Our Makiling day hike lasted overnight due to an emergency from which we had to be rescued. Read on for a story of heroism, friendship, Mother Nature and… yeah it was an adventure.

Maktrav, or the Mt. Makiling Traverse, traces a northeast route across the legendary mountain. The route begins in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, and ends in the University of the Philippines campus in Los Baños, Laguna. Dense forests, volcanic mudsprings, and a resident diwata (they say) make Makiling one of the most interesting day hikes near Manila.

We saw delightful places, charming places, worthy to be inhabited by gods and goddesses.

Jose Rizal, Mariang Makiling

It was certainly interesting for me and my friends. One of us was injured — his knees sprained — halfway through the traverse. We tried to push on, hoping we could make it to the safety of Agila Base in Los Baños in time. But our friend was truly struggling, and we were only at the summit when night fell. Fortunately, we were able to get help. In the wee hours of the next morning, we were finally safe. But I’ll start from the beginning.

Pre-hike

CJ, who is the most experienced among us, told us that we must try Maktrav, his favorite trail, even if we’re more into camping than day hikes. Myself, I’m a bit of a Rizalian literature nerd, so if the national hero said it was pretty, I believed it and wanted to see it.

According to Pinoy Mountaineer, Maktrav has gotten easier over the years and can now be finished in less than 10 hours. This wasn’t our goal: we wanted to finish before sunset, but we didn’t want to run across the mountain. Makiling had a beautiful reputation to live up to, and we wished to soak it up.

2:00 AM, Sunday, February 3

Our group of 9 met near Buendia: Me (Camille), Mao (my husband), Romane, Meis, CJ, Sean and Anj (all friends from high school), and Aileen and Tristan (mountaineering/college friends of CJ and Sean).

Jollibee. What would be our last full meal in 24 hours.

From there, we took a bus to Sto. Tomas, Batangas.

The Traverse

5:30 AM at the beginning of Sipit Trail

We departed from the Sto. Tomas jump off with one guide. I’m not entirely sure why we only got the one guide; we were told that 1 guide is required for every 5 climbers. Maybe there were going to be plenty of hikers that day. Besides, Sean and CJ had finished Maktrav one and five times, respectively, so we felt it was fine.

8:00 AM

The first two hours of the hike were a bit hellish for me. I’d been sleep-deprived and had tried to compensate with too much coffee. As a result, I was panting and palpitating slowly up the first stations of the Sipit Trail. But, once I’d sweated a bit and downed a liter of water (and peed twice), I was 100% fine and ready for a Sound-of-Music style trail run if needed. (Lessons: don’t forget cardio; get enough sleep and don’t overdose on caffeine before a climb.)

I felt bad, though, because maybe this was what triggered the guide to tell us that at this rate, we’d finish at midnight. That was when open views of the outlying provinces first became visible, and we stopped to take pictures. CJ was a little annoyed at this because it was, he said, rather early.

9:00 AM

We came across the first rope segments and limatiks. Perhaps now’s a good time to discuss what the trail is like in general.

Features of the mountain

Makiling is a dormant volcano spanning two provinces, Laguna and Batangas. The place is replete with lowland forests, but the summit area is home to spots of cloud forest, perennially cool, humid, and misty. Makiling is 1,090 meters above sea level at its highest point.

Mt. Makiling flowers and plants
Mt. Makiling flowers and plants

The vegetation is lush and wildlife thrives. There are thousands of flowers, including the elusive rafflesia, in this maze of mossy trees, interspersed with many species of palms and ferns. The mountain is also home to wild boars, forest rodents, flying foxes, monkeys, various birds and reptiles.

Mt. Makiling flowers and plants
Mt. Makiling flowers and plants

The current Maktrav trail is straightforward and moderately easy to navigate, depending on how you define easy. I’d say doable, but not without challenge and danger. After all, it’s what mountaineers call a “major” climb. There are plenty of rope segments, muddy trails, rock faces, and vertical assaults.

Ferns in Mt. Makiling
Lots of pretty plants
Ravine in Mt. Makiling
Lots of sudden drops like this — need to be careful

Limatik, or blood leeches, infest the area. They are not lethal, but are a serious annoyance. It’s best to cover up and regularly check your face, especially your eyes. Once they’ve gotten going, it’s harder to pull them off. Forcible pulling may cause wounds to worsen, and leeches will regurgitate half-digested blood into your wound. Not ideal, especially in sensitive areas like eyeballs. In those cases it’s best simply wait for them to stop sucking and leave.

Rattan palms and stinging nettles can be found all along the trail. They can cut skin and snag loose clothing. In very humid conditions, even the smallest cuts are easily infected. So it’s best to be careful about what you touch.

Jungles and rainforests are notoriously challenging environments for military operations. Visibility and movement are extremely limited, while there is an increased threat of harmful plants and insects.

10:00 AM at Station 15, the hikers’ camping area

We arrived at Sipit Trail Station 15, the “camping area,” which is a large and roughly oval-shaped clearing. Camping is prohibited in Makiling these days, so this is just where hikers rest and eat lunch. We spread out a ground sheet and had some light snacks. Then we set off for Peak 3.

Peak 3 of Mt. Makiling

11:00 AM at Melkas Ridge

We again slowed to a leisurely pace at the Melkas Ridge area to enjoy the beautiful scenery and observe the interesting vegetation. Here, we saw bright orange mosses, strangely shaped flowers, and even a tropical nepenthe pitcher plant. We were pretty high up, at the bottom edge of Makiling’s crown of clouds. White mists continually danced across the caldera, and we could see the province of Batangas spread out before us, bright and peaceful in the sun.

Mt. Makiling flowers and plants
Melkas Ridge, Mt. Makiling
Sto. Tomas, Batangas below

11:30 AM: our friend is injured

Meisoj was injured on the way to Peak 3. It’s the same injury he experienced in Tarak, a muscle sprain or inflammation at the outer side of his knee. This time, he slipped on some mud.

A few minutes before he slipped

He limped a little distance before admitting that the pain was debilitating. We sat down on an overlooking ledge, off trail so that we wouldn’t hinder other hikers. We quickly got out all relevant first aid items — bandages, White Flower, painkillers. Romane even had some surgical tape (you’d think that’s overkill for a day hike, but it was useful AF now) and she began to examine and administer to the sprain.

Left behind

So the guide left us behind. I want to be as positive and polite as possible about this, but my friends reminded me that had we been less prepared, we could be seriously hurt because of his actions. Anyway, at this point in this story, you may be wondering where he is.

We had hardly seen him all throughout the hike. He was hiking nonstop, looking back now and then to see if we were still there. As long as he had one of our party with him, he would just keep going. I kept up with him for a few minutes once, but stopped when we encountered steep rope segments because, naturally, I wanted to see that my friends behind us got safely through. Still, he went on ahead.

This was slightly off-putting, but we didn’t mind at all, because the trail is actually a straightforward and manageable one. But when one of us got injured, that was a different matter.

The guide and Aileen had already made it maybe 50 meters away from us, at an elevation of around 5 stories. The rest of us were clustered around Meis. This area was clear of tree cover, along a narrow ridge, so we could see and hear each other clearly. The guide called out to us that we must now move on because the trail was not yet halfway done. This got on Sean’s nerves, and he yelled back that someone was injured. No response.

We decided to break up the group. Sean, Anj, Tristan, and Aileen would go ahead to talk to the guide and ask him to assess the situation, and to maybe use his radio. Then, they would go ahead and finish the trek up until the UPLB trail station 11, or Agila Base. There, Sean and the others could explain the situation and reserve a habal-habal or motorcycle convoy for us. That way, whatever time we made it back down, people would know to wait for us. Meanwhile, Meis, Romane, CJ, Mao and I would stick together and take it slow. If Meis couldn’t get down the mountain, even with our help, then we would stay with him.

Sean told us later that when they caught up to the guide, the guide suggested that we backtrail to Sto. Tomas. However, between going back and moving forward, the trail forward was technically easier to navigate downwards and so made more sense.

There are two main trails on this mountain: Maktrav (a traverse from Sto. Tomas to Los Baños) and the Mt. Makiling Trail (up and down the Los Baños side only). The Maktrav route is not designed to be done in reverse: people do a reverse traverse for the extra challenge factor. I do not know why we were expected to turn back when that would be the more difficult route. If help was going to come from Sto. Tomas, we had no way of knowing, for our guide simply went on ahead and “led” the others to finish the traverse in Los Baños.

The last few groups passed by at this point, and a few other Sto. Tomas guides spotted us treating Meis. The guides of Sto. Tomas are equipped with radios; my friends later commented that, at the very least, the guide might have left his with us or called for backup.

To add insult to injury, we found out later that he told the habal-habal guys at Agila Base that the five people left behind were just “joiners,” and not part of the original team he was guiding. Say what?

We were never about to cry about being left to our own devices; we were in trouble, and, being still in possession of our wits and strength (except Meis’s ability to hike), we were responsible for getting ourselves out. The worst thing you can do in an emergency is whine and blame. After all, the situation would be the same if we had no guide at all, so there was no absolutely no excuse to be pussies.

Perhaps the guide thought we were making a fuss over nothing; even the Los Baños volunteers later told us that some of their rescues were simply slightly emotional breakdowns (of the “I just can’t anymore, they just dragged me along, I didn’t sign up for this!” type). But looking back at the situation as unemotionally as possible, I still conclude that our guide was an asshole to have left us when he could have saved us many hours of trouble.

The rest of the afternoon

I think the Mt. Makiling area normally has good reception, but we were now at around 1,000 meters above sea level, and the cloud cover was causing interruptions. Besides, it was noon; it would be hours yet before our advance team (Sean et al.) would arrive in Agila Base.

Meis had taken a painkiller; his leg was bound at the knee to absorb most of the shock, and CJ took some of his stuff. We would proceed slowly.

It’s not too far between Peak 3 and Peak 2, the summit, but the ridge swoops up and down repeatedly. The vegetation is thick, and the trail is narrow and challenging — lots of slushy mud, and an obstacle course-type maze of trees, many of them thorny rattan. This part of the climb would take two to three hours at a normal pace. We hoped we could finish at 8:00PM at the latest — four hours to the peak, plus another three to four slow hours down to Agila Base.

Plants and trees, Mt. Makiling
More vegetation along the way

So we trudged on until about 4:00PM. We thought we were nearly there, but the summit just didn’t seem to be getting any nearer; we were just too slow.

The afternoon was getting old when, midway across a muddy downward slope, we saw Peak 2. It was too far, maybe an hour away at this rate. Our hearts sank. It soon became apparent that we would not make it down anytime soon.

5:30 PM, and it’s time to make decisions

At the final assault to the summit, both Meis’s knees were virtually unusable. The other two boys were pulling and pushing him up and down mudslides, over and under logs, and up rocky faces. Romane and I moved ahead quickly to look for cell reception and to ensure that we were on the correct trail. I must thank whoever was wearing those shoes with the deep triangle-pattern tracks. Their tracks in the mud quelled any fears I had of losing the extremely narrow trail in the dying light.

30 meters away from the summit, signal was still nonexistent. We were now wrapped in clouds. Trees in the middle distance disappeared into the silver mist. It was beautiful, but we were scared… but it was beautiful.

Anyway, with a fine rain falling and the light now very quickly fading, Romane and I looked at each other, knowing that we were ever-so-slightly fucked. We were now certain that hours of darkness on the mountain lay ahead for us. With Meis in this condition, a downward hike in the wet and in the night was just too risky.

When the boys caught up to us, they had come to the same decision: we would hunker down, look for signal, and ask for a rescue. If none came, we would wait till morning. When the sun was out and once Meis had rested, it would probably be easier.

6:00 PM

We made it to the summit of Peak 2, which is the highest point of Makiling at 1,090 meters above sea level. This was also Station 30 of the UPLB trail. The Station 30 signboard had emergency numbers on it. During a moment with a tiny bit of signal, I texted them all with our situation and location. I also sent an SOS message to Sean with my mobile number and Mao’s dad’s number. However, my bars disappeared and I couldn’t receive anything back. Once, I even a received a message from Sean asking where we were, and I couldn’t reply.

Mt. Makiling Station 30 signage
Mt. Makiling Peak 2 signage
“Enjoy the cool and damp surroundings of a mossy forest!”

We set up a rest area away from the clearing, in a sheltered tree line where the trails intersected. We would be shielded from the worst of the wind, but we would not be protected from the overall cloud cover.

CJ suggested that he go on alone, but we decided that it was too risky. We had already sent friends ahead; we must count on them. Besides, there was still the possibility of getting a signal here. At all events we must stick together.

Risk assessment

Night fell and the temperature dropped rapidly. It was time to reassess our risks. Among the prime threats were the possibility of venomous snakes and the worsening cold. Limatiks were still an annoyance and fat mosquitoes had arrived, but they were less threatening. We put on insect repellent and kept blades and pepper spray ready to defend ourselves against any hostile wildlife. Hunting traps and angry wild boar mothers were also risks if we tried to push on and somehow went off-trail.

Capability assessment

In an emergency, your strengths and weaknesses can make or break the situation. You just have to hope your strengths are enough.

Meis is an army reservist. He may have been incapacitated and maybe needs to refine his climbing technique (sorry Meis), but is otherwise physically fit and has been through worse. If he said he was in pain, it meant he was in pain. We trusted his willpower and utter fortitude through hours of painful movement.

CJ is a Rover Scout. He has this tendency to say “Oh, here it is,” when it is not here, but we love him so we haven’t punched him in the face yet. Besides, he’s the most experienced mountaineer among us, and has finished Maktrav five times. So we relied on his familiarity with the terrain.

Mao is our assigned photographer. He’s no soldier or scout, but he can breathe long, stride far, and think fast. Most of all, he’s watched a lot of Bear Grylls, and trust me, that means a lot of life-saving knowledge.

Romane is a licensed physical therapist, so basically one of the best people to have around for a risky and physically demanding activity. She’s scared of ravines and keeps holding on to prickly things, but she was a true trooper, almost never stopping to catch her breath. We relied on her professional know-how to keep Meis afloat.

ako’y isang manunulat at litratista lamang. halp me – intern joven

As for me, I’m a writer, haha. I start off slow, but after warming up I can keep up monkey-style. My job is to compose the SOS messages and write the long version of the story.

Equipment assessment

We had only packed for a 12-hour day hike. We had anticipated cold at the summit, but we had not expected to be stranded there. However, the following proved the most useful to us:

  • A makeshift shelter. We used two groundsheets, one as a floor and the other as a roof, suspended with a branch and secured to nearby trees with some paracord.
  • Rudimentary thermal wear. Some of us had waterproof, padded jackets; others had fleece sweaters. It’s February, cold all over the country, and the world is going through weather extremes, so we thought it would be best to dress warm. However, this was not enough to keep us warm.
  • A thermal foil blanket. But only one.
  • First aid items. Every few hours, Meis would take a painkiller. His knees were bound in bandages secured with surgical tape. We had sufficient items for treating small to medium wounds; there was also Hydrite which we planned to take if we would definitely settle down for the night.
  • Some remaining drinking water. It was not much, but if needed we could collect the water sliding from the top of our tarp.
  • Whistles, headlamps, and flashlights.

7:45 PM, and it is just too cold

At first we were only trying to rest a little, but as the hours passed, the cold became rather vicious. We had no tent, and we were sitting back to back in our layers and under a foil blanket, which was made for one person so wasn’t really helping. But soon, most of us were shivering. My feet were dry inside my shoes, but I felt like I’d stuck them in a freezer. Whenever I closed my eyes I would slip immediately into a musical dream, only to be woken just as suddenly by the gentlest breeze.

But the lack of movement was not good for us. We decided we really needed to start a fire. CJ had a camping stove and a can of butane, but the flames were too tiny to be useful.

Between all of us we had enough kindling, but not enough firewood. I don’t think firewood even exists in a cloud forest, or if it does, it’s very hard to find.

This is Mao not looking for firewood as there wasn’t any

But even if it was impossible, we needed to try, just for the sake of movement. I was trying to steel myself to move. Already, CJ was immobile and muttering again and again that he was sleepy; that he just wanted to sleep. This, more than anything, was what made me stand up, because it was too ridiculously like one of those movie scenes where the person was about to never wake up from the cold. So it took some effort of will, but finally I decide to get up and walk around the peak area. Mao and I would look for firewood, or reception.

Don’t do this to us CJ it’s only a low mountain in a tropical country

With his flashlight, Mao beeped an SOS into the sky. But there were very slim chances of that being seen. He blew on our whistle a couple of times.

8:00 PM, and we make contact

Me, standing right where we found a signal.

I got reception. It’s just one random spot in the summit clearing, at the entrance of what looks like a false or community trail, but my Globe phone had full bars!

I started rapid-messaging people via SMS and FB Messenger. Sean had received my earlier messages and done his job magnificently. He, Anj, Tristan, and Aileen had informed the forest rangers of the situation immediately, and when they got my message with our status, location, my mobile number, and Mao’s dad’s number, they passed it on. Both Mao’s dad and Sir Nick of the rescue guys called me to confirm our situation and location. Sir Nick sounded relieved that we had indeed sheltered in the tree line and had some rudimentary supplies.

Stranded at the summit of Mt. Makiling
Romane, Mao and me looking stressedt af, because I remember we were trying to smile here

We learned that the rescue team had been on the way since 7:00PM, and all we had to do was wait.

8:50 PM. Help is here!

We heard voices. We yelled back. They whooped. We whistled. Ten minutes later, the rescue team arrived. They asked us how we were, and if we could go down immediately. It was really up to Meis, who said yes.

Stranded in Mt. Makiling
The rescue team found them like this

They offered to carry most of our bags so that we could descend as quickly as possible. (I didn’t give them my bag because it was super light by now with most of the drinking water gone.) We very quickly packed up our pseudo-camp and made ready to scoot down to Agila Base.

The descent, finally

On the trail down, CJ went ahead, then me, then Mao, then Romane and one of our escorts. The rest of the rescue team (and a dog friend) were with Meis, going at a slower pace.

That descent was the longest four hours of the trip for me. It was a black night, with a light rain over the steep, narrow, twisting trail. Our feet would shoot in and out of glops of mud.

The summit is the 30th “station” of the UPLB trail. We were going to Agila Base, which is Station 11. We had 19 stations to go.

I heard the wind whisper my name.

At around Station 27, in a narrow vertical passage, I heard the wind whisper my name. Camille, Camille, said a woman’s voice in a whisper. I distinctly remember that the voice would hardly enunciate the “L” in my name, which made sense because it was a whisper; that or they’d studied French. I was like, whaaat, so I casually remarked (probably in a high-pitched voice, lol) that the wind could sound like a person’s voice sometimes in a narrow place, right?

Pikachu says Nani?!
wind-sama?!

Romane later said that our companion told her that hearing voices was normal around here. Mao paid no attention to this, but less than thirty minutes later, he called to me asking me, what? I said, nothing. And he said, he’d heard a voice like a woman whispering, saying Mao, dalian mo. “Hurry up.”

I took a deep breath. I half-concluded that it was the wind, combined with our exhausted thoughts. But all the same, I decided not to walk too far ahead of Mao for the time being.

At around Station 21, I was becoming slightly miserable. We had been moving for more than a couple of hours, but I was shivering from cold. For some reason, I wanted to lie down and cry. But I couldn’t and shouldn’t. Mao had told me that according to Bear Grylls, once you’re disoriented, you lose. Yes. One must listen to Bear Grylls. And my friends were here and everything was okay and Meis was going through much worse and we had to finish.

11:00 PM

Starting at around Station 19, the trail widened and the slope got gentler. The mud turned into rocky soil. But Mao was very, very quickly weakening. He was getting pale, and his speech slurry. We’d had a bit of water before we descended, but we gave the bottle to Meis’s escorts.

In an extremely humid environment, dehydration can take one hour to set in. At Station 15, our rescuer ran ahead to Station 12, where there’s a spring of fresh water. He met us at Station 14, where Mao’s strength was revived by a long drink.

In an extremely humid environment, dehydration can take an hour to set in.

At Station 12, we took a minute to damp our faces and refill our bottles at the water source. And we also saw a harmless snake! That is too say, they all saw it except for me. It was in its hole, next to the water source, but I was totally mesmerized by the existence of the water. After that, it was total autopilot. I knew that the next station was the last, so I marched mindlessly after our rescuer.

The trail has ended

1:00 AM, Monday, February 4

Yellow lights ahead. A small, cheerful bonfire. A large white pickup. A group of men standing welcome. Fuck yes. We were here. We washed up a bit; CJ and I had coffee and Milo at the store. 24 hours had passed since our last real meal, but we weren’t hungry yet.

3:00 AM, and we’re all safe

Meis finally arrived! The last time I saw him, he was pale as hell and not looking so good. I thought it would be the ER for him once he got down. But he was on his feet, though quite wasted.

Before we were ferried to Station 1, there to wait till sunrise for the first jeeps to come, we thanked the guys who took us down profusely. They are absolute heroes.

The names of the rescuers and our names at the bottom of the log

The rescue team

Our rescuers were volunteers, mostly students of forestry and agriculture from UPLB who operated the Agila Base habal-habal. They conducted a very quick and well-knit rescue operation, functioning like a tag team running up and down the trail, passing bags and information.

Rescue team Mt. Makiling
Meis looks like he got beat up, but he’s upright

They were in their bare feet — they said it gives them better traction in the mud — and only a couple had headlamps; the rest used their phone flashlights. But they managed the rescue with maximum efficiency, and they saved us from a dire situation.

Our escort told us the last time they rescued an emergency camper from the summit, the person had a tent, but it was too late. Lockjaw had set in and whoever it was had expired of hypothermia. Talk about a microclimate.

Anyway, Meisoj, as the injured guy, can express our deep and infinite thanks more eloquently. Here’s his Facebook post:

Conclusion

She is a familiar sight, visible from Manila, overlooking Laguna de Bay. I have long wished to find out just what makes a mountain mystical. What kind of mountain merits its own special godsent anito? Every Tagalog schoolchild knows about Mariang Makiling, spirit of the mountain, beautiful and clothed in white, like the mountain’s wreath of clouds.

Go anywhere in the country and you will hear of places that “take” people as tribute every year. But nature does that. In the end, we are part of an ecosystem that we can never, as individuals, outsmart. Mountains and forests and oceans — they are just too vast for us. No matter how smart or strong we are, nature will always be bigger and better. We can be ended with a single blink, a single breath.

Makiling is like that. She is so mystical because she is a blossom of nature in full force. Even if you know the fancy stuff, like disorientation and hypothermia and dehydration and microclimates, even if you know a person’s mind can twist ambient sound into anything, even if you know that glimpses of white shapes could be tricks of the moonlight… it will all still look and feel like magic. Like it’s impossible. Like you’re being played with.

And yet I can’t discredit that there may be something else, something other, in the mountain. It has been made sacred by generations of love and fear. Maybe there is a cloud-white maiden walking in the woods. Maybe she does get a kick out of turning you around. I won’t be one to say that she isn’t there.

We will be back, for the forests and the mudsprings and the clouds, because it was all very beautiful. CJ was right. There’s just something about Makiling.

In a way, I’m pretty thankful for what happened. It gave us more time with the mountain, and maybe that was a little bit worth being fucked up for. And it showed us how much we could depend on one another, and that there are heroes in the land, and that was 100% worth the trouble.

Lessons learned

Next time, we will be bringing camping gear, even if it’s just a day hike. Mt. Makiling isn’t a very very high mountain. A sprain isn’t an extremely bad injury. And yet in one moment, a situation can change from easy to extremely challenging. I mean, people bring extra toothbrushes and underwear in case they need to spend the night somewhere; why not be just as prepared when going to remote areas?

I’d held back from many purchases, thinking we were just starting out with all these adventurous trips and so only deserve mostly “beginner” stuff. Wrong: equipment can save your life. As it was, we were plenty equipped. And yet we could have done better. Noted, Makiling.

MAKTRAV trail map. Sipit trail and Mt. Makiling (UPLB) trail. Sto. Tomas Batangas to Los Banos Laguna

The Legend of Mariang Makiling

Filipino literary-slash-revolutionary hero Jose Rizal, whose hometown was Laguna, wrote charmingly of the legend of the mountain’s guardian deity. She is beautiful by all accounts, her skin kayumangging-kaligatan, a clear light brown. Rizal describes Mariang Makiling as a moon-bathed, innocent entity — not a temptress nymph, nor a vengeful spirit, but a kind-hearted mountain goddess.

That she is called Maria is a result of religious and cultural syncretism. It was either an attempt by Spanish conquerors to rebrand the anitos into Marys, saints, and angels; or, the increasingly common moniker of Maria was bestowed on these beings simply to have them named. But locals have known the lady of Makiling long before the Spaniards came, and have petitioned her, as Dayang Masalanta, to protect them from natural disasters.

She is custodian of the mountain and its creatures, like the baboy-ramo (wild boar) and usá (deer). She would help villagers in times of need, punish disrespectful hunters, and, now and then, fall in love with a human being.

Reported sightings, though only ever hearsay, are hauntingly beautiful to imagine. In them she stands distant on dangerous precipices, runs over the tops of tall grasses, sits upon boulders in rivers “as though contemplating the slow course of the waters,” and bathes in the moonlight.

In Rizal’s essay, Mariang Makiling, stories are attributed to locals, who presented them as first- or secondhand accounts. Rizal ever-so-casually adds that, “Whether this is true or not, I do not know.” What’s amazing is that the same kind of stories are told today. Even with the sharpest logic it’s difficult to wholly reject the mysticism of Makiling.

And whatever you say about Jose Rizal, the original Pinoy softboy, he’s damn well attached to local scenery, and it shows when he writes. He’s one of those writers, in my book at least, who can be excused for describing the scenery in as many pages as he tells the story. Maybe I’m biased, because he writes about home. Anyway, because he can say this ever so much better than I can, I’ll conclude with his words:

“Various times I have wandered to the skirts of Makiling and, instead of dedicating myself to killing the poor pigeons who count their friendships in the high branches of the trees, reminding myself of what Mariang Makiling has invoked, I have listened, attentive in the silence of the forest, to perceive the harmonies of her melancholy instrument; and to see if I can discern her ideal figure floating in the air, half illumined by a ray of the moon which filtered through the thick foliage, I have left to surprise me at night. Nothing have I seen. Nothing have I heard.”

All this and more we have seen and admired, suspending our march at various times in order to tarry ecstatic…

“Later we climbed to the same summit of the mountain (in that infamous ascension which the friars attested to be that of a freebooter, notwithstanding the coming with us of an official and a soldier of the civil guard in the capacity of tourists) and we saw delightful places, charming places, worthy to be inhabited by gods and goddesses. Tall trees with straight and mossy trunks, among whose branches the vines weave most beautiful laces embroidered with flowers, most rare and varied parasitic plants from the threadlike fern to the toothed broad leaf, the split or circular gigantic ferns, palms of all kinds, tall and graceful, which distribute their symmetrical leaves in space as a splendid plumage; all this and more we have seen and admired, suspending our march at various times in order to tarry ecstatic; but neither the enchanted place nor the humble hut of Mariang Makiling were left to be seen.”

Excerpt from Mariang Makiling by José Rizal. Translated from Spanish by Arnold H. Warren

For this article, our pictures were sourced from all our friends and our own phones ★★

Categories: Out of Town

6 Comments

That Time We Were Rescued from Mt. Makiling

    1. We weren’t able to ask for his name, seeing as there was no time for conversation. I’m sorry to hear you had a similar “guide” experience. May I ask what happened and when was your trip?

  1. Hi Camille. What a story! All the excitement, suspense, fear, and the “unknown” in just a day that turned overnight. I’m also planning to hike makiling on a day also. I’m just thinking it would be safer to start from the UPLB campus trail not the Maktrav trail from Sto. Tomas. Your thoughts and advice.

    1. Hello Ed! Thanks so much for reading. As far as I know, there are two established or popular Makiling trails. The first is the MAKTRAV trail which is a traverse from Sto. Tomas to UPLB. The second is the Mt. Makiling/UPLB Trail which uses only the UPLB trail — so you will do a backtrail, or start where you came from. According to PinoyMountaineer, Maktrav is a major climb, rated 5/9. The Mt. Makiling/UPLB trail is a minor climb, rated 4/9. Of course, the easier trail would be safer, but if you’re up for a major climb, go for it!
      Just a note that doing a traverse from Los Banos to Sto. Tomas is not really recommended as it’s much more difficult — check out this article by a blogger who tried doing the reverse traverse. Besides, if you manage to finish early, there are interesting side trips in the Los Baños side, like visit the mudsprings or direcho sa mga hot spring resort! We didn’t get to do that, unfortunately. Lol
      Makiling is really beautiful. Just be prepared for the mud and limatiks, and try getting contact numbers of people in BOTH the Sto. Tomas and UPLB sides of the mountain before your trip. That would have helped us greatly in an emergency! But I’m hoping and praying everyone has a much safer Maktrav than we did, haha. Safe journeys to you po. 🙂

    1. Sorry for the late reply. He’s fine and recovering with rest and PT! At first, we all thought it was a sprain or meniscus tear, but it is most likely an overused IT band. Probably due to prolonged physical activity in the past. It seems ironic, but he was most at risk because he has been very physically active. It’s a lesson to all of us that while exercise is good, it’s also best to refrain from overexertion.

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