Trailing The Trail Run

When I first ran at the two trail run events, “Merrell Adventure Run 2011” and the “Camaya Coast Aquathlon” the categories I joined at were both in the 10 Kilometers categories. The Camaya Coast Aquathlon claimed the toughest trail run I had between the two. The trail run at the Camaya Coast Aquathlon had about 3 kilometers of uphill run, fair amount of downhill run, flat surfaces and sandy beach shore run. The entirety of the race was done between the time of 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. with the sun streaming its April heat upon the route.

Now come the 21k trail run I recently had courtesy of the Nature’s Trail Discovery Run held at Barangay San Andres, Tanay, Rizal last May 27, 2012. This by far my toughest trail run (here I go again with the claim). The race featured uphill run including more than 45 degrees inclined trail that summits Bangkaan to a view overlooking sea of fog swallowing valleys and hill below. Then after hydrating and eating banana the race took us to a steep inclined down slope trail that left the runner almost with only sliding amidst carabao grass and mud as the viable option to negotiate the route.

Aside from the mountain trail, the rest of the route which covered the four barangays of San Andres, Sto. Nino, Cayabu and Tinucan, were featured with rice fields, four river and a hanging bridge crossings and dirt roads under the watchful eyes of armed military soldiers but less from race marshals.

By the 12th kilometers of the leg of the race my legs were buckling and threatening to quit on me. I was reduced to hiking until I was almost at the last 200 meters of the race. Well, I was not running at the last 4 kilometers of the race because when I caught up with two other runners we end up chatting about our other previous runs and other topics under the sun that we forgot we were in a run event and not in a sight-seeing trip. Two other runners even joined our excursion. It was only after finally some other runners who already finished the race and some race officials who came looking for stragglers and after their prompting us to run the few meters to the finish line that we decided to give it a dash the last 200 meters of the race.  By the time I crossed the finish line four hours and probably past quarter had passed since I left the Starting area. Yes I still got my finisher medal and my name and finished ranking will be taken by Philippine Trail Runner Association (PTRA) to be use in the Philippines Ranking of Trail Runners.  But my pride had been greatly bruised that I want to do it again to redeem myself given a chance on September 2. Oh, wait there’s still the Merrell Adventure Run 2012 the week after.


Beaching About Running the Ku Ikaika

A week before La Union Ku Ikaika Marathon 2012, I was in Calaguas Island, Camarines Norte getting tan while being smothered with the pristine crystal clear water and powdery white sands of its beach. Both seem to be putting Boracay Island’s counterpart a run for its money. Too much development infringing on nature had resulted to green algae besieging Boracay Island’s own white sand beach and crystal clear water, which hopefully will not happen with Calaguas. The following day I was along the surfing beach resort of Bagasbas, Daet, Camarines Norte eyeing both the waves and the babes.

My impression of Bagasbas was that it was like a surfing school ground. The water along the shorelines is not deep but there were plenty of waves to learn and practice the rudiments of surfing. My regret though was that I didn’t attempt to learn surfing while I was there.

I thought the trip to Camarines Norte was rather exquisite prelude to the La Union Ku Ikaika 2012 Marathon, which was to be held then on May 19 at San Juan, La Union. Not only I could be mistaken for a Kenyan with my tan, although I preferred to be simply referred to as “si Khen yan”, I thought I will finally see the surfing town of San Juan one of the country’s top surfing destination lined up along with Siargao, Surigao Del Norte, the town which seem to have started the surfing craze in the country, which I had a chance to visit a very long time ago.

I have no inkling that at the other side of the seemingly bright prospect I was expecting to happen at La Union Ku Ikaika Marathon 2012, things were rather foamy underneath the calm surface of the event. Ku Ikaika is a Polynesian term meaning “Stand Strong”, Very apt expression to impress upon the participants not only to endure the run and its route but to keep their patience up for the many glitches the event was marred. The signs were all out in the open staring at us in the face as the days towards the events winded down.  Race kits release information and assembly place for the transportation to ferry participants to La Union were if not coming in trickle, continuously remain uncertain. On the day of the departure to La Union itself, the assembly point changed its location again as if trying to avoid surveillance satellite up in space.  The arrival of the bus that will bring us to La Union came late topped by the very late arrival of three other participants. By the time the bus embarked it was already past 9:00 am. It did not help that I was in Market Market, Bonifacio Global City as early as 7:00 am because the information I was given was still not complete and I had to anticipate for more of the late breaking announcements just to be on the safe side.

On the road

The chartered Genesis bus (which originally was suppose to be Partas Bus and much earlier a double-decked bus) chose still to have its mandatory lunch stopover at the Genesis Bus Terminal in Tarlac at around 12 noon. Maybe because the were no arrangement for free lunches for the bus driver and bus conductor lunches, the driver opted to have their lunches in the said terminal. Poor participants there were not much choices of meal in that terminal. So, some participants decided to forego eating their lunches for the next stop over at Sison, Pangasinan. Unbeknown to the participants that it was still two hours drive away. Lunch for them was at 2:00 pm.

This was not the only bad news waiting the participants. One of the organizers who boarded the bus with us participants announced that the race kits would be released at the race venue upon our arrival. Then he updated us that the kits would be delivered instead at our respective accommodations later in the evening because the race kits were still not available at the time of our arrival due to the delay of delivery from the supplier. Then about an hour later, again adjusted his announcement saying that the race kits could not possibly be released anytime soon within that day or the evening. The race kits instead may be released the following day, which was the day of the race itself. We were told we may opt to run instead with any tops we want and probably with Pentel Pen marked race bibs.

5:30 pm. the bus finally reach Kahuna Beach Resort in San Juan, La Union. The sky was turning murky.  Looks like rain was lurking behind the clouds to douse our frustrations. Unlucky for some of us participants, our accommodations were still further away from were the resort where the bus unloaded us. Mine was still a good 8 kilometers away and I was not aware of it at that time.  I thought I could just walk to the accommodation for maybe just a few minutes, since it is probably just within the area along the national road with a signage flashing to advertise it. 15 minutes of walking yielded me with still no signs of even a mere announcement in paper that the hotel I am booked was within sight. I hailed a tricycle.  It might have been quite a very long walk if I did not relented. Even though I was dropped at my accommodation I still had no inkling of where it was.  Had I known of this I wouldn’t booked myself to a hotel this distant away from the race event venue.  I simply chose in good faith from among the accommodation the organizers suggested in their Facebook account and since the town San Juan was attached to the address of the accommodation, I thought it was much nearer to the event which was also in San Juan compared with the other suggested accommodations located at San Fernando which was roughly 5 kilometers away from the venue of the event.

Race Day

Thinking I was like at the edge of the province and I need time to travel to the race event I woke up 2:00 am. I was also thinking that the earlier I get my race kit the earlier I can limber up with my routine warm ups. I contracted the tricycle that brought me to my accommodation to pick me up at 3:00 am.

Upon my arrival at the venue I noticed there was already bedlam. Participants, some whom just recently arrived from Manila and other places, were pouring in at the registration table to claim their respective race kits. However, only the race bib was being released. I got my personalized race bib with “Fernando” instead of number written on it. I did not remember preferring to put “Fernando” as my personalized race bib. I usually go for “Ken” or “Khen” or the full “Fernando Torres”. Where is the glory in being just Fernando? Anyway, by the time I got my race bib, the race singlets were delivered. More pandemonium ensued in the claiming of the singlets. I had no idea that the sizes of the singlets were too small. Have I known it I would probably be among those trying to have their singlet change size further exacerbating the melee.

At 4:45 a.m. the 42k runners were given their gun start. About 15 minutes later we, the 21k runners were sent off. Manila North Road was still bathed in darkness. I was not rushing for I intended to enjoy the route.  The 21k route was basically flat land except in the last 2 kilometers of the race, which was at the beachfront therefore sandy. The route would take us from Kahuna Beach Resort, which lies along the Manila North Road until San Juan town proper where we turned left passing rice/tobacco field with stench of hogs’ dump hanging in the air. I learned later that there were runners at this early leg of the race got nauseous. The 21k turn around was just beyond Cabaroan Bridge before the town of San Gabriel and then back towards San Juan and straight into the coast. For reasons that maybe I was just hungry or that it has been awhile since I ran 21k, I felt my stamina was a bit low. I was somehow struggling and running slower maybe.  By the time I reached the sandy area of the beach run portion of the race I learned that there were only about 2 kilometers separating me from capping another finisher medal. I felt elated especially when missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saint both local and foreign ones welcomed and egged us to go on. Having experienced Skyathon Beach Run twice and recently the Camaya Coast Run, I learned a few good lessons about beach running. I took off my shoes and headed along the shoreline where water surges in. It was supposedly the more compact portion of the beach. But San Juan’s beach seems to defy this. There were lots of portions that the sand were simply too soft and my feet sank deeply thereby slowing and tiring me further.  So, I also walked most of the length of the beach as others were doing it. Then upon reaching the last 500 meters I returned to the sea part of the beach, which was now more compact and I sprinted. Few meters more I was back at sands but I thought I left the others far behind that I could afford now to slow down my rush to the finish line. I clocked my finish at 2:46:01. There were talks however that there were three kilometers extra on our run. I was hoping this was true for it means I finished around 2:30 hours.

The Woe Continues

As I crossed the finish line arch the race marshal assigned to meet us at the other side of the arch was collecting our race bib in the manner similarly being done with detachable tag containing spindle hole for time keeping purposes before the onset of electronic timing chips were introduced in local running events. Lately, races utilizes race bibs that have at its upper portion a flap with an electronic chips embedded in it, such as those provided by Runningmate Company. This portion was the one being torn off. But the race bib issued to us had no electronic chips embedded in it neither a spindle hole. So, it was a curious thing that our race bib had to be collected. For runners race bib are quite precious souvenir of the race they just participated with. You see them proudly attach their race bibs at their bags as they leave the race venue and later the bibs would likewise be displayed at home like college diploma.  Therefore no runner would want to part with his race bib especially if it was personalized like mine.   But I was exhausted. Arguing was the very lasting I want to do at that moment. So, I reluctantly tore off from my chest the race bib and gave it to the marshal. It would later turn out that losing my race bib was the least of the concerns that would be lodged to the organizers later that day.

At around 8:30 am I was back at my accommodation but not before I still managed to get lost on my way back.

After showering off, breakfasted, taken a nap, watched the end part of the play off with Oklahoma Thunder winning over Lakers in game number 3 replay t the television set, checked out of the hotel and a lunch at San Fernando town proper, I went back to Kahuna Beach Resort intending to while away time before boarding the bus going back to Manila. I thought that with the race event over things would settle down and be quieter at the venue. I planned to take some photograph with my Fuji x-10 or find a comfortable corner to sleep or something. But this was not to be the case.

8 hours after gun start, the 42 k runners were just returning and crossing the finish line arch that was already taken down by the organizers, with harrowing tale as if they just came from an epic wild adventure. It seems that the route of the 42 K was more than what the participants had expected. Their route which in part was similar with the 21k turned rather terribly extreme at the portion where they forked away from the 21 K on their way to Bacsil Ridge an historic landmark in La Union.  Their route featured off-road trail littered with fallen overripe fruits, muddy road and a 45 degrees inclined uphill run. As a result the route had taken toll of the participants. I was told there were those that quitted the race. The 4 Kenyans who run this race category when the got out of this portion of the race and on their way to San Gabriel for the turn about, they were pretty much shaken.  There was even this 70-year old priest from Lingayen who run the 42 k created great concern and consternation to the organizers. Apparently in spite of the sun streaking high and angrily and the plea of the organizers, police, medical-rescue team for this fellow to quit the race, this fellow stubbornly “standing strong” persisted to finish the race.  I was at the organizers table when I heard about this. I was at the table trying to salvage my race bibs, which apparently the organizers decided that it was not necessary to collect the race bibs after all and now were in a box free for everyone to scavenge. Unfortunately, my race bib was taken away by another runner probably with similar name as I am. This despite the fact he knew full well it was not the race bib he used in the race and surrendered to the marshal. How low can one sink.

One of those who stumblingly crossed the finish line jokingly said the race was not La Union Ku Ikaika Marathon but rather La Union “Ako Iika-ika” (I am limping) Marathon. Most of those finishers who endured the heat, hunger, stress and exhaustion had to even endure not getting their finisher medals, which apparently ran out or was not enough for the registrants number in the first place. Despite of these, there were still those runners whom I got a chance to see arrived at the hotel’s lobby after their travail all smile and gamely relate their experiences of how warmly they were welcomed by the people of each barangays they passed by as if they were from the reality show of survivor series. They were even fed with lunch.  I suspected that the hydrations we got along the way in each strategic portion of the race, were provided by the local people in their great desire to be part of this event. A runner even observed how over enthusiastic one barangay in their participation with the hydration that the hydration they provided were in pails with bathing pan or “tabo” which we thought were for pouring water over our head to douse away heat and perspiration but were actually being used by the marshals to fill up drinking plastic glasses. Who knows how many dipped in those pails to relieve themselves and drank from it.

At 2:00 pm the old priest previously mentioned running the 42 k quitted the race. As he entered the lobby of the hotel he was escorted by the organizers, Emergency Response Unit volunteers, police, race marshals and others, whom had yet to eat their respective lunches, because they could not simply abandoned their posts while there was even a runner at the route. I recalled in that situation the fundamentalist pastor Almeda after his released by his Abu Sayaff kidnappers. Haggard and dehydrated but this time not the elderly one but all those who were with him.  There were photography opportunities. While the 42 k finisher medals dried up for the other runners the organizers managed to produce one for the priest.  Truly miracles occur in mysterious ways.

Then of course the pack up time.

I noticed there were still some products of sponsors that were left undistributed. But the organizers were seemingly eager to bring them home for themselves that they did not paid attention to the hotel front desk staffs whom were reduced to asking for some tokens themselves. I also took my cue and spirited away one of the race bibs as replacement for what I lost. Another runner mentioned that he witnessed a runner carting off unopened boxful of deodorants. The policeman who escorted the elderly runner was actually eyeing my take out Pizza. But was distracted only when one of the organizers approached him to give the latter’s thanks and offer apologies without handling the policeman as much a token or styrofoamed lunch.

When I finally got the chance to sit down with the one of the organizers a shaft of light seem to penetrate the dark clouds of bad experience form this event. The organizers refunded me a portion of the payment for the transportation I made during the registration period. This refund was over and above the offered free ride home to Manila via their rented van. But while this was going on the driver of the van got this crazy idea. While on the road back to Manila with three other participants who opted to go back to Manila as well, the driver tried to extort us saying the refund were meant to be fare for the use of the van.  Damn! I had enough beaching to last me a lifetime

organizer’s side of the story

Runners, Friend, this is your Race Director for the La Union ku ikaika Marathon Randy M. Abasolo now composed and ready to tell the story on the side of iRunners because as much as you deserved an explanation we are also obliged to tell the truth because only the truth can liberate us and render us the deserved judgement of people who are affected by the issues

Issue No.1: Delayed release of Singlets

What really happened: The singlets should have been distributed on May 15, 2012 if not with the trouble we suffered from our supplier (BGRP Trading) who promised to deliver the singlets but failed and only able to finish the singlet on May 18, 2012 exactly 10:30PM, and the JCI President (Niki Valero) have to spend on gasoline just to pick up the singlet at Bulacan para po mahabol lang na masuot ito ng Runners before they run. For the record we paid 70K as advance payment but despite the said supplier failed to deliver the singlets as agreed and scheduled. For the record, Niki Valero, a good man as he is paid the balance on time despite of the trouble brought by the delay of the said supplier.

Lesson Learned: Look for a more reliable supplier

Issue No.2 : Shortage of medal

What really happened: The event should have used a Barcode system. What was planned was the registration will stop on the 15th of May and will only accept 30 onsite participants on the eve of the event, this way the needed medals are well accounted and budgeted as well. On May 6 the estimated quantity of medals have been ordered from our supplier. However, on May 8, upon computation/assessment it was found out that the event need to raise more fund to augment the need to pay some obligations of the event, so the Financer decided to shift from Barcode to Manual timing (which is cheaper) coupled with the plea to open the registration until the day of the event in the hope to raise the needed fund. What contributed more to the shortage was the unaccounted and surprise request of the financer (two days before the event) to get atleast 40 medals as his reserved medals for his friends. Because of the turn of the event, the result was, on the day of event medal count are already short by 100plus medals.

Lesson Learned: Ideally, Stick with your horn and fight for your runners and for their medals no matter what the cost or
Practically, implement a ‘first hundred basis’ or the lower categories runners (3k, 5k, 10k) is only good for first hundred finisher and prioritize the half marathoners and full marathoners by making sure they all get their well deserved medals

Issue No. 3 : Inaccurate measurement of the route

What really happened: I have to admit that due to our incapacity to acquire a more sophisticated gadget we got the route measured incorrect. We use a car in the measurement and later we found out that there is a big difference when you use a car especially if you took the right side of the road instead of taking the middle or center of the road during measurement. So an additional 2k was added to the 42k and an additional 1k or so is added to 21k. With regards to 5k we intentionally lengthened it to 200meters to get across to a Resort that is very supportive of our group and promised to help us out in the event.

Lesson Learned: Buy a sophisticated gadget or borrow one.

The truth (is on part of the iRunners) there are only two major issues that haunted us on this event; the chaos brought about during and by the release of singlet can be remedied if and only if the supplier delivered it on time, as promised and agreed by them. The medals that broke the heart of some of our runners (and Us as well) could be remedied if we only have enough sponsors to finance the event and the shift from Barcode to Manual timing could have been avoided and that could prevent the demise/shortage to happen.
I have to admit that in the part of iRunners and AKO personally ay nagkulang dahil, tinanggap ko po ang project na ito na alam ko na napakaiksi ng preparasyon. The project was offered to me 1months and 28days prior to the event. I learned, we learned a lot from this experience and i know that i grow and will continually grow from it. Given a chance i will never let myself and my people go into a battle with little preparation. Given a chance again i will see to it that 6months is the minimum planning period for an event with such a magnitude.
Sana po mapatawad nyo po ang aking pagkukulang, sa mga damdaming nasaktan patawad po. When Stan and I conceptualized the event we thought that at the end of the event the runners will be the one dare to say ‘i stand strong’, nagkamali ako/kami dahil the statement is aptly and more applicable to me, to us because this is what is promise to you my friends and fellow runners, iRunners will stand strong in the midst of it, to stand strong against the trials and adversary to continue give you fun and more runs here in La Union.
We ask for your forgiveness and we hope to see you again (given a chance) here in La Union.
Maraming salamat po.


Randy M. Abasolo

I Witnessed a Maguindanao Massacre in Luneta Today

(Written after the 34th Milo Marathon event pertaining to how the organizers handled the baggage counter)

Like vulture we were picking over the piled up pieces of carcasses strewn all over for any recognizable pieces of evidence of our beloved whom we feared were among those who were left exposed to the elements after their apparent massacre.

I was kind of praying I won’t find any tell tale sign that will confirm what I feared, even thought dehydrated I am, profusely perspiring and bathing under the heat of the sun for almost an hour and a half; not to mentioned the 10 kilometers distance I crossed to get to the crime scene, there was nothing on my mind except to go home.

There were hundreds of us helpless victim milling around. I wanted to shout in anger but there were already others who beat me to it. Besides, I am really tired. I can hardly utter a curse. I saw someone cried already. Perhaps in frustration, perhaps in anger another thing we share beside our perspiration as we brushed into each other when wave of people swept us. I heard from someone that those hapless cadavers might have been looted as there weren’t anyone guarding them. The police eventually came in throve but they were just looking dazed. One of them gave an exasperated remark, “how could they allow this desecration to happen”.

I walked over to another area were those that had escaped the sordid fate of being massacred out in the open. People were in pandemonium. Pushing, shoving and shouting fiercely in desperate attempt to get attention. They were holding high their piece of paper that will identify them as claimant. The place I came to call mortuary was in state of siege from the green donning mob. At that point I was not anymore hopeful that I would be reunited with whatever remains of my beloved. Then suddenly I saw a glimmer of hope when I got a glimpse of my beloved. I scrambled to get closer while keeping my eyes on my quarry. It was a positive ID. I raised my piece of identification reference. I even pleaded with the one closest to it. I spew whatever words that would best describe the physical features of my beloved. Finally he relented and after checking the stub attached to my beloved bag and compare it with my race bib number he gave my bag to me. Thus ended my toils to get my bag back from the baggage counter from hell at the 34th Milo Marathon this morning. How could the organizers of the event allow this despicable melee to stain the prestigious event, I can only hazard a guess. It’s all about money. As soon as they got it, they have forgotten the people who gave it and ran a ton to squeeze it out of their pockets.



Blitzrieg Trip To The North

The following piece was written three years ago. It has nothing to do with the photograph except that both transpired in Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines

Blitzkrieg Trip To The North

The Long Ardous Planning and Preparation to Assault Batad

Emong had just ravaged the Provinces of Pangasinan and Ifugao.  Here I am returning from the Florida Bus Station near Lacson Boulevard on May 9 Saturday, a day after Emong had officially left the country, was desperately trying to find the first bus going to Banaue, Ifugao.  This was despite of the news that 80% of the roads in Ifugao were closed down due to landslides and the weather forecast for the rest of the week was 40% rain in Banaue.  What choice did I have? I got summer thesis jury assignment on Friday.  Rescheduling the trip for the following week was simply out of the question due to other commitments one of it being the premiering of the movie “Angels and Demon”. Summer was already winding down and the rainy season might come in pretty soon.  Wait a minute, the rainy days had already arrived. Flashes of scenes of my being stuck in Espaňa Boulevard a few nights ago due to flood began playing. I desperately need to conquer an inner urge for an adventure to somewhere I have yet to visit. Batad, Banaue was teasing me to traipsing along its trails leading to the amphitheater of rice terraces. So, for lack of any other good reason not to go, I decided that there was no other better time for me to go to Batad than that very moment – suddenly, I was wearing mountaineering clothes with gears.

However, I was walking back home sulking and a failure.  For my first try to secure a ticket to Banaue was fruitless. The Florida Bus which currently the only bus that I know plying Manila-Banaue in Sampaloc, Manila area can only managed a foothold to Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya the gateway to Ifugao Province due to many debris left by landslides.  I have to contend myself with seeing the movie, “Star Trek” at Robinson Place and a “Heroes” Season 3 marathon at home in the evening so that I can forget for the moment being excited and catch the necessary sleep I need. Earlier in my excitement about the trip I was feeling kind of sickly due to lack of sleep. The next day, was indeed another day. Jogging around the UST Grandstand strengthen my resolved to hike Batad. By afternoon I was able to procure the coveted ticket for a 9:10 p.m. trip.

To Batad or Bust

On my way to the station rain began to pour – an ominous sign perhaps telling me to reconsider my plan.  But, I already bought the ticket. I was feeling kind of shameful to go back home not accomplishing my plan. I already failed getting married at an age when I thought by the time my son reaches his teens I could still play basketball competitively with my son and now I’m going home simply because the rain started pouring in and my destination could still be reeling from the aftermath of a typhoon. If I have to die trying to get to Ifugao the P450.00 is worth dying for.

At the bus station the scene was bedlam. All vehicles were trying to park on an area where all the people and their luggage were standing waiting for the second coming of Christ. The seats behind them were immaculately devoid of occupants. Probably being reserve for Christ’s entourages. I had to leave the taxi right in the middle of the rain into puddles of water and slammed myself at this formidable wall of people who seems confuse why I am forcing my way through them as if I was the one not thinking properly. I breached the wall but I had to scale human stupidity and unexplainable compunction of people who grunted words I rather forget. Rainwater began to threateningly submerge Lacson. The bag I bought was starting to fall apart at the seam literally. I had an enlightening realization that a brand name for a popular skateboard gears does not translate to good mountain hiking back pack. I have not yet finished the “Heroes” Season 3 series maybe there was still time to go back and just consider everything as a feverish ramblings of a guy who couldn’t accept that Harrison Ford couldn’t possibly come up with another sequel of Indiana Jones that will not suck as the last one did.

At 8:45 p.m. I quickly rush to the incoming bus and boarded it as if it was a pit stop in “Amazing Race”. I was the first one to arrive and as the winner of this leg of the race, I’m the first to take a leak at the bus’ toilet cubicle. It was really an amazing experience. But would it be even more exciting if the bus was already moving in Dalton Pass and you’re trying to connect your pee to the toilet without hitting the toilet seat, the wall, or yourself from your pee’s ricochets.

The Proposal

At around 5:00 a.m. we arrived in Ifugao. The sky was showing promises of not having rain at the moment. However, the roads to Banaue were littered with debris which kind of damped my optimism. I was guessing I just missed a day what could have been an unpleasant experience in Ifugao (flash scene of a snow avalanche).  The tricycle driver that took me to People’s Inn told me that the day before, rain was pouring pretty bad.  I don’t know if I should sigh a relief for the good weather or (change of backdrop and background music to something ominous) consider the moment as the silence before the storm and I was just being set up for a tragic scene where I will be forced to pit with nature for survival as I struggle afloat the open sea and avoid getting pulled down deep by the strong sea currents and waves (pan camera to the gigantic wave behind me and I turned to watch it about to engulf me). Ahh! The tricycle driver was still talking about how it was while typhoon Emong was vacationing in the area. Now all I had to worry about was how to get to Batad and get there without being: a) lost in the mountain (scene from my previous experience in Balbalasan, Kalinga when I got lost, “Noooo!”  b) killed via slippage on rocks and falling over ravine (flash scene from my Sagada trip and slipped at Echo Valley and somebody shouted, “Oh no! they killed Kenny again!”), c) rained over (flash scene of waiting shed filled with people snuggled together pressing toward me in Morayta fronting Espaňa while raining heavily).  The scenes began to playing in my mind over and over again until the tricycle driver offered to accompany me to Batad for P2,000.00.  I told myself, this young tricycle driver who is just entering college as freshman this class opening have mistaken me for a novice traveler who does not know my way around places (flash a scene in Pangasinan where I fell from a bicycle and another scene where as I was boarding a bus my head hit the installed TV set), who had been to Ifugao in several occasions and was really determined to succeed conquering Batad using my own resources was being duped into spewing P2,000.00 just to be accompanied to Batad? I acceded to the offer. The tricycle driver then mentioned that I need also to pay an additional P350 as environmental fee. I answered yes to it. That I should also pay for our food. Again I said yes. I think if he mentioned that I should carry his bag I might have also accepted.

Quit with the long introduction already, It’s so very 80’s movie.

After a breakfast of omelet and a half sausage which had never taste so good before and eating it while staring at flower pots that was standing in the way of my view of the rice terraces, my enterprising tricycle driver/Sherpa arrived.  I was told that we could finish the trek to Batad in less than a day and still have enough time to hike to Bangaan and see the four Banaue Rice Terraces view decks including the one that was featured in the one thousand peso bill. He mentioned it in such a way as if he was just telling me after shopping at Glorietta Shopping Mall we could catch up the movies and still have time for a quiet dinner. Initially, I was planning to stay over at Batad for the evening and upon returning to Banaue the next day catch the bus to Baguio. But the trip to Baguio via San jose Nueva Ecija next day was scheduled to leave at 7:00 a.m.  So, it was an imperative to make the journey to Batad a short day trip and spent the evening at Banaue. I opted to rent a room at People’s Inn.

Part of also of my consideration for the Batad trek was the expected very long hike from I don’t know where it was supposed to start, but after traversing the initial phase of the trip via tricycle, I realized that I was not THAT prepared. Our trip to the place called Junction took us about 45 minutes and several bumps in the head and my mangled body. Under normal condition vehicles can still go beyond this point until the place called Saddle Point if the vehicle was a privately own or hired. Otherwise, public utility vehicle going to Mayaoyao will only take you until Junction and the hike begins here. Towards Mayaoyao , Bangaan another tourist must-see place forked to the right while to Batad ascend to the left.  The other reason that we started our hike at the Junction was because the way to the Saddle Point was being cleared of landslides debris. Our tricycle which already suffered blown tires could not be taken any further up lest I end up purchasing the bits and pieces our tricycle might turn into if we solely rely on our Revicon brand vitamins thinking positive mantra that would cause the road to miraculously turn smooth and will be accommodating to us because we never visited brothels in our entire lives.

We walk for about an hour and a half until we reached Saddle Point. At Saddle Point there are refreshments and a souvenir shop. You can also take a peek of the next peak which is already Batad.   I stupidly told my guide how lovely Saddle Point look like in the Internet, seemingly implying it was less so in real life which I didn’t meant to say but Freud already knows that there’s in everyone of us another self that would bound to get out once in a while and wreck havoc for being brutally honest. I almost kicked myself that time but I’m too tired. I tried to recover by saying that digital imaging does magic by making things look magical even when it were not so, to that effect. Not even close enough to covering up my faux pas.

“Mumbaki” sequel and the movie in my mind

From the Saddle Point we travelled downward on slippery steps and cemented pave way. My Merrell hiking shoes that have tractions fitted for mountain trail were almost totally useless on flat surface. The trek from the Saddle Point was seemingly more than an hour. Along the way there were souvenir stall installed to tempt you with both loots of crafts and cold drinks I imagined must cost a fortune.

We finally reached Batad view deck.  I felt like the handsome Hiram Bingham from Yale when he discovered in 1911 the Inca citadel known locally in Peru as Machu Picchu.  The amphitheater of rice terraces was strewn below from where I stood aghast was actually 3,700 feet above sea level. Right in its bosom or rather belly bottom was the village of Batad. It was a landscape of green for the rice stalk were just growing and were still quite fresh looking. The terraces were showing the stone wall support as against the Banaue Rice Terraces’s mud wall support. I immediately dropped my gears at the nearest structure which is the Heritage restaurant, set up my tripod and began snapping photographs like I was gulping water after walking long right in the middle of the desert.  I was told by my trusted guide that if we walk further down to the village, I might need to stay overnight.  I decided there will be a sequel. For now, I contended myself with the knowledge that I reached Batad. Soon after, other tourists began to trickle in. First a long haired Caucasian male with hardly a gear on him except for a manual camera. Then he was followed by some of those I came with from the Florida Bus. I learned that they were medical doctors who were doing volunteer work of helping set up health centers in Batad and following up their progress.  As well as conducting medical mission. I felt I was speaking with the real character that Raymart Santiago played a role of in the movie, “Mumbaki”. While we were hiking I was also contemplating on a possible movie about Ifuago. It would be based partly on F. Sionil Jose’s short story “The God Stealer”. I was thinking of throwing in AH1N1Flu virus infection of a village when a Caucasian financier infected of the virus illegally entered the country to force a U.S. based Filipino film maker to steal from his Ifugao Chief uncle (played by Kidlat Tahimik) an ancient Bulul.  The film maker was an eager beaver to be the next John Woo or Ang Lee but couldn’t get the backing needed for his ambitious film. On the other hand a financier who is also into collecting and trading “exotic” artifacts was urging the filmmaker to come up with a documentary film on “Head-hunters of the North of Philippines” which will perpetuate that noble savage view of the “cultural minorities“ of the Philippines.  The film maker was reluctant to go to Ifugao and do the film because he is ashamed of his part Ifugao heritage. His father a former US serviceman eloped with the daughter of the character played by Kidlat Tahimik against his wishes. However, the film and partly the financial support promised became the filmmaker’s motivation to go back to Ifugao.

I must have looked funny when I was dazed and was picturing the film in my mind. I realized I was supposed to order our lunch when I travelled to that imaginary film. A thunder clap punctured our lunch. It was time for us to hustle or risked getting caught in the rain in the middle of the trail. So, just as when we were beginning to digest the large viand of rice we ate along with chopsuey and noodle soup ala onion we packed out things up and departed Batad.

Once again we chance upon more foreigners going to Batad. Most of these tourists were without a local guide and heavy gears. I felt more like the foreigner one.  Rain began to pelt but by the time the rain started pestering us we were already a few yards to the Junction where our tricycle was waiting for us. It was already 2:00 p.m. I decided to call off going to Bangaan which is just beyond Junction. However, if we hike it, it will take us about half an hour going to the village and another half an hour to hike back. The rain might get stronger by then.  I told myself, of course discreetly only, have already seen it when I accompanied my former Interior Design students on their fieldtrip to Banaue and Sagada. It wouldn’t be that much loss on my part.  My determined guide was really trying to make my P2,000.00  worth parting away, he volunteered to continue with the Banaue Rice Terraces view decks and even offered to have me walk the terraces in one of the view deck that has access to the terraces.   By 4:00 p.m. the weather was getting really uncooperative. We were already in our last leg of the visit to Banaue Rice Terraces. I asked if we were to hike one of the terraces how long it will take us?  A good thirty minutes going to the edge of one of the terraces and another thirty going back.  Then in that case it will become part of my itinerary on my next trip. With that decided, we motored back to the town proper. Bought myself a ticket for the 7:00 a.m. trip to Manila via San Jose Nueva Vizcaya and finally to the Inn.

Brand New Day Brand New Adventure

The sun was just contemplating on getting up behind the terraced hill that served as a  commanding view of People’s Inn I was already devouring a Filipino breakfast with bacon this time. While having breakfast I can’t help looking at various photographs of Cordilleran landscape and people pasted at People’s Inn wall along with some other printed ads. One particular printed ad of a website ran a featured on “exotic tribe from north of Philippines”. Cordillera is still being promoted abroad as if time had stood still and everything else about the Cordillera’s “exotic” culture remain unspoiled.  What astounded me was that the way this stereotyping of Cordilleran people was being endorsed by no less than the owner of the Inn.  I understood this hard sell might encourage more tourists to come and therefore more business to the place. But then it struck me that tourism has only benefited fewer people actually, while encouraging the local people to play out their lives in accordance to the expectations and for the benefit of the tourists. The other thing that kind of ticked me off was that being a photographer myself seeing how photographs had contributed in perpetuating certain idea about certain people, I kind of asked myself the question, “what am I really photographing of when I’m photographing, let say Cordillera?” Why am I photographing it? Am I photographing it for something I am aware of that might not necessarily for the benefit of the subject and yet willingly does it just the same?

In a few while even though there was still enough time, I raced to the KMS bus terminal. As usual, I was the first to deposit my gears at seat number 9 of the bus. The sun finally roused itself and was shinning a warm shine on the window of the bus. The bus bedecked with posters of John Cena, Britney Speare and a White Castle Whiskey barely clad model was playing country music and Von Jovi intermittently. Passengers were beginning to arrive and occupied the seats. I thought the bus was air conditioned if it were plying the day trip.  Finally the bus roared into life and began to move. We slithered the road out of Ifugao passing by the fresh deposits of debris from last evening landslides.  The trip was actually uneventful and uninteresting. I imagine the route of Banaue-Bontoc-Benguet was the better route to take going to Baguio.

Upon arriving at Baguio, I noticed that the sky began to turn to dark. I can’t help conclude that the gloomy weather pursued us from Banaue.  As I alighted the bus rain began to pelt.  I did not have a chance to process what was going on. I got no bearing of my location nor decided where to go. In my haste to get out of the rain, I just ran like my head had been cut off until finally idea began forming in my mind as to what direction I should go – SM Baguio.  At the end of Governor Pack Road lies the old Victory Liner Bus terminal. There were inns lining up the terminal, I ended up renting one room in one of the motel there.  I dropped by gears at the rented room. After taking off my Merrell hiking shoes which had almost earlier cause me to slip while scampering for cover against the rain and wore instead a pair of slippers which has its right sole gaping as if it just got the punch line of a joke, I proceeded to the Victory Liner Bus, booked me a 4:00 p.m. trip to Manila for the following day.  Rain was unrelentless, my spirit felt withered and in need of comforting.  Since, I left Manila for Banaue on a Sunday I missed my Sunday spiritual obligation, so I decided to do it now. I hailed an FX and told the driver where my spirit and soul was aching to be, to SM.

I couldn’t believe it Star Trek was playing at the Cinema. Have I known it I could have decided to skip watching it in Manila and opted instead to watch it in Baguio. I had dinner at Bodhi’s at SM Food Court, I almost gone vegetarian the whole trip if it were not for the half sausage and bacon that came with my Filipino breakfast at People’s Inn so a little more vegetable meal wouldn’t hurt that much. Starbucks was filled with warm bodies, I ended up coffee-ing at Figaro at the third level.  Taking place was a breathtaking vista of the sun (yes it did manage to show itself behind the clouds and mist as the rain began to dissipate and mist marched in) sinking behind the houses decked hills that seem to resembled Max Ernst’s surreal landscapes frottage.  The sky around the sun and even after it sunk displayed a marvelous colors. Mist continued to flow covering and then uncovering and then covering again the hills.  Too bad I left my camera at my room collecting moist. Before nightcapping with the Sarah O’ Connor’s Chronicles series, I decided to take a walk some more this time along Session Road debating whether I should have a bottle or two of SMB lights in some folk house or have a pizza instead. The temperature was really turning low.  I suddenly find myself desperately in need to take a leak. As in very desperately.  I rushed back to my accommodation just in time before my bladder burst. Having relieved myself, I realized the feeling was close to what it might have felt like wanting nothing else in life or probably how I would have felt if I was just lounging around in a pool in some resort or bathing in the warm sun in a private island paradise.

After waiting for eternity for NBN TV network to report about the weather, which it didn’t even at the end of the news program, I decided to take a hot bath. It finally occurred to me why both the ceiling of my room and the rug beneath my feet were damp, the mist produced by my hot bath engulfed the room and some other sources of moistures were condensing inside the room with nowhere else to disappear to. I imagined that maybe later in the evening when the condensation became too heavy it will precipitate like rain inside my room. It might even produce thunderstorm and flooding. Flashes of images of my being stuck in Espaňa, played again in my mind. I went out of the bathroom naked to examine the ceiling further. The pattern formed made the hair in my skin stand up. I realized the window inside my room actually opened to the mezzanine were there might be people. Out of fear of becoming a spectacle myself, I dressed and turned in quickly forgetting about the despicable ceiling and threat of drowning from flood while sleeping. Instead I travelled to Batad again this time with the pretty lass I saw at SM who was hold hand with a local boy.

I still don’t get it. I mean, I just don’t know what to do in Baguio. I had a few hours to spend in Baguio before I return to Manila and all I can think of is SM. I don’t know where else to go. Not as in I don’t know my way around Baguio. Simply, I desired solace. Solace knows no place and being in Baguio to spend that moment of solace even while at SM Baguio’s Starbucks is already the trip worth taking.

It was already 10:00 a.m. sipping coffee at Starbucks while armed with pen and paper, I began planning again of my final acts in Baguio before I finally set of into the sunset and back to the arms of my sofa bed back home. A lunch down town or at Volante Pizza, SM if they have side entrance. I already checked out of the  motel so I am lugging along my back pack. If I decided to enter SM I will be subjected to bag inspection. Too inconvenient. Where should I go, the persistent theme? It was easier when I was trekking Batad, the bag was supposedly necessary to carry my things. Here in the urban setting, I am the one calling attention to myself. I am being “exotic” by advertising I’m a backpacker who currently have no home to leave my things behind so I can blend in with everyone else. I’m now the foreigner I was staring at people arriving from the Florida Bus terminal in Banaue just as we were leaving the place. The foreigners I kept on seeing in Ermita, Manila with backpacks. I thought SM was supposedly a great equalizer in Baguio or maybe everywhere there is one. A place where local and transients couldn’t be distinguished from each other because they all seem alike now. Everyone was even speaking the same tongue as if Filipino language has finally became the national language it was being propped up to be. Now I find myself starting to feel displaced and foreign as if I am backpacking in Singapore or somewhere else. It would even be funny or a bit overkill if I brought out my camera and began shooting. I will be further reinforcing the construct I am different.  To my mind I may think I am superior for knowing something most of the local don’t while in the mind of the local I seem to appear as odd. The local may ask in their mind the question, “Why this person shooting photograph? Was this the his first time here?” I will either look kawawa or mayabang or like a person wearing a ten gallon cowboy hat.

This is what I like about travelling. Too many thoughts comes out and gives you plenty of things to ponder about while sipping coffee. Slows down heart beat and get a chance to catch up with breath. Exercise the neurons. Being healthy is really expensive.

Taking Running On The Road

Running is basically best done on the road than let’s say on treadmill. However, what I really meant about this piece’s title is taking my running away from the hustle and bustle of the city within Metro Manila and out of town or out of the country hopefully.

Last year running took me to the rugged terrain of Timberland in San Mateo, Rizal When I signed up for Merrell Adventure Run 2011. I ran also the hilly roads of Tagaytay Highlands at Nathan Ridge Run 2011. The farthest I traveled out of town to run was the run event, Skyathon 2011 held at Boracay, Aklan.

This year I was even more determined to improve my record of out of town run. I started with the Baguio 21 K Run held last April 8, then on April 21 I returned to the white beach sands of Boracay for the Skyathon 2012. Then the following week I saw action in another beach run with off road trail run at Camaya Coast, Mariveles, Bataan. Come this May 19 I will be running in yet another beach run with combination of trail and road at San Juan, La Union.  Then a week after I will be in Tanay, Rizal for the Natural Discovery Trail Run. My birthday would begin with negotiating Timberland, San Mateo, Rizal’s off road and by July 1 I will taste the off road trails at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

I am eyeing running at either Bohol or Camarines Sur but those two runs are during the heap of school days and would probably not possible for me to join. Another out of town run I wanted to try is the Corregidor International Half Marathon run usually scheduled in December.

The thing about going out of town is that it gives me a change to get a better grasp of the place I am running at. In my previous line of work, which had me traveling from one province to another to monitor projects funded by our agency, I used to walk from the airport going to the town. When time allows me I likewise hike around the town just to get my self acclimated to the place. One time I underestimated the distance of the airport from the town at Cagayan De Oro. I may have walked for more than thirty minutes before I finally hailed a taxi and found out how far I would still have to go on if I stubbornly stick to walking.

Running is just a better way for me to get around because nobody really gets lost in running in an event. There are probably race marshals signages and directional board around, and the lines of other runners heading for the finish line. Unlike when you simply go about the place as tourist there’s that uncomfortable feeling you are alone but at the same time you feel being watched.   When running in an event, you are seen as akin to a celebrity. People wave at you. Cheers for you and bystanders seems all willing to lend you a hand. You are covered by a protective shield that no harm can possibly come your way even if you are right at the middle of the road.

But probably the real lure of running out of town is simply borne out of the “BGC and MOA running route fatigue” or the boredom involved in having to run same route over and over again. That is why whenever there are new route to be use in a running event even in Manila runners flock to it. This is how it was with the AXN Run whose route utilized the length of C5 road. Same thing with Condura Run which featured running on the Skyway.  To runners running is a metaphor for life. In life we want surprises. In the same way with running runners want to be surprised in the route they are running. Now if zombies runs amuck along the running route of BGC and MOA that would perhaps cure the malady afflicting the bored runners of these route