When I look out the window of the office I’ve been working at here in the Philippines, I can clearly see the mountainous interior of the island looming far above the palm trees. On the hottest days, I look longingly at the mist covered peaks, imagining how much cooler it must be up there. I knew that some of my office mates frequently plan hiking trips through the mountains, so since I’ve been here, I’ve been eagerly awaiting my chance to venture into the woods, Philippines style. In the meantime, several friends warned me about the difficulty of the mountain, the steepness of its slopes, and the length of time it took to reach the end of the trail. By no means am I the most fit person to climb any mountain, but I’m always up for an adventure. I’ve been on mountains before, what’s the worst that could happen this time around?
The journey up the mountain began at 6 at the morning at the public market. After a quick breakfast, we headed out toward the trailhead, which was a journey in and of itself. Our pedicabs had trouble on the steep slopes, so a couple times we had to get out and walk to make them lighter. Several sizable rocks and boulders still littered the road from a powerful storm that cast them from their mounts above.
The steepness of the trail from the very beginning very quickly indicated that this climb would be a lot more strenuous than I may have thought. Little did I know that that was one of the less vertical portions of the climb. Having recently rained (well, this time of year the Philippines is in a constant state “recently rained”), the trail was quite slick and covered in mud with a vengeance such as I have never seen. Given that I’m not exactly a cornucopia of coordination, the mud had quite a strong effect on me. I quickly became rather skilled at picking out which trees would be sturdy enough for me to grab in desperation to break my fall. I reckon I owe my life to a couple of those trees. I knew it was going to be a hard climb when, about an hour in, as I was on all fours crawling up the edge of the mountain, I collapsed onto the ground and decided to take a break. My hiking companions, never wanting to miss a good photo-op, told me not to move so they could get a picture of me passed out on the ground, which I found ironic, because I could not have moved even if I wanted to.The majority of the trail maintained a similar grade as that of a ladder. When standing up, I could only stretch out my arm so far without touching the trail in front of me. In a few hours, we had gone from slightly above sea level, well into the clouds, and over a mile high.
After being in what feels like a perpetual summer, it was nice to finally be able to experience a little bit of fall… though it did mean landing on my bum quite a few times.
Falling proved to be a big asset in my descent down the mountain. Large chunks of the trail paralleled several pipes that carried water from springs high above to residents far below. For one stretch of the trail, about 50 feet (or 100, I’m pretty bad at judging distances), these pipes go down the middle of the trail.
Going up, I fell and somehow managed to get stuck in between them (every effort I made to escape only served to further wedge me in). Going down, I once again fell on the pipes but this time discovered the coolest, albeit rather terrifying, slide ever.
Four hours after we began, as promised, after one last stretch following a creek in the bottom of a steep valley, we reached our destination. From two different points water spewed from cliffs high above down to the valley floor to form the creek that served as our final destination. We settled in for a much needed break and well deserved lunch. Following our meal, we took turns diving into what surely must be the coldest water I’ve ever swam in and basked in the power of the water cascading over us.
Maybe it was the achyness of my bones. Maybe it was the crisp chill of the mountain water. Maybe it was the way the water cleansed the mud off of me and carried it back down the mountain. Maybe it was how, even after the altitude we gained, the steep slopes of Talinis still towered over me. Maybe it was friends encouraging me every step (and misstep) of the way. Or maybe it was just the wine. But there was something about that journey–in isolation, in nature, in soreness–that just felt like the most relieving, most blissful moment.
Transitioning to life in the Philippines has proven to be quite the experience. The challenges that have come before me have tested me in ways I could never have prepared for nor even expect. Everyday presents a new reminder, not just of the sharp divides between the communities of privilege I grew up in and the world I now see around me, but also of the systems of power and privilege that encourage it. News from home hardly brings any relief, as white supremacy is given a new voice in the president-elect. I have never been more aware of my race and privilege until now and it has been a humbling and tiring process.
Mt. Talinis was a much needed break from all that the “real world” represents. But now, as Talinis disappears in the mist above the office, I can’t help but notice how the climb has symbolized my time here: one strenuous exertion of energy after another where the journey is more important than the destination. Where sometimes falling is a good thing and the company you’re with makes all the difference. Where sometimes understanding the craziness of the world requires removing yourself from it.
I’m four months into my YAV year in the Philippines, but I’m not even halfway through. If you want to join me in this journey, they’re still plenty of opportunities. First, you can follow and share my blog! I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like in updating it, but now that I’m more acclimated to life here, I have more of a plan on what to post next. I’m also hoping to start cranking out some postcards, so if you’re interested, send me your address. Finally, if you’d like to make a financial contribution to my year here, you can do so by clicking this link, clicking where it says “Support Flanny”, and following the instructions. I’d greatly appreciate any way you’re able to contribute to my experience to my time here. And, of course, if you have any questions, feel free to send them my way!!