Monday, October 22, 2012

Climbing an Active Volcano

Sunset from the top of Kanlaon Volcano
The bus from Dumaguete to Bacolod was supposed to be about 5-6 hours. It took ten. There was construction, obstacles of every kind. At one point, every passenger on the bus has their spine popped when we all flew in the air, babies leaving mother's hands, going over a bump too fast. The driver got an earful in Visaya and was more careful afterwards. I tried to arrange for a guide with the Bacolod office by phone but my carrier stopped working mid-call and was down for a few days afterward as well. So my plan to climb the mountain was postponed by one day. I was able to find the very hidden office, get my permit and a guide arranged, pack my things for the climb, and catch the last jeep up the mountain all in one day.

This rooster farm looks like a cemetery no?
I actually had to take a bus to get to the town of La Carlota to catch the last jeep up to Guintubdan by 4pm. I could tell the jeep was going to be very full, so I climbed up top, pack and all and to everyone's surprise, joining others already there. The jeep ride was long and gorgeous. Through sugar cane fields, winding up through changing forests and beautiful trees. At one point a few kids climbed up top with stalks of sugar cane peeling it with their teeth, biting off sections and chewing the cane to get the juice. Then they spit out the piece and throw it away or at each other.

Some of the school getting off the jeep at their desination
About 2/3 the way up, we passed an elementary school class, maybe 35 teachers and students waiting by the side of the road, and then pulled to the side of the road just past them. They ALL came running after the jeep. The adults squeezed inside, there was at least one child on the lap of each passenger, the aisle in the middle already filled in the same way. Then they climbed on top, and when every possible space was full, the larger children hung onto the back of the jeep squeezed shoulder to shoulder and packed three rows deep like shark's teeth. The jeep driver was as careful as he could be but at every gear shift, there were giggles and screams from the back with the kids trying to hang on. I was so grateful to be on top. This kind of thing happens outside of the cities ("in the provinces"), but this particular jeep must have been especially full because every car that passed us was taking pictures and the locals were all pointing, staring, and thrilled by the sight of us. I'm surprised the jeep was strong enough to carry us all! Guitubdan villagers used to clear-cut the forest for timber, but now they are supported by the government for environmental protection, decorative plants, and rooster farming. Parts of it are loud, parts of it are green and serene.

Lagoon in the old crater
Met with a point person I had to find in the very small village of Guintubdan, and made it to the Visitor's Center. Campfires are not allowed on the mountain, so once at the top I set up my tent for the night, prepared three days' worth of vegetables for two people (a little heavy when I finished), and relaxed. There was a pool table where I stayed at the Vistor's Center, and it was slanted ever so slightly towards the gorgeous view of the hills below and the ocean beyond. I met with my guide, James, and his two children. I played a game of 15-ball with his son, and passed him midway through, but he beat me by one ball in the end. That pool table has seen thousands upon thousands of games. The felt was saturated with polka-dots.

James and the pool table (covered)
My guide, James, is as kind-hearted as they come. He's unassuming, a small beer belly, and overall warm and soft around the edges. Not your idea of a hardened mountain climber or jungle guide. He started in the early 1990s as a porter carrying up to 70 lbs of food for groups plus what he needed for the climb. It's an accomplishment to become a guide. You have to be certified, speak good English, know first aid, and understand everything about the animals and plants in the region. He only became a guide two years ago. He also works at the Visitor's Center and as a volunteer for KGB (Kanlaon Grain Bridages), which is the environmental protection group for the mountain. He told me that Guintubdan and other towns at that elevation have never once had a case of Dengue Fever, because dangerous mosquito-born illnesses such as that usually come from waters polluted by humans. He told me he once practically ran the whole climb guiding a group of people up to the top in 3 hours, then down to a lower campsite, and then out to Mambukal Resort by 10am on the second day. Extremely fast. The visitors were Filipinos who needed to get back to Cebu on the second day to teach scuba diving. He's twice tried to do it in one day but failed both times.

October is the end of the rainy season, and just two weeks before there was a typhoon that came through and dumped rain on Negros for 15 days. The landscape was pretty moist. Luckily, we only had rain on us for a total of about 30 minutes while I was on the mountain. But it was still very slippery and muddy. It was a steep climb from 2,821 feet up to the top of the mountain at 7,995 feet, but we arrived maybe 6 hours after we started at an easy pace, with a long lunch in the middle. My muscles were certainly tired by the end. Here's a goofy map I found that helps show the path. We saw many plants, bugs, butterflies, and birds I'd never seen before. We even saw another one of the aggressive venomous snakes from my hike in the Twin Lakes region. We saw scat that apparently comes from the mountains red-colored species of wild cat.

Batteries died at the top, here's a stock photo
At the top, we set up camp and waited for the clouds to clear so we could look down into the crater. We camped at the top of the old crater from before the mountain last blew in 1996, killing one British and two Filipino climbers. Once the potentially ominous thunderclouds were clearing, we walked up to the top to look down into the crater. The views from the top are absolutely gorgeous, and the crater is simply awe-inspiring. How can one's individual problems be anything but trivial in the face of something so huge, powerful, and alive? There's something magical about when clouds swirl in around you until you're engulfed and soaking wet. There was a constant flux as the clouds rounded the crest of the ridge we stood upon and dissipated as they were sucked into the hills and valleys below.

View from the summit
Summit above the saddle
The route down was much harder than the route up. There are sections that one can barely squeeze through, and one swings and crawls like it's a jungle gym, just hoping the back on your back will slide through the holes. After a while, you get a rhythm and you're able to more easily navigate through different kinds of obstacles. There are said to be 164 obstacles on the trail down. I have an old knee injury from playing soccer when I was younger, and it flared up very bad on the way down. We arrived at the campsite leading down very early and it was a terrible spot to sleep, so we continued all the way to the end of the trail with more than 2 hours of daylight left. I had planned on a three day hike, but it became two days. I still paid James for three though. My left knee was absolutely excruciating for the last three hours. An 8/9 on a scale up to 10, and I was extremely relieved to be finished when we arrived.

Sunset at the top of Kanlaon
Living in a cloud
I stayed in a small village at the very poor village that serves as the jump-off point heading the other direction up the mountain the way I had just come down. There, I met Jen and Jon-Jon, brother and sister, who helped me get situated for the night. Then there was Tanduay with the men, and the passing of a guitar that paled in comparison to Josephine, which I left with other extra things at the permit office in Bacolod. My most meaningful conversations were with Jen, and her two-year-old son DJ was fascinated with my beard. She works as army/security for the Masskara Festival, the reason I had wanted to finish the hike in three days. She invited me to stay with her at the police intelligence safe house in downtown Bacolod, and I couldn't resist the offer. Then the healing, relaxation, and fun began with a group of people I came to love dearly as friends.
Traditional kissing rock at the saddle below the summit


Shoe store madness
I woke up after the Buglasan competitions and was bitten hard by the loneliness bug. Part exhaustion, part depression, part existentialism, it took me a really long time to get motivated to get going in the morning. About two hours. Once I finally broke camp, I headed south and finally found the sandals I'd been looking for. The shoe store was crazy! There were people upstairs and there's a little hole in the ceiling. Workers call up shoe requests through a microphone, those upstairs knock loudly and the shoes fall through the hole, sometimes caught on their way down. Such a funny way to do it, and I felt bad for those upstairs. It was a small space. I asked my way to where the jeepneys leave for Valencia (a random section of street), hopped one and headed away. Made friends with a woman and her young daughter instantly by giving an extra plastic bag to hold her very bloody beef so that the jeep driver would let her ride. She gave me the information I needed to get where I was going: Casaroro Falls.

Casaroro was in the Daily Planet book too, but the book I have is out of date, and there was a reason for people's lack of knowledge of this particular tourist attraction. After the jeep ride, I found my way to the right road up to the falls. Four kilometers up, a woman passes me on her motor. I turn the corner, and her front wheel is stuck between bamboo that are laid across a drainage ditch in front of her home. I helped her pull it out. Four old men across and just down the street saw me and invited me over to drink. I had finished my water and was looking forward to filling up at the falls, but I was glad to fill up with them. We ate bananas from the house-owner's farm, I pulled out Josephine and we all sang songs (we have an open relationship - I don't mind if Josephine gets played by other men),.we drank water, Tanduay (the very cheap but quite good "rhum" drunk everywhere in the P.I.), and the strongest tuba (too-bah, fermented coconut water).I've tasted since I arrived. I was even more apparent how the women keep their distance when men are drinking. Here, men drink together, and women drink together, and really only in very progressive circles in usually urban centers is this tradition not strictly followed.

After 2 hours of a gay old time, feeling very welcome and cheered by these locals whose English was just good enough to welcome me as a dear friend, they threw me in their van and drove me the rest of the ride up the mountain to the falls, nearly destroying the van in their attempts to get up the horrible road. I walked the last stretch, and eventually found the strangely marked stairs down. There was an abandoned little hut with an old sign posting the entrance fee of 10 pesos. The ~350 stairs down are steep, widely spaced, and slippery, and even worse on the way back up. At the bottom, the cement path up the river is destroyed part way along. Daily Planet's a 2009 copy, so there must have been a serious flood since then. The quite robust construction of the pathway was completely destroyed, the rubble still connected by rebar in parts and bones of the path lay everywhere. I left my pack at where the path ended, figuring no one else would be coming along since I hadn't seen anyone at all for the last km up. I hopped my way over to the falls, not an easy task on the slippery rocks, and was stunned when I got there. Gorgeous the way the falls had carved out the rock. Quite cold, very clean, I filled my water bottles, and headed back the way I came. On the way back, I met Tony and Andreina.

Tony is 25, from France but he's half French, half Italian and a beautiful man. He has done extensive travel in the P.I. and Asia over the last 8 years. Andreina is 21, from Venezuela, living with her sister on Bohol Island for 6 months, just venturing out for the first time, but very passionate and strong, and gorgeous of course. They travel a little differently than I do. Tony has money, and he likes to spend it on wine, food, and treating his periodic girlfriends. He always travels with a girlfriend. Andreina's English is about as good as my Spanish, so we traded back and forth. Tony knows a little bit of a lot of languages. We chatted and hit it off, and they offered to take me back down the mountain on the motor they had rented in Dumaguete for the trip up to the falls. We climb back up the difficult, slippery stairs, and squeeze onto the motor, me careful to keep my burn away from the exhaust pipe. Almost immediately, we hit a rock and lay down the bike.

I gave her that hat as a consolation ; )
Tony and I are completely fine without a scratch, but between us, Andreina's knee is scraped and she's having a lot of trouble walking on her foot. The fall scared her, and I knew instantly from the way her ankle shaked, where the pain was, and how she reacted to the fall that she either bruised or broke her foot. Her toes moved fine, and she seemed to walk it off okay, but understandably wouldn't get back on the bike at least until paved ground. Tony was the typical man, half encouraging, half mocking, and I tried to play the middle ground, saying the words Andreina was feeling but not saying, wounded by the fall. I felt the fall was largely my fault because I added Ozwald and I, both topheavy to the load, and Tony wasn't used to that kind of load. I insisted that I walk and they go down on their own, but they insisted I stay with them, so I jumped on when I could. It takes a lot of muscle to hang on to the back of a bike when all that weight is pulling me backwards. Every time I do it here, my entire abdomen aches the next day.

We made it down to the gas station, and both Andreina and I hobble off in pain. She's much worse off than before, holding back tears and having a lot of trouble walking. So I put on my EMT hat, ask her if it's okay to help her, and doing a quasi-full assessment. I'm certain at this point that it's broken, but not bad. I pull out the first aid kit, wrap her foot, clean her scrape, give it a dust of black pepper, and bandage it with gauze. Then I tell her what will happen if she goes to the hospital that night or waits to get back to Bohol (her boat was the next day), trying not to push her too hard to to the latter option, the one I know is easiest and best. After some thought, and some impatience on Tony's part, we decide to load she and I into a tricycle, and go to the hospital. I play my guitar softly in the ER, keeping my more gory and more Spartan-dressed burn out of view of the nurses for fear that they will converge on it and force me to pay to get it cleaned up "properly". Meanwhile, Andreina goes through the process step-for-step the way I predicted. Long wait, vitals, take an X-Ray, change my wrap with their own same wrap, clean off the pepper and clean with iodine, reopening her scrape and then bandaging it, waiting for the doctor, same advice, then out with a big bill. But she felt a little better KNOWING it was broken, it was her very first time in a hospital, and I'm pretty sure she was glad I was there with her for it, someone familiar with it all, as well as Tony to make it no big deal.

Full on ER experience for her too. While we were there, a man was dying, they kept doing CPR off and on for 2 hours to keep him going enough for the family to arrive and say sorrowful goodbyes. I have to confess, it was the first time I've witnessed someone die. It left me with lots of indescribable emotions and thoughts for the next few days.

After the hospital, we go to Tony's favorite, truly Italian restaurant in Dumaguete to pig out. We have lots more discussions about the importance of money, places we've all been, ways we've all traveled, lives we've lived and work we've done. We were eventually forced out around closing because the dishwashers wanted to go home. Then back to their hotel, a fancy 900-peso place, took a hot shower, and administered some of our own medicine. After some more chatting, and feeling a lot less lonely than I had that morning, I pulled a fast one and pulled out the extra bed in the hall, sleeping right there in the hallway for free.

My original plan that day was to go straight from Dumaguete to a beach/bay/pirate's cove called Tambobo to sleep, but it didn't work out that way, and the new location seemed less important than new friends. Woke up the next morning, gave my goodbyes, and walked to the bus depot bound for Bacolod and Mt Kanlaon.

Buglasan Dumaguete

Took the bus down to Dumaguete with my pack a little lighter for the lack of food and water, and wandered.  Stopped and bought lunch (super rare for me) at a restaurant out of the Daily Planet book called Coco Amigos. The interior was a hilariously obvious but impressive for the effort, Philippine take on Mexico. I had the vegetable curry with Mexican rice (laced with Tabasco)....... Obviously the author of the place cared more about the Mexican design rather than flavor. Anyways, it was nice to relax. My first five days of traveling after Cebu had been an incredible amount of work on my part, and I felt I deserved a break... Spend more money than I'm used to and all.

At the base of the tower
I walked around the town, only a few kilometers long, and was impressed by the old Bell Tower, built in 1811, situated next to an equally old Cathedral. Took care of a few internet things, and wandered a long time looking for Dumaguete Outdoors, which is supposed to make climbing Mt. Kanlaon an easier process. After looking and asking for three hours, I gave up the search and headed for the Buglasan Center, Aquino Freedom Park.

Buglasan is a common festival in the Philippines, but it may be most pronounced in Negros Oriental, the south-east portion of the island of Negros. Basically, the first two weeks of October, every locality has a festival so that people in the area (Barangay), up in the mountains, locals, come to the towns to sell their specialties. Cooked foods, produce, arts, and crafts are everywhere. Once I had walked around the town center, I learned there were music competitions planned for the evening. I still didn't have a place to stay, but I saw two tents perched in the corner. I asked if I could join their tent village, and they enthusiastically welcomed me. I left my things there, but rarely ventured out of sight. Leaving my things like that has never been a problem, and I always carry essential or valuable things on me.

Wishing I had friends/family sitting around me
The music competition was three-fold. There were children's choirs, adult duets, and adult solos. Filipinos are known worldwide for great cover bands, and the reason is there is such a broad musical foundation here. You wander any road in a city or high up in the mountains and at literally any time of day you will hear someone singing karaoke. I have yet to hear someone singing who couldn't at least carry a tune, but the vast majority can sing very complicated songs with time or key changes throughout, nailing every single ornamentation and inflection and adding plenty of their own drama and style to the mix. That's just karaoke (videoke) here. The bands themselves can pick up any tune they've heard or haven't and produce a very good likeness, usually with the polish of a band that has played together for a long time. Traditional songs are usually in Tagalog or Filipino, are super dramatic, long, and extremely difficult. My sister has sung in a nationally recognized choir in the US for most of her young life, so I've seen what the US has to offer. The children's choirs here, and the adults they become are incredibly incredibly talented. Almost every musician here is self-taught, and maybe lacking a few small polishing details such as stage presence or overall development of musicianship in a performance, but compared to most Americans who are all polish but little to no soul/inspiration (like myself), I prefer the Filipino musician to the American. I was so impressed. Competitions here are all-out as well because the money earned by the winning performers goes to a very poor community. Lots of talking and set up, and the sheer passion and drama can be exhaustibly overwhelming. I had made friends I had planned to jam with after the performances, but they went so late and were so tiring that I crashed around 1am and woke up early-ish to fulfill my plans to go to Casaroro Falls the next day. Another long interesting day, after the intensity of the Twin Lakes jungle in the days before.

Unintended Masochist

I started my day thinking, "Today, I'm gonna relax. Yesterday did me in and my muscles hurt. I'm just going to take the serenity, solitude, and beauty of this place and enjoy it." I walked away from the "restaurant" near which I had set up my tent, down the path, and a large millipede was there to greet me. Venomous but almost never do they hurt humans. I went down to the lake, filled my water bottles, and walked the trail along Lake Balinsasayo to Lake Danao. The trail here is beautiful, slippery boulders are laid out for a path or steps up and down. I walked to the end of the trail and a little picnic bungalow that overlooks both lakes. Then I noticed the trail keeps going, sort of. I had heard of a waterfall on the other side of the lake but didn't want to spend 800 pesos to kayak across the lake to get there. When asked if one could walk around, the locals replied there are plans for a trail but otherwise you need a guide. The trail in front of me was not lined with walking stones, but it was still obvious and clear. Not being one for rules or trails in general, I figured this trail was just what I was hoping the hiking would be. So I continued on.

The stone-lined trail passes under those roots!
I was thrilled to continue because the farther away from the slightly developed side of the lake I got, the more beautiful plants and wildlife I saw. The flowers and plants are completely foreign to me. The spiders are unique and of all shapes and sizes. The butterflies are ineffably beautiful here. So much variety in size and color, and so many of them - I haven't seen anything like it even in a butterfly sanctuary. The sounds of the bugs, frogs, and some birds that could be heard and seen were loud throughout. I often felt the tickle of some spider's line I had accidentally walked through, but at one point, my face ran into a web that didn't break. It felt like i had walked into thin fishing line and wasn't going to break. So, I stop mid-step, back up, thankful that the web didn't stick to my face and pull something terrible down upon me. I was expecting that something out of Arachnophobia would speed down and attempt to encircle my head in a cocoon. The spider was smart, though, and headed up to the branches. It was, simply gigantic. As big as any tarantula, but with chitinous exoskeleton; a shiny black and yellow that was hard to capture in the distance. I was thoroughly impressed and humbled by that creature and the beautiful, huge web it had created. I squeezed through a hole underneath and continued on.

Eventually, the trail split into two. I could hear a waterfall-sounding creek just ahead, and the lower route seemed to end at the lake, so I took the upper route. It was slippery and muddy, the beginning of the impassibility soon to come, but this little side trip to nowhere did bring me to a beautiful view of the lake and a beautiful wild orchid, which I noticed only on the way down, and only after I hit my head on a huge, heavy snail curled up in a big tropical leaf. Stopped to look at it and then the orchid's loud beauty called up from below.

Took the lower route back at the split and made it to the creek. I followed the creek up to many small waterfalls. Satisfied with the beauty and satisfied I had made it to the other side of the lake in about 2 hours, I saw I had tons of daylight left, and saw that the trail seemed to follow the shoreline of the lake. After some internal deliberation, I figured that even if the trail got dicey, it probably ended back where I started, so I continued on.

Somehow when I saw it, bananas came to mind...?
An hour later, the trail had dissolved into an impassible tunnel through the jungle that obviously only the free-roaming goats of the area used. Already 2/3 the way around the lake, it seemed easier to hug the shoreline and keep going than to go all the way back the way I cam. Plus, it was a somewhat interesting challenge like a jungle gym keeping my feet on scraggly roots of the sheer rock face dropping into the water, swinging around and through clusters of trees that stuck out of the cliff face over the water. I kept telling myself that the next bend was second to last, or the last one, so I continued on.

Then the shoreline became impassible, and I slipped several times, feet in the water almost up to my waste hanging onto the tree so keep myself from falling in. I would have just swam at that point, but I had a backpack with a camera in it, so that was out of the question. I had nowhere to go but up. At that point, I was feeling desperately tired and frustrated, so I climbed up and down faces hundreds of times steeper and more densely forested than the other side of the lake. Thorny vines, aggressive, biting ants wherever I fell to my hands and knees. Keeping my bandanna over my burn was extremely difficult. Many times I was so entangled that I couldn't even swing my knife (somewhere between a machete and a hunting knife) to cut them. I was soaked to the bone with sweat and mud and water. Spider webs were becoming a thin coating around me, every tree or plant I used to stop me from slipping down a perilous face left deep gashes or thorns in my hands. My clothes got more ripped every minute. Each slope, each creek I followed up to a dead end, each bend in the shoreline HAD to be the last one. Stubbornly, I continued on.

What seemed like 24 hours passed, and the sun finally went down. I learned long ago to be ready for absolutely anything, and this time, I would have been in serious trouble without my headlamp. Once last light had passed, I could see the eyes of every spider in the landscape reflecting back. All shapes and sizes, in the night, they looked like the starry night sky above me. At one point a local snake, brown, venomous and aggressive slithered out of my path at lightning speed. I was desperate to simply end the torture, to arrive in one piece, to get into my bed, and sleep. But after each turn, there was another, and another, and another. I contemplated trying to sleep in the hillside, but it was simply to dangerous and I wouldn't be able to sleep. I took short breaks and then pushed through the physical and emotional strain in the same way I was pushing through the vegetation. I was so close to giving up for a very long time. I continued on and on until I finally made it to the dock where I started. I cried with frustration and relief for quite some time. I took off all my clothes and swam in the lake, letting its clean, life-filled water wash away the mud and pain. Once I had gathered myself, I washed my clothes and shoes and walked up in just my shorts carrying everything with me up the hill to my bed.

I checked the time before I went to sleep, and it was around midnight. It took me 2 hours to get to the other side of the lake, and 10 hours to come back around the other side. Then I slept. I slept for 36 hours straight until noon of the next day, waking only to eat, drink, and poop. My mind, my torn body, and my spirit needed the rest so badly. Luckily, the people and the landscape were beautiful, forgiving, and healing. That day was one of the most if not the most difficult day I've put myself through. It's so much easier when you know what you're getting yourself into. That's the beauty of uncertainty and chaos, though, you simply don't know, and it's always a surprise. Gift or curse, life is uncertainty in its essence.

After I woke up, I said goodbye to two friends I had made there, packed up camp, and walked back down the mountain, happy to be headed on to something else. The walk took only 3 hours or so down, and I set up camp in the same place I had when I went up. The same man greeted me in the morning, and we went for a swim in the ocean before I packed up to leave for Dumaguete.  I'm currently working on a song called "Gonna be sore in the morning". I'll let you know how it turns out. Till next time, signing off... :-D

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Leaving Cebu

Negros from afar
I left Cebu with a sense of exhaustion and purpose. Whenever I leave somewhere that feels like home, all of those final things that didn't get said in my visits with people get said the night before I leave, and then I finalize my packing, and then I sleep for two hours and leave for an intense day of travel. So was the pattern leaving the comfort and company of Roselynne and Karen in Cebu City. Because I had been staying with so many friends since I'd been here, I felt as though my "wanderings" were truly beginning.

I walked 6km or so to the bus terminal and took the bus south to a port at the southern tip of the island. Then I hopped a "fastcraft" ferry to Sibulan, Negros. The ferry was only 30 minutes long, but I was treated to a gorgeous sunset that ended as the boat docked. I only had to go 10km to get to the road leading up to Twin Lakes, so I decided to walk, naturally. The walk felt as if my travels were finally starting, and I felt I was warming up for a difficult climb the next day.

My pack was the heaviest it's ever been. I had plenty of food, full on water, books, tent, a myriad of small travel things, and my new friend, a beautiful guitar hand-made in Cebu. My need for friends led me to give names to several important things I have with me. My pack is named Ozwald, my guitar, Josephine, and my dear old scrunched metal water bottle, Javier. I must have looked pretty pathetic with all of these friends and more on my back because just 2km away from my goal, a Pinoy missionary took pity on me and gave me a ride on his motor (a cross between a motorcycle and a Vespa). In the process of jumping on, my leg just brushed the scalding exhaust pipe and gave me a pretty serious burn. I religiously protected it from the jungle in the coming days by shaving the hair around it, changing the bandage daily, and keeping it wrapped with a bandanna. Made me look even more strange and cosmopolitan than I already did.

Sunset over the Island of Negros
About one hour after last light, I was dropped off at the head of the road that would take me up the mountain. The motor drivers swarmed me when I got off, pushing each other to get me to ride up the mountain, ignoring with disbelief the possibility that someone would actually walk up that road, let alone all the way up it to the end with 70lbs on his back. Nevertheless, one driver was kind and listened to me when I said I needed a place to stay the night before I walk up the mountain. He showed me a flat, abandoned grass lot that was at the top of a short hill overlooking the ocean water facing Cebu Island. I set up camp discreetly craving privacy, built a fire using dried goat poop as fire starter and cooked a dinner of lentils, quinoa, and vegetables, gave Josephine a strum and slept long and hard. I was awoken even earlier than I expected by my neighbor. He was carrying his baby, extremely friendly, and using his kind broken English to tow that line between offering hospitality and asking for money in return. Someone I would characterize as "beautifully, desperately poor", he filled me with water, exchanged many kind words and stories, and had his nephew cut FOUR young coconuts from the top of a buko tree. I was a little depressed and tired of the effort of expected social interaction so breaking camp was a slower process than usual with my friend watching and talking throughout.

Once I had everything pack-ready, I bid my farewell, gave the man what small bills I had on me for his birthday and his generosity, and got going later than I had wanted to. It was a difficult climb, especially after essentially two months of relative relaxation in urban/suburban areas, and especially with a heavy pack. The road is 15km and goes from sea level up more than 3,000 feet. Many parts were particularly steep. I passed several villages and the children fluttered around me, giggling and trying to hide sticks in my already overweight pack without my noticing. The landscape was gorgeous though. Ocboter is the end of the rainy season so everything is as green as green can be. It was hot, and I finished my 5L or so of water by the time I reached the top about an hour before sundown. I paid my 150 peso entrance and camping fee, took a swim in the blessedly cool and clean lake, drank lake water to my heart's content, set up camp, cooked dinner and slept till past 10am under the cool breeze. Little did I know that the next day would be one of the hardest days of my life.

This carabao has a look on its face that mirrors the feelings some Filipinos must feel at the sight of me.