“Okay ra ka diha, ‘te Jo?!” (Are you okay there, ‘te Jo?!) Ice’s voice was almost drowned in the cacophony of rain, thunder, and rushing water inside my tent.
“Di!” (No!) I was holding the poles of the tent, preventing it from flying away. The wind hammered against it to no end. Again, lightning struck. It illuminated the slanted poles and the sagging tent for a split second. Like the tent, I shrank, hoping the lightning could not find us. Then, a thunderous roar filled the small space of the tent.
It became a stage of light and sound in the mountain saddle; and the nature-staged
drama seemed effective, we were daunted.
Myand, the calmest and most experienced among us, advised us to scamper our way to the nipa hut nearby. I stormed out from the tent, me and my bag all soaked. Lightning occasionally lit the narrow path that led to the hut. For that, I was grateful.
Chester had his hammock already set up on the hut’s braces.
“Mas okay diri sa payag,” (It is better here in the hut) he said with the calmness common among Hiligaynon speakers. His Bisaya, contrary to our rather rude tone, sounded soft, rich with long vowels. Agi, the guide, prepared dinner with the nonchalance of a veteran. They were unfazed by the thunderstorm. I would have had the same confidence if I were in my hometown.
We arrived that morning with the sole purpose of climbing Mt. Igcoron. She looks like a woman full of angst, with her rather steep, albeit short slope. From Chester’s place, its three crooked sharp spikes, like a shark’s lower teeth, are more pronounced. It contrasts with the rather uniform horizontalness of the mountain ranges in Valderrama.
The locals, according to Chester, find him unusual for scaling mountains. While others have eyes on the city, he has his on the mountains. Antique has the most interesting mountains in the country.
To see these ranges, it entailed a 12-hour ship ride, a two-and-a-half-hour van ride, a 45-minute jeepney ride, and a rather rocky 15-minute tricycle ride. Yes, the rides, once accumulated, are longer than the trek.
In San Jose de Buenavista, the driver’s eyes darted for possible passengers.
Accustomed to long waits, the passengers looked calm. Once all spaces are occupied—the seats, the aisle, the roof—the old jeepney departs. Inside, an old man held the book This is My Story like his life depended on it. A woman in her late 20s held her sleeping baby against her chest while her eyes wandered outside the window. A mature woman asked the boy by the window about the fish he was selling. She argued the price was higher than usual. The boy’s expectation for a sale disappeared. His brows creased with this remark. I couldn’t catch his retort since it registered as a blur of Hiligaynon. Perhaps he didn’t even notice he was talking to a fish vendor. Three fish buckets occupied the aisle of the jeepney off to Valderrama.
When we reached the jump-off point—Brgy. Binanogan—the barangay captain regarded the clouds looming above the distant ranges with concern. Barefoot, she leaned against the frame of her bamboo-split door while giving some words of caution. The locals are the most learned and experienced about their place.
The sky did not look threatening to me—it had the inviting shade of blue.
We crossed several narrow rivers fit for trekking. But as we neared the saddle, the sky’s mood changed.
Tiki, Ice, Myand, and I abandoned our tents and sardined ourselves in the hut where farmers rest after hours of toiling.
“Kalita ato oy!” (It was so sudden!) exclaimed Ice. No, it was not sudden. The sky shifted from blue to puffy clouds, from puffy to Milton’s visible darkness, to the dire anger of nimbus, then the thunderstorm. As we trekked, the clouds travelled with us.
Talk about the sudden outburst spiced up our dinner of noodles, sardines, and rice.
This kind of meal while unexciting in the city, tastes heavenly in the mountains.
With our stomachs satisfied, we found comfort in the shack while the thunderstorm abated. Chester heard men talking in a distinct Hiligaynon. He invited them over.
One of them held a shotgun.
“Naay mangawat man gyod og baka dinhi. Nya ihawon. Dayon ibaligya,” (There are cow thieves here. They slaughter the cow and sell the meat.) one of them informed. He tucked the shot gun into his left pit with the muzzle pointing to the roof. They encouraged us to share a drink of their Tanduay.
“Gamay ra na, inyoha lang na, ” (Don’t mind us. It is not enough for everyone.) Chester politely declined. Assigned to scout the area for possible cow thieves, they made it more threatening with a bottle of rum.
Holding the shotgun, the man in his alcohol-tinged and overweening conceit claimed he would bury a bullet to the thief’s head.
They left with their bottle half-empty.
Early next morning as the sun sleepily rose, we checked the campsite. Our tents, except Tiki’s, got ravished by the wind. The soft, wet earth and the dew-bearing grass were evidence of the storm past. After breakfast, as the sun erased the reminders of last night’s surge, we started our ascent.
Mt. Igcoron’s slope is a monoculture of giron grass. It looks like overgrown rice. Its tips are heavy with brown grain. It droops to the wind’s direction. Cows and carabaos, I assume, feed on them.
In the middle of our assault, my tummy acted up. Once we reached the ridge, it intensified. It growled unpleasantly. Seeing the rather steep sides of Mt. Igcoron did not help. From where I stood, its peak was an utterly menacing 90° on the left and 70° on the right. I could be wrong. The way I saw it, reaching its peak would require the drunk’s overweening arrogance.
Looking down, the thought of plummeting was almost overwhelming. But the local kids we saw earlier already reached the peak in no time.
Tiki and Ice hesitated in crossing the narrow ridge. Myand calculated the difficulty with his usual calmness.
Chester came up with how-tos for reaching the peak. First, once you step on the knife-edge ridge, relax. Wait for the right time to move forward.
Walk slowly. Once the trail becomes difficult, crawl. Once you are near the summit, breathe and look around and take pride in nature’s beauty.
With the intuition of a farmer’s daughter, I reached the peak without any disheartenment. On the summit, everything looked still—the kind of silence and stillness that settle after the storm. The waters of Cangaranan River parted ways only to meet again. It is a river of meeting, leaving, meeting.
Across the river, the distant peaks of Mt. Nangtud, Madjaas, and Baloy beckoned.
With the uncontrollable storm in my tummy, I left everyone behind and ran the knife-edge ridge with the frightening innocence of a farmer’s daughter.
*Jona Branzuela Bering scales mountains, treks rivers, combs beaches, hops towns, takes photographs, and searches for stories. She always travels with a backpack, books, pens, and notebooks. She blogs at backpackingwithabook.com.