What Is and What's Not in Calaguas

Here's a little guide to help you manage your expectations on the island. Knowing what to expect, and not, will help you make the most of your trip to this paradise!

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Beauty Born Out of Destruction

As soon as I emerged from the trail, a magnificent beauty greeted me. Exhausted after a 1-hour-45-minute trek, the view was a pleasant reward. Who would have thought that this beautiful landscape was ironically created by destruction? It was simply beautiful.

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What is BRATpacking?

Everyone's familiar with the life of a backpacker -- those who live on a backpack to travel the world for long months, even years. They have the reputation of being grungy, spontaneous, friendly.

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Picking Our Way to Pico de Loro

I am not (yet!) a climbing enthusiast. In fact, this is my first real climb, as I consider my first two experiences of mountains as "treks" (Taal Volcano in 2005 and Sagada to Bomod-ok Falls in 2007). This is also my first camping trip as an adult, and I was worried that I wouldn't like it because of the absence of a toilet, shower, soft bed, nice linens, and all the other things that make life comfortable.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

It was love at first sight. That kind of love that makes you feel lost, and yet you know you're home. That kind of love that overwhelms you with emotions, and yet you feel serene. That kind of love that makes you feel like a fool, and yet you don't care. This is my favorite spot on earth, where the place is enchanting and the people are endearing.

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Join The BRATpacker


Monday, May 30, 2011

Baguio: Quirky PNKY

Travel Date: May 15, 2011

Baguio is one of my favorite cities in the Philippines. Its cool weather is soothing, the pine scent in the air refreshing, and you never run out of things to do. I have such beautiful, even romantic memories in Baguio that I will forever treasure.

One thing that I never miss whenever I'm in Baguio is to eat in one of the local restaurants. Whether Baguio is my final destination or just passing through, I always allot time for some fancy meal. It's just comforting to be dining in such cool weather, feasting on sumptuous meals and delighting at the vibrant people around.

My visit to Baguio in this particular night was to catch a bus back to Manila after conquering Mt. Pulag. Months ago, I saw a post on Kate's blog about PNKY Cafe, a quirky little place on Leonard Wood Road. That dinner is something that I really had to do, after all the sweat, energy and good vibes I spent on the climb.  

We got to PNKY Cafe a little after dark. It was drizzling, but we decided to stay outside to enjoy the evening chill. 

The place is really quirky with a lot of travel-related knick-knacks, beautiful furnitures and creative vibe.

the main cafe
I ordered the Belgian Frites (PNKY: thick potato wedges served with mayonnaise -- just how the Belgians like it!) and Chicken Spinach Riviera (PNKY: chicken strips, spinach, mushrooms and tofu in white sauce served with rice and vegetables)

Chicken Spinach Riviera with soup, P195 / US$4.50
Rating: 4/5
Rating: 3/5
Belgian Frites, about P120 / US$2.77
Rating: 5/5

My friend had the Schnitzel and Mash (PNKY: breaded pork fillet accompanied by mashed potatoes with parsley and vegetables) and this lovely purple crepe called "Message in a Bottle" (PNKY: purple crepe filled with PNKY's homemade ube/yam topped with whipped cream

Rating: 5/5
The menu is as quirky as the cafe: 

They also have a little shop and a bed and breakfast, where I plan to stay the next time I'm in Baguio.

It was definitely a nice little getaway after two days of hard work in the mountain. The jolly waitress told me that they see a lot of people with big packs, supposedly coming from Mt. Pulag, who dine at PNKY before heading back to Manila. Apparently they are popular among the mountaineers, maybe because of the relaxed atmosphere and great food.

PNKY I will be back! :)


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's In My Pulag Pack?

Climb Date: May 14-15, 2011

All of these:

I figured I should invest in good things on my first major climb (since I want to get serious with mountaineering, anyway). I don't have much hiking stuff, really, except for my TNF Bandwidth 30L pack and TNF trail running shoes which I used in my Mt. Pico de Loro and Mt. Pinatubo climbs.

So off I went to ROX in Bonifacio High Street (BHS) and Conquer in Robinsons Pioneer.

ROX has been my go-to store whenever I need outdoor things. It's not called Recreational Outdoor Exchange for nothing. Its 3-level huge store in BHS caters to enthusiasts of major outdoor sports such us mountaineering, running, cycling, and even kayaking. I'm sure they have more products for other sports, so do check them out. They carry big names such us The North Face, Deuter, Columbia, Eagle Creek, Nathan, Salomon, and a lot more. One good thing I love about ROX is their customer service. I sent them an email, inquiring about Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL in pine/moss. Unfortunately it's not available in that color in their store, so they tried to look for one. However, only one stock remains and its located in Clark. When I went to pick up the pack in gray/black color, Eymard was there to help me and he provided excellent assistance. He adjusted my pack to my torso, and made sure I was happy with the product without rushing me to buy it. I'm sure you've felt that before while shopping in a department store -- when you're trying on something, the salesperson would tell you, "Ma'am okay na ho yan." or "Ma'am pwede na yan." -- only because they're rushing to make a sale. But it was not the case in ROX. Eymard took time to explain the different features of the product, and even helped me pick other products for my climb. I stayed in the store for more than two hours, and I was a very happy shopper.

Conquer is a store that sells locally manufactured mountaineering products. I've seen and sat inside  my friend's Conquer Tadpole Tent in Mt. Pico de Loro, and I liked it. So I decided to get my camping gear from Conquer -- tent, earth pad and sleeping bag, and picked up a few other things, too.

So here's my mountaineering gear so far, shown by category:


Conquer Micra Inner Tent

1. Conquer Micra Tent - P5,400 / US$124
2. Conquer Earth Pad - P270 / US$6.20
3. Conquer Ground Sheet - P490 / US$11.24
4. Conquer Sleeping Bag - P890 / US$20.46
5. iPod Shuffle
6. Generic Cube Speaker
7. Rechargeable Torch from ROX - P200 / US$4.59


1. Fleece Jacket
2. Winter Vest (sleeves removed)
3. Bonnet from Sagada
4. Spongebob Socks
5. The North Face Denali Fleece Gloves - P1,190 / US$27.36


Rue the Cat not included in purchase

1. Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL - P6,950 / US$159.44
2. The North Face Roo II (bought in 2010)
3. Polar Insulated Water Bottle - P590 / US$13.55
4. Columbia Omni-Heat Bush Hat - P1,290 / US$29.66
5. Columbia TechSun 2 Trekking Sandals - P2,790 / US$64.16
6. The North Face Women's Momentum II Trail Running Shoes (bought in 2009)
7. Kovea Dream Walk Trekking Pole - P1,570 / US$36.10
8. Conquer Poncho - P550 / US$12.61
9. Assorted Trail Food - Nature Valley, Nova, Lychee Jelly, M&Ms

All these things performed well in Pulag, so now I'm looking forward to my next mountain adventure!


ROX - (02) 85864638 / rox.cs@primergrp.com / http://www.rox.com.ph/
Conquer - (02) 7470726 / http://conquerequip.multiply.com/   

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mt. Pulag Cover: Rising Above the Clouds

Climb Date: May 14-15, 2011

Mt. Pulag (Ambangeg-Ambangeg)
Bokod, Benguet

Major jump-off: Ambangeg Ranger Stn, Bokod, Benguet
LLA: 16°34'58"N 120°53'15"E, 2922 MASL (#3)
Hours to summit / Days required: 4-5 hours / 2 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-2

Source: Pinoy Mountaineer

Through winding slopes and rolling hills, I can now see the trail clearly from where we were. After trekking for half an hour, walking in pitch black with the trail lit faintly by my headlamp, the sky is now starting to glow. Peeking on my right is a burst of warm hues of orange, yellow and red, slowly pushing away the darkness of the previous night. It was 5:00 am, and we were about 30 minutes away from the peak at 2,922 meters above sea level (MASL).

As we excitedly took the final steps to the summit, the majesty of the view gradually revealed itself. Then, finally standing on top, there it was -- the fabled sunrise at Mt. Pulag. The most amazing, most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen! 

Journey to Mt. Pulag

We joined the public group tour of TRIPinas, the same trip organizer that we got for our Mt. Pinatubo trek. We left Manila for Baguio on Friday night, taking the 2200H Victory Liner bus. We had to spend the night on the bus, so we made sure to have a good sleep -- we need all the energy for the climb. We got to Baguio at around 0400H, then boarded the monster jeepney which was our ride to Kabayan, Benguet.

Called the "monster jeepney," it can negotiate through rough terrain better than your average 4x4! 

We stopped by Pinkan Jo (a small roadside restaurant) for breakfast and to pick up our lunch. After the paved road, there begins the negotiation with the winding rocky road. No, not the fancy, delicious kind. This one made me bump my head several times, and just generally shook our body for about 3 hours. Literally.

the winding rocky road

Everyone hiking at Mt. Pulag is required to register at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Here a 30-minute orientation is done to ensure that everyone is aware of the do's and don't's, the conservation efforts and the things to expect. 

DENR office

memorabilia left by fellow mountaineers

After the orientation, we were back on the winding rocky road again, this time heading to the Ranger Station.

The Ranger Station is the home of the local guides and porters. This is where the actual climb is arranged, and all climbing groups are assigned 1 guide for every 10 persons. 

Ambangeg-Ambangeg Trail

The trail starts with a wide road, leading up to the pine forest. Mossy forest follows thereafter, showcasing beautifully shaped trees and colorful berries. The trail to Camp 1 is a little steep, challenging the lungs with the change in altitude and thinning air. 

vegetative cover of Mount Pulag, illustrated (DENR office)

beautiful scenery while on the wide trail

We stopped at Camp 1 to have our lunch. It was a welcome rest after the first leg of the trail. Moving forward, it was quite a breezy hike for about 3 hours to Camp 2 amidst the mossy forest. I was carrying a 15-kilo (33 lbs.) Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL pack, and more than halfway through the hike, I just couldn't move with the same pace anymore. One of our mountaineer colleagues offered to exchange his small pack with mine, and it was refreshing to walk again with a lighter load. 

Camp 1
hut at Camp 1, where you can take your lunch or have a welcome break
continuation of trail from Camp 1

mossy forest 

tree that grows horizontally from the cliff 
yep, that's still the horizontal tree
giant fern

This means you're already very near Camp 2!

Reaching Camp 2, we found our spot to pitch our tent. Good thing I practiced pitching it a week before, as the dark clouds started threatening us with rain. 

my Conquer Micra Tent

lovely view of the sky from my tent
One place I had to find was the latrine. This is where you do your toilet business. A deep hole was dug, covered with "steps" (a few slabs of wood to secure your position while using it, squatting) and contained in a nipa hut.

After a cup of hot chocolate, we decided to trek to the grasslands for a good sunset view.

sun is starting to set in the background

NEW FRIENDS ALERT! Trisha, the girl on the left, knows my celebrity cat Rue! :)

Sunset at about 2,600+ MASL

It started getting chilly as the sun was going down. We trekked to the tower (well, we technically didn't get there anymore as the clouds were starting to cover the view as we were on the last hill), and this is the sunset that we waited for:

This photo reminds me of The Lion King movie.

Camp at Night

After a nice, warm dinner of sinigang, and at 13 degrees, we decided to hie off to our tents for warmth. It was getting cold, and I was wearing two jackets, fleece gloves and a bonnet. Then at about 1930H, heavy rains started pouring! It went on for about 30 minutes and I was lucky that my new Conquer Micra Tent held up well against the heavy downpour. 

As the night was long and cold, I woke up every hour, checking the time and temperature. I was also in dire need of a loo visit but it's a few steps away and it's totally dark so I had to hold it in my bladder.

Sunrise at 2,922 MASL (highest peak in Luzon, 3rd in the Philippines)

At 0300H, we were up to prepare for the assault. I was in awe when I opened my tent -- there was the black sky, glittered with thousands of twinkling stars! This is a sight I would never see in the city! And it was chilly outside the tent as well:

10.2 degrees, 0338H

We started trekking to the summit at 0400H. And at 0500H, we were marveling at the beauty of nature, thanking God for allowing us to witness a beauty that beholds everyone. As the sun rises over the sea of clouds, I was silent. I wanted to take everything in, but no camera will ever freeze the moment as I see it. The view was so surreal, so heavenly, so magnificent. No wonder Mt. Pulag is called the playground of the gods.

Here's the view on the other side -- equally stunning!

And here's the temperature reading!

9.1 degrees at 0512H
7.4 degrees at 0529H
Here's the group whom I shared the beauty of the sunrise with:

Going back to Camp 2, we passed by this lone tree along the way. Must be very lonely at the top! (It's the only tree there, the rest of the mountains is covered with dwarf bamboos which makes it looks like rolling grasslands.)

Just another awesome view on our way down:

Break Camp

After having breakfast back at the camp, we started preparing for our trek down. And here's our group, before heading back to the Ranger Station:

It was a truly rewarding experience to see such beauty. It made me realize how amazingly beautiful and naturally blessed our country is. One can never get enough of the fabled Pulag sunrise, and so we vow to come back some time -- and on that next journey, we will take the harder trail, Akiki, also called as the "killer trail" by some mountaineers!

See Also: What's In My Pulag Pack?

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