Before I got hook with the hit TV series, “LOST” there was my Balbalasan experience. It has already been ten years that had gone by since the time when what I am about to relate transpired. Much of the actual details may have already faded in my memory. However, much of the lessons gained from the experience remain vivid, which is why in some way, I believe, it is still worth bringing out into the open once again this exciting moment. In hope that the experience will not in anyway, dampened spirit of the intrepid or discouraged anyone from taking part in any similar ventures in the future.
Doing field work in far flung areas in any places in the Philippines is nothing new to me. My five years of tour of duty at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) had thrown me to various field assignments that really enriched my experience more than the monetary compensation I have ever received working for the government’s premier cultural agency. I have flown to Batanes on an airplane that later found itself in headline of the news when it crushed. I have sailed to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi on a slow sea-worthy questionable ship. Had a city tour of Jolo, Sulu on “padyak” at a time Abu Sayaf was busy hugging the news for kidnapping left and right and had the opportunity to witness the internment in Nabalicong, Buguias, Benguet, the “Alps of the Cordillera” of one of the historic and cultural hero/deity venerated jointly by the Ifugao, Kankana-ey and Ibaloi, the smiling 500 year old mummy, Apo Annu. Except for few bruises and occasional cuts from my previous assignments because I am naturally accident prone and a little bit “lampa”, I otherwise escaped them unscathed to live and leave for another assignment. But nothing prepared me for the experience I had, when I got lost in the mountain of Balbalasan, Kalinga on the way to Gacab, Malibcong, Abra. For it actually drilled on me how fragile and tenuous hold we have on our lives.
On November 26, 2004 as part of my earning a Masters degree on Cultural
Heritage Studies in UST, I joined the UST Center for Conservation of Cultural Properties and the Environment in the Tropic’s (CCCPET) project on SIBAT’s (an NGO) request for assistance. The effort was to help the Banao cultural communities of Kalinga and the Tinguian cultural community of Abra, preserve their culture by giving them a seminar workshop that will teach them to do inventory and document their culture through cultural mapping. The trip to Balbalasan, Kalinga took almost more than a day. 12 hours via Auto Bus from Manila to Tabuk and another more than 12 hours to reach Balbalasan because the vehicle that was suppose to take us to the place broke down and we have to hike until the vehicle could once again ferret us. Aside from the long hike the peril of the travel as our guide outlined to us aside from the occasional tribal internecine the path we were taking was an NPA infested area, so we have to be very careful, avoid calling too much attention towards ourselves and prodded not to stay long to wait for the vehicle to get running again. Our guide went ahead to hike and has eventually gained quite a distance already. He was determined not to get caught by darkness farther from his abode. Our professor told me to go ahead and follow our guide while our professor volunteered to wait for the rest of our team to catch up. This was the first time I got separated from my companions. I did not know this was ominous. As evening was spreading its sheet filled with stars, a vehicle filled with sacks of rice passed by and stopped. Our guide and I boarded it. Riding the vehicle lying face down on top of the sacks I arrived at my guide’s village. It was already dark. My colleagues were nowhere in sight. I pined the question, are they aware of my where about as I was about theirs? I had dinner with our guide and his spouse. At around 8:00 p.m. as I was about to turn in for the evening, I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle from a distance. It was unusual for vehicles in remote areas in the province to travel in the evening. So, I was full of anticipation that the only ones who can encourage locals to break habits are those from not within the area. So, I quickly packed my things and waited to be told of the news. My companions finally arrived indeed and took me with them. Along the way, there was an area where cellular phone signals managed to break through. So, for a brief moment I was connected again with the outside world and to my place of origin and was able to send text messages to my friends in Manila. We arrived at the mission center at around 9:30 p.m. We were supposed to hold the seminar-workshop the afternoon of that same day but because we could not make it on time, it was reset for the next day. We ate dinner, scared ourselves with ghost stories and finally slept.
We were able to deliver our service to the Banao community the next day without any incident or an inkling of anything coming. We finished the activity at a little pass lunch time. We were in good spirit having accomplished half of what we came for. However, the next community we were going to was in Gacab, Malibcong, Abra, about 6 to 7 hours hike if we follow the road and if ever evening caught us, we will be at the mercy of darkness because there was no electricity in the area. There was also the possibility of a landslide covered road awaiting us along the way. However, as in the reality TV show, “Amazing Race” we have another option, a Detour. We can choose to trek across the mountain. The travel might only take about 3 to 4 hours. But the difficulty lies at the terrain not being a flat ground with extremely steep elevation and the trail might be a little bit slippery. One of our colleague a medical doctor from FEU was earlier had a sprained ankle might find the journey unpleasant. Otherwise, we will have a chance to test our mettle in mountain climbing. A challenge everyone was looking forward to face. The thing is if we could make it to Malibcong before dark, we could hold the seminar-workshop that evening and be off to Manila the next day via Abra and be back to our classes on Monday or Wednesday with still time for a day’s rest. We chose the latter option.
Since we figured that our destination was near, we thought, we won’t need to bring along so much weight around ourselves in order not to be cumbersome when we assault the mountain. We left what we thought were not necessary along the trek; mostly canned goods and big bottled water. By the time we left the mission center and started with the trek it was already around three in the afternoon. I am used to a lot of walking and therefore, was able to pace myself quite well notwithstanding I was carrying a big backpack that has a four-day supply of clothing and camera equipment. Most of the way I was at the lead of the trail following closely our guide while keeping watch of our lady poet and tattooed strewn companion whom I developed a crush. However, our group was really moving very slowly that soon we began to separate wider apart from one another especially our colleagues, who were with our other companion with a sprained ankle. Darkness was also slowly creeping in. I arrived on the flat summit of the mountain we were assaulting along with our guide and his kid. We could hear from the distance below us our colleagues calling out for assistance because it was already dark. I had the other half of the pair of two-way radio and was calling to our companion who was at the other end of the trail to ask about their situation. But the 100 meter strong signal that the radio can cover was obstructed and couldn’t reach the other line. Those who brought flashlights found theirs not working while the others whose flashlights were working had their batteries slowly running low and soon to be discharged as well. Our guide immediately went back down the trail and tried to assist the others, while I was left with the guide’s kid accompanying me.
In spite of the darkness all around us, I was still trying to make out the outline of the horizon and admire the breathtaking view displaying in front of us. That was when all of a sudden something went wrong. I could not remember anything that had happened at that moment. What I know now that I did, was told to me by the person whom later found me said had gathered the facts from his interview of the kid who was with me on top of that mountain. The kid’s story stated that I stood up (that was probably when I was admiring the horizon) and then without saying anything to the kid, I just walked out of our spot and was never seen again by the kid. The kid did not give much thought about it. Maybe he thought that I was probably going to take a leak. Later when everyone reached the spot where I was, they just assumed that I went ahead. After all I got separated already from the group the day before but was safely able to rejoin the group again. For my part, when senses came back to me, what I recall of that moment was that I was walking to an unknown path that I kept beaming my flashlight at while mumbling to myself that there’s a trail somewhere that I was supposed to be following. When finally I got hold of my faculties, it dawn to me that I was hopelessly lost. However, before I could stop myself to consider my situation, I stepped on a part of the ground that suddenly gave in. I fell and was stumbling downward on what appeared to be a ravine that I stepped over. While I was sliding downward, the flashlight I was holding got knocked off from my hand. When I tried to reach for it, out from nowhere a stick managed to yank off my eyeglasses and it disappeared. I got hold of my flashlight again. I was sliding down for quite a while into a depth I could not determine.
Upon reaching the bottom I landed on stagnant water. All around me was pitched dark. Impenetrable to my flashlight’s light. I groped my way around occasionally brushing and touching along plants with thorns. From a short distance, I heard the sound of water gushing. I blindly walked my way towards it until finally I could see the stream and the canopy of the evening sky. Fearing hypotherma might ensue, I decided to unpack my backpack, which was still strapped to me the whole time and was actually cushioning my slide. I suited up my entire clothes then proceed to ponder my situation. I figured that since I could not locate where I came from and considered also the idea that my colleagues would not probably risk looking for me in the evening, I decided to stay put and spent the night within the area. I took out my sleeping bag and sought a higher and safer ground, set my sleeping bag pinned between the huge trunks of two trees. Amidst the drizzling evening illumined only by the star strewn sky and lichen or mushroom, I tried to sleep. But sleep was intermittently. In spite of the layers of clothing and my fetal position inside my sleeping bag, I felt cold and damp. I was scared too. Every once in a while I tried to peek from the cover of my sleeping bag to survey my surrounding. Sleep finally overtook me. At around 4:00 a.m. while still dark, I was roused from sleep to the sound of what I thought were voices coming from a certain direction which earlier in the evening I thought was some kind of a pathway. I tried to train my flashlight towards the direction but nothing of any kind of response came from the direction. The voices sound distant and kind of muffled. Maybe they thought that I was just camping out so they did not paid attention to me. Thinking that daylight was still a few hours away, I willed myself to sleep again. When the light of the morning finally broke and I could already see clearly the details of my surrounding, I saw to my dismay that what I thought of as a pathway was actually nothing but the mountain’s side with thriving thick bushes. There couldn’t possibly be anybody standing or walking in that area because it was inclined steep and foliaged.
Even with daylight all around, I could not still determine where exactly I fell from. When I tried to climb up the side of the mountain, I considered as likely candidate where I fell from, it was covered with so much thorny plants and sharp leaves vines that after about half an hour of trying I soon was force to give up. Impatient of my situation and having paranoia that there might be no one actually looking for me, I decided to find my way on my own. I chose to follow the direction of the stream, which I thought if I followed the direction of the flow of the stream, it might lead me to a community or perhaps lead me back to the village where we came from. I remember when we left that village we passed over a bridge with the stream flowing towards the village.
I started hiking a little after perhaps 8:00 a.m. With no food provision with me, the moment I saw a red round fruit like object on the ground I picked it up and tried to bite on it. But the surface was hard and doesn’t want to be bitten off. I tried again but it simply won’t let me take a piece of it. I placed the fruit in one of my pocket. I had a change of mood, from being a little bit worried I was actually feeling kind of high spirited. I was even imagining what would have I said to the media if I was found. I was convinced that by that time my colleagues might have reached Malibcong and learned that I did not arrived there, they would probably be informing authorities and the local media of my disappearance. A search and rescue operation would have ensued. That was why I was also paying attention to any sound of aircraft that might be doing an aerial sweep of the area. It did not bother me at that time that the sky is a little bit overcast and from time to time precipitated. The stream kept on bending left and right and every time I thought I was nearing human presence because of voices I thought I heard nearby, the more I encountered bend with no sign of human presence. Further inland or on top of the mountain I also kept hearing the crowing of roosters and barking of dogs which further made me believe I was nearing human habitation. But without my eyeglasses, I couldn’t see farther and confirm any visible sign that I was indeed nearing one. I could not keep abreast with the stream because there were portions that the bank of the stream I was treading on was so steep especially when the stream reached sharp drop and resembles a falls. I have to scale the side of the mountain to reach to the lower portion of the stream. At one time I nearly fell straight into the water with boulders at its bottom when I tried to cling to a tree trunk that had gotten soft and rotten and gave away. Again, thankfully my backpack halted my descent just as when my feet was about to hit the water. I thought maybe if I climb to a higher ground I could see further what lies ahead and maybe even find signs of people. I left the side of the stream and followed what positively looks like was a man-made trail going upwards to the mountain side until it led to the top of the mountain. I will later learn from the locals that they were actually hunters’ trail that usually was used by hunter during the summer season when there are plenty of animals around. I was beginning to feel all sorts of feeling stewing inside me: frustration, excitement, fear, whatever. I could not convince myself that I was actually lost in the mountains of Kalinga. It was so surreal and like I was just dreaming of the episode. I was also worried for UST because about two to three weeks before we set for Kalinga, a UST Mountaineer died on Mount Halcon in Mindoro when this lady nursing student tried to catch up with her companions all by herself. She seems to have slipped or fallen on a ravine. Her body was later found by Mangyan locals and was already in advance state of decomposition. Was I going to follow suit? I was even starting to blame in my mind the person who thought of the idea of crossing the mountain over the choice of taking a long hike on flat land. What went wrong with me on top of that mountain? Why was this happening to me? I remembered when we were just still hiking with my companion on a much earlier stage of our assault to Malibcong, I jokingly told a companion that this was where Maria Makiling of Mt. Banahaw and Maria Sinukuan of Mt. Arayat probably spent their vacation. But I told that because I found the sight so beautiful. The forest sprites might have taken offense at this crack and decided to punish me.
Just before noon I reached the summit of the mountain. When I scanned the horizon, I saw lots of other mountains similar to where I was standing. I couldn’t see any familiar sign of human habitation hundreds of kilometers away. As far as what was registering to my mind then was that I am hopelessly lost and there is no sign I could easily be found. The combination of the cold front brought about by December month and unknown to me then, was an approaching typhoon that would later wrecked havoc in Aurora, Quezon, made the air occasionally foggy and overcast. Rain was on and off. I was all of a sudden feeling tired and sleepy. The thought of hypotherma was never far from my mind. I cannot sleep or I won’t wake up again. In my frustration I moved away from the sight of the horizon. The temptation to sit, rest and sleep was becoming stronger and irresistible by the minute. I cried thinking of the kind of death that awaits me as the situation impinged on me. I thought of my books and DVD collection that I tried to built. I haven’t even read or watched a third of my collection. Worst, the image of the dead UST mountaineer kept creeping on my mind. I was thinking about whether my body in what ever state of decomposition will ever be found or will I simply disappeared like a myth. I found myself a tree and sat. I was never a prayerful person, I even at times doubted God intervening in human lives, but at that moment I started to pray and sought not to let me lose my life in this manner. In the back of my mind there was still a part of me that was not convinced that this is how I will spend my last moments on earth. I was getting drunkenly groggy. I was not fighting sleep off anymore. It was pleasant and calm to give in. I slept.
By around 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon, I woke up. I was never before so happy to be alive. Best of all I felt renewed with strength flowing inside me. I felt positively good that my perspective of getting back to civilization was attainable. I decided if I am to trek for some time, I should travel even more lightly. I have to leave behind my backpack. Carry only a sling bag containing essential things; my sleeping bag, my camera, wallet and my 7210 cellular phone that was no longer working.
I followed once again the trail that earlier led me to my location, there was a fork on the trail. The first fork simply encircled a wide area and brought me back to where I started near the tree where I left my backpack. The other fork of the trail led me toward a canopied of tall trees. I followed this path until I saw that the trail was somewhat descending the mountain. However, it was getting darker again and the rain was beginning to get a bit stronger. The strong winds hitting the trees seem to give a howling sound. Without light, for my flashlight’s batteries had already run out I decided to spend the evening not leaving the trail I was pretty much sure was leading to the foot of the mountain, lest the forest sprites played a trick on me again. I curled up inside my sleeping bag. Rain was sputtering on my sleeping bag. I felt “limatics” or tiny leech-like worms that suck blood congregating at my lower extremities. I couldn’t anymore bother to remove them, for if I move I might lose the warmth I was trying to keep. I also set my sleeping bag leveled with the trail I was trying to kept watch; that is in inclined position that was why I was precariously on the verge of slipping downwards. I wasn’t thinking properly then when I set it that way. I felt strongly about not losing sight of the trail. Losing blood to the bloody suckers was least of my concern then.
Another evening had gone by. I was pretty excited thinking getting off the mountain was within hiking distance. I examine my legs where the leeches feasted on my blood. There were dark swollen patches a tale-tell sign where the blood suckers had bitten. I suddenly became aware of my other many cuts and bruises from my legs to my arms and most especially my hands which for several times had gotten hold of stems riddled with thorns. I’m sure even my face was not spared. Some of the cuts sting in pain.
I set off to trace the trail I was guarding my life with. However, the trail snaked through the forest was proving to be elusive as it thinned out until it disappeared. I was being led not actually downward the slope of the mountain. The trail just simply vanished. There were more ravines in every turn. Several feet below it was the stream. I tried to round back where the trail was still faintly visible. I look around where the trail might have branched off that I did not earlier notice. For some time I was frantic in my search for the trail. I caught sight of the trail again after what must be about half an hour search. I followed it like mad until it seems to lead to a clearing ahead beyond the canopy of trees. I felt the hour of my liberation had certainly arrived, especially when I felt a certain sense of familiarity on what I was seeing beyond the canopy. I was thinking that I might be looking at the original path that we have taken two days before my fall when we were still climbing to the summit together. I rushed toward the portal like opening. My heart was pounding with excitement. I was racing toward the direction where an awfully familiar reference was tugging me along to reach it – a tree. I had broken outside of the canopy and out to the broad view of the sunlight. I inched closer to the spot. I was on the verge of weeping again. It cannot be. But no amount of brushing aside could conceal the fact that I was staring at the red colored backpack I left standing underneath the familiar tree which was the one I napped at the day before. I was still very much lost.
The fruit that I found a day ago remain indestructible for my teeth. I pulled out my UST I.D. among the littered content of my backpack. I figured if I am to be found lifeless or worst in state of putrid at least I have something to identify me with. The time was already nearing noon. I was aware that if I am to get off the mountain, it must be sooner or I can’t simply spend another evening in the mountain. I was way too doused with rain to withstand another evening’s cold air to remain alive. I launched myself into another direction. But I have loss altogether my bearing and composure. I was merely ploughing my way through grasses and shrubs toward what I perceived was the direction going to the stream below. I might as well follow the flow of the stream again. I was way too exhausted. My strength must have been really spent. Once again I was confronted with another ravine. I was so frustrated I cried again and spoke to myself saying this is not the way for me to go. But I felt I don’t have anywhere else to go. I just kept on encircling the mountain no matter what path to take. It was already nearing 3:00 in the afternoon by my estimate. The hour of great mercy, the time Christ gave his life away. The sky then was threatening rain again. All of a sudden a strange calmness enveloped me. I realized and slowly beginning to accept the futility of my venture. I might as well resist resisting the inevitable. Accept my fate. I unrolled my sleeping bag which all along had been my refuge against the cold and rain in the evenings I spent at the forest and an obstacle which had kept on untangling and unrolling that it had cumbersome me during the chase for what I thought was the trail down the mountain. It seems it would now be my death bed too. I unrolled the sleeping bag on a surface that has an unobstructed view from the sky. Just in case the fog that might have made flying an aircraft difficult relented. I laid my things to the ground. Then I too laid myself on the sleeping bag pondering what it would be like to die. I tried to search my heart for any special person I would be missing or would be missing me most. I cried. I can’t remember anyone. I started praying or more or else converse with God about how was I really as a person.
I was trying to encourage myself to be a bit more positive and take it as a new adventure what awaits me when I thought I heard someone spoke amidst the sound of the gushing of the stream. I thought I must be hallucinating brought about by my sordid situation. But there it was again initially faint almost indistinguishable. But once I trained my ears toward it, it become unmistakably from someone – a male human speaking. He was speaking in what probably a local language. I shouted at it. I cried, “saklolo! Nawawala po ako” (“help I am lost”) I was presuming whoever he was, he must be either a hunter or an NPA operative on scout. But I was past caring of whoever he was. I would rather be a prisoner than be on my own and dying. I once again shouted to introduce myself as one of the UST contingent. The voice responded still in unintelligible language. The voice seems to be coming from below the slope of the ravine I chose to lay at. The voice responded this time in Filipino. It was one from the NGO SIBAT. They were indeed searching for me, I thought. I stood up I was getting anxious. He asked my exact spot. I described him the feature of my location. He initially asked me to try to climb down the ravine but changed his mind and said to me to stay put. He said he will send someone to reach me. I could not describe what emotional upheaval I felt inside me then. I was almost numbed from feeling and maybe from being frustrated again. There seems to be discussions among what it sounds like other people. Someone fired a shot from a rifle. It was followed by another. This time other voices from various directions were making their presence known. At the direction coming from behind me the first human I had ever seen since two days ago emerged. He was hacking his way to where I was standing. I was surprised at myself on how I managed to cross those thick plants to get the spot I chose to spent the last hours of my breath. He reached out his hand and I grabbed it as if making sure it was real. It was.
The members of the search party were all waiting at the bank of the stream when I reached it. The head of the party was our contact from SIBAT who is from Balbalasan. But there seem to be another group also present. They were the search party from Gacab, Malibcong where I was supposedly going before I got separated. There was a brief discussion among the two groups. I was asked which group would I want to go with. After learning that the way to Balbalasan is only about 1 kilometer away as compared to Gacab, which will entail me going to another harrowing experience of climbing mountain, considering my current condition, I chose the former.
When Gulliver was able to get off from the tiny Liliputan’s restraints, I thought that was the end of the Gulliver’s travel story. I was not aware that Gulliver had several other adventures. He even got to the land of giants. So likewise, I thought having already found was the end of my ordeal. However, just as when we were about to hike to Balbalasan my strength finally gave in. My adrenalin which probably was the only thing keeping me going in the past two days finally had its cup ran over. I was shivering all over and all my bruises as if in symphony began to hurt like hell. As a result, I was carried like a baby in a sling on the way back to Balbalasan. Those who carried the full-grown man that I am were either way to young or too old. Every time we meet someone along the way immediately he volunteers to help along by taking turn to carry the sling. The terrain was still very much difficult to traverse at it was still up and down hills, across banks of streams and through the forest. When we reached the fringes of the village, people began to gather as if news that a celebrity had just landed in their village spread from people to people. People began to follow us, which kind of remind me of a religious procession. I was brought to one of the house where the village nurse attended to my wounds. People where kibitzing as if waiting for some miracle to be perform. Of course there was nothing of such would occur, even how much I wanted it so that I could return home to Manila that moment. But the people where treated to my stripped performance when I had to take off my clothes to change into another clothes right in front of everyone else. Afterwards, one by one of the village notable personages including our contacts from both side of the mountain came to assess my situation and to listen to my tale. I also learn how my colleagues where doing. I was told that there were two companions of mine decided to remain in Gacab to await any news of my situation while the rest of our companion headed back to Manila that day. I told the representative from Gacab to tell my friends that I was fine but could not any more join them in Gacab. My take of my current situation then made it clear to me that I would be needing few days rest to be able to regain my strength to be fit again for any form of hiking or whatever it take to get back to Manila. However, this instruction for some unknown reason will not be told to my companions. They will be held for a longer time in Gacab much longer that upon my arriving in Manila they were still unaccounted for.
In the evening, I suddenly woke up, I thought I was merely dreaming it but it finally dawned to me that the rhythmic murmuring sound that woke me was the chanting of several people at the other side of the wall of my sleeping quarter for my behalf. They were performing a ritual. It was to wrestle my spirit from who or whatever possessed me and gotten me lost in the mountain. They believe that there were forest and mountain spirits that intentionally get people lost. I later learned that I was luckier I got lost for only a short span of time. There were apparently some who got lost for a week or even a month. But according to the local informant no one had died yet. Unlike what happened to the two dentists who got lost in Mount Makiling, they died when they fell to a ravine. Their other two companions who survived swore they heard voices of several children amidst the forest. They tired to search for the voices hoping it will lead them out of their predicament, but got further lost in the process. The chanting soon slowly lulled me back to slumber.
I only stayed in the village for another day to recuperate. I was told that at that time of my confinement, Luzon was being ravaged by a typhoon. Other than the constant gloomy sky I had no idea that it was already signal number 3 hoisted in Quezon Province while the Cordillera was currently in signal number 2. The typhoon was expected to hit Kalinga the next day. If it does the possibility of being stranded in Balbalasan for a week brought about by impassable road and landslide loomed. So, even thought I was experiencing an idyllic life recuperating in the quiet and pollution-free air village, thinking of the things I left in Manila namely a second crack to life, I expressed my intention to leave Balbalasan for Tabuk the next day as soon as a vehicle was able to ply down the mountain. Against their better judgment of not wanting me to travel in my state, they share my sense of urgency to leave. They concurred with my plan. That evening in spite of the strong winds blowing outside the house that should have made me worried, I quickly fell into a restful sleep. As morning was beginning to break, my benefactors helped me packed my things. Although, the search party have previously recovered my backpack and most of its content, I elected to leave it to my benefactors along with some of the things I could not anymore bring myself to burden me with, such as one of the two-way radio I borrowed from one of my companion, most of my clothes, small bags containing knick knacks and toiletries. I recovered my wallet with cash intact along with ATM card and some identification papers. My Nikon F3 camera was still seemingly working. I will later in Manila recover my zoom lens, which was brought back by Ms. Que my companion who stayed in Gacab and saw one of the locals lugging a small bag with my lens in it. The film rolled inside my camera was gutted with so much moisture that no photo developing shop wanted to risk printing it. My back up camera a Nikon Coolpix digicam use to take picture of myself if no one can operate a manual camera, bid farewell due to moisture. On the other hand, I managed to salvage the memory card in it. The photographs later recovered from the Coolpix camera’s memory card doesn’t contain the shots I took just before I got lost. Those photographs where taken with film were forever lost. I still got my cellular phone. It too was also not working. In the satchel bag that I was bringing along with me, I only included few basic provisions. If there was anything good that came out of the experience at that time it was that I my belly and cellulite containing stored fat disappeared. I seem to have shrunk and was so skinny. There were no other clothes that could fit me. I ended up wearing a large sized jean that in spite of the belt tightly wound around me the pants still kept slipping that I had to hold it up when I walk. I have not shaved for about 5 days so my beard have thickened and when later I saw myself in the mirror there was a huge x shape wound similar to the Samurai X character, “Ken Shin”. The wound matches my thick beard in making me look like a typical fugitive mountain bandit cast as villain in Pinoy cinema. At around 8:00 a.m. the vehicle arrived, the weather was starting to act up reminding us of the need to leave. I was accompanied by someone from the village. It turned out they were still afraid that the forest spirit was still following me and could still make me disappear. Just as what happened to one of the worker from the DPWH who simply relieved himself at the side of the road disappeared and was found only five days later. The typhoon was seemingly almost upon us or was chasing us with our vehicle seemingly ahead of it just by a few meters away. For whenever we got off from one town and another, we saw behind us the mist brought about by torrent rain. We were hurling down the mountain. The wind and rain started to pick up, this time it was pelting hard over our vehicle’s roof. There was a bridge that we had to cross on foot. On the other side was where we took our meal before our final assault to the foot of the mountain and into the town proper. By the time we reached Tabuk it was not difficult to notice that no bus from Manila or going to Manila was plying any more. I got the grim feeling that getting down from the mountain was just a prelude to another gruesome experience. It was already 6:00 p.m. the sky was dark and brimming with its cauldron of precipitation waiting to pour it on. But as a warning to prepare the people around, it was already raining. My companion had me billeted at Davidson hotel in Tabuk. I felt I was in the mountain for months for I almost wept during the hot shower because of how wonderful it felt to my skin and well-being. But upon looking myself at the mirror, I was almost half crazed laughing at myself upon seeing my face for the first time in several days. My wounds started to hurt and itch in some other parts but the sensation of pain had a relaxing sort of feel in it. If I had extra clothing then, I could have thrown the clothes I wore down in the mountain to make sure no spirit was able to track my escape and to Manila. But I only had the barest. The underwear, I was lent and was wearing however would not see the light of Manila. I was famished. My money could still afford me a decent dinner and get me by the next day if worst come to worst that I need to stay for another day in the hotel. But that was for accommodation only. I supped at the hotel’s restaurant. The TV set was on and was blaring news. I was witnessing for the first time what was happening in the world, or at least in Manila and Quezon. I borrowed one of the waitress’s cellular phone. At first, I might have been suspected as a rebel returning to the fold, probably in fear of the lashes of the typhoon in the mountain. However, I mumbled to some effect about my being lost in the mountain and got the sympathy I needed. I placed my SIM card into her cellular phone. There were lot of series of calls and text messages that was sent to me. They no longer bore name. That was kept in the phone book located in the memory of my cellular phone. Whoever, owns the number I was text messaging them. They were the ones I expected to let the world, I mean, those other people I know, know what had befallen of me and that I was finally alright. I copied the numbers appearing in the screen and turned the cellular phone back to the waitress. Paid my bill and headed back to my room. All of a sudden everything turned black. It was a blackout. The typhoon was about to hit, I thought to myself as I whirled toward sleep.
Expecting the worst, that morning, I was instead thunderstruck to what I saw all around me. Instead of destruction, there was stillness. Not even a branch of a tree had fallen. There was a quiet light rain falling outside but there was no telltale sign that the fang of the typhoon had sunk in Kalinga. I learned over breakfast that the typhoon upon hitting the vanguard like mountains of the Cordillera, the typhoon disintegrated into a whimper. With this news I calculated I could be in Manila by early evening tonight. I was seeing the end of my adventure. By the time I settled my bill at the hotel, the rain outside had already stopped. I went outside intending to flag a passing bus bound for Manila. There wasn’t any. I learned that no bus was still plying to and fro Manila. The best option, I thought then, was to go to Tuguegarao, Cagayan where being more urbanized would have more resources for me to work on such as ATM machines, which could provide me with the money I need to last longer. Tuguegarao was still a good hour and a half jeepney ride away. There were plenty of jeepney ride around. In Tuguegarao the sun was striking hard as if it doesn’t know a typhoon threat existed almost just a couple of hours ago. I was limping my way to the nearest cellular phone repair shop, which was inside the mall. I might have appeared strange to the people: wearing large clothes, limping, cut and wound soiled arms, bearded and with an x-scarred face. I entered the mall bought myself a cone of drumstick ice cream and got my cellular phone fixed under the watchful eye of a security guard along with a military garbed customer looking suspiciously at me where I had my cellular phone repaired. I also finally got myself some more cash. At the Autobus station, I called people over the cellular phone using the numbers I scribbled at Davidson Hotel that appeared on the screen of the waitress’ cellular phone. I called my mom especially. She was told of my disappearance only after there was news of my being found was received. My two sisters who earlier were told of my disappearance kept it from my mom. They mauled over themselves how to break the news but ended weeping among themselves. They could not simply bring themselves to tell my mom that I was gone. I called back to one of my companion who already had gotten back to Manila via Abra. I was informed that two of our other companions who elected to remain at Gacab to await my arrival there was still not back from Abra. They continue to elude us regarding what had befallen them. It seems then that there was a sacrificial lamb after all for my being found. The Auto Bus station informed me that no trip was scheduled for some indefinite time. I tried the Victory Liner bus station. It turn out that there were buses bound for Manila. At around 2:00 in the afternoon, I found myself headed for Manila. Two hours after we reached Ilagan Bridge, it was overflowing. The bus turned back for Tuguegarao. It seems my prospect of returning to Manila was again precariously threatened. The bus however, chose to take another route via Santiago. Twelve hours later, I finally was breathing Manila polluted air. I love it. I was back at home. I collapse to my room for in two hours, I will be heading to my class at PWU.