A Travellerspoint blog

Philippines Part IV: Samar Island & the Calbiga Caves

Delving into the darkness...

Have you ever seen Dawn of the Dead? Picture that but with over-enthusiastic trike drivers. As soon as our van pulled into Catbalogan City, the drivers were clutching to the vehicle like 30 fat kids fighting over one smartie. There was no daylight to be seen out the windows, only flailing arms and scraping fingers. A bidding war ensued, and before too long thirty drivers were whittled down to two, like mindless zombies desperately clawing over one carcass. Eventually, a reasonable price was agreed upon, and with our flesh still uneaten, we made our way to our accommodation to prepare for our ensuing adventure on Samar Island.

That evening we met with our guide Joni, and geologist Steve’s subterranean surprise was sprung. I don’t think he was too disappointed to be exploring the third largest cave in Asia. We made an early start, the four of us and Joni caught a crowded public bus towards our destination. We shared lunch and signed the papers deeming our lives worthless and therefore should we perish in the cave, they can say “Bullock who? Nope never heard of them.”

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Although Soph & I are stoked, the look on the driver's face screams "I did not sign up for this."

After a short and relatively awkward ride on a motorbike, we trekked for about an hour through the jungle to reach the lookout point of the cave mouth. I’m sure you’ve read before the oft used adjectives: breath-taking, astounding, mind-boggling, amazing etc. in a number of blogs (I’m guilty too,) so I’m going to try something fresh. My nose hairs twitched with excitement as the gonad-shrinking enormity of the cave mouth beckoned us forth. Like moths towards an open flame, our feet moved unconsciously forward and down the concrete steps into the pitch black of the Langun-Goningob cave.

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Down into the darkness we descended

Lead by the experienced Joni, deeper and deeper we delved, the light diminishing behind us as the call of the darkness saw us leaving the sunlight in our wake. We were advised to kiss a certain point on the rock wall for luck and to ask that the cave gods see us safely exiting the cave the following afternoon. Yes, we were to sleep deep in the cavern that night, with only our guide to indicate the difference between night and day.

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We weaved through the stalagmites to our base for the night

The internal beauty of the cave was something to behold. Massive stalactites, stalagmites and intriguing formations were abundant, every twist and turn had us behold a different sight.
We set up camp on what was aptly named the “Football Field,” a sparse muddy plain in the middle of the cavernous system dominated by crickets and bats. Not cricket bats. I'm sorry, but it’s very late and that’s the best humour I have left. If you don’t like it, go read a book.
If you lied perfectly still, the multitude of crickets would come and crawl on your back, giving you what Joni would call a “cricket massage.” We tried this for about fifteen seconds before getting freaked out. Also, if you lie perfectly still for a number of days, you will end up covered in bat shit. I don’t know what this is called, but I’m sure it’s true.

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Fortunately, cave spiders were of a rare commodity

We had a nap in the early evening before our wake up call for dinner. After our meaty meal, we walked further into the black, scampering over the Mars-like landscape for hours before finding a plateau high above the cavern floor. Here, we turned our helmet lights out. We sat in the silence of a night without a moon or stars for what seemed like an eternity. The moment was so relaxing I could have slept if not for the fear of falling down into the crevice at my feet. We made our way back to the campsite, seemingly floating over the rock that took all our concentration before meditating in the black-out.

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Exploring an alien landscape

The morning after saw us up to our necks in flowing underground rivers, rappelling down sheer interior cliff faces and finding ourselves awe-struck at the eerie beauty of all the cave had to offer.

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A geologist in his element

Seeing daylight for the first time cascading down through a natural skylight in the jagged ceiling was rewarding and welcoming, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had to navigate the deep river (while keeping our belongings relatively dry) which led into the dreaded mole-hills of guano that stood between us and our impending freedom. Yes, you heard right. Thousands of bats congregated at this end of the cave, therefore thousands of bats’ offerings congregated at the base, creating large mounds that we had to meander over. I wonder if this was a constant issue for Bruce Wayne. Believe it or not, we really, really enjoyed this moment.

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Soph & I navigating the bat droppings. Note: I'm wearing shoes...

Conquering the dunes of dung, we made our way up and out of the cave, venturing forth into the jungle. The sun was harsh at first on the old eyes but we didn’t mind. A liberating and aerobic walk through the trees followed for an hour before we reached a village where we were allowed a much needed wash in their local water supply. Don’t worry we were downstream from where they actually gather their water so no villagers were harmed in the making of this blog. Although, our stench alone could possibly have taken down an elder if he was in close enough proximity. Sleeping in a cave doesn’t do wonders for your natural odour, just so you know.

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Disclaimer: No villagers were poisoned after we bathed here

After a quick feed and reminisce back at the café, we took a ride to a stunning local waterfall which was especially vicious as we visited in the wet season. We said our fond farewells and went our separate ways. Joni Bonaficio, thank you for the experience.
Steve was due back at work in two days, and as Maddy was seeing him off the foursome was back to a twosome... and we had a mountain to climb. The story continues on Mt Apo...

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For more caving photos, check out our Photo Gallery

Posted by roamingbullocks 14.03.2013 21:35 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

Philippines Part III: El Nido

Idyllic islands in the big bright blue

This place has the potential to go big like Kuta beach or Koh Phan Ngan, but I hope it stays just how it is. Sailing into port had the feel of approaching a thriving dock in the old days. A few bars, places to sleep and eateries formed a crescent overlooking the bay. We had a warm re-unite with Steve & Mads, accompanied by some cold beer and hot food. We plotted through some jungle paths to find a beach just for us. We sat with our beers soaking in the scene of a beach shared only with the fireflies and the moonlight flickering off the calm water. They say that it’s all about how you get there and not the destination, but sometimes I think that the destination can be just fine too.

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Sophie arriving to El Nido in style, on the bow of our boat

El Nido watched over the Bacuit archipelago, a bevy of beautiful islands, coral reefs and hidden coves & lagoons. Learning our previous lessons about booking early, we decided to book a diving trip tomorrow and a customised two-day island hopping excursion the following day, more on that later.

Kayaking was the order of the afternoon for us today. Unfortunately, the “gentleman” we hired our kayaks from failed to inform us that the seas become quite rough in the afternoons, what with the blistering winds and all. ‘Twas calm and peaceful in the bay as the four of us took off in our two dual kayaks; our destination was the bright white sands of the idyllic looking beach around the cove. Sure as I'm writing this in my underpants, we paddled around the cove where the wind picked up dramatically, and the swell smashed our undersized people carriers. Steve & Maddy were forced to take shelter on a rocky shore, while Soph & I paddled furiously toward the opposite bay, where a dive crew were hovering. They were more than happy to take us and our boat back to town as soon as the divers below had surfaced. An anxious 15 minutes passed as we watched like hawks to see if our companions had been rescued. Finally, just as the bubbles from the underwater explorers below came to the surface, a passing fishing boat would collect the swept-up sweethearts.
Battered, but not beaten, we decided we could at least have a few laughs after nightfall. Beer, wine & pizza on the beach listening to the sounds of Bon Jovi (told you they loved him!) through a live local band followed, salvaging any lost time from our adventurous afternoon.

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Beers on the beach in front of a dive school

Diving was amazing the next day. A stunningly beautiful reef lay below the ocean surface, home to an incredible array of aquatic life, including, but not limited to…
Twin giant lobsters, blue spotted stingrays, sea cucumbers, mantis shrimp, angelfish, clownfish, lionfish, bullockfish and triggerfish. The bullockfish is quite rare, black and white in colour with a silver cylinder on its back; it can be quite un-coordinated and is sensationally terrible at football.
Unfortunately, due to ongoing and quite severely painful pressure headaches I receive every time I dive, this would be my last of the trip. I am determined to find the answer to my condition soon as the underwater universe is one that I love dearly.

Our island hopping experience with a difference followed the day after, our tour guides picked us up from the wharf at 9 am. They ferried us to many a great spot in the archipelago, including Hidden Beach, only accessible by crawling through a small cavity in a great rock wall. We went to a number of beautiful beaches, and enjoyed lunch and (you may find this surprising) a few beers on a small island. The only downside to the day was that I was still feeling the backlash of my sinus migraine from diving the day before, which was then somewhat exacerbated when one of the beams on the boat became untied and whacked me quite hard across the noggin. Still conscious, just with a heavy throbbing in my temple and feeling quite weird, we made our way to our home that evening, which certainly lifted my spirits.

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Tourists aplenty, but the perfect waters surrounded by the looming karst was well worth the trip

We were to sleep on an island all to ourselves, our very own private beach for a night. While the sun still shone we explored, climbing trees and the limestone karst surrounding our site. Our guide provided a huge spread for dinner, before lighting a fire on the beach. We sat around the flames, drinking beers and strumming songs until the day caught up with us and we retired to our tents for the night.

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Steve putting all his boyscout know-how to use.

The following day we hopped from beach to beach, hidden coves and holy temples, helicopter shaped isles and finally back to El Nido and to the reality of spending a night in a hotel room. I think if I struggle to sleep at all for the remainder of this trip or even when I am back home I will envision myself in the tent on our beach in the Bacuit Archipelago.

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A touch of religion in a hidden cove

Our days in El Nido were sadly numbered. It was time for a dramatic change of scenery, and a pleasant surprise for Steve...
Steve is a geologist working in Laos. He works for a month straight (no rest for the wicked) but following this he has two or three weeks off to meet up with Maddy and hopefully us if the stars align. Now, being a geo, he has a bit of a fascination for rock and earth. So Maddy, Soph and I thought that we would surprise him by flying to Samar Island, the home of the biggest cave in the Philippines.

Posted by roamingbullocks 11.03.2013 20:57 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

Philippines Part II: Coron

Sunken Galleons, Snorkelling and Swashbucklers!

Coron is on Basuanga Island, located just north of the more popular Palawan Island. Touted as one of the Philippines top diving areas, we thought we’d best go for a couple of nights, and as we were scheduled to meet our dear family/friends Steve & Maddy in El Nido (on Palawan) in a few days it seemed ideal.
We arrived to a busy little diving/fishing town and booked our diving trip for the next day. It was more bustling than usual we were told as it was Chinese New Year.

STOP!!! FREEZE THE BLOG!!!!!
This is where I should be inserting the line,
“Yikes!” we thought, “Best book our ticket outta here ASAP! It might be tough if we leave it a while with all these people about!”
However, foregoing any common sense, read on for what actually happened…
PRESS PLAY

We enjoyed a quiet night in at our accommodation, only partaking in a few beers with our hoteliers Patrik & Tezz before resting our heads. Our first dive was in a deep lake which can be described as nothing less than a natural wonder of this world. Barracuda Lake is home to some of the most dramatic thermoclines in the world. A thermocline is a layer in a large body of water that sharply separates regions differing in temperature. Thanks to Dictionary.com for that one as I had no idea how to truly describe it. Basically, picture swimming through a visible yet translucent "wall," where on one side you are seriously hot at 38 degrees, and the other freezing your tush off at 26. I would watch my wife pass through said wall and transform into a somewhat ethereal shape, still within arms reach. So much of the underwater world seems alien to me, nothing more than this phenomenon.

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Ready to dive

Our second dive was through the sunken Japanese cargo ship “Olympus Maro.” This was our first swim through in a wreck and it was AWESOME. Weaving through small holes, exploring the engine room and the huge funnels was truly an unforgettable experience.
We had a beautifully relaxing ride back to Coron, marvelling in the exquisite sunset.

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Our instructor revels in the stunning Coron sunset

After our traditional post-dive beer, we finally decided to book our boat transfer to El Nido. But it was too late. All the official transfers were fully booked out for a week. We were stranded. Granted, we were stranded on a tropical island, but forget all that, I’m trying to be dramatic.
We bumped into some French people (about eight of them, all around our age,) who were in the same boat as us, or should I say not in the same boat as us. I’m sorry that was a terrible pun, I can’t blame you if you turn to another blog.
They discovered a somewhat “illegitimate” way south departing in two days. It was just a chance, but one we were willing to take.
All kinds of thoughts ran through our minds the following day, such as,
“What will we do for a week if this falls through” as we sufferingly snorkelled the turquoise waters, and
“I’m not sure we could possibly keep up this hardship and boredom!” as we soaked in the hot springs, sipping our chilled pilseners.
We met up with the French (I’m sure they all have names, but there were eight of them so I’m sure “The French” is quicker, and I’m quietly hoping that you all have an octet of beret donning men in blue and white striped shirts holding breadsticks dancing in your heads… but I digress.)
We met up with the French and they told us it was on. We had passage on an “illegitimate” vessel heading south to El Nido at dawn. Just like that we were pirates. Barnacle covered buccaneers to be hidin’ in the hull as our mighty pirate Cap’n battled the law and the seven seas to bring his cargo to port… ARRRRRR.
My father taught me an important lesson in life. "Always expect a paddle and a sandwich." This referred to a trip we took on the Great Barrier Reef when I was a kid. He told us to only expect a paddle and a sandwich and anything greater than that was a bonus. So, on this particular trip when we were presented with a deluxe cruiser and an all you can eat lunch that included endless prawns, scallops and other delicious seafood, we were totally ecstatic. Since then this philosophy has become an oft applied creed. This did apply for the trip ahead, however the paddle was snapped in half and the sandwich was not only filled with Vegemite 2.0, but it was also half eaten.
We had heard rumour of these illegal ships; with some of the worst cases being insanely overcrowded longboats, the travellers bags completely soaked in the choppy sea, no toilet to speak of, and the biggest worry of all was that due to police checking boats docking in El Nido, we would be dropped off at a point miles from our destination, and left to our own devices and survival tactics to get there (or more than likely a jeepney lying in wait to to take us with a price tag relative to purchasing your very own jeepney.)

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The "Paddle & a Sandwich technique...

In preparation for this, we hid our doubloons in half empty packets of cigarettes, books and clothes in case we got robbed. Consider us cowardly if you will, but I prefer careful, considerate conquistadors.
We nervously brought our belongings to the landlubber who organised this for us. She promptly had her deckhands take them directly to what we perceived to be our equivalent of the Black Pearl which we boarded shortly after. The wreck in question turned out to be a luxury dive boat with all the trimmings that had just concluded a four day cruise from El Nido the previous day. She had to return to El Nido so the owner made some extra cash by ferrying us all back simultaneously. We were captained by two young men who had more of a likeness to Jude Law and Orlando Bloom than Blackbeard and LeChuck. They oversaw our comfortable ride back with a smile and a song; which included lounging in a hammock, playing cards, oh and indulging in our fully cooked lunch… Oh yes, it’s a pirate’s life for me.
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Arrrrrrrrr

Posted by roamingbullocks 11.03.2013 05:21 Archived in Philippines Comments (2)

Philippines Part I: A Bit On Manila

The Land of the Great Yellow Envelope.

I won’t go on too much about Manila, as I may find myself singing the same verse as my previous blog about Bangkok. There is, as often the case in third world countries, a stark contrast in the rich and the poor. Lying on the street in front of a convenience store advertising their desperate need for new employees was a dishevelled man, a vague lifelessness in his eyes, hand outstretched seeking the smallest of donations. A child followed us for two blocks in the grandiose Chinatown, pleading for food with a frightful desperation in his eyes. Unlike the old man, the wearying experience of decades on the streets had not yet claimed his enthusiasm. We bought him some mangoes and the smile that rose on his face made me wish we could do more.
We wandered into a large department store and the employee to aisle ratio was almost of a comical nature. There were at least two workers to every aisle of which there was at least twenty. It was warming to see one organisation over-employing, yet still so many lined the streets.
Sophie’s faith was crushed one afternoon when, walking back from the store carrying two bottles of water, a young boy ran past her and snatched one from her hand. Still stumbling back from his hefty shove, she sighted a middle aged woman approaching for what she thought would be a helping hand or at least a word of comfort.
“Can I have the other one for my son?” she questioned, motioning at the remaining water.

Now of course, it wasn't all just doom & gloom for us in the Philippine capital. We took an early evening walk down to the esplanade in Malate that showcased the beauty of the sunsets on offer here. What seemed to be Millions of Manilians (thanks Andy Long for this cracker) lined the esplanade, taking a much needed exhale from the relentlessness of life in the busy city.

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Sunset over the Malate Esplanade

Rizal Park was also a cool scene, with a live brass band (generally not my cup of tea but all the same,) a few food stalls, smiling locals by the bunch and a colourful fountain that mesmerised the little ones, and um, me.

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The spectacular fountain at Rizal Park

We decided to escape the city the next day and climb Mt Taal as a reminder of all the happy reasons for travelling. Mt Taal is Philippines second most active volcano. Located about two hours south of Manila within the vast Taal Lake (Philippines 3rd largest lake), the easiest way to reach it is with a private driver if you are willing to part with a few extra bucks (by this stage we would have sold our secrets to get out of Manila.)
Concealed in the volcano’s core is a sulphuric crater lake, which is quite picturesque, although being sulphuric the overwhelming smell of bad eggs is always a pleasant reminder of why we don’t live on volcanoes. The fact they sometimes erupt with molten lava which can reach temperatures high enough to melt your mother in law’s heart is also another deterrent. I would like to take this opportunity to say that my mother in law is lovely, and she reads this blog.
In aforementioned crater lake lies a tiny island named Volcan Point, which in turn makes this an island in a lake (Volcan Point in the crater lake), in an island in a lake (Volcano Island in Taal Lake) in an island (Luzon island, home of Manila).
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An island in a lake, in an island in a lake

Once on the island, you can choose to either walk up to the peak (a 45 – 60 minute walk,) or ride one of these poorly ponies…

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The chaos of dozens of undernourished horses surrounded us

Please do the right thing people.

A few great positives to be taken out of our first taste of the Philippines were …
a) They are obsessed with basketball
b) They are obsessed with Bon Jovi
c) They are obsessed with Bryan Adams

I realise this may not be that exciting to most normal people on this planet Earth but for Soph and I this is seriously awesome. To see young kids everywhere shooting hoops on the streets listening to “Bed of Roses” on their portable stereos was pretty cool.
Another thing that makes me smile is their hilariously woeful television advertisements. My favourite so far included a… how should I put this delicately… portly young lass who is visited at her front door by a genie/home invader dressed up as a genie, who offers her a marshmallowey caramel treat. I’ll give those of you with a cynical imagination a moment to process this………
One good thing about this ad is that they are advertising treaties with the nutritional value of Elvis’ last meal using a little tubby kid with bad teeth. In Australia, you would find a Miranda Kerr doppelgänger scoffing these treats by the handful and washing it down with a pint of coke.

Anyway, we were having some issues plotting our course around the Philippines. It seemed that no matter which course we took, it was going to be pricey. Also, a word of advice if you are looking to visit this part of the world, BOOK EVERYTHING IN ADVANCE!! Taking the backpacker course and flying by the seat of your pants is very difficult and will prove costly. Eventually, we bit the bullet, booked a ticket and flew to Coron.

Posted by roamingbullocks 10.03.2013 21:32 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Philippines Part V: Magnificent Mt Apo

“A piece of cake… it’s just the world’s biggest cake.”

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Foreward

We were concerned upon reading on Australia’s Smart Traveller website to “not under any circumstances travel to the Mindanao region, as there has been terrorist activity in the past including kidnapping of Western tourists.”

After researching with tour organisers in the Kidapawan area (home of Mt Apo), we found that the kidnappings had only happened in the North West part of Mindanao Island, and that we should not be alarmed about travelling to Kidapawan in the South East. So to put it in perspective, it was like not travelling to Sandy Bay because you had heard that there was some rough goings on in Smithton.
The area in question is home to the largest mountain in the Philippines, and being the keen trekkers (walking boots and backpacks, not to be confused with the “Beam me up Scottie, live long and prosper” types.) that we are, after much deliberation we decided to throw caution to the wind and book a flight.

Arriving in Kidapawan City; having not received any threats on our livelihood from the either the taxi driver, the friendly and helpful people at the mall, or our van driver from Davao, we met our groovy guide Alvin. Alvin was the most hospitable person I have met, not only in the Philippines, but anywhere we have ventured so far. After signing our lives away in the tourism office, Alvin took us around the city before introducing us to a new culinary delight that had yet to grace our tastebuds. “Halo halo,” is served in a large bowl that comes out looking quite similar to a breakfast cereal. There are corn flakes, but also cold milk, ice, glazed fruit, small beans, and to top it all off a scoop of Ube ice cream. This recipe can vary from place to place, but is in essence it is what I envisioned as a 6 year old kid as what I wanted to eat every morning.

Here we also met our guide for the next few days, Neil. Also a cool relaxed customer, he was easy going and enthusiastic about the trek that was to follow. We went over the details of our two night, three day trip before Soph and I nabbed a ride back to our accommodation (a great spot recommended by Alvin) for an afternoon nap.

After a couple of hours off, Alvin picked us up to take us to a local watering hole for dinner and a beer or two. We were certainly being spoiled and this was much more than we were both expecting or had ever received from a tour organiser before. We had a top night, with good food, good beer and even better company. We shared many a laugh including Alvin’s answer to our query about the terrorism in the area that had once made us feel so tentative about heading south.
“Oh, yeah,” he quipped as he stroked his cleanly shaved jaw to emphasise his lack of beard “we are all terrorists, but we are on holiday!”

Any possible doubt or fear for our safety had certainly been extinguished by the conclusion of this evening. We met the owner of the bar, a friend of Alvin’s; before we relocated into the karaoke room which was privately sanctioned off (I’m unsure as to whether this was for our benefit or for the safety of the other patrons). We all had a bash, Soph singing “Summer of 69,” I had a real go at “Radio Ga Ga,” before Neil got inspired and forced/eased us into a duet of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Freddie Mercury rolled so hard that night his grave deepened another 6 feet. The republican finished the evening on a beautiful rendition of a love song, before we really had to call it quits in preparation for our early start the next morning.

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Oh Mama mia mama mia let me go...

Day 1

Alvin picked us up from our accommodation at 6am (now that’s commitment) and took us to Jollibee’s (the McDonalds rival) for the required hangover breakfast of sausage muffins and pancakes. Gold.
We were then taken directly to the drop off point of the Mt Apo trek. Well, at least I am pretty sure that’s what happened; Alvin & Neil could have had 9 holes on the golf course for all we know we did sleep the whole way. Half a kilometre gone and we knew we were in for something special. With the beautiful jungle scenery ahead and geysers from the bubbling springs flanking us, we had the collective epiphany that this was no longer just a mission to the highest peak for us. This was going to be spectacular.

Our first river crossings took place on rickety bamboo bridges, high above the swirling torrent below. My lips formed an upturned excited grin as the theme tune from Indiana Jones seeped from my voicebox. I was a little kid again. The path winded gradually upwards, through terrain dominated by bright flowers and butterflies, I was a little girl again.

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Just like Indiana Jones, pre Crystal Skull of course.

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Soph doing her best Kate Capshaw

Neil was very knowledgeable on all the flora & fauna, happy to divulge information both when asked and unprompted. There are three different grades of guide in the area, C, B & A. The "C" guides are trainees, the "B" guides are good guides but are not certified by the Kidapawan Tourism Council, and then there are the "A" guides which boast the most experience, knowledge and are registered with the council. There are only two Class “A” guides in Kidapawan; one was taking us up the mountain, and the other we sung karaoke with the night before. “A” guides are also naturalist guides, who have taken it upon themselves to conserve Mt Apo, controlling landslide damage and the ongoing issue of litter on the trail. I cannot recommend highly enough paying a little extra for the professional and friendly service of Alvin & Neil.

After a couple of hours walking, we approached and conquered our first steep incline. We were puffing harder than Meatloaf after a third encore.
“I’m guessing that isn’t the steep part?” Said I,
“No… but don’t worry, Mt Apo is a piece of cake,” chirped Neil as he continued to climb. “It’s just the world’s biggest cake!”

A welcomed lunch break came after climbing some makeshift bamboo ladders and weaving through the breathtaking scenery. We had the track all to ourselves; the only people we passed were two locals carting a freshly hunted wild boar down the mountain.

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Up we go!!

The afternoon saw us getting into the swing of things as momentum and thoughts of a hearty dinner and a bed kept us moving closer and closer towards our goal. We reached our destination at approximately 3pm. The only thing that stood between us and our campsite was the marsh. If we put a foot wrong, we would be up to our neck in thick, black sludge. Fortunately, with our fearless leader showing the way, we reached our tent with mud hardly reaching the top of our laces.

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Please, wear the right socks. Footrot can happen to you too.

Our campsite was in a great spot adjacent to a lake, which reflected the peak we were looking forward to reflecting about climbing the next day (this sentence makes sense if you read it more than once… I think).
After a big meal and a few shots of brandy to keep us warm, we put our barking puppies to bed.

Day 2

We were surprised about how freezing it was up there at night. Yes, it is up a mountain and yes I should have known better than to only pack my thermals and a jacket, but in my defence it was 25 degrees or so down in Kidapawan. Anyway if you do end up climbing Mt Apo, heed my advice and take an abundance of warm clothing.

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Even the spiders were cold

Suffice to say I didn’t sleep that well, slowly trudging my first few steps trying to keep up with my speedy wife and deft guide. But, just like the day prior, I built up some momentum and was enjoying life to the max before too long.

It was to be a short walk of two and a half hours up to the pinnacle through what could only be described as a sparse landscape compared to the jungles of yesterday. It was still very beautiful and made for easier climbing, albeit steep as the price tag on a new Mercedes. Reaching the top with a spring in our step and a smile on our faces, we had accomplished our goal. We had climbed from 1300m to 2956m in about 8 hours. We were physically wearied but mentally elated and excited. Oh and did I mention the view? A breathtaking panoramic visual overlooking sulphuric lakes, beautiful jungle landscape and the rugged cliff faces emphasised the reward for our upwards scramble. Possibly overcome by the beauty, sense of achievement and aching hamstrings, we took a well-earned nap before a spot of lunch and our awaiting descent.

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Elevation Elation

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A few Z's at the Zenith

Our descent was a rapid one. We made it back to the campsite in less than two hours, where we were joined by half a dozen Philippino climbers. A campfire was lit, brandy was drunk and bellies were laughed. We also had the chance to try some of the aforementioned wild boar that Neil had purchased from the hunters. It was quite chewy but tasted like a mix between beef and pork which was pretty awesome if you’re a carnivore. We rugged up and crawled into our sleeping bags weary, but content.

Day 3

It was Sophie’s turn for a rough night, but unlike me, she hardly said a word and pulled on the boots ready for our departing descent. We got a good early start and began taking on the marsh with our now expanded group. We had a little contest to see who would slip over the most, which Soph was sure she would win (or lose I guess is the right way to put it.) She was sorely mistaken, or is that she was un-sorely mistaken? I took a tumble a few times to take out the crown but fortunately no injuries except for my broken pride and fractured ego. Even the flawless Neil fell on his hindquarters at one stage!

One of our missions on the trip was to pick up litter left by others who had walked the trail before us. We made a real go of it today on our way out, as the trash was the only blemish on such a beautiful part of the world. Alvin mentioned that they do take volunteers up the mountain for a big clean up every so often which is great to see, so we figured the least we can do is lend a hand.
Sweating like a pig on a spit, we made our way back over the rivers, through the winding paths, past the butterflies to the fuming hot springs signifying the end of a highly satisfying, soul-finding, stunning three days.

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Farewell Apo!

Exhausted, we were taken 500m up the hill past the drop off point to a swimming area and accommodation which is host to a hot spring. The three of us and our porter Tata were joined shortly thereafter by Alvin. We enjoyed a celebratory brew or two while Neil, Soph and I played some cards well into the evening, including a wager that involved the loser jumping into the cold pool (remember how much I whinged about the evening chill before?) Being more than proficient at cards, Sophie played well and placed a respectable 3rd. Unfortunately, there were only the three of us playing so in to the drink she went. Neil and I followed in sympathy shortly thereafter. We made a mercy dash to the hot spring to warm back up and scorch our badly sunburnt bodies. It was a fun and rejuvenating finish to the past few days.

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Soph hoping for some Irish luck. Unforunately she aint Irish.

We enjoyed a home cooked breakfast at Alvin’s house the next morning, which was again going above and beyond amazing hospitality. We packed our things and said our fond farewell before taking a trike to the bus station. Of course the buck didn’t stop there; Neil followed us on a motorbike to make sure we didn’t get ripped off by a bus driver. There were not enough thankyou’s for our new found friends, and I hope that one day we will return to Kidapawan for another hike up the beautiful Mt Apo.
If not, I hope that one day we will return to Kidapawan for another go at karaoke.

It just goes to show, don’t trust everything you read on Smart Traveller.

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If you would like to find out more about Mt. Apo, contact Alvin here!

Posted by roamingbullocks 04:28 Comments (3)

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