Found good wifi! At this expensive Japanese cafe in Manila. I think this is truly a country of juxtaposition. So many expensive and posh shops and cafes yet we were eating 50 peso lunches in Baguio and figuring out how to avoid going to the toilets in Baguio.
Anyway, we left our Airbnb in Baguio at 4am to get to the meeting point for our journey to Mt Pulag. At 4am the streets were literally crowded. Not a lone pedestrian but actually groups of people strolling around as if it were 4pm. I honestly don’t understand the sleeping pattern of the people here.
We had booked our tour with Tripinas expecting it to be similar to the tour we did in Kinabalu – drive to the base camp, hike up to a lodge in the day, rest for the evening and do the summit climb at night for sunrise. After more careful reading we realised that there was no climb for the first day at all. We literally took a bumpy car ride up to the ranger station, listened to an orientation briefing in Tagalog peppered with English. The lady ranger was obviously very passionate about her job but we didn’t understand half of it and she made it twice as long as it needed to be by talking about how an Austrian tourist saw edelweiss on the mountains.
We arrived at Baban’s homestay which was hosted by a very nice lady called Ate Ellen (I am guessing Ate is like auntie). Really admired how amazing she was running the entire homestay on her own – managing bookings, doing all the cooking. I am estimating around 50 people stay at her place at any one time? And all these hungry hikers – must not be easy. And she talked to us in Tagalog a first and I had to stop and let her know gently that we didn’t understand anything she said.
We spent the greater part of the afternoon between lunch and dinner playing with their dogs and kids and talking to Ellen’s sister. Oh and napping. There was zero reception up there which was actually extremely refreshing.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Ellen’s house was the “nicest” in the surroundings. Took a short walk down the steep and windy road in the village and amongst others: (a) saw a random watermelon along the side of the road, probably dropped out from the back of a truck; (b) tried to coax the cutest kitten ever to play with us (it didn’t); and (c) tried to communicate with a toddler wasting water (she didn’t care).
Had to wake up before midnight for our breakfast / supper (Maggie mee) before heading out for the hike to the summit. Lesson learnt: don’t hike with a big group of people you don’t know because my god we were strolling along instead of hiking. We almost fell asleep while walking; we were on autopilot. Plus there was nothing to see in the dark. It was a different story going down though, the scenery and the flora were amazing and diverse. But first, the summit and the sea of clouds which didn’t disappoint. As the sun rose the fog magically cleared up and it was nothing short of spectacular!
Mt Pulag isn’t a difficult climb at all – compared to Ulap it is actually very accessible for beginners. The only challenging part is how muddy it is, so wear your most beat up shoes (hiking shoes, preferably) and skip the new branded gear. It gets hot near the base in the day so be sure to layer efficiently.
Our guide gave us free rein to chiong down the mountain – sub a liberating feeling! We ended up waiting at the base for almost 2 hours. On the way back to base there was a breathtaking view of the terraces as you can see below. Uplifting for the spirits and made everything seem worthwhile at once.
After leaving the mountains we took a van back to Baguio, quickly bid goodbye to our companions and ran to catch a Victory Liner bus back to Manila. Or so we tried. When we entered the bus terminal we were greeted with hordes of disgruntled passengers and learnt quickly that there were no more tickets left for the buses back to Pasay and our only choice was to join the queue for chance tickets – the queue stretched hundred of meters long it was horrifying and our lives flashed before our eyes. No we didn’t want to stay overnight at the bus terminal with unwashed hair and day old sweat. Thankfully someone up there heard our prayers and two women whom we spoke to about buses back to Manila suggested we go to Cuban instead – turns out they had extra tickets to sell us! At cost price no less. Again, we thought it might be a scam but once again, Filipinos proved us wrong and we were finally on our way back to Manila!
The traffic on the way back… don’t even get me started (how does anyone get anywhere on time in this country??). But the thing was, we did get to Manila eventually at midnight and we did reach our nice hotel to spend the night.
Shall end my Philippines trip here (unless of course, something happens and we don’t manage to fly back tonight). Fingers crossed!