When you have a weekend with time to kill in Manila, you have three choices – 1) You can mall until you fall 2) You can get wet discovering the sparkling blue waters best of which are in the Philippines 3) You can hike up the mountains that are plentiful and easily accessible from the city.
I naturally gravitated towards the third option given that I am a minimalist with no use for shopping and I don’t know how to swim (did I say that out loud?!)
So I started exploring and came across Trail Adventours (www.trailadventours.com) and picked the only one available for that weekend, the trip to Mt. Daraitan.
However, I stopped short of signing up as my fears surfaced – I was in an unknown country and if I signed up I will be doing this with a group of strangers in an unfamiliar terrain. But next morning, there was an email from the team who had noticed the activity on their website. I wrote back with some queries and got an immediate response. I was impressed. Well, a team that is this attentive has got to be good. I signed up.
As I organised for the trip I realised that I had underestimated the effort given that I was living out of a suitcase in a hotel.
For starters I had to carry lunch. The group would depart at 3 AM. How would I arrange something that will keep fresh until lunch time the next day.
And then there was the question of gear. I didn’t have a backpack; or trail shoes; or rain jacket.
But I could make do. I intended it will not rain. My running shoes should do. And I would make a meal out of dried seaweed, dried prunes, cheese, chips and a Snicker bar.
I met up with the team at 3 AM at McDonalds as scheduled. That early morning travail showed me another face of Manila – a city that never sleeps!
I was the only non-local in the group. (That didn’t prove to be an impediment as they translated things from time to time for me as they chatted along merrily in Tagalog)
And we left.
Daraitan is a small mountain in the Rizal province, one among the hills overlooking Luzan bay. You can get to the trail starting point (or “jump off” as the locals call it) in less than 3 hours drive from Metro Manila. During the rainy season and winter, the groups have to cross a river by boat to get to the trail. But since we were in summer and the water level was really low, we could use the rickety bridge to get across. Daraitan village is at the base of the hill and this was to be our last stop to stock on supplies or use the bathroom before we started the climb. After registering our group and paying the fee and a hot cup of local coffee, we were ready to climb.
We had two local guides accompanying us. The trail is a shaded trail, offering enough protection from the sun which can get pretty severe in the summer months. The trail itself was an interesting one, steep with solid strong rooted rocks covered by loose slippery mud. 90% of the trail is vertical forcing you to climb on all fours. I had packed my iPad for the want of a camera and all the imagery I had the previous night about holding the iPad in one hand and walking up the mountain went up in thin air as I had to put it away in my backpack having to use both the hands to look for support. (iPad2 – extra weight on my back; ouch!) But thank God, it didn’t rain!! That trail could be treacherous if wet.
The trail itself was not a hard one especially for those who are fit or trek regularly. But it was daunting for some of the first timers in the group. It is definitely not a walk in the park. It is rated 4 in terms of difficulty but the guide explained that most people classify it a 5.
The path has one or two view points but is mostly covered. After three hours, which included many breaks, we reached the summit. The summit is not a typical open summit, but was a covered one with sharp limestone rocks (these are really sharp rocks and require caution if you attempt to sit on them).
Views of Luzon bay on the way
Sharp limestone rocks at the summit
After a rather long break at the summit for everyone to catch up and have lunch, we started descend around 12.30 pm. Now this was a real test for long forgotten instincts of how to navigate loose rocks. For the most part, I used all fives, with a generous use of my bottom, trying hard to look graceful as I slid down. If I ever thought I had the wrong shoes for this kind of a trek, all the I had to do was take one look at the local guide who was comfortable walking down in these…
The trek down took about two hours and we waited out the mid day sun before we headed out to discover the marble rocks of the Daraitan river. About a kilometer of easy walk, and we reached a spot that looked like heaven with a smooth flowing stream and white rocks jetting out. The water was not enough for a swim and was actually quite warm but nevertheless a refreshing treat to our tired legs.
We walked back to the Daraitan to a sumptuous dinner of local Yomi, made vegetarian on demand at a throw away price of 25 pesos.
All in all, lived the trek and a me away impressed with the clean trails and informative and well prepared local guides (compete with first aid kits) made possible owing to Daraitan being a environmentally protected site.
If you are looking for a day trip around Manila, this is a worthwhile trip and would definitely recommend organizing with http://www.trailadventours.com. Ecoconscious mountain-loving guides and hassle free arrangements.