Golden blues: Mountain traverse To Anawangin

01-20-2012. The morning was hazy and cool. I sympathized with street children. Sleeping with their backs open to the cold polluted air of Metro Manila. A day like this could be brutal. Maybe they don’t feel cold? Maybe they don’t feel anything.

Philippines' short christmas season was drawing to a close. The thick gray clouds that block the moon on this icy January night marked the end of the short cool months this year. I awoke at 12midnight and washed my face, with barely enough sleep. I sat alone in an ordinary bus, looking out the window and pondered upon things on how spontaneous this trip was. We are going to Zambales for a weekend getaway, and leave the station in Caloocan at 4am. I was an hour early. To say the least, this trip was an open birthday invitation by one of my few good friends Ivan who is also a travel blogger. Crazy guy, wanted to spend his 20th in the wilderness. Ha ha. Our itinerary includes a mountain hike, beach camping and island hopping. All of it squeezed in more or less 48 hours. Who'd believe we can do that? Well, I do.

Ivan's birthday attire and his signature hat on his preferred place of celebration: wilderness.

I won't go over details on the bus ride beforehand. Three hours later and the group arrived in Zambales, bought necessities in the public market, picked up booze for the night, and headed to the jump-off point of Barangay Pundaquit. FROM HERE, one has to choose if he will prefer riding the boat straight to Anawangin cove or the not-so-easy traverse across the mountain. We chose the latter.

The clearing

The group was an hour late for the traverse as told by our guide. Naturally, he led the group into the outskirts of the town. Every turn of the paved path the nipa houses became sparse. The sun was unforgiving, we had to resort on covering our whole body with anything that could reduce the possibility of skin cancer. After a few minutes walk, the paved surface suddenly disappeared, and now a scorching hot sand path narrowed to half its width. I was very thirsty that a liter or so of my water reserve went down smoothly. My sandals nearly melted. 

From both sides, A valley of shrubs and pines tower in like giant waves at us. Dark green Casuarinas or Agoho mixed with the yellow Saccharums or Talahib isn't really what you'll expect of this landscape. At first look, one would be confused by the occurrence of a pine tree on a semi-arid region like this. But Agoho is not a pine. It just pretends to be one. 

The sand on our feet was endless. The temperature soared and we were greeted by a vast clearing that looked like a lahar path from the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Scorched rocks so dark we had mistaken for coal were scattered and embedded into the sand. From here, our guide pointed us the peak that we are going to climb. It wasn't enticing. The sun shone brightly still. My water jug was empty.

One of my companions pleaded for a stopover.
"Time out!" he said.
And so we did. From there we found a thirsty river. I'm not surprised.

The water of the river had subsided somewhat and maybe since the day before and was now running murky. Clumping trees spread out on the opposite bank, where irregular mid-morning breezes traced random waves through the ripened, tall grassiness, as far as the eye could see. A bridge was not evident but we could still cross it. Big boulders embellish the banks like arranged pebbles on a mother's garden.

Heading towards the path we will soon take, little birds faintly chirp an audible sound in the wind. Three crows flew out of the now golden bamboo thickets. Making a full circle above the river and landing on the little pool where we can get fresh water. From there we got so excited. Parang ngayon lang kami nakakita ng tubig.
"Water!" I exclaimed.

We were so happy we even took pictures of the water itself --just like a precious treasure beneath the sea. I took a picture of myself drinking the water, but I don't have the guts to include it here, I look irrestistably stupid. We set down our packs, went down to the stream, and helped ourselves to a drink. It was the best-tasting water I’d ever had. Cold enough to redden my hands, and sweet, with a scant trace of earth.

Here, Cai is taking her time with the precious pool of water.
We continued to trace the paths that lead into a labyrinth of bamboo thickets.
Chino, one of our companions, broke the silence that floated throughout the grove by cracking a very hilarious joke. Typical Chino. From there, we sang and joked around. Until now I can remember how happy we were while trudging that itchy, endless maze. And after that, the ascent began. 


The Ascent

A whole expanse of bare mountain stood before us. Dotted by deciduous trees, our guide told us that they planted them as stopover for the hikers. Clever, indeed. I wonder... how much time does it take to reach another tree from the other... 30 minutes? 45... Beats me. Probably i'd be dead out of dehydration.

Grasses endlessly covered the land. No matter how fast we walked, we seemed to make no progress. I couldn’t get any feeling for the distance. Come to think of it, this was the first sloped ground we’d walked on, so things far off seemed out of reach.

I looked back to trace our progress. Not bad, I thought.
"Kuya, malapit na tayo sa peak?" I asked him.
"Hindi, wala pa sa kalahati, ser."
Let me repeat that. Our guide told us we're not even halfway. 
"Ah, talaga..." I answered, crestfallen.

And then for our 20++th stopover, we sat under a cute, chubby little tree. Ian fought for his life. Every 5 minutes or so, he has to stop to catch his breath. It ran away from him, like a prodigal son.Meanwhile, our birthday boy was unstoppable. He stood there, waiting, taking in the landscape, ready to conquer his first peak on his 20th."A little more," Kuya told us in an encouraging tone. And because of that, we took time to take our pictures as we celebrated the nearing victory. The peak at last

But it was short lived. Dark clouds passed like vapor nomads on the hunt. We have to keep going or we will be drenched with rain. This time our wish to have water will soon come true.
The clouds followed their appointed course as if they were guiding us to the peak. They vanished upon reaching the highest point.


The peak

 We were totally alone. As if we’d been dropped off at the edge of the world. We set our backpacks on the ground and stood there saying nothing, trying to get our bearings. To the other side below us a slender ribbon of silver river prolly from the towns of Zambales wound its way through the valley, both banks covered in dense green forest.

Across the valley broke waves of low, golden hills and beyond that a hazy view of the flatlands. Thin
columns of smoke rose from the fields where rice straw was being burned after the harvest. A breathtaking
panorama, and it was fulfilling. Everything seemed so remote, and we were rendered speechless.

West philippine sea fitted into Anawangin cove like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. The dark shades of Agoho filled the sides of the cove. Makes me want to set up a hut here. I don't mind the heat. The endless breeze licked off every sweat I accumulated upon ascent.

The sky was weighed down with a cool, uniform blue sky— and clouds that seemed, cheerful with our success. The clouds raced westward from the direction of the land, cutting across the rugged mountains to the coves on their way to the West philippine sea with remarkable speed. It all contributed to making us aware of the utter beauty of where we stood. One passing breeze and we could almost feel infinite.

And of course after taking our obligatory photos, we saved up our remaining energy for the descent.


The Descent

“Let’s get moving,” I said, shouldering my small bag which cushioned my camera. Something awful, whether rain or lightning, was in the air, and I wanted to be near someplace with a roof. I sure didn’t want to get drenched out here in the mountains.

We hoofed it away from the peak on the double. rain clouds started to form. or so i thouight. The guide was right: We had to hurry. it would be another 1 and a half hour. I don't know it it's just me but there was a feeling of doom that first came over my body, then went on to strike a warning signal in my head. The sort of feeling you get when you’re crossing a river and all of a sudden you sink your feet into mud of a different temperature.

Here, Chino's face can describe the tension.
The descent was harder that the climb. In just the three hundred yards we walked, the sound of our footsteps on the clay soil went through any number of changes. Time and again, steep slopes and drops barricaded our path. Even after we cleared the safe place, we did not slow down, trying to create as much distance from the spot as we could. 

View of the peak from below
My paranoia was short lived when kuya assured us that we're going to reach the clearing safely. Another 3 stopovers and we were walking on level ground. Having made it this far, we had no problem with the rest of the way. The path flattened out, and the mountains lost their sharp ridges. Gradually, we were in the midst of a peaceful littoral scene.

And it was quiet. The sound of the wind itself was swallowed by the grand expanse of forest. The air was
split by the cry of a fat bird. Once the bird was out of sight, the silence flowed back in, a viscous fluid filling every opening. The leaves that had fallen on the rocks were withering from the dry spell. The path seemed endless, like the Agoho forest around it. The low clouds, which had been terrifying only a short while before, now seemed surreal through the woods.

In another thirty minutes, the  peak was completely behind us, and sea of Agoho trees in their evergreen foliage stretched forever. Among the trees were brilliantly hued shrubs and undergrowth, here and there a toppled trunk, brown and rotting.

“Seems like a nice enough place,” My companion Joan thought.
After those slopes, it looked like a nice place indeed.
The path led us straight up through this sea of stones which used to be a river or a lagoon.
After another fifteen minutes, we came to what they call "Anawangin cove."



  1. congrats BJ for a very descriptive blog. Felt the heat and the sweat as if I climbed the peak with you guys. Very nice accompanying pictures too. Continue blogging

  2. Thanks ninang. :) I will keep you posted.

  3. This is one of my best and unforgettable trips this year.

  4. well covered. sipag kumuha ng picture at para na rin kami nakasama sa trek. naalala ko yung kwento nina Ian sa pagod sa trek na to.

  5. thanks dom! oo sobra yung pagod niya nun!

  6. Enjoyed reading this. You write very well.

  7. paki-edit! Pakilagay Ian and Joan were fighting for their life. hehehe. kala ko mamamatay na kami ni Ian dun!


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