We challenged a mountain—and ourselves
We were the golden boys and girls of March 1961—the graduates of Holy Angel Academy (now a university). We returned from our diaspora in foreign lands to celebrate our golden anniversary in December 2011. When the whirlwind of events—endless dinners and parties, a visit to the alma mater—ceased, we rested and got our second wind. We decided to challenge Mount Pinatubo to see how these middle-aged bodies would fare.
People were dropping their shorts left and right. Rounding the first bend of the stream aboard our 4X4, behind a wall of sand, we came across a white derriere. I said, “I saw that.” The young white girl hitched up her shorts, turned around, waved and smiled. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let me backtrack some.
The challenge was on, but there was a fly in the ointment. Tess P, who has a severe hip problem, was going. We were concerned; after all, trails need to be hiked, streams forded. Tess C said they had already discussed it. If the going gets tough, they will quit. Not wanting to dampen anyone’s spirit, nothing more was said.
It was very early morning in March 2012—not sure of the date, a senior moment—when we boarded our 4X4s and left Angeles City. We passed through the barrio of Dolores in Mabalacat and the town of Bamban in Tarlac. They were obliterated by Pinatubo’s eruptions; the area became dry, dusty, a sea of lahar, treeless and desolate. Today the communities are back, the trees are grown and green.
Continuing north, the scene was rustic: nipa huts, fields, and the ubiquitous damulag. We finally got into the sleepy barrio of Santa Juliana. Fees were paid, tour guides were picked up, and bladders emptied. There were many foreigners, men and women, young ones and not so old ones, and there we were.
Outside the barrio was a dry stream bed, but farther down were rivulets of crystal-clear water. Then we hit the rough patches: deeper water, faster current. Up and down steep walls of sand, and then the bend. There she was, the young girl with her moons. After an hour’s drive we parked 10 feet above the rushing cool waters below.
We took to the trail that meandered, sometimes narrow and sometimes wide. The stream ran parallel, but in a few sections it crossed the trail, forcing us to ford it. The rushing water occasionally caressed but at times seemed hell-bent on knocking us off our feet. On a section of the trail, sky-high sandy cliffs hemmed us in, threatening and seemingly ready to fall down on us. Scary. Claustrophobic.
The trail finally meandered away from the stream and led us to the rest house on the side of the mountain. We rested and worried about Tess P. But, there she was in the distance, a tungkod in each hand, looking a bit winded but seemingly none the worse from the experience.
Then we started for the top. The trail was narrow, steep, and our tungkod came in handy. We reached the top and a hundred meters to the rim, there it was. The caldera! What a magnificent panorama. The blue-green lake surrounded on all sides by the towering walls reminded me of the old musical “South Pacific” and the song “Bali Hai.”
The descent into the lake was torturous—hell on the old rickety knees. The steps were steep, and went on like forever. Remarkably, we reached the bottom. There was a dilapidated rest house with filthy, unusable toilet. Want to take a dip? Turn your back, drop your pants and get into your trunks. It was a moonlit day.
By 2 p.m. it was time to go back up the mesa and down into the valley. No pause or rest. A time of silence, a time to commune with nature, and go deep into one’s self. Finally we got to the 4X4s and napped. We woke up to find that everybody had gotten back, but no Tess P. It had been over an hour. Then out of nowhere she appeared. Tired, wobbly. It took her a long time to get back, but that was not important. What mattered was her fortitude. She challenged a mountain and came back a winner. So did we.
In life’s “third act,” as Jane Fonda calls it, what do we do with the rest of our “bonus years”? She spoke of entropy: a universal law that states that everything is in a state of decline and decay, the only exception being the human spirit, which can continue to evolve upward. I submit that this group has already attained an ascendancy in spirit for we give back to the community—to an orphanage—and we support a scholar at Holy Angel University for the next four years.
Laus Deo semper—praise God always.
Arthur Buan, 67, holds degrees in two divergent courses: architecture (Mapua) and respiratory therapy (US-educated and -trained). He is quite active in his high school alumni group.