I heard a lot of stories about this mountain. Stories of myths and lores transpiring from generation to generation. Stories about how mountaineers got bewitched and lost track along their expeditions. Stories about how this mountain differs from the rest. But amidst these stories, I also heard from people who have strong hearts and spirits that explored this mountain that she is beautiful. Beautiful from the rest. A beauty that cannot be paralleled. That is Mt. Tres Marias.
PAUSE AND PONDER.
Am I ready for this? Though something’s been undeniably bugging on my mind, I need an escape and be radical. I need to ditch all the negative manifestations inside my head and be free. I cleared my mind and took a deep breath. “Hahays!” I sighed with relief and console. And now, I’m ready.
As soon as the vessel embarks from the port of Cebu City, my mind goes into a reverie, goes into a stream of optimistic thoughts for this forthcoming adventure. Gazing the city lights from a distance as it gets smaller and dimmer, I’m beginning to envision my adventure with my friends. Fallen dead trees across the trails, raging waterfalls that rejuvenates your soul as the water blasting in front of your face, a remarkable encounter with some wildlife that crawls beneath the forest’s floors, then a sunny beach on an island with a golden sand and panoramic view on top of a small hill. I closed my eyes and put up a smile as the sea breeze touches my skin. Now I’m brimming with excitement.
At 5:00 am, light rain welcomed us at the port of Ormoc City. Heard the sound of the seawater crashing against the cemented port. Cold winds blowing. The sky painted with bluish-violet hue amidst the rain indicating that the new day is nigh. We covered our bags to keep our things dry, buckled up, and ready to set foot on the foreign land.
Tourists and travelers flocked the terminal to get a slot on the first trip via Naval, Biliran, which at that time, ran out very fast. It was still early yet the terminal was overwhelmed with the swarm of excited as well as incited individuals. Luckily, we haggled a van to cater our huge group to Naval, Biliran. The two-hour course drove my friends into slumber.
I heard light snores but it didn’t bother me as I enjoy the view on the other side of the murkish window pane of the van. The smell of the AC triggered some memories of yesterday’s road trips with scenes outside alike. Just like high school days. From clouds gently hugging the mountain ranges saying good morning to the vast pineapple plantations to the distant islands and islets touched by the first rays of sunlight.
That morning drive also gave me a sight of simple life. Children clung to their mother’s skirt while playfully skipping on the other side of the road. Some young boys worked early in the morning to make a living. Far from the privileged city children that were hooked on their mobile gadgets in malls and cafes, they live a chaste life. The scenes were a stark reminder for me that maybe one can survive on simple things and be grateful for their modest life. What a sublime way to start my morning on a short road trip in the province.
PREPPED AND CONDITIONED.
We filled our tummies with our not-so-late breakfast at 9:00 am. Immediately after our market quest to secure our two-day survival provisions on Mt. Tres Marias, we found ourselves heading straight to jump off point. Another 30-minute van ride before we start our climb.
I took a huge breath before I set my very first step on the mountain. I could feel my calves and feet trembling as I carry a deadweight bag almost half my size upon traversing a gradual ascent on the mountain slope. The trail starts with an open established barangay road. My shoulders were stiff as I jiggled my bag with caution because of the weight on it then it deliberately adjusted along the trail in the nick of time.
From the foothills of the mountain, the scenery tends to be dramatic with rolling hills covered with coconut trees, a small portion of an open countryside, and a great view of neighboring islands. It was a sight to behold especially the near to perfection alignment of coconut trees on the rolling hills. My eyes mesmerized and in awe of glory. It really was a rewarding view but it’s just a single gold coin from a treasure trove. The real treasure is just hours away.
As we got closer to the woodlands, it became a narrow muddy single trail with slippery rocks and the green foliage got thicker. Verdant forest of wild trees known and unbeknownst to my knowledge dressed the mountain. Few meters after, the trail got wetter thus making a muddier trail and moss grows on every rock we stepped into. “One step at a time”, I mumbled in silence. Ensued my balance on every step. It is more of a wetland than what I expected about Mt. Tres Marias.
RIVER TREK AND WATERFALLS.
For the first leg of our trek, I jumped from pebble to rock to boulder. Always cautious and mindful for the terrain changes along the way. An irrigation system on my right and a dead cliff with a raging river at the bottom on my left. A single mistake on my footing inevitably put my life in peril. But the waters taking my wits away. My heart pounding with excitement whenever the trek involves rivers and waters. River trekking is my most favorite form of outdoor adventure activity. I would heartfully dip my feet in an instant like a child frolicking in the waters. This brings back my childhood memories with my cousins. We playfully plunged into the nearby river on their farm after a frisky sunny day. Regrettably, this time I geared my feet with trekking shoes. I can’t afford to feel smooshy all the way to the campsite. Maybe next time I’ll wear my trekking sandals.
From a distance, a deep-blue river was swerving through trees making its way from the forest. It was splashing as it moved through boulders and trees. I can hear the water crashing sharply on the sturdy rocks. Closer and closer. Longer and longer. The crashing sound became a soothing music. A music only the mountains can make. Then we came across numerous waterfalls. Indeed, Mt. Tres Marias was blessed with so many wonders. Waterfalls gushing over the rocks. Waters dribbling and seeping over the lush flora around.
We took a plunge on Recoletos Falls. It had a beautiful serenity-pool about several feet deep. It was veneer clear. The water was as cold as ice. The feeling of satisfaction permeated into your skin and adrenaline of survival was so rewarding. This water was so addicting. We jumped. We swam. Such a blessing to be alive. I sprawled out on the rocks, swam into the waters, and floated in the middle of the pool. Then, I have this sudden feeling. The feeling of contentment and satisfaction that I was in really safe place. A place filled with my soul. A place that gives me a bizarre connection between me and nature. Was this the feeling of loving the earth, the earth loving me in return, and all that it had to offer? I remember not wanting to leave the place. This is the place where I felt present. But we only had limited time and must stick to our itinerary.
INTO THE FOREST BEFORE NIGHTFALL.
Crossing rivers. Squats under fallen logs. Tripping and falling along the trails. Those are the usual activities we’ve done under this type of terrain. As we go deeper into the heart of the forest, it became a bit more of a challenge. Trails on the slope got steeper but less muddy. Moss-grown rocks and fallen leaves that covered the trails made each of our footing more difficult. The trail was bearable but we found ourselves with vigorous breathing after a nonstop ascent.
The sound of the waters crashing can no longer be heard. But the aroma of the forest was greater right here. It was fresher and more organic. Cold air filled the atmosphere. We looked up and the trees were skyscraper tall. The canopies served as an umbrella from the rays of the sun. Among these humungous perennial plants, small lifeforms strive to live beneath. Tiny fluttering butterflies lazily drifted over some thick bushes. Neon colored dragonflies cheerfully flapping their wings just above our heads. I then chased these creatures. It made me happy. It made me feel like a child for a second.
After several hours of energy-depleting assaults, we finally arrived at Aeta camp where we’ll gonna camp for the night. The clanking sounds created by unbuckling of our bags truly sounded like a freedom from shackles. Our shoulders were freed from tons of load and our feet can finally be stretch. Oh! What a relieving feeling it is.
After pitching our tents, we replenished our water and cleaned ourselves on the nearby stream. Even if the water was ice cold, we enjoyed it so much that our voices cackled and echoed prevailing the tranquility of the forest. Then, we made dinner. Various aroma of the food spread like wildfire throughout the campsite. It made us hungrier and hungrier every time the flavor of the air changes. We had a heartfelt dinner together. We shared food. We shared laughter. We shared life. Despite the rapid decrease of temperature, we shared a little bit of ourselves to the group. Oh, how I wish life can be this simple.
Before we hit the sack, we turned off all our lights. Gathered in circle few meters away from our campsite. The pitch dark night silenced our sights. Crickets nearby screeching distinctly yet pleasing to the ears like a harmonious orchestra at night. The stars at the night sky peeked through the silhouettes of the trees above. The fireflies danced out from their chambers. Then suddenly, the ground slowly glowed brightly before our eyes. We’re all amazed. It’s like a forest night in the Avatar Movie. Our voices chuckled with excitement. It felt like we’re floating in the night sky itself. We’re like a speck of galaxy floating into space. We feasted our eyes in glory. Mt. Tres Marias really is a worth remembering mountain. Full of surprises. Full of mysteries. We ended the night being caught by the charm of the forest.