Last Sunday, Mel, Kristen, Andrew, and I embarked on a mini-adventure out of Manila. This is a feat in itself because, on most days, Manila’s major roadways become giant parking lots, where you roll your windows up to avoid choking on Jeepney smog as you trudge glacially along the Pasig’s steamy shores.
And for someone with carsickness, trips out of Manila are not only long, they’re nauseating. Going on a Sunday hike is a good plan because traffic is minimal on Sundays. An hour and fifteen minutes from Manila, Rodriguez offered a steep, boulder-y path up to a very cool-looking rock that may have been called the Spider or Spire, or nothing. We’re not sure. Either way, it was very cool.
Craving some fresh air and a challenging hike, I was thrilled when Kristen asked me. I made some sandwiches to celebrate. Melanie booked us a driver – not cheap, but as it turns out, all of us suffer from carsickness here and are more than happy to shell out more money if it means not puking. (I do not exaggerate. Puking has occurred.)
At 6:30 in the morning, I hopped into the van and off we went. Somehow, despite the large vehicle and sitting shotgun, I spent the last half of the ride teetering on the verge of vomit. As the driver navigated the zigzagging checkpoint signs at the entrance to the barangay, I nearly begged him to pull over so I could throw up.
Luckily, we parked shortly after, so I got to sit quietly with my nausea for 30 minutes until it passed.
Kristen organized our guide. She’d learned from her friend that you basically just show up in the barangay, announce that you want to hike to a rock, and someone will know what you’re talking about and connect you with a guide. Kristen did all of this while I sat in the parking lot with my head between my knees.
Once a guide was secured, we walked 1km out of the barangay to the trailhead for the hike, and soon we were wandering into the jungle. There is a moment where the sounds of karaoke and traffic dissolve into the hum of insects, where the grooved pavement gives way to packed mud and tall grass and bright flowers. It is a moment that trivializes the 1.5 hour drive and its accompanying nausea.
Our chill jungle walk quickly evolved into a steep ascent. We were expecting this, only maybe not so soon. The path becomes less mud and dirt and more giant boulders with makeshift bamboo railings nailed into obliging trees. You, too, endure a kind of reverse evolution from biped to quadruped, scrambling over boulders and roots and skinny-but-sturdy tree branches.
A short climb from the top, we found ourselves face to face with a giant rock that my Google search suggests may have been limestone. In any case, all of us wanted to climb it, so we did.
This rock was nothing, though, compared to the spire that was the culmination of the hike. Overlooking the mountains and jungle, perched on the edge of a cliffside, the Spire was pointy and dangerous-looking. The climb up its front side, facing the trail, was fine, but in order to get the swoon-worthy views from the top, you have to traverse around to the back of it when you’re about halfway up. In the back, someone has “secured” a bamboo ladder that you climb the rest of the way to the top of the rock. If you fall backwards…well, it’s probably the last fall you’ll ever have to endure in your lifetime.
Climbing the ladder in a cloudy drizzle, I thought of a conversation Kristen, Andrew, and I had had a week ago at the climbing gym, talking about Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan.
“I love climbing,” Kristen had said. “But I’ll never free solo anything.”
Andrew and I agreed.
Yet here we were, climbing this damp rock with nothing but our fingers and wet sneakers. (Climbing shoes, at least, would have been a huge confidence boost.) Also, I find it’s best not to think about how well-secured the ladder is when you’re climbing it.
The views were spectacular. I did my swooning while clutching the top of the rock for dear life (literally), and then I wobbled back down to solid ground. I prefer to climb with a harness, I think.
No one else complained, though, and it wasn’t until we’d eaten some apples and Gatorade and regained our strength and sanity that Melanie said, “Um, so that was pretty risky.”
As we were leaving to head down, a group of hikers arrived and began their ascents of the rock. I watched as a young woman made it shakily to the top and lifted one hand off the rock. Her guide held one of her ankles in place with his bare hands (!!!) and she raised her other leg out perpendicular, like she was just hanging out on a giant rock on a cliffside.
One foot. That’s all that kept her up there. No thank you.
The descent was also full of quadrupedal movement, and by the time we got back to the barangay it was 11:30. We ate lunch at a table inside near the bathrooms, and then booked a trike to take us 20 minutes down the road to a waterfall.
The trike was unlike any trike I’d been in before. It involved two men on a motorcycle, which was attached to a giant, wire/metal cart with “benches” and ropes tied on for back support. One wheel supported the back seat. It was basically a glorified wheelbarrow.
The views were nice, though, and no one got carsick. We had to hike again to the waterfall, and then up the waterfall to a natural pool that you could jump into. The hike up to the pool was basically up a vertical wall, but by this point, we weren’t surprised.
At the top, Kristen and Andrew jumped into the pool while Mel and I relaxed in the sun. Later, we’d have a long heart-to-heart about life. On the top of a waterfall on a Sunday afternoon. It was one of those small moments where I really appreciate what the Philippines has to offer, in geography and in friendships.
After an arduous, awkward climb back down, we met Kristen and Andrew again and headed back to our “trike”, back to the barangay, back to our driver, where I popped an organic Dramamine and we drove a short ways to an overlook that provided views of mountains and some kind of quarry.
Mel took out the wine and cut up some cheese, Kristen spread out a picnic blanket, and we all sat there passing around the bottle of wine (we forgot cups) and soaking in the view.
Even more remarkable than our picnic was the fact that we got back by 5:30, no one threw up, and we all had the rest of the evening to rest our quads, shower, and enjoy the remains of the weekend.