Reliving My Childhood: The Journey to the Playground of the Gods

Photo by: Dick Araneta

Ever since I was a child, it was my dream to be at the peak of the mountain so that I could reach the clouds. When I gazed through the window, all I could see is the pinnacle of the mountain kissing the ol’ buttermilk sky, the desires of touching it never fainted until I learned that all I’ve seen was an optical illusion. I have began to dismiss the idea of ‘reaching the clouds’ until I was standing at 2,922 meters above sea level, at the second highest mountain in the Philippines, and Luzon’s first – Mt. Pulag, where I experienced euphoria of witnessing the sea of clouds flushing all around the peak of this alluring mountain.

A fusion of excitement and trepidation flowed through my veins as the days narrowed down to seven, feeling unprepared, because I haven’t packed my bag with a week left before the major climb. I never knew that it was a bit of annoying and comical to pack your bag a week before the big day, and since I started to pack it on day -7, I started repacking it again and again until day 0. Anyhow, the task of repacking over again was indeed fitting enough for me since t’was my first major climb and was such a tremendous help during the event – a major (major) credit to my mentor, for being so austere with me in the preparations. The anticipated damage for the preparation itself may have been over the projections but it was worth it and we had a lot of new stuffs in combat with the freezing cold, long exasperating trek, and the fact that we will be 2,922 meters above the city, and some of these were granola, ever since a part of our trail food wish list, new fleece jackets – the ones built by hand and tested by nature, and new (ahem) performance footwear.

Arriving in Manila and awaiting for a long bus ride to Baguio, the group was a bit bored and quite sleepy until an unexpected group of people came that triggered a sudden jolt of excitement in us. Everybody was extremely surprised, overwhelmed, and blissful, coupled by a variety of reactions, all were in high spirits as we saw the three EWIT core members fresh from the Lion City, Sir Wali, Ate Nicey, and Ate Nikki – I definitely saw a teary-eyed Sir Ice there, as I embraced these three wonderful people, three of the pillars of EWIT, each having a definite mark in me. The disengaging night suddenly became energetic as the group exchanged stories (and stuffs) with the Singapore-based core.

Our first stop was Sta. Theresa’s Inn in Baguio where we left our bags and head on for the 9th highest mountain in the Philippines and Luzon’s 3rd – Mt. Timbak, to witness the famous Timbak mummies and ascend its awe-inspiring peak. Our journey to Mt. Timbak may seem as a joyride but it wasn’t. We passed through Halsema road where a recent landslide occurred days ago. Seeing that the road was still completely destroyed with little space for a vehicle to pass, made me held on more to my bag and prayed harder as I made a big gulp. We first stopped over the highest point of the Philippine highway system, with an elevation of 7,400 ft. to appreciate the view from above as we took pictures of different angles to accentuate the scenery. Then off we went to the area where the mummies were preserved, and unfortunately was not permitted to see them ‘in the flesh’ because it was the time that chemicals were provided for preservation. The mountain area was indeed cold and misty, a scenery that all seems too familiar and yet so unreal – as if I was walking around the Hogwarts school grounds approaching the Forbidden Forest. Never in my life have I imagined setting foot in breathtaking scenery such as this and never have I envisioned that such spectacle could be found here in the Philippines. It made me think that I haven’t seen the much of it and that there is a need to see more of nature’s magnificence – more so when I knew that there is a hidden waterfall on the southeast slope. With all of this wonderful experience in this mountain, everyone took the opportunity to have a shot of their best pose, while the skilled photographers never failed to seize the moment of capturing the emotions of their subjects.

The second day was the day to break the anticipation and live the images I visualized in pictures and dreamed of since childhood. It was the day to surmount my weakness, the piercing cold; the moment to build a bridge between nature and I; and the time to put myself to the test. Travelling to DENR was a long and winding road indeed and all of us experienced dizziness and ill-feeling throughout the trip not until we stopped over and ate breakfast overlooking through the window seeing the Agno River, as smooth as paper being shred on rocks and the Ambuklao Dam, its running water breathes magically.

Photo by: Jona Bering

The enchantment never subsided not until I had my first roller coaster ride ever, the road going to the Ranger Station, where I had the ride of my life. With hands hanging so tightly on hand bars, eyes closed yet wide awake, the Ambangeg gang travelled through a road that looked like a Snickers bar, layers of muddy chocolate coating, a chewy and jagged surface yet sweet with a taste that lingers. Eyes popping out and closing in, head spinning, blood rushing, and a heart that almost exploded to the mixed emotion of thrill and terror, we rode through this chewy path inside the vehicle – our lives dependent on the dexterity of our driver. A struck of fear climbed up to my spine when we were deeply stuck and the jeep kept trying to and fro to pass through the narrow muddy trail. We wanted to get out of the vehicle and prefer to take the long trek and spare our lives from dying in a roller-coaster ‘Death Ride’ OR a heart attack. Getting off the jeepney and witnessing its struggle to get through was a striking yet amusing scene. Now we know how our tongue feels when licking a rocky road ice cream, jaws dropped at how hilarious it looked like on the outside. We never imagined that we survived that rocky road of melted nutty chocolate. It seemed like forever has passed and the jeep still can’t make it on its own so we started pulling it. With insignificant physical strength, I gave up on pulling it and focused on another physical activity – moral support. We rejoiced at the moment the vehicle surpassed the agony of its bittersweet attempts.

Upon arriving at the jump-off point, the numbing cold began to blanket our covered bodies as the scant rain falls sweet. The trek was fairly simple yet the view was as magnificent as a painting drawn by Godly hands that came to life. The charming surroundings of pine trees and glorious landscape made the 8-km trek extremely rewarding. I was immediately transported back to a familiar scene in Harry Potter as I progressed to the mossy forest, an image that made me shiver not because of the scorching cold, but its unparalleled beauty. Apart from the wondrous sight of flora and fauna, of notable mosses and bonsai-shaped trees, I enjoyed tasting the blueberries along the way making the trek pleasurable. The cold spring that gently flows down the rocks makes me think of my favourite anime of all time, Samurai X, its sight and sound truly invigorates my weary body. With only 6 members for the Ambangeg team, two of which were newly-found friends, the camp for team Ambangeg was warm and delightful amidst the cold that pierced through our 3-layered covering. We were deeply replenished in a banquet fitting for the playground of the Gods, and drowsiness easily crept in even if the night was still young. The chilly winds penetrated our tent and four-layered covering at daybreak, yet I was lucky enough to have a good night sleep. Waking up in the morning and mesmerized by the beauty of your surroundings is such an enchanting feeling. I know it will be long until I experience this feeling again.

An hour trek from Camp 2 to summit was a long one. Due to the belief of the sacredness of the mountain and the fear of seeing unknown creatures, I saw to it that I will not lose sight of the team lead and carefully took my steps so as not to disturb the sanctity of the area. The earth stood still as I witness the sun seeping down the mountainsides bathing it in gentle apricot light. The dew on the dwarf bamboo leaves gleamed like jewels in the rising sun giving off zesty aroma. The grassland appears as a haven of peace and the lone tree standing at one spot is a piece in an unspeakably beautiful puzzle. No wonder this is called the ‘Playground of the Gods’, it feels like heaven! When the clouds started to rush to the peak, I hurriedly climbed the slope to be in time for the sea of clouds came rushing to the summit.

Photo by: Jona Bering

At last, I’ve reached the summit of the majestic Mt. Pulag. Every drained cell in my body was replenished as I had a 360-degree view at the top, seeing the legendary view of this mountain. The towering mountain rises in the northeast as I waved hello to her neighbours, especially to Mt. Tabayoc where our friends enjoy its beauty, and Mt. Timbak, a captivating charm. The coldness of the weather could not penetrate the warmth that I felt when I reached the summit. I wanted to seize the moment so badly but all I could do was take pictures and videos with a huge smile on my face while holding the personalized banner I made to my friends at home. Standing at the top of this mountain, almost touching the clouds that hustle around, being with friends and most especially the person that matter the most is an indescribable sensation, a feeling that will linger until I age. How I wish I could just have froze time to stay there! It feels so good to be a child again and fulfil the dream I once longed for, yet it feels so good to have aged to fulfil this childhood dream.

I am blissful that I have journeyed to this mountain because it has bestowed upon me a lot of things that I will always remember. The long trips, damaging-to-the-pocket expenses, piercing cold, and exhausting hikes could never equate to the rewards you’ve gained along the way. Walking through the playground of the Gods is like an expedition to heaven – enjoying nature’s blessings, sharing the moment with friends, and most of all, conquering oneself.

This post was transferred from my previous blog 🙂

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2 responses to “Reliving My Childhood: The Journey to the Playground of the Gods

    • thanks Gem! yes, indeed! It’s a very magical place. No wonder it has the named “Playground of the Gods” ^____^ yes, this is Dick’s photo. I have a very very crappy video showing the 360 degree view of the mountain. Perhaps I’ll be uploading it. hahaha!

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