Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mt. Banoi

Mt. Banoi Climb
Lobo, Batangas
September 22-23, 2012

by: Ivan Ignacio

The BACKPACKERS had been to several towns in Batangas; Nasugbu, Sto. Tomas, Cuenca, Batangas City en route to Puerto Galera, and Mabini. Being blessed with several majestic hiking destinations paralleled with its proximity to the metropolis, Batangas has been a favorite target. But there's a specific town in Batangas that nobody thought existed: Lobo, Batangas. Nestled on its ranges is Mt. Banoi - a nice and easy minor climb in the vicinity. What made this trip to the edge of Batangas province memorable is the fact that it was everybody's first time in the town, not to mention it was also everyone's first climb in Mt. Banoi.

Thirteen BACKPACKERS joined the climb, Angel, Anna, Chons, Clue, Liz, Jovy, Tin, Heinz, Ivan, King, Mon, Ralph and York - two of which were last minute 'habols': Clue and Mon who confirmed a night and an hour before the climb respectively. They say that it takes last minute back outs and last minute confirmation to ruin the logistics of a climb. But not here in The BACKPACKERS. As much as possible, we want every member to come and join the adventure. In cases like these, we are ready to adjust our logistics and sacrifice comfort. Thus, we hired Tami again and a van to get us all the way to this distant town in Batangas.  We were joined by twelve guests. Assembly venue was at KFC LRT Buendia where we met this equally interesting group of outdoor enthusiasts. We met Sirs Freddie, Wilson, Nick and Mina (of who had previously joined the group. Sir Freddie tagged five friends along with him; Ma'ams Fe, Ruby, Cyrus and Sirs Erwin S and Erwin Q. There was Sir Resty, part of the NCNW group who joined us in a hilarious socials atop Mt. Talamitam. We had Ignacio AKA 'Nacho', The BACKPACKERS' first ever foreign guest. And coming all the way from Benguet just to join the climb, we met Sir Gerald - a Baguio based hiker. We all left Manila at 9:40AM. 


Twelve men were inside a seemingly can of sardines as Tami drifted through the streets of Batangas. It was a long four-hour drive from Manila to Lobo, Batangas. Our service even had a hard time determining the path to Lobo in Batangas City. We were like participants in The Amazing Race trying to catch up with the girls (and Nacho, Resty and Gerald) who were all in the van.

When the vehicle entered the rustic town of Lobo, we were caught in awe at the sight of the place. There were trees and mountain peaks everywhere. It was the complete opposite of the more familiar Batangas towns that we had visited. We were trying to survey its peaks to identify which Mt. Banoi was. No one had been to Mt. Banoi but we all knew that it's marked by structures of two towers. But it seemed to be a very confusing task as the vehicle kept on zigzagging along the highway, reminiscent of the Cordillera roads. It was expected to be rustic, but I did not expect to embrace the bucolic side of it. The wind was refreshing, the sights were relaxing, the carefree lives of the people were enviable. In short, I loved the place. I loved Lobo, Batangas.

A town bordered by mountains and sea ~ Lobo, Batangas
The girls did some last minute shopping of supplies in the public market. And when we arrived, we hurriedly searched for an eatery to satisfy our empty stomachs made even hungrier by the four hour travel. After eating, we registered at the Police Station and headed to Sitio Balatbat. A 20Php Registration Fee was collected at Balatbat Barangay Hall. Rain fell from the sky just as soon as we arrived at the jumpoff point. The small chapel at the end of the road served as our refuge while we waited for the downpour to subside.

Freddie, Jovy and Ivan with the OIC in Lobo Police Station
BPs King, Tin and Clue at the chapel


When the rain stopped, we started our journey towards our target campsite: Malabnig Village. Yes, there is a village on top of the mountain which is a cool thing because we might have been prepping up for possibly the most luxurious campsite that we ever had. The trail was straightforward, in which the initial section was a typical 'follow-the-stream' trail. There were lots of opportunities to wash the dirt and mud off our shoes because we had to cross the stream several times. And it was characterized by a crystal clear, cold water which was truly refreshing. Along the trail was the presence of man made hose in which water coming from the stream was flowing. We had abundance of water as these man made hose paved way to a bountiful and lengthy water source.

This way to Sitio Malabnig
Moderate uphill trail

One of our guests
Ma'am Fe Manapat ~ a real trooper  :-)

We had the opportunity of being graced by guest Ma'am Fe Manapat. Already in her fifties but physically fit and still very much active in such activities, she proved to be an inspiration to all of us. Many had several Take Fives during the second portion of the trail to Malabnig wherein we had to zigzag all the way to the top, but Ma'am Fe was such a trooper. Part of the Lead Pack, she managed to overcome the incline with such ease. Many climbers took their time in resting, their night jobs taking its toll on their presence and stamina, but it was okay. The target that day was to reach the village and not the summit.

Sir Erwin Q.
A weird and mysterious looking tree at the trail
Nickson and Heinz
A few more steps and we saw the first sight of the ironic civilization on top of the mountain: the first house in the Malabnig Village. Its strategic location being the first hut to greet the hikers was enough for the residents to open a mini store which offered us both refreshment and delight. The master chef and meal planner BP Jovy could not believe how manageable the trail to Malabnig Village was and could not help herself change the menu for that night. Everyone wanted a soup so she bought something which will warm our stomachs for the night in the village. Mt. Banoi, after all is a minor climb. And the presence of the village in the midst of nowhere contributed to its easy nature.


Everybody busy at the campsite
Malabnig Village was an easy choice to be our campsite since several blogs speak of the "un-camp-able" peaks and summit of Mt. Banoi. It was actually a good choice for it offered us convenience and a one-of-a-kind camping experience. I did not expect that the towers at the peaks of Mt. Banoi was a clue that we will have electricity. Yes, we were listening to the tune of "Pusong Bato" on Mang Ricardo's stereo while we were setting up camp. Some were fortunate in having their cellular phone and digital camera's batteries charged. The kitchen masters Jovy, Tin and Mon had the luxury of borrowing the kitchen of a nearby local for the preparation of our dinner. Thank you very much for the hospitality, Ate Angge and Kuya Ricardo!

Nacho and Jovy while setting up the tent
BP Chons preparing her tent
Angel and York at the campsite
Three time BP guest ~ Sir Freddie
The villagers of Malabnig shared common characteristics: they were very hospitable and nice. Despite the simple life atop the rustic hill, they were very helpful and concerned. The shy Ate Angge and the jolly Kuya Ricardo whose house was the nearest to our campsite, treated us as their visitors and they even let us borrow some of their utensils. I was very impressed for they are one of the most down to earth persons I met. They never failed to imbibe that accommodating and inviting hospitality.

Hello, Leandro!
We met a local who is notorious in the blogsphere, Leandro. He is a man on his thirties carrying a machete on his belt buckle, but because of the damage on his brain, he talks and acts in a deranged manner. He would tell you, "Maysakit ako sa utak eh... Kinalaban ko yung tikbalang dito.." or something like "Ayoko pong umuwi, susuntukin ako eh..". He first approached us, mildly telling some people in the group that he was responsible in cleaning the campsite. The funny thing about Leandro was that he was not asking for coins, he had a price on his solicitation. He made it clear that he was hounding for "Yung papel.. Yung pipti pesos.." He was not contented when Sir Erwin Q. or myself offered him a five-peso coin, not even the twenty peso bill. But just to get it over with, thinking that he would leave after paying him the supposed 'debt' for cleaning the horse and goat poops around the campsite, I gave him a red bill. However, he continued badgering the other members of the group to give him another bill saying in his mild voice, "Birthday ko ngayon eh.. Pengeng pipti pesos..". Another spiel was "Mamamasko po ako.. Pengeng pipti pesos..". So yes, he did not leave during our stay at the campsite. His mellow voice and innocent mannerisms were pointing out that he may be harmless (and he was actually harmless) but some misconstrued his intentions when he kept on following some girls around - in the comfort room and around the campsite. Heinz, being a psychology graduate, tried to ward him off by calmly conversing with him but his attempts were all in vain. What freaked us all out was the big machete he had on his belt. We did not know what medical condition he has and if his attacks can impell him to brandish that machete right before our eyes. Anyway, these were our first impression on him, but we later did not mind him drooling around. As he reiterated, "Wag nyo po akong paalisin, lupa namin 'to eh..".

Dinner and then socials!
BPs Mon, York and Ivan with Kuya Ricardo (leftmost) and Leandro (rightmost)
Sirs Erwin S, Freddie and Resty
Sirs Gerald and Mina
BP Girls Liz, Angel and Jovy

Socials is an important avenue, at least for The BACKPACKERS, in an overnight climb. This is where we formally get to know the guests and each other.  This gathering was made more fun and unique because of the English Only Policy imposed due to the presence of our Spanish National guest, Nacho. The early part of the socials were abundant with political ideologies as Sir Freddie's guests started to introduce themselves and apparently, they are employees of a government agency: NAPC (National Anti Poverty Commission). As the introduction went on within the spacious and incredible socials venue (hey, we had a light bulb and mono block chairs!) so was the fun and the bonding. Myself (Ivan), York and Mon bonded with the humble locals, with the helping of Gin Bilog. Whew! It was responsible for making me dizzy and partially deaf that I was unaware that I was conversing in a loud voice when I went back in the socials circle. Yikes! Anyway, Mt. Banoi's socials was so much fun, and need I speak more? The pictures below will speak for themselves:

Mt. Banoi socials ~ complete with mono block chairs!


Muddy shoes
We were quite behind the itinerary on day two as we all helped ourselves with the morning's breakfast (coffee, bread and BP Tin's special chicken spread) prior to the hike to the peak. Added to the unforeseen circumstances was the condition of the trail from the village to the peak: it was as muddy as hell. Our sandals and shoes were squirting like icing squished on a cake whenever we moved our feet in the muddy course. The entire group was subdivided into trail duos, trios, quadruplets, quintuplets etc. But to sum up the assault portion, the trail was very easy and manageable. There was one fork wherein we needed to take the right upward trail to get to the peaks of Mt. Banoi. Trail marks were present to prevent mountaineers from wandering off the wrong direction. From that turn, we were immersed with the forest of Mt. Banoi until we arrived at a clearing marked by an electric post.

BP King
The breathtaking beauty of Mt. Banoi
Posing at the electric post: BPs Tin and Clue
Unlike the other neighboring peaks in the Southern Tagalog region, there were only few accounts mentioning the beauty of Mt. Banoi. Sir Mina even had a mindset that the view atop Mt. Banoi will be plain and not as grand as the others. I myself diverted my attention to just appreciating the bucolic environment and the proximity of the mountain to the beach. And many BACKPACKERS who did their own research about Mt. Banoi never expected the mountain's peak to be this serene, beautiful and awe inspiring. Part of the mountain ranges in that area overlooking the town and the sea, we got an amazing vista of the small but beautiful world of Lobo, Batangas. The greenness of the forests that teem its mountain ranges, the vast pasture of the fields and the simplicity of the villages below were a delight to the spirit. It was a relaxing moment and an astounding view worthy of solitude; that moment when time stops and you just have to stare at that radiant face of the earth. I could stay all day staring at the greens and maybe just ponder about some things in life. The heavy clouds contributed to the wonder as strong winds greeted us at the peaks rather than the scorching heat of the sun, which made us relish our time even more. But it was because of these dark clouds that we postponed our trip to the Two Towers Peak. But nonetheless, the time spent at the third and fourth peaks of Mt. Banoi was worth it.

Photo ops on one of Mt. Banoi's peaks

At the edge of Mt. Banoi
BP Couple Angel and Ivan
Meet Cyrus
BP Mon
BP Anna

BP Ralph
BP Chons
BP Heinz
BP Jovy
Meet Mina AKA Manong Unyol

We conquered Mt. Banoi!

Group shot at the electric post

Then it was time to leave the peak. The descent, though still muddy, was faster and easier. Chitchats and hearty conversations were enjoyed by some of the sub groups while descending. And when we reached our campsite at the village, (hello Leandro again!) we took advantage of the unlimited supply of water that was presented to us at the campsite. We washed up and cleaned our muddy footwear and limbs. It was not the time to eat lunch but due to the slightly altered itinerary, we decided to eat our pre cooked lunch. (And thank you again, Ate Angge for cooking our lunch!)

Clue and the magnificent view
Wilson getting ready to wave goodbye to the magnificent Mt. Banoi
Ma'ams Fe, Cyrus and Ruby
BP Mon's 'semplang' shot
Sir Freddie
Sir Gerald coming all the way from Baguio
Bilinguals Anna and Nacho
It was a special climb for The BACKPACKERS. It was one of those mountain peaks where we shared our many firsts together. Aside from merely sharing our first climb in Mt. Banoi, it was also our first time setting foot at Lobo, the first time we had mono block chairs for socials, our first foreigner guest, etc. The climb though not logistically perfect was as memorable as it could have been - what the group never fails to do is to enjoy and have fun despite of any unexpected circumstances. The fact that most of The BACKPACKERS are coming in from their graveyard shifts only proves that we are always looking forward to this one time of the month when we can just lay flat in the ground without worries in mind. The headache, the body pain and the everyday stresses in the metropolis are being washed away not just by the times that we challenge ourselves with a new mountain adventure, but moreso by the time that we spend with each other. This has been a part of The BACKPACKERS culture. We are so glad to meet these twelve people who walked with us in this adventure. In behalf of the group, THANK YOU SO MUCH Ma'ams Fe, Cyrus, Ruby, Sirs Nickson, Wilson, Freddie, Mina, Gerald, Resty, Erwin Q, Erwin S and Nacho!

Pondering on the weeks of planning and researching prior to the climb, I am thankful that there are less articles that speak of the beauty of Mt. Banoi - for my experience greatly exceeded my expectation. For some, the mountain may just be a regular hiking destination, but for The BACKPACKERS, there was magic that day at Mt. Banoi which made it more special and remarkable.

The bucolic beauty of Mt Banoi
The breathtaking landscape of Mt. Banoi

Still in Lobo, Batangas, it's the group's sidetrip to Punta Malabrigo Beach

PHOTO CREDITS TO: Clue, Liz, Freddie, Ivan and King
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