I sit behind a patch of dwarf bamboos to shield me from the biting cold. Just hours ago at the base camp, temperature dropped to 4 degrees Celsius – unbearable for someone used to Manila’s scorching heat – made even worse by the accompanying gusty wind. I tie my jacket’s hood to prevent it from flapping at my back. It is still dark; but not for long. I could already see the horizon split by a thin line of alternating soft and deep yellows. Beyond this slightly arching line is a bruised sky saturated by blue, indigo and violet. The sun is slowly forcing itself out. In my head, this sea of clouds, pure in its whiteness – in some parts rippling, in others, cotton-like – will burst with golden tones when the sun finally comes out. The memory of sunset last night will now be played in reverse.
In Mount Pulag, from inside looking out, your vision will tell you that the day begins and ends in shades of blue and yellow.
“Hi, do you have trail food? Nakakahiya pero wala akong dala. Sorry po talaga ha, parang mahihimatay na kasi ako. ” (…I know it’s embarrassing. Sorry, but I already feel like fainting). I can’t make out her face in the dark.
“I might have brought something, I’ll check” I said.
I know I have a bar of Snickers in my pocket. Why did I answer that way? Was I assessing my hunger? Was I too embarrassed to say that I have trail food?
“Here, I have Snickers. I don’t have drinks though” I said lifting the empty Gatorade bottle even if she couldn’t see it. She thanked me profusely. I just smiled.
On my way down, I saw a girl with yellow scarf heartily grinning at me. I could neither put a name to her face nor could I associate her face to a memory so I assumed she’s the girl who asked for trail food more than an hour ago. I smiled back, and without letting any sound pass through my lips, I mouthed the words “You’re welcome.”
As I walk back the base camp with my group, I remember how just yesterday morning, we were all strangers to one another. But I am sure that whatever barrier there was has already been broken. This usually happens to people who have been through a common hardship which, in our case include: risky jeepney rides, muddy trails and 3-hour long trek; and common inspiration: clear blue skies and undulating hills carpeted with dwarf bamboos.
We were having breakfast yesterday at a roadside restaurant about 2 hours away from Baguio city when one of my fellow trekkers asked in jest, “James,bakit wala kang kasamang mga kaibigan? May pinagdadaanan ka ‘no?” (James, how come you don’t have friends with you? Are you going through ‘something’?) It sounds accusatory and presumptuous, but if it’s his way of breaking the ice, I’ll gladly take the opportunity. You see, I’m not good at opening small talks. I could sit in a jeepney filled with strangers talking to one another and just listen to them without saying a word. This may sound self-contradictory but I don’t consider myself a snob. So when somebody opens a conversation, I usually bite on it.
“Hindi naman problema yung walang kasama, nandyan naman kayo eh” (It doesn’t matter if I don’t have company, you’re all here anyway) I replied smiling. From there, the conversation shifted to other topics: the time it would take us to reach Badabak Ranger station; what to expect from the climb; and past travel experiences. It wasn’t the liveliest of conversations but I know I’m off to a good start. And then one girl from our group butted in “I also like the idea of traveling solo… alam mo yun, parang soul-searching” she said with a hint of excitement in her voice.
There goes another ‘bomb’ thrown my way. Maybe that’s what every solo traveler has to struggle against: the presumption that you are going through something; that you are lost and you are trying to find your way back to the world. I thought to myself, if that is the case, even if I don’t feel lost, I should get used to comments like this because I intend to continue embarking on solo travels. What other people think about traveling without company should be the least of my concerns. Pico Iyer has already worded the diverse reasons: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate…And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. “
We eat breakfast and make sure the area is clean before breaking camp. I walk behind a father-and-son tandem on our way down the mountain. The father has recently retired and wants to spend time with his twenty-something son who enjoys mountaineering. It is sunny now but the cold mountain air is refreshing. The trail is shaded by mossy trees and the path lined on both sides by various ferns and flowering plants. We are passing through steep slopes which yesterday proved a little exhausting for me.
“You know son, it’s a good decision that I joined you here even if my knees are now hurting a bit.” The father commented on how the downward slope is affecting his knees.
“Dad, I’m thinking, maybe we can do this again when mom gets better. Kuya might even want to join us.”
“Your mom will get too tired”
“We will take time. And choose an easier mountain to climb. We will rest as often as she wants. Never mind how long it will take us to get there. I would be really happy if we could all camp at night together.”
I didn’t hear the subsequent conversation. My attention shifted to a bunch of little yellow flowers amidst a sea of green leaves. I took out my camera and adjusted the focus making sure that I blur the background.
In a trip to a place as enchanting as Mount Pulag, known to many as playground of the gods, it is not too hard to acknowledge the abundance of beauty in nature: from the grandness of the sea of clouds hugging mountain peaks, to the simplicity of a pitcher plant. The experience makes you both humble and grateful.
All these are made more fulfilling by the realization that in this mountain too, from the outside looking in, your heart will tell you that in between the sunrise and sunset the day is filled with shades of blue and yellow – masked as stories that either stir sadness or warm the heart.
note: I intentionally used present tense in some paragraphs.