed the stunning beauty of the famous area. We were the only folks up there when we espied a trekker who was climbing to our spot. We waited and said hello. We saw him earlier sketching the mountains at a lower part of Kala Patthar. An American,he asked us to take a picture of his t-shirt which said Race for The Cure. His mother had died fifteen years ago from breast cancer and he was dedicating the climb to her.

american guy with race for the cure tee

We all sat quietly again and just felt the cold wind touch our faces while the sun just blessed us.It was a perfect day.

from our lodge room window

Kala Pattar

Meeting Pinoys on the trail down to Namche Bazaar. We left Gorak Shep after 3 nights at below zero degree temperatures. It was 7am when we trekked down and bid goodbye to the valley. Climbers were already trekking up to Kala Patthar at that hour.

We got down to Lobuche , next was Thokla and then we decided to take Pheriche since we had not used that route before. This time,instead of Dingboche, we made sure to have lunch in Pheriche, where we heard that a doctor with the Himalayan Rescue lectures on altitude sickness. We didn’t stay around for the lecture but hurried on down to our destination for the day – Pangboche. After passing thru Tengboche,our TL decided to ask around if Leo Oracion and the rest of his Filipino crew were there in one of the guesthouses. We stayed at the Tengboche Monastery entrance and waited. There was no Filipino team anywhere, according to TL. We left Tengboche and walked again for another hour and a half and then as we got down to Phortse Tenga, we saw the smiling faces of Fred Jamili and other Filipino climbers. Fred was an Ilongo veteran climber from Bacolod well known in the Philippine mountaineering community. Leo was inside the teahouse enjoying the traditional Nepali dalbat meal. Fred asked us to stay and have lunch with the group which turned out to be a happy occasion for all. There were also two other Filipino climbers from UP Baguio who had decided to trek up to the Everest base camp without porters or a guide. Filipino was loudly spoken as though we were back in a Manila café or in a QC suburb. Then Fred stood up and said he would go ahead and meet the rest of his group up in Tengboche. Leo and the rest of the Nepali porters and Nepali guide Buddyman followed soon after we took group pictures. We also got ready to trek down to our lodge in Pangboche. That was a happy lunch.

Going to Lukla. Going down to Namche was easier for us the next day. After 2.5 hours, we reached Phakding where we spent one night. Next was to Lukla and a nice dinner at the Sherpa Lodge where we began our trek sixteen days ago. That night, we had a farewell and thank you party for our 2 porters Jaya and Shondra and TL Ang Dawa at a German bakery next to our lodge. We drank hot chocolate and ate pastries. This was a real treat for all. The foreign friends we met along the trail were also there.

leaving for kathmandu

Goodbye Lukla. Off to Kathmandu.

The next day, we were disappointed to be the last to leave Lukla via a small Yeti Airlines plane because we were up so early ! We reached Kathmandu at lunchtime and immediately headed out to eat.

gwapong climber

H and J with Amadablam guide Guru, Gorak Shep.

It was a heady experience, one not easy to forget in our lifetime. We had come so far and saw a place we had only dreamed of and read in books about. It was also a big cultural experience for us –seeing the Sherpa villages,meeting our Rai porters, and getting acquainted with a Chettri guide and someone from the Guru village, meeting the jopkes and the yaks on the trail, seeing the vastness of the Himalayas. Yes,we saw the sights that every tourist is shown in Nepal or what regular travelers may have read or seen in their Lonely Planet books. I went back to Kathmandu and began another series of explorations into the non-tourist side of my Nepal trip. I then realized later that Nepal is not just about Himalayan mountains. It is easy to be blinded by the beauty of the snow mountains. But that is for another essay.

celebrities meet celebrities

High altitude climbers meet Pinay team.

On May 16, while I sat reading a book as I waited for my flight bound for Bangkok at the Kathmandu airport, H sent me a text message from Bangkok saying Noelle,Janet and Carina had reached the summit. It was news that I also got from our contacts in Kathmandu. I sighed and realized how far the girls had come. Even if I had not seen them in Nepal, I was happy for them and never once doubted their ability to get on that summit.

I left Kathmandu thinking about eating street food in Bangkok.Summer was over.

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Bambi Chakas On the Road

In Culture,Photography,Travel on June 12, 2008 by ayshey Tagged: , , , , , ,

IGOROT BIKES ASIA

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hi Kat, I hope you receive this by now. I wrote some other things. It’s really nice to go back thinking about my travels. I feel moments of elation. And the feeling is good. I don’t have time to correct my grammar so I leave it to you. Write me if you have something to ask. Tomorrow I am working so I’ll go kite surfing now.

Cheers,
Bam

Imagine me– a hometown guy from the the Mountain Province– 30 years old then but who has never traveled before outside the Philippines. It all began two years ago in 2004 when I had a dream. I wanted to cycle a famous traveling destination- a route from China to Lhasa then Nepal using only two wheels. It’s called the bicycle. I also wanted to do this alone. This route , to some cyclists or adventurers who know about altitude sickness also know that these high roads are some of the most dangerous. most beautiful and wildes routes on earth. The roads there are between 12,000 to 16,000 ft. and the temperature can drop down to negative 20 degrees celscius or lower. The old Tibet is on the edge of the Himalayas.

So,to move this thing called bike, you needed to pedal it. My main objective was to cycle from the border of China to Lhasa to the capital city of autonomous Tibet. From there, it would be another 3 weeks to Kathmandu in Nepal. I had to arrive in the city before the first week of November before all the roads get covered with snow. The worse thing is if they close the roads. To arrive there I needed to bring a simple “ home” with me. Tent, stove sleeping bag, warming clothes (LAGALAG), rain pants and jacket etc plus 15 kilos of spare parts and tools in my 4 bike bags were all I had.

Preparation:
It was four months of preparation. It was about getting passports, trouble-shooting my bike, physical training and the route. The final organization was done with the help of my mentor whose name is “Aklay”.

Hanoi– Nam Vinh(SW of Hanoi)-Thai Vinh- Hai Phong- Halong Bay- Hanoi.This was my test drive tour. It took five days and gave enough time to process my Chinese Visa. Nouc’s racks were fine. Nouc is the name of my bike. I got this from the first Vietnamese lady I met. It’s a lovely name which means “water”. My love affair with Nouc started when I bought her 10 days before my flight. She’s old but she is simply sturdy.

Hanoi- Moc Chau(Northwest of Hanoi)- Son la-Tuan giao-Luan chau- Lai Chau- Sapa-Hekou(China). It is one of my most unforgettable places. I met a lot of friends here mostly the ethnic minority groups. H’mong, Black Thai, White Thai and etc… who offered me shelter and food, hot tea and tobacco. I sat, ate and talked to them. And in most occasions, if I asked my host if I could take photos about what they were doing, I was declined. Well, that’s all I could do, respect their wishes. I was also invited to see the women weaving in a room big enough for 20 people.They were making their crafts which they exchange in the market. Few words were exchanged but sketching or doing my “wait-a-minute-I’ll-find-that-word-in-my-emergency-dictionary-little-book” technique was also effective.

Curious window-peeping locals were puzzled about me– where did I come from? They noticed that we all had brown skin and yet I didn’t understand them. They saw Nouc outside and they asked me where I was going. When they understood the word China, their eyes bulged. “ You’re crazy!”, I could almost hear them say.

My heart was heavy when I crossed the border to China, the colors of heaven were fading and the smells of the air slowly changed. That was my first hour in China. The route to Kunming was not open for foreigners at that time so, I had to take a sleeper bus.

Kunming- Dali- Lijiang- Quiatou-Zhongdian- Deqin- Zhongdian- Xiangcheng- Sumdui- Daocheng- Sumdui- Litang- Yajiang- Luding- yaan- Shimian- Kunming.

My first morning in Kunming was cold and rainy. Even my route to Yunnan province did not look too good so I went shopping for what I needed. I went to look for food and extra clothing. I also visited some bike shops and sports shops for my tent. At night, I talked to some hardcore backpackers and cyclists. The cyclists kept me company. I thought that I was alone. But I sat and heard their stories and cycling expeditions from one continent to another. I wished they could just take me with them. The weather report from BBC channel for the past 3 days were still bad. My chances about getting to Lhasa were growing thin. On my third day I could’t sleep. I was missing the on-the-road life. Finally I came up with a decision after I accepted that even traveling to Dali by bus or skipping my plan to trek Tiger Leaping Gorges to buy time, wasn’t enough. I needed time and I couldn’t squeeze my cycling days to Lhasa to less than the planned time. Otherwise this would be like a quest not an adventure. So, I was not going to Lhasa. But I immediately promised to be back. Two friends from the guesthouse comforted me when I started to cry. Life must go on and so must my adventures. So I planned a de-tour as a side trip to the neighboring province of Sichuan. So I emailed Lemoni, my anchor, to buy a map of southwest China and give me the places which I passed back in Kunming and to send a map of Laos and Thailand . I could arrive back in 3 weeks.

When I was in Dali, it rained and rained for two days until I was sick of it. Then I met a backpacker who told me that the weather should clear the next day according to their website. So I went back to my room to prepare after hearing the good news. To get to Lijiang in one day you need to stay on your saddle for 12 hours and cycle 180 kilometers-which I did. The place was packed with tourists. The place was beautiful and romantic. Water flowed gently around the old city’s small creeks. That night I went to watch a traditional round dance, and when they stopped the music because it was curfew hour, a local Tibetan pulled out his flute and started to play which was followed by chants.Then about a hundred tourists and locals started to dance. They held close to each other side to side forming two big circles with three layers each moving in both direction first to the left, then after two tip-toes from each legs with a cross, would swing to the right and do the same thing. The fire in the middle was still high and could last for hours.

After three days, I left for Quiatou on a cloudy, freezing early morning at 0700 before sunrise. Then I left Nouc in Quiatou and I went trekking to Leaping Tiger gorge. It’s one of the deepest ravines in the world. It is part of the mighty Yangtze River that stretchesfor 50 km between two 16,000 ft high mountains. It’s also one of the most pleasant and breath-taking walks on earth. And this place is an obligatory stop for any backpacker. I almost got pushed to a ravine by a passing donkey. When I climbed down near the river rapids, I could feel its might and her loud roar. I spent a night a few meters above the river. When I went back to the town, I felt pain in my leg muscles . It’s hard to convert a cycling leg to a trekking leg.

We left the town for Zongdian (Shangri-La). The real adventure began.

Here, you breathe the thin air. I made it to the beautiful Tibetan plateau at 1500 (time?) and I made a stop for my first Yak butter tea. Then the weather changed suddenly that afternoon. I thought it was permanently cloudy and rainy in China. But that afternoon, the sun was burning rays into my skin. My skin loved it. In Zongdian, nestled at 12,000 ft., the temperature started to drop at 0 degrees that night. After two days, I was finally fed-up with the stories from my host about cyclists going to and from Lhasa and stopping for the night at his guest house. I felt angry and a little jealous so it was time to move on. It was raining again, when I was few kilometers away. Around this area, four seasons are packed in a day. It changed anytime. So I didn’t mind this time. I got all my right outdoor gear anyway.

I took the steep road to the valley of Benzilan which was around 6,000 ft. I was there the next morning and then on the road again to Deqin. This was the route I chose to Lhasa. Heart-attack-climbing began. 50 km cobble-stoned road stretched up to the 3rd pass. There were 3 passes ranging from 10,000 to 13,500 ft. altitude from the roadside and are full of colorful autumn leaves. After the first pass, I wanted to spend a night on the maintenance camp. This gave me an introductory ride to Lhasa.

Temperature dropped to minus 7 that night. In the early morning, I wrapped myself like a mummy. I climbed the two passed then went on a downhill ride which was very, very cold.


After 2 nights I went back to Zongdian. Then I had two more days of visiting monasteries and figuring out the route to Sichuan, the neighboring province. I copied a hand written map in a coffee shop. I was hoping all the passes were correct. That routé was opened two years before for foreigners at that time. I was in-love with the places I covered on this part. I saw more beautiful and colorful snow mountains . I told myself that I was not dreaming. I was awake-I told myself. There were a lot of photographers on the road. When I saw the Tibetan prayer flag, I smiled. I got off Nouc and slid on the snow. I cried like a kid who was given mounds of X’mas gifts. (get more of this on my email dated Oct. 06 2004)

Kunming- Jinghong- Menglun-Mengla-Boten( Laos)- Odomxay- Pak mong- Luang Prabang- Kasi- Ventiane- Nong Khai(Thailand)- Si Chang Mai- Sang Khom- Loei- Bangkok- Kanchanaburi- Bangkok- Yangoon(Myanmar)-Gyobingauk- Prome-Migyaungye-Pyay- Magwe-Popa Bagan- Myingyan- Kyaukse- Inle Lake- Yangoon- Ngwe Saung Beach- Yangoon- Chiang Mai(Thailand)- Mae Chaem- Mae la Noi- Mae Hong Son- Pai- Chiang Mai- bus and motorbike to Chiang Rai- Mai Sai- Chiang Khong- Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai- Bangkok- Ko Chang- Bangkok- Home Sweet Home.

When I crossed to Laos, it was a sad sad ride. Chants and music of the Tibetan Nomads were playing around in my head. I still saw the faces of the Nomads I had been with and some Chinese friends who helped along the road. The horses on green meadows and grasslands, monasteries and monks-both young and old, white mountains, and castle-like mud houses. If I had been asked then to speak about my feelings about being there and what I had done, I really wouldn’t be able to say it out loud. Those were undescribable feelings until now. If some friends ask me about it, I’ll just take them back there.

Then it was down to Laos and back to the flatlands. Here, my tears flowed. I just remembered my legs were working. I slept in an unknown village, 30 km. before Odumxay. I didn’t know their group and language or dialect. All I knew was my sign language was more pronounced when I had to explain everything to my host that night, which was my first night in Laos.

My heart was empty when I crossed that poor country. I still felt sad. Then there was boredom. I just kept on going and going. I wanted to call my girlfriend, my family and my friends but the toll call was so expensive. While my legs were working, my mind wandered. I thought of something that I thought of before. I thought about another bike expedition to Lhasa. And then from there, I’d follow the Marco Polo route to Europe.

In Thailand, I cycled for three days following the Mekong river. That time I felt a part of my ear that had frostbite. This was scary. I didn’t realize this until I saw a dark-spot in my ear from a mirror in Kunming.

After packing Nouc in Thailand, I went to KO Chang with a fellow traveler whom I met in Nong Khai. She just bought her bike in Bangkok and came along with me to Myanmar. It was good because I heard hotels and inns in Myanmar were getting expensive and we could share the costs.

In Ko Chang, I thought of South America as I was lying on the beach under a Thai blue sky. I heard a lot about it from other fellow cyclists and backpackers. According to those who had seemd to have the best opinion, it was better to cycle to far away places first, which I think is somewhere in the Andes. But as always in life, something came-up. But as long as these dreams keep haunting you, wherever you want to go, it will happen. I will be there soon. Right now, the wind just pumped-up, so I am going to the beach and launch my kite and go surfing.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY NEIL “BAMBI” CHAKAS.

Articles

Postcards

In Adventure,Culture,People,Photography,Travel on June 7, 2008 by ayshey Tagged:

Sipalay Negros, 2008

H in Lobuche, on the way to the Everest Base camp


Banaue, Ifugao. 2005

Carmen , San Francisco. 2004

Embarcadero, SF. 2004

Atlantic City, 2004

Atlantic City, 2004

NYC, 2004

NYC, 2004Subway NYC 2004


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On Travel

In Adventure,Culture,Photography,Travel on June 6, 2008 by ayshey Tagged:

I have been looking at where I’ve been all this time. I realize I’ve traveled to places but still want to go off and check out some more new ones. So far, I’ve been to rural and urban Mindanao–and it is a fascinating place of people and landscape. And in the Cordillera, I feel at home. The sheer beauty of the pine-clad mountains and the clouds above summits where we would sometimes pitch our tents, are always inspiring. In the Visayas, I like the warmth of the people–it’s always a joy as a traveler and a photographer.

Then there’s Nepal where I have been blown away by the massiveness of the Himalayas. As a longtime outdoor enthusiast,seeing the snowcapped mountains was a dream fulfilled last year. That was a trip that will still be in my mind for years to come. I traveled with friends but I decided to stay behind to look beyond the picture perfect snow mountains of Nepal. Bangladesh was also a joy for me as an imagemaker. I think there’s a special alertness and awareness in you as a traveler when you’re alone. I think its because you know you are dealing with each experience purely on your own instincts. I think it is always exciting and very enriching. There’s a lot to be said about solo travel.

The first time I did the Bangkok- Cambodia trip in 2005 was also an eye-opener for me. It was beautiful to be immersed in the Southeast Asian cultures I found. There was rarely any English spoken except when Caucasians were my fellow travelers. I still have to do Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos,etc. The list goes on for SEA.

In the summer of 2004, I traveled with my camera and backpack across the United States after finishing a photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was about 7am, I remember when I dragged my backpack from that busy hostel ( forgetting to leave my room keys–sorry ) to the quiet roadside and waited for a ride. Then I decided to hitch a ride with a young woman in a green car. She asked me where I was going and I simply said the nearest Greyhound bus station . She said that next time, I should not just flag down any car because you never know. I nodded but I was just grateful someone brought me to the station. Then I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona. I joined a 50USD tourist trip to the the Grand Canyon ( it’s awesome–as Americans would say) , then I switched to the Amtrak and went on past several small towns until I got to Chicago (at the Union Station, I left my bags inside a rental locker ) and I had the chance to walk around and check out the “Windy City”. I liked Chicago. Then I got back on the train and went to New York City. I arrived at Penn station at 3 am. It was too early to call a friend who I was supposed to meet so I put my arms around my backpack and pulled my lightstand close by and slept till 7am. Glad it was ac . I called my friend at 7am and before 8am I was eating breakfast at R’s studio apartment near Central Park. Nice place.

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Mt Madja-as, Antique, Panay Island

In Culture,Hiking /Trekking,Travel on April 3, 2008 by ayshey

Climbing Mt Madja-as ( “mataas” in Karay-a, the language spoken in Antique and also spoken in some parts of the Panay island) was a grand moment for us who have been to most high peaks in the country. I was not so sure how sore I would be after the climb but darn, here I am with a painful knee. I probably tore a ligament because I now limp when I get up in the morning. It did not help matters that right after Madja-as, i had to fulfill a photo assignment in Negros and Iloilo. In Negros, it was a long 4 day-trip via motorbike to visit and shoot many upland areas that were former areas of conflict and may soon experience more conflict if the mine operations go full-blast. It was a good trip that made me see the way other people live. It has made me see things in a new way, maybe also because I am no longer a wide-eyed girl. Haha.But I hope I can say more with my pictures. Find out if you get intrigued with the stories when I put up the pix at Banyas Tales, my other blog. I have so many thoughts about each place I visited although I spent more time in the hinterlands of Sipalay, southern Negros. For now, here are some pix from the climb.
Nong Dimas (guide since the 70s, left)Nong Arsenio (from Bgy Flores), C, J and R on Peak 1 from Bgy Alohipan, Culasi, Antique,Panay Island.

C at the ridge on Day 2, when we trekked at 1am so we could avoid the unbearable heat.
Day 2, moving towards Camp 2, Mt Nangtud, nearby.
Breakcamp at Camp 3 , Day 2. That’s H’s tent.
Nong Dimas Makiling, guide since 1979 for the first explorers of Antique, Antique Mountaineering Society,Inc. (amsi).
Nong Arsenio and Nong Jilly with Nong Dimas, at the last campsite before Bgy Alohipan.
J, Nong Arsenio,Nong Jilly,Hajji, Nong Dimas, and R at last campsite.
Campsite view at 1750 m asl. Not bad. Madjaas, astig ka!

We took the Iloilo Cebu Pac flight at 4:50pm on a Thursday,March 18. Everyone except H was present for this climb to Mt. Madjaas in Antique. R spent time and effort to get details for the climb.
It was a hassle as always -getting to tha airport on a holiday weekday. Everyone wanted to leave the pollution and the chaos of Manila behind. We arrived in iloilo and got a van for San Jose,Antique. We stopped by SM Iloilo to eat dinner. When we arrived in san Jose, we checked in at a cute beach house that had ac. Wow,mabuti naman. We finished re-packing our stuff just before midnight. At 4am, our alarm went off and we had to get up. Ang hirap.Hajji and Rodel from Antique Mountaineering Society (amsi) were there to bring us to Culasi, a 2 hour drive. Only Hajji joined the climb. In the pick-up, we slept a little more and woke up to a bright day and a beautiful view of the Madjaas range from the window.

Culasi. We met our guides -Nong Jilly (ex RPA) and Nong Dimas Makiling. They were from Bgy Alohipan and had climbed the mountain so many times before that they had lost count. After breakfast of mostly fish and rice, we left for the jump off at Bgy Flores at 1pm. We had lunch of adobo and paksiw na isda . After a short nap-and several revisions of our original IT later, ( too many revisions that we got confused about where and what time we were supposed to go) We arrived in Suli (ranch area) at 2:30pm. It was damn hot! It must have been one of the hottest treks in my life ever. But it was nice to see a hut and a great view! Hajj had this bright idea later that day for the team to sleep til 12 midnight and start trekking at 1am.This was so we could avoid the heat! We all said fine and as soon as we had dinner of good vegies cooked by the Ms J, we settled inside the hut (which had open walls on 3 sides) and tried to go to sleep. I couldn’t sleep. Mosquitoes bothered me. The heat bothered me. I just could not sleep and that was rare for me. Days later, we would hear that the guides and Hajj had been unable to go to sleep too because they felt a different presence in the same spot where we tried to sleep. It just wasn’t about the mosquitoes. Nyay!

We trekked at 1am and enjoyed the cool breeze as we walked The moonlight also illuminated some of our path even as we had our headlamps on. By 5am, we reached a spot where we spread our tarps and went to sleep for an hour until 6am. The sun was up and the breeze was cooler at that height. Breakfast and off we went again at around 8am. Nong Arsenio, our guide from Bgy Flores was a funny guy who liked to have his pictures taken. Here, he shows us a bunch of pitcher plants he found just below this viewdeck area. Nong Dimas in the foreground.

We reached Camp 2–a place which wasn’t conducive for setting camp because there was a small stream in the middle of it plus a lot of wild vegetation that didn’t look good. We all agreed we would push on to Camp 3. We got to Camp 3 at 4:30pm. It was a multi-tiered campsite–you might say.J and I shared a tent at the upper level next to the guides’ tent while H’s tent housed C and R at the lower level next to the kitchen area.

Next day, we woke up, ate the breakfast prepared by C and J and set off again at 8:48am. Ridging was not so easy when you think about all the wild plants that stopped us every now and then. It was not a fast climb but we got to Peak 1 at 2030 meters at 11am. One would need to leave theri backpack at one area and trek up slowly to a perch that wasn’t visible from below. It would take about 2 minutes to reach the highest point where R is seated in the pix here. R at Madjaas’ highest peak–2030m asl. Good enough for us!

Nong Arsenio didn’t tell us about this surprise! But it was good. We took pictures and enjoyed the view of Panay. Wow.There were 2 other peaks, the guides said but the highest one was where we were. Below, I bravely looked down and saw the sheer drop and the side of black stone that seemed to hold the mountain together. Nong Arsenio was our guide from Bgy Flores up to this point. From here, Nong Dimas would take over and lead the way. I followed Nong Dimas but I kept getting lost and I had to keep calling out to him. Finally, Nong Arsenio stayed in front of my trail after Nong Dimas and made sure I could follow the way. It was better this time. I think this is one climb where the guides were the best thing that ever happened to us. We reached an elevation of 1750 m and this was the boundary of Aklan and Antique, according to Nong Dimas. It was also 5:30pm. It was getting foggy and we were hungry and cold. We were still high up and we could see the mountains around us. We did an accounting of our remaining water and agreed that if we had enough water or if water was nearby, we would stay and sleep at that campsite. The guides said they would go down and get water. Nong Dimas and Nong Arsenio go down to look for water.
Foggy campsite.

In a few minutes they had put down their packs and gone for water. In the meantime, we set camp. J’s TNF tent would be a good wind breaker, she said so we set up camp in front of the less sturdy tent of the guides.Next was C and R’s tent and then Hajj’s. Mang Jilly cleared the campsite and flattened the wild plants near a bushy area that seemed impenetrable. Camp that night was not so comfy but at least we were warm and even if there was a big rock underneath my thighs, I was able to go to sleep. J also seemed to enjoy her sleep.
C woke up early and we followed soon after. Breakfast!

Next day, we broke camp and trekked down at 8:30 am using a very steep and unenjoyable trail. The trail variety was unimaginable that for sure, I will remember Madjaas till my dying day, I swear. I slipped many times and landed on my butt. On the trail, to break the monotony, we would often talk about “friends and neighbors”. In the ikddle of one conversation, J was so engrossed in my tale that she slipped and fell a few feet from the trail. She might have fallen further down if not for a tree that broke her fall. She screamed. I went down to help her and pulled her backpack up which I passed on to C. J then tried and successfully went back up the trail. So much for gossiping along the trail. Not a good habit. Tsk Tsk..

The trail was a classic! I will always remember how that downtrail tore some of my knee ligaments –because after the climb, I could not walk really well. ( I still need to go have a medical check -up).
At 1:30, we passed by a hut where some men (one of the guys was good looking,ehem) were processing abaca. They gave us a certain root crop which I had not tasted before–they call it palawan. Later in Bacolod, they would say that only the pigs eat that kind of root crop. Hmm…We ate it for lunch and left soon after. Earlier that day, Hajj and Nong Jilly had requested that they should go ahead and prepare our lunch of chicken tinola. We let them go. It was so hot and by the time we reached the cogonal areaat 3pm, we were ready to jump into any river (which was far away) just to cool off. My feet began to hurt terribly–something that I thought I wouldn’t experience again since I had clipped my nails and used two of my fake TNF socks! C went on ahead down to a shady tree and had a cow chase her! J and I slowly went down too and sank gratefully under the shade while we raised our legs and rested them against the tall trees. After an hour, we trudged on again and by 4pm, we began meeting people–barrio folks who looked at us with pitying eyes. We just smiled slowly. Then, we reached Bgy Alohipan and Nong Dimas’ home. The chicken adobe was ready and at Nong Dimas’ kitchen, it got demolished in a flash! By 5:20, we were on a habal to Culasi. I like the small community though and will like to come back someday just to shoot pictures again. My film camera was a good companion but I wasn’t able to shoot the community–no time. And the Madjaas background that we saw from a nearby barangay near Alohipan was dramatic. I want to go back and shoot it. And maybe say hello to the guides. We bought them groceries and gave them a good tip for their trouble. Joke we had afterwards in case we came across people who complained a lot (yung mga maangas) was-“Nag Madjaas ka na ba?”
And if he or she says “Yes”, we would counter by saying, “Traverse?”. Hahahaha.XXXX