Climbing, Towards a Bridge of Hope

The mountains always hold a special allure over me; astonishing views, foggy landscapes, spectacular sunrises. This adventure offered all that, and more. 

Though I have long dreamed of climbing mountains, I’ve never had a chance to climb one until recently. The BJMP Davao – JOB (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology – Jail Officers on Bikes) in cooperation with Habagat Davao held a community immersion and outreach program at Pegalongan Elementary School, Malamba, Marilog, Davao City.

Mae and I didn’t have any climbing experience, what we had was the eagerness to explore. With a little trepidation we made the decision to participate in the event, since the weather was quite nasty due to two recent storms that passed by the previous week. It was a good thing that the weather cleared up enough for us to make the trip.

With what little information we had about the area (2 hour bus ride-1 hour motorcycle ride-13km trek), and with us not having proper mountaineering gear, we just made sure we had a tent to sleep in, and a whole lot of food and water in our bags. With our clothes secured in waterproof packs and all our food and gear stowed, we headed to the meeting place for the final briefing and distribution of baggage.

We took the earliest available bus at [0300] and arrived 30-minutes ahead of schedule at Barangay Salumay, our jump-off point for the skylab (habal-habal) ride towards Sitio Patag. It was an hour-long downhill ride over harrowing mountain terrain, sharp and slippery limestone rocks, with deep rain ruts on either side; I am still in awe over the God-like skill needed to drive the motorcycle loaded with heavy bags and carrying 4 people at a time!

We arrived at Sitio Patag a little shaken, but none the worse for wear. We then prepared our breakfast, and after a little rest and with a guide to lead us, we started the trek at around [0715]. Information gathered from the locals made it clear that the trail will be muddy from the recent rains, but we were in luck since the river we would be crossing had subsided enough for us to safely cross.

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The downhill trek towards the first river started easily enough, but things started to turn worse just after a quarter of the way down. The track was so slippery we slipped and tripped more times than I could count, we really had to be careful. Most times we had to crouch, hold on to the grass and crawl just to be able to get from one point to the other. After over an hour, we reached the first river we had to cross.

This first river was only around waist-deep, we crossed this one a bit easily. After soaking our bodies in the cool water and taking some much needed rest, we started the uphill trek. This time we were out in the open fields, with the sun high up above our heads. At one point uphill, I had to sit down and had to ask one of our guides to help me with my bag. The heat and my 15-kg bag was taking its toll, it was really hard to catch my breath.

At around [1030] we reached the halfway point. We had some much needed rest in the shade, and then it was mostly all downhill from there. If you think trekking downhill is easy, think again. It was much more tiring than going uphill; gravity is your enemy, much more so because we were so drained from the searing heat we really had to concentrate on where to plant our feet.

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Photos by: Harvey Malnegro

At this point I had drained the last of my water supply, but thankfully we reached a fresh water spring where we refilled our bottles and refreshed ourselves for the final push towards our destination. Finally at around [1230] the school was in sight, only the wide expanse of the Davao River was between us and our destination. We crossed fast flowing, chest-deep waters and finally, relief! We made it!

After a little rest, we met with the Head Teacher of Pegalongan Elementary School, Mr. Randy Halasan. He welcomed us, introduced us to one of the local chieftains in the area, explained the purpose of our visit and then had a late lunch. After a little rest, it was time for the main event.

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We came here not just for fun, but for a purpose. Some months ago the BJMP – JOB in cooperation with Habagat Davao, held a bike-adventure race for a cause. The proceeds were used to buy school supplies for less fortunate children, and Pegalongan Elementary School (the farthest school in Davao City, located in the mountains near the boundary of Davao City and Bukidnon) was the intended beneficiary.

We brought notebooks, pencils and sharpeners, and pens. As an added bonus, soccer balls were donated by the Maharlika Sports Development Institute Inc. with the aim of developing young children with the potential to shine in the sport. It was quite a sight to see almost all of the 200 students of the school line up and listen to the short speech by representatives from the JOB and Habagat.

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With the speech done, it was time to hand out the gifts. It was heartwarming to see the students accept our gifts and hear their heartfelt thank yous. You could see the joy in their eyes, and much more so when the soccer balls were handed out and an impromptu soccer clinic was held. All the pain and fatigue we experienced up to that point instantly evaporated at the sight of the kids and their parents enjoying the festivities, laughing their hearts out and thoroughly enjoying the event.

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It looked like nothing could stop the games, until the rains put a stop to everything. We settled down, took a couple of group pictures and had the kids disperse so that they could all go home while there was still light. Some of the older kids stayed behind, and a 3-on-3 soccer match was started with some of our ladies and the boys. It was a lot of fun, and when they were done, some of the little kids came back and had their turn playing with the balls.

Finally, it was time to lock up the classrooms, and we headed back to camp to rest, freshen up and prepare for dinner and make our plans for our departure the following day. While all that was going on, we met some of the Matigsalog tribe elders who shared their sentiments and hopes for the future generation.

The one thing that amazed me the most was the dedication of the teachers to continue coming to teach at this place, so far from “civilization”. There is no electricity, no cellular signal, and you have to traverse approximately 6 kilometers across tough terrain and cross two dangerous rivers just to get to the school. For us city dwellers it was quite a task getting there, but for the residents, it is an accepted way of life. I am also equally amazed at the children, who even in all the hardships, continue to persevere just to receive basic education in the hopes that it will one day uplift their way of life.

Simple things we take for granted, for them is a very astonishing luxury. But for all the needs they can do without, there is one thing that both adults and children look forward to getting. A simple hanging bridge, one that would allow them to cross both the Sinod and Davao Rivers safely. Many lives have been lost crossing those rivers but since there is no other way to get there, people continually brave the raging waters day in and day out.

1002918_663117503720537_1618740983_nCrossing the Davao River (Photo: Harvey Malnegro)

1465164_663116610387293_1768901357_nCrossing the Sinod River (Photo: Harvey Malnegro)

And so it is with fervent hope, that this call reaches the proper channels. Give these people a chance to uplift their lives. Teacher Randy has given and served above and beyond his call of duty for more than 6 years, and I hope that the local government steps up and fulfill its role as the guardian of its people.

After a hearty dinner of native tinolang manok, fish and pork adobo, it was time to settle down and prepare for the early morning trek back to the city. It was decided that we would wake up at [0400], have breakfast and move out by [0500] but deep inside I knew that we’d be lucky if we were able to get up at [0500], we were THAT tired. And with that, we bedded down early to recuperate.

My alarm went off at [0400] but seeing that not a soul was stirring, laid back down and didn’t get up until I heard the others get up. It was a chilly morning, we didn’t need to take a bath since the first thing we’d be doing is crossing the chest-deep river. So we prepared breakfast, and then packed up. When we were done we had a group picture taken with the elders and with a group prayer, sent us out on our journey back.

[0800] We started the short walk from the camp ground to the riverbank, and in groups started to cross. The confident swimmers managed to cross by themselves but for the rest of us, we had to go in groups. Mae, along with some of the ladies, had decided to ride a horse for the way back since she still had to work in the evening and didn’t want to be too tired during her shift. The rest of us plodded on the trails.

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The pace was fairly fast, probably due to the fact that we had less weight on our shoulders. The residents came with us since they had some errands to do at Sitio Patag and they even offered to carry our bags for us which we gladly accepted. It was such a relief, our bodies were really sore! I had decided to use my sandals on the way back, but after a couple of minutes decided to go barefoot. I had better traction and control on the slippery and muddy trails than when I had footwear on.

So we continued climbing at a fairly fast pace, we made it to the halfway point much faster and easier this time around. I got left behind on the downhill trek after that since my muscles were screaming during the descent, so I was taking it kind of slow. When I got to the second river the others were already taking a dip and goofing around, and I wasted no time joining them. After some time, it was time to continue to the last part of the trek.

It was all uphill from there, and I prefer the uphill trek over the downhill even if I had to catch my breath from time to time due to the altitude. So we went with a fairly easy pace with everyone hiking at their own pace but we always make sure to not leave anyone alone, there’s always somebody to keep pace with you along the hike. We reached Sitio Patag by [1200], a record time for us. But for the locals, they say they can make it in a little over an hour. Sheesh.

From Sitio Patag, we took the habal-habal ride back up to the main highway. If the ride going down frightened us, we were terrified going back up since any slip-up would cause the motorcycle to flip over backwards. And finally after less than an hour, we arrived at the highway. We had some snacks while waiting for a bus to pass by and take us back to the city. Finally at around [1400] a bus came and we hopped on to it for the 2-hour ride back to “civilization”. We arrived home a few minutes past [1600], had a really late lunch and finally, went to bed for some much needed rest.

Looking back on this trip, we were made to realize how much we take some things for granted. What we had enough and didn’t think too much on, others could only think of and hope and wish they had. We had bridges where there were no rivers, they had rivers but no bridges to cross safely on. We take food for granted and often waste too much of it, they had to make do and scrounge and leave nothing to waste.

We expected nothing but adventure and body pains for this trip, but we left with so much more than we could imagine. The joy of giving, of seeing the people genuinely happy upon receiving the meager gifts we brought, brought us tremendous joy. For all the hardships we encountered, it was washed away in the genuine glow of the sea of faces before us.

It was an epic adventure, and it was priceless.

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About franciscolme

I've had fantasies of touring all the 7,107 islands (well, I guess not ALL of them) of the Philippines on a bike ever since I was introduced to riding folding bikes over a year ago; it sure has opened up a whole new world, or rather, a new perspective in seeing the places I used to frequent. Touring on a bicycle has shown me sights I rarely see when riding in any other means of transportation. It allows me to take time and absorb the sights and sounds each place has to offer.

3 responses to “Climbing, Towards a Bridge of Hope”

  1. franciscolme says :

    Reblogged this on icecoldbukojuice and commented:

    Honoring Mr. Randy Halasan, 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Awards awardee.

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