Conquerors of Sleep
I’ve always been a beach bum – mesmerized by the thousand diamonds across a blue blanket – always that postcard moment from that song by Incubus and ever-since I was very young watching The Little Mermaid on repeat, falling asleep to the sight of marine life conservation posters hanging around my room and watching the dolphins and orcas at Ocean Park, I was always fascinated with the deep blue. In all of my existence, I’ve only climbed a few trails not very far off of civilization. The last time I climbed, I got lost in the San Mateo jungle en route to a hidden waterfall where my college friends and I were shooting for Ad class. I’d never really been very good friends with the mountains as you now know, so consider my hike in Mount Daraitan my first serious hike.
Hello, Mount Daraitan. I’m Sleepless.
I wasn’t the most eager person to go hiking that day. My body has rebelled late into the wee hours of the weekend just because that was how my body clock was winded for weeks on end. Thankfully or not, I was not alone on that day. For some reason, our group mostly had just 1-2 hours of sleep before the hike and though I was assured that we’d be climbing in nearly the same pace, I do not encourage anyone not to get enough rest before a hike. Not even to Mount Daraitan, and I kid you not. Surely, even a seasoned hiker knows to prepare well for any hike, as any adventure is coupled with risks. So aside from getting enough rest, definitely condition your body and your mind weeks before your hike. Pack light and put on some comfortable clothes and shoes.
After that winding beat-up road, we finally arrive in Barangay Daraitan where the mountain was towering proud in the distance. For everybody’s safety, there was registration and a pre-climb briefing with our local guides at the town hall. Leaving our fate in the Almighty’s Hands, we then set off towards the mountain. Just before entering the trail, we knew we can’t go further without a little warm-up for the long hike.
Hiking to Station 1 seemed quite endless. Basically, it seemed to be hours below the peak, and nothing much was in sight but foliage and our feet in the mud and onto patches of limestone peeking from the ground going uphill for long stretches. On the sunny side of things, it was great just to be able to spend that morning in nature, up and about, miles away from the concrete madness that is Manila for a day and be breathing the fresh air. The idea was already quite enough for me to do a little happy dance in my head to celebrate the moment though my legs and what’s that word again? Oh, feet! – were starting to get a little numbed.
Finally about halfway to the top, we find ourselves with the mountain breeze and an amazing view of the hills below. Also, cool buko juice in hand care of a friendly local vendor at this waypoint selling chilled coconut goodness. Spending a few minutes just like that was just what we needed midway through. Replenished, I started to find a more comfortable pace.
The Ascent to Mt. Daraitan
As soon as we had reached the next waypoint, everyone was absolutely quick to find a new branch or rock to perch on. A smile from a local vendor greets us from under a hut where a selection of drinks and munchies were sold. Campers were already busy making lunch by their tents. Taking our quick break just below the campsite, we meet another friendly local in the form of a cute chubby dog. Until we all were our chatty selves again, we headed back on the trail. This time, “[Just] 5 minutes na lang,” was getting closer to the truth.
Although, of course it’s 5 minutes times 3 in reality, but we were feeling unstoppable now. Except for taking a few inevitable 30-second stops for not being in our best condition. The climb became steeper and muddier. The wind was much cooler. The limestone protruded on the ground more than ever. “Welcome to Mount Daraitan,” a sign read, followed by sighs of relief all around. Was I glad I hoarded Mercury Drug and 7-Eleven for grains and fruit before we took off. Miraculously, we made it to the top after much struggle with sleep.
Just up a bit more, and there was the view of everything below. A winding river, rolling hills – the view upon that famed crag of limestone where visitors have their photos taken. Surprisingly, at least 3 other groups were at the peak with us on that day. So it was quite a crowd. While people were in line for photo ops, I tried my darnedest not to fall asleep behind a huge rock. Instead, I started to polish off my granola bars until we got our turn.
The Traverse to Tinipak River
The descent was even tougher. Just the opposite of what I had hoped. We took a shorter path down the other side of the mountain to the river. With all the rough-edged slabs and all the slipping in-between those crags on muddier trail with barely anything to hold onto, it was yet the closest I ever get to believing Temple Run was real. I started to feel my knees get weak. With every slide down that path or non-path, just like the video game, I could hear myself scream, “Nooooooo!” Voice fading out as “Game Over” appears overhead. And what’s crazy is I could never just exit the game already! I was practically having a nightmare out of sleep.
But it couldn’t be all that dreadful, the path evened out as we got closer to the river just as our guide assured us. Hours later, our feet were reacquainted with the pavement. I could already feel the leg muscles aching as we got to lunch. In the distance, we could see the mountain we had just climbed. I could hardly believe I did. I never would have imagined it but I guess, I’ve just ticked something off of my bucket list then.
Overhearing about our next activities during lunch, I could only wish for a soothing massage or even a full minute of just planking or playing dead.
Spelunking and River Trekking
Opposite the mountain we had climbed was yet another hike to the cave and the river. More rocks on the still muddy trail, but they were loose and others, larger, sharper, and slippery as ever. At this point, I realized that I had actually made it very far in Temple Run. Kidding aside, it was as real as it could get for me. We crossed a couple of charming little death-defying bridges and ladders, slid down gigantic limestone formations and clung onto them for dear life. Not only was my body getting a work-out, but my mind, too. Just thinking about how you’re going to lift yourself up to the next step was strenuous and even more without sleep. Every single move was important to stay alive already quite literally.
The cave was absolutely slippery and muddy, but at the end was a pool of clear flowing water where we took a dip. Our guide thrust a light up into the darkness revealing these beautiful stalactites that seemed to be ages old. On the other hand, I honestly just wanted to open my mouth to drink the dripping water from up there – tired as I was. Without lingering too long, we then took the same way out to the river.
Tinipak River’s clear water and majestic rock formations were a sight to behold. The river has a strong current. And there was possibly a whirlpool by that bridge where someone’s phone and another’s wallet have, in fact, been swallowed up on that same day. Then again, it’s yet another reminder that we must bring only the necessities and stay alert in the outdoors. We made sure to take a dip in the safer part of it before heading back.
Hike to Hitch
Another 30-minute trail it was from the River campsite to the tricycle terminal bound to the town proper. As if I thought I was through with hiking for the day. But I thoroughly enjoyed that unbelievable ride back to town. It was a tricycle that seats 6 people unlike the ones in the metro. Although its sidecar seats were wooden planks and not exactly comfortable, it was such a blast to speed downhill on the bumpy roadside of a mountain on a tricycle. Epic ride for fifteen pesos? Yes, please.
Back in the town of Daraitan, the cold shower became the highlight of my long journey as I felt closer to snooze time. I sprinted to the first unoccupied shower room and came out all clean and smelling like a winner.
It was only a matter of time until one by one, we were conquered by sleep if not for the rough road home. Having climbed this mountain still seemed surreal. With towers of limestone looking marvelous yet villainous to the touch, the climb seemed a little bit short of a maze garden of death. Hiking Mt. Daraitan was definitely challenging and may not be for everyone. In the middle of it all, you might think to yourself just why you’re doing what you’re doing. And believe me, that was what has got my mind working over time too. But I have to agree, it feels great to have survived this ordeal for a mermaid-type (me!) Although, the hike would have been much less daunting had we enough sleep before the trip. At least, for us, that was lesson number one.
In the end, it wasn’t really the mountain that we had conquered. Rather, it was our own fears that the mountain has helped us overcome – even just for a day as a testament. At peace with the thought, I finally gave in. After 21 hours of fighting sleep, eyes closed and still conquering sleep.