Sunday, June 22, 2014

Daraitan: Tanay's Hidden Jewel

Tanay, RIZAL
Date: JUN 21-22, 2014

I didn’t know how group tours work and I didn’t know how exciting it was – until this day. Thanks to my officemate who shared her great experiences while joining a group tour. This will be the first time ever that I’ll go on a trip with people I’ve never met, and an exciting adventure awaits us deep within the mountain ranges of Sierra Madre.

Marielle, who is my officemate, told me about this particular group called “Trail Insanity”. She shared her experiences with the group, and how she enjoyed her weekend with them in Zambales. I was a little bit curious on how this kind of trips work, so I decided to join their group on Facebook and see where their next destination will be.

I chose to join them on their trip to Mt. Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal. I paid the registration fee (which was only 600), and I had to prepare myself physically. I stretched in the morning and walked around the village after shift, so that my body will be in condition once the day of the tour comes.


En route to Tanay, Rizal (Photo by: Trail Insanity)
Friday shift came to an end, and it was only 5:00 in the morning. According to our itinerary, the group will leave Cubao at 7:00 AM, but since it was too early for me to leave, I decided to get some sleep for an hour at the quiet room on the 10th floor.

I woke up at 6:00 AM, and went straight to the comfort room to brush my teeth. I went back to my locker afterwards, took my back pack and left. It was 6:20 AM when I got an ordinary bus bound for Cubao, and there were no traffic since it was a Saturday. The trip went quick, and I arrived at Cubao 20 minutes later.

Based on what the event host told me (his name is Sir Jake), the meeting place would be at Puregold Cubao. I walked for a few blocks and noticed two guys sitting at the building’s entrance. They have big knapsacks so I asked them if they were part of the group - and they said yes. I sat near the entrance too, and waited for the host to arrive.

Sir Jake arrived at around 6:50 AM, and invited us to eat breakfast at Jollibee. I followed the group, and ordered beef tapa for myself. We waited for the others at the fast food chain, and after a couple of minutes, we decided to go back to the van that we’ll be using for the tour to wait for the remaining participants. Everyone came in shortly, and at exactly 8:00 AM, the van left.

We took Marcos Highway and had a short stop over at Cogeo in Antipolo City, Rizal. Additional groceries were purchased at a nearby store, and some went outside to have bathroom breaks. I decided to stay inside the van, and waited for the others to come back.

Towering cliffs made of rock near the Tinipak River
It was 9:00 AM when we left Cogeo, and the journey on the way to Tanay continued. The highway that we were traversing offered scenic views of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. The place was picture-perfect: lush mountain ranges piercing through the sky, and then cliffs that run through the side of the mountain forming small waterfalls seen from afar. There were lots of zigzags too, and a lot of signage that warned motorists against rock slides. You can also see dozens of cows, horses and goats that were grazing upon the grasslands located on the rolling hills beside the highway.

We reached Barangay Sampaloc, Tanay, Rizal at 10:00 AM, and Sir Jake went to the market to get additional supplies. I, along with the remaining participants inside the van, decided to go out and eat at a nearby carinderia. We had to take our lunch this early because we will be trekking for hours, and we need additional energy to do that. I ordered chicken afritada for lunch, and paid 50 pesos for my meal.

Tinipak River - cleanest body of water in Region IV-A CALABARZON
After a couple of minutes, Sir Jake went back with all the supplies we need, and we went back to the van and continued our journey to the mountains of Tanay. It was 10:25 AM when we left Barangay Sampaloc. I had to take a nap inside the van since I felt very sleepy that day, and when I woke up 40 minutes later, the highway we were traversing gradually transformed into a rough road. Our location that time was at KM 82, and we just had a wrong turn. We had to go back, and drive for another 17 minutes before we realized that we missed the correct route going to Daraitan. Sir Jake decided to ask a local for the right direction, and what they told us is to have another detour, and then turn left once we spotted the sign going to Daraitan.

Riding the raft (Photo by: Trail Insanity)
Our journey went on, and we drove slowly, paying attention to road signs. We finally found the right way going to Daraitan, and we had to drive on this steep, dirt road for another 30 minutes. A mighty river flows when you reached the end of the road, and since we wanted to keep ourselves dry, we had to ride a raft to cross it. Once we get into the other side of the river bank, we had to ride a tricycle that would take us to the barangay hall.

It was already 12:35 PM when we reached the barangay hall. The first thing that we did is to register our personal information, and then we paid for the tour guides, which would accompany us into the campsite. I also bought additional bottled water from a store which was just a few meters away from the barangay hall. The sky was clear that day, and we started the trek at 1:10 PM.

The horse we met along the way (Photo by: Trail Insanity)
There were lots of trees on this route. It was cool, and the shade of the trees protected us from the sun. The view was great, seeing nature as it is. Butterflies were flying alongside us, and then there was this horse that was tied up on the side of the road. We hesitated to go forward at first, because we thought that the horse might kick us - but Sir Jake, without second thoughts - just moved the horse away from us without him provoking it to go wild. The next thing we did is to cross another river. I had to change the pants that I am wearing into shorts, because I will definitely get wet. We had some hard time crossing the river, because it was kind of slippery, but thank goodness that we made it on the other end safe and sound.

Quezon or Rizal? RIZAL!
The journey goes on, and what I saw next were giant pieces of white rocks and marbles along the side of the river bank. It was a lovely sight, being complimented by the towering Sierra Madre Mountains in the background. We also ran across this sign that says that the territory we are at is actually part of General Nakar, Quezon Province. Our tour guide stated that General Nakar’s territory was still 300 meters up into the mountains, and the Philippine government acknowledges the territory as part of Rizal Province.

As the area becomes more remote, the trail becomes more difficult. We had to climb steep rocks, and then we had to cross smaller rivers. It was exhausting, but at the end of the line, we saw something great – a hidden pool of blue-green water that we can swim upon. We took this break to relax, and some even went further – climbing the nearby rock formation and went cliff diving.

The beautiful Tinipak River
After enjoying the cold waters from the pool, we started building our camp at around 3:30 PM. I don’t have any tent, so I asked a fellow group mate (Sir Jessie) if I could sleep inside his tent. He agreed, and then I helped him set up his tent. The sky went dark after a few minutes, and then it rained. The rain continued for 30 minutes, and then it stopped. We continued on setting up our camp, and when we were done, we headed into this cave just across the river to do spelunking.

Building our camp
It was my first time exploring a cave, and I felt uneasy. It was too hard to breathe, and my mind kept on giving me thoughts about being buried underneath if an earthquake occurred. We went into the dark chambers of the cave, armed with our flashlights and cameras. Our tour guide (Sir Madelo) led the way, and he showed us the stalactites inside, reflecting the beam of light from our flashlights. These stones glow, and I even saw minerals growing from them. Sir Madelo said that it was forbidden to take these stalactites away, as it would cause the cave to deteriorate.

Rushing sound of water can also be heard inside the cave, and I thought it was from the river outside – but I was wrong. In fact, the sound came from a subterranean river inside the cave. We took a dip, and the water was very cold – similar to melted ice. I also noticed the smoke coming out of my body. Sir Madelo said that it was because the environment inside the cave was cold, and it was heat coming out of our body. We did not stay for too long inside the cave because dusk is just around the corner. We went back to our camp and waited for our dinner to be cooked.

The ice cold water of a pool inside the cave (Photo by: Trail Insanity)
The food for tonight was chicken tinola, and as we were enjoying our meal, it rained again. The rain was so hard, that reports of the river overflowing surfaced. We took shelter from the rain at a nearby cave, which was already occupied by another group of campers. It rained for the next 2 hours, and by 7:30 PM, it stopped. We were so thankful that it didn’t rain throughout the night.

What the group did next was to set up a bonfire. We sat near the flame - encircling it - and started doing some socials. We shared stories, had fun, and learned something new. While the others were still enjoying the night, I decided to sleep early at 9 PM because we will be climbing Mt. Daraitan the next day.

Crossing the river (Photo by: Trail Insanity)

Boulders made of marble
Cold breeze coming from the mountains woke me up. In my surprise, the tent was also filled with dew – and it was very wet. I decided to go outside and see what others are doing - Sir Jake was already preparing our breakfast, and some were swimming in the river.

I grabbed myself a cup of warm coffee and sat near a boulder made of white marble and looked into the horizon as I sipped it. I saw birds and bats – thousands of them – flying through the sky. The sun’s golden rays were also penetrating through the thick forests on the cliffs above our camps. And then there was the turquoise blue water from the river that cuts through the giant rocks. The view from where I was sitting was very lovely. It was picturesque, and was very perfect.

After enjoying the view and my coffee, I went back to get my breakfast. I ate adobo that morning, and because we will be climbing the mountain this noon, I had to fill myself up with energy, and ate much. That meal was great, and I cleaned up my plates afterward.

Taking group photos while swimming (Photo by: Allen Cruz)
I joined the others who went back to the river to swim. We enjoyed every moment that we have and took countless photos at the river. I went near the miniature waterfalls, and had my back massaged by the force coming from the water. I also swam with the fish found at a nearby pool, and just gave myself some relaxation. We were having so much fun!

Time flies so fast, and we didn’t notice that it was time for us to leave. Everyone went back to the camp to clean up everything, and they started to put away their tents and loaded up their stuff inside their bags. I helped Sir Jessie to pack his tent back to its bag, and then I grabbed my own bag and we started the trek back to the barangay hall.

We took a different route this time, far away from the river. We climbed steep rocks and went inside the woods. There were mud everywhere, and the trail was somewhat slippery, but after walking for a couple of minutes, we managed to reach a store and bought refreshments to cool ourselves down.

Thinking deeply (Photo by: Allen Cruz)
The journey continued after taking a short rest, and by 11:10 AM, we reached the barangay hall. We took another rest before climbing Mt. Daraitan, and by this time, only six of us decided to ascend to the summit. The group stated that we should bring extra water to quench our thirst during the climb, so before the trek starts, I bought an additional bottled water and placed it inside my bag.

It is now 11:28 AM, and the trek to Mt. Daraitan’s summit officially begins. Our guide, Sir Madelo, told us that we will be taking the short route. We headed to this road that goes through the barangay gymnasium, and then shortly, the paved road turned into a forest trail. This will be my first “true” mountain climbing activity, and the route we took was not that easy. It was very slippery, and there were mud everywhere. We had to take a rest once in a while, because the route was steep. I even learned a new term, “assault”, which means climbing the mountain in a very steep trail.

Final Six (from left to right: Sir Madelo, TJ, Christian, Jana, Shei, Jessie)
The rests that we were taking last only for two short minutes, and after taking a break, we had to move on so that we can reach the top in a short period of time. Sir Madelo also showed us some hazards when going on a climb – one of these was a plant that causes an agonizing itch to anyone who dares to touch its leaves. I really learned a lot about surviving inside a mountainous forest, thanks to our clever guide!

An hour had passed since we started the climb, and Sir Madelo told me that we were only 40% accomplished. The exhaustion that I felt that time was severe. My knees were shaking, and I felt dehydrated, and my water source was quickly running out. My body wanted to surrender, but my mind kept on telling me to move on and conquer the mountain. I followed my mind, and tried to forget the pain and exhaustion.

After resting for a few minutes, we decided to continue hiking. The trail became denser and more inhospitable as we ascent, and the area was filled with lots of wild plants. I also felt cold inside this thick forest, and there were the buzzes coming from different insects all around me. I felt wasted and exhausted, so I asked our guide, Sir Madelo, to make a wooden staff for me to hold on.  He took his jungle bolo and cut off a nearby branch and made me one.

We kept on walking inside the thick forest for minutes, and at 1:44 PM, we finally reached Mt. Daraitan’s summit. This was the first time that I conquered a “real” mountain (I already scaled two mountains before – Mt. Samat and Mt. Taal – however, these mountains have developed trails - and even roads - and the challenge of climbing it already disappeared). The scenery was picturesque when viewed from the top – you could see the clouds, the mountain ranges of Sierra Madre, Laguna de Bay, and then Rizal’s neighboring provinces.

The view at the first peak
Our guide told us that the place where we were standing is just the first peak. I took lots of photos and videos, and enjoyed the scenery that I was seeing above the mountain top. We also stepped on sharp rock formations at the peak and snapped some photos – and I just can’t help myself from being mesmerized by what I was seeing. After staying at the first peak of Mt. Daraitan, we decided to move onto the second peak – which was just a few meters from where we are. The view from the second peak was dazzling – you could see the heart-shaped river carving through the dense forest of Sierra Madre, and there were more rock formations. There was fresh air everywhere, so I drew in lots of it inside me, and it felt invigorating. And then I saw my co-mountaineers turning into daredevils by scaling through the steep and sharp cliff beside the peak. I felt dizzy just by looking down and I admired them for their courage!

The view at the second peak
I didn’t know how to describe the feeling I experienced that time. This feat was an achievement for me, and what travel bloggers say on the internet is true – that once you started climbing mountains, you would not dare to stop because you would love to do it over and over again - because this activity is somewhat addicting.

Daredevil snapshot
We went back to the first peak after a few minutes, and Sir Madelo gave us something to eat (bread). It was already 2:55 PM, and we decided to go down before night fall comes. We traversed a different trail - the one they say to be the shortest – but it was very challenging. It was steep, and there were lots of loose rocks that would fall and break every time you step on it. The trail was also muddy and slippery and we had to proceed with caution.

This climb was a life threatening one because aside from the steep and slippery trail, it suddenly rained, and we only have a few hours before night time, which would make everything worse. My prayer that time was for us to reach the base before dusk. I also slipped several times because of the traction-less shoes that I was wearing.

Time was running fast. We have to extend additional effort to reach the base before night comes. The only thing my mind was telling me that time is to go down the mountain safe and sound. My companions descended the mountain quickly – and I forced myself to do the same. It took us almost 2 hours to reach the base, and we finally made it to the Barangay hall by 4:45 PM. Our companions were waiting at the barangay hall, and then they gave us something to eat – a mouthwatering serving of “sinampalukang manok” for lunch. I satisfied my hunger with the meal they prepared for us and then I went to a nearby establishment to take a bath.

Group shot at the first peak
We packed our bags later that afternoon and then took some group photos. And then, we rode the tricycle that would take us back to the riverbed. Waiting at the riverbed were the rafts that would take us to the other side of the river where our van is parked. It was already 6:31 PM when our van left Daraitan for Manila. Tired and exhausted, I decided to take a nap inside the van. I woke up an hour later and asked Sir Jake to drop me off near Sta. Lucia Mall. I bid farewell to the group and promised to join them on their next adventures. I rode a jeep from here bound for Taytay and went home at exactly 9:00 PM.

I can say that I was very lucky I met Trail Insanity – thanks to Marielle, my officemate who referred me to the group. I know that this is just the beginning. Meeting this group is a game changer to my life as a traveler – and I wonder what other experiences await now that I already infiltrated the wonderful world of mountaineering. Witnessing God’s creation from the mountain top is marvelous, and I can’t wait to climb another one.

Mt. Daraitan conquered!
Want to go on an adventure with TRAIL INSANITY? Join their group on Facebook (click here) and check out their awesome events calendar!

Expenses - Rizal (as of June 21, 2014)

1. First Time Group Tour
2. First "Real" Mountain Conquered: Mt. Daraitan
3. First Time Spelunking

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