My Philippines Adventure Continues with Dipolog, Butuan, Davao City and Mount Apo – Part III

I left Cebu City in the rain and thought, “Okay, I am through with this liquid sunshine,” but as a landed in Dipolog City it was apparent the rain was not through with me. Descending the stairs and walking across the tarmac in a misty drizzle I wondered when exactly the monsoon season began and ended in this tropical paradise.

After quickly collecting my bags from baggage claim I exited to find a taxi only to find there were no traditional taxi service in Dipolog City. Your choice is either ride on the back of a motor scooter or what they call a tricycle. A tricycle is a homemade contraption that welds a covered sidecar onto either a bicycle or motor cycle. The frame is made with aluminum tubing and floor and top covered with sheet metal the sides are open and there is a six inch deep seat bench to sit on.

Unfortunately these contraptions are designed for tiny Asian bodies not big fat assed old American men. The average Asian in between 5 and 5 feet 6 inches tall with a slender build and weighs less than 150 pounds. I am 6 foot 3 inches with a wide body and weigh 228 pounds. Additionally most Filipinos can carry their belongings in a single plastic bag. I was dragging a roller bag, a back pack and my computer bag.

So doing my best impression of a circus contortionist, I crammed my by big fat ass, bags and another passenger into this Asian version of a Shriner’s parade clown car with one additional passenger riding on the back of the motorcycle.

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Arriving at my booked hotel I found the room had been double booked and I was out of luck on Easter Weekend. The only room available was in a dive hotel that looked like it rented by the hour where I had to pay for my towels. This should have tipped me off that Dipolog was not going to be as I had planned. First my flight that was supposed to land at 8am landed at 1pm. Then I lost another 2 hours with the hotel snafu wasting an entire day just getting settled. So the tour of the of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosery and Climbing the 3000 stair steps up Linabo Peak would have to wait a day.

The only bright spot on this gray rainy day was when I stopped to buy a few coke zeros I found of all things Baby Ruth Candy Bars. My favorite as a boy. Mmmm. Rich Carmel and peanuts coated in a layer of milk chocolate. I have found that the best course of action when I find something I like to eat to buy more than I need. And in the Philippines where I am not a big fan of their food I need all the replacement calories I can get. So I bought them all and ate sweet tasting Baby Ruth morning, noon and night. lol

 

So after checking into the No Tell Hotel, renting towels, and stowing my bags I walked over to McDonalds for some good old American fast food. In talking to a Tricycle driver I learned that this was Black Saturday and my dreams of a packed Karaoke Bar were dashed. All the bars were closed for Easter Weekend. But Filipinos are nothing if not resourceful. He drove me around until his sharp ears heard the music through closed doors and talked the proprietor into letting me enter a closed small grocery/karaoke bar.Inside there were a couple of very attractive young ladies one singing her heart out the other dancing enthusiastically.

I ordered a Red Horse beer and sat down to enjoy my very first Karaoke Bar. Three hours and 6 beers later my tricycle driver and I left the bare bones bar and made our way back to my less than reputable hotel to a laboring and ineffective air conditioner and a mattress that looked and felt like a relief map of West Virginia for a less that comfortable sleep – but not before I ate another Baby Ruth.

Next morning I was off to the Cathedral. The Church was built in 1896. The walls were constructed of huge adobe blocks and the ceiling constructed of a beautifully crafted intricate wooden pattern. A massive chandelier hangs from the wooden ceiling and of particular note is a handsome wooden relief of the four evangelists.

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From the cathedral we drove up into the mountains above the city to the starting point for the 3003 concrete steps all the way up Linabo Peak. As you climb the stairway to heaven there are 16 stations of the cross showing scenes from the life of Jesus. The faithful stop at each station to light candles and offer prayers. It was a hot day and I had to try to cram 2 days of sightseeing into one long day so I gave up on the 3003 stair climb at 400 stairs and headed back to the tricycle to get to the next site.

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My original plan called for me to visit the Libutan Cave, Sungkilaw Falls, the Sicayab Cliffs and lunch at the Seabreeze Restaurant on this day. And I didn’t make it to any of these sites lol. My tricycle driver said several were too far away to reach with the tricycle and suggested a famous park that he thought I would enjoy.

The park turned out to be a very local and hokie Disney like theme park and pretty much a waste of the afternoon. The place didn’t even have a decent café. My hamburger was not beef but some kind of mystery meat and they used some strange off brand of ketchup that tasted more like candy than a condiment.

So back to the No Tell Hotel to eat a Baby Ruth and go to bed early for an early morning flight to Manila then on to Butuan. In Butuan I had one quick day of visiting the city sites of the Banza Church, Balanghai Shrine, St Joseph Cathedral, the Butuan National Museum and Robinson’s Place.

Robinson’s Place turned out to be a shopping mall, the Museum was closed because of the pandemic and the Shrine was closed on Mondays. Leaving me with only three short stops before hiring a policeman to drive me to Davao City.

Davao City salvaged this Mindanao leg of my Philippine Tour. The city is beautiful and interesting. And the good news was that my Radisson Hotel was across the street from a large mall offering me easy access to an ATM machine, lots of food choices, and a Columbia Outdoor store where I bought replacement sandals.

I began my city tour with a quick visit to the San Pedro Cathedral that for some reason was designed to resemble a huge ship. There was a service going on so I could only peer in from the doors but it looked pretty impressive. After that I drove to Chinatown and visited the Lon Wah Buddhist Temple where I was allowed to enter and take photos. Then we drove up above city to an area called Jack’s Ridge for lunch.

 

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Jack’s Ridge sits up way above the city and offer a fantastic 360 degree panoramic view of the entire city and coastline. Which was perhaps why the retreating Japanese Army used the ridge as their headquarters toward the end of World War II. The American Marines landed in Davao in May of 1945.

 

The landing forced the Japanese to retreat further into the Matina Hills where they had a commanding view of the Davao Gulf where the U.S. Ships were anchored. After a fierce fight the Japanese had their asses handed to them and the rest is history. But there are reminders of those hard times all over the ridge. Caves dug by the Japanese troops pock mark the ridge and people still find old bullets and other war related relics in the rocks nearly a century later. And there is even a legend of gold bullion and other treasure looted from other countries by the Japanese Army hidden in one of the caves.

Whether the gold bullion is legend, truth or smart marketing by the restaurants perched atop Jack’s Ridge, the view from the terraces is without a doubt a million dollar view and not to be missed if you visit the city.

After a fantastic lunch of grilled whole pompano, rice and Red Horse beer – and lots of photos I made my way down to the Crocodile Park. They claim there are over 2000 fresh and saltwater crocs in the park but I didn’t count them – but there are definitely a boat load! The park also is home to many other animals including tigers, lions emus, snakes and more. In truth a very nice city zoo with a focus on big ass reptiles.

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I tried for hours to find the Kadayawan Village but my taxi driver and my GPS just drove me around in circles neither having any idea where the damn village was located. Nor did anyone we stopped to ask for directions. The village is supposed to show how houses of eleven different indigenous and Moro groups on the island constructed their homes. Unfortunately, these tribes must be experts in camouflage because no one has ever seen this place.

Eventually I gave up and returned to my hotel to prepare for my morning pick up for a three day trek up Mount Apo. Five am the following morning I met my driver for the hour drive to a small village to register with the Tourist Police for the trek and camping permit, a quick breakfast of eggs and bacon, met my guide and a porter, and then began another teeth rattling ride up the hill to the trailhead.

Apo is the tallest mountain and volcano in the Philippines and climbing any of the routes will take you to through three very distinct types of terrain. The first part of the trail is through small villages and highland farmstead planted in cabbages, carrots and bell peppers. This part of the trail is a muddy slog up a rutted track used by horses, motorcycles and people on foot (there are no automobiles on the mountain). In fact there is no electricity in these villages and homesteads.

I grew up on a farm in the mountains of West Virginia so seeing these families tending their hillside tilled fields without modern tractors and tools brought back memories of working in potato, corn, bean and hay fields with a team of horses or an old fashion hoe from sun up to sun down back in the 50s and 60s as a young boy. It seems 6 decades later life is coming full circle.

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Above the agricultural belt begins a unique highland rain forest or jungle. In my many years of travel, hiking, trekking and climbing I have traversed every type of terrain imaginable from deserts, to Florida swamps and marshes, to endless rolling hills, to lava fields, glaciers on skis and snowshoes, a 60 degree ice couloir on the front points of my crampons and the points of my ice tools, sheer granite and limestone rock faces, snow fields, boulder hopping across miles of boulder fields, or even hacking a trail through Uganda’s famed Impenetrable Forest in search of Silver Back Gorillas but I have never faced anything so hard and physically draining as this dense wet vertical rain forest jungle.

The jungle was hot and felt like 100% humidity. My clothes were sopping wet from my sweat within minutes. The trail was pretty much straight up using tree roots and downed trees as hand and foot holds. There were downed trees to crawl over, under and between. The ground was a quagmire of mud sucking my boots to the ankle with each step.

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By the time we stopped for lunch I was past ready for a break. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to admit I was feeling every one of my 70 years with each step up and half step slide back in the mud and mire. Fortunately I had spotted some smoked fish in the village and bought a smoked milk fish and small ball of rice for lunch and it was delicious! Little did I know it would be the last meal I would eat for three days.

After lunch we again began our slow slog up to the jungle camp. As we made slow but steady progress our passing was cheered by a steady and incredibly loud chorus of thousands if not tens of thousands of disturbed Philippine cicadas. As we climbed another 1000 vertical feet the steady roar of the lower cicadas would bleed off and a new chorus at our current altitude would burst into a riotous roar of protest at our passing and so it went all the way to the jungle camp.

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Once we arrived at the camp site we quickly set up my tent, stowed my gear, changed out of my sopping wet clothing and into dry linen pants and a dry shirt and tried to stretch out in my tent. That is when I noticed three small problems. First Asian tents are made for vertically challenged Asians – meaning my tent was too short for me to sleep with my aching body stretched out. Instead I had to lay on my back with my legs bent at a 45 degree angle or on my sides in a semi fetal position.

The second issue was the sleeping pad I was provided. It was basically a piece of a cardboard box with coating. Third was the sleeping bag – basically just a rectangular sack with no insulating material on the inside or waterproofing or even water resistant material on the outside (would become an issue the second night). But the first night I made do and slept pretty well except for the hunger.

You might ask why were you hungry big guy? Well, dragging my aging overweight body (228 pounds) up through the vertical morass of mud, roots, fallen trees and ferns burns hundreds of calories and hour and all I had eaten going into dinner was one small smoked fish and a rice ball the size of a golf ball.

So I was looking forward to a hearty dinner. Boy was I disappointed. I was served Sour Pork Soup. The soup or gruel consisted of 5 half inch by half inch chunks of pork fat and hide a couple of chunks of potatoes and weeds and grass that I had seen my guide collecting from the edges of farm fields as we passed and stuffing them into his dirty shirt against his sweaty skin. So on dinner I passed. Day one ended with an extreme caloric deficit.

My alarm was set for 2am and I woke and put back on my wet socks, wet trekking pants and wet boots. I opted to wear my dry long sleeve technical hoody rather than wear my sopping wet tee shirt again. Made my way over to the cook tent and saw a plate with an egg and some kind of mystery meat. I thought it was going to be offered up as breakfast but instead the guide put his pack on and said lets go. So no breakfast off we went into the dark only led by our headlamps.

We slowly made our way up the vertical jungle through, under and over deadfalls, stretches of hundreds of meters of vertical climbing up sloppy heavy wet mud using tree roots as hand and footholds and small creek gullies. Finally near dawn we exited the jungle into a dry sandy creek bed and followed it up to the beginning of the boulder field and a major vegetation change.

From this point on the vegetation was much more sparse and stunted due to the altitude and harsh weather conditions on the baron rocks. We continued through the boulder field moving cautiously from one large rock or boulder to another being careful to test each foot placement before shifting all of your weight onto the rock to avoid the rock rocking or rolling and upsetting your balance. Around 7am we stopped for breakfast and the egg I saw at 2am was served to me along with some sausage links of some mystery meat and four pieces of fried spam. Unfortunately since the food had been carried in the back of someone’s pack for 5 hours it was cold and discolored. The fat from the Spam had congealed over the Spam and eggs giving the entire plate a sick and gross pallor.

Just looking at the disgusting site made me want to dry heave since I had nothing in my stomach. So I passed on breakfast and continued to climb again without replacing any calories burnt after climbing for five straight hours.

We climbed on until about noon with my energy level dropping with each labored step up. We stopped at a small and relatively flat area and I hungerly waited for lunch to served. I was both surprised and extremely disappointed when the same disgusting congealed fat coated plate of cold eggs and spam was dropped in front of me.

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I just looked at the plate of excrement then at the porter/cook and said very politely (maybe not so polite) “Do expect me to eat this plate of Sh_t, the same Sh_t I wouldn’t eat 5 hours ago? This garbage is not fit for human consumption. In fact I’m not even sure it is safe for a dog or pig to eat. Get it out of my GD sight” By this time I had not eaten any serious calories in over 30 hours and I had burned 5 to 10 thousand calories and my body was running on empty.
I knew that I was not going to make the summit and stopped 300 meters and 2 kilometers (1000 vertical feet and 1.2 miles) from the top unable to continue. It was a tough decision because all my life I have believed and taught my children to never give up, never quit. It may be a silly thought but I have always believed that every time you quit on life it makes quitting easier the next time. And in time you quit every time you are faced with even small obstacles

I have climbed and trekked mountains over twice the size of Apo from Alaska to Chile to the Alps but this was the first time one had kicked my ass and I quit without having a serious injury making the decision for me. As I sat there looking out over the Gulf of Davao and the miles and miles of family farms far below I had mixed feelings. The view was absolutely stunning and worth the pain to get this far but I had and still have questions about my future adventure travel activities.

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Has age and Father Time finally stepped in to tell me I’m too old for this kind of fun. Is my body finally telling me at nearly 70 years old to act my age – that 70 should be my age not my IQ. I have felt the steady decline in recent years. I know I climb and walk slower and my balance is not what it was but I’ve always been able to make my mind and will overcome my pain and weariness to carry on to the top – but not this day. Is this the end of my adventure travel? Will I be able to handle 16 days of trekking at twice the this altitude covering many more kilometers a day in Nepal in late May? Will I be able to complete the Kashmir trek in the western Himalayas or will I crash and burn like today? Is this mountain and this moment going to define the rest of my life – an old man living on the memories of past adventures while sitting in a rocking chair drooling down my shirt.

I would like to make excuses like the extreme heat and humidity or the vertical jungle muddy morass, or lack of food to replace the calories I was burning did me in. But deep down I can feel it might just be Father Time tapping me on the shoulder.

Having made the decision to be a quitter I began the walk of shame back down to our camp site. We made it back muddy, wet and beat around 3pm and I immediately stripped off all the wet clothes and put on my dry linen pants and my Patagonia insulated jacket because it was the only thing still dry.

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Dry and exhausted I laid down and stretched my 6’ 3” body as far as I could in the less than 6 foot tent. I was finally off my feet and relaxing feeling a little better when the ground shook and the forest erupted in a strobe of flashes and the sky came crashing down. Rain like I have only felt in hurricanes began pelting the tent. Briefly I thought, glad we beat this storm and I’m out of the weather.

Then I felt the first drop hit my nose. At first I thought it was my imagination but then more drops. And within minutes rain was just pouring right through the tent’s fabric in half of the tent. So I could see rain coming pouring through from my waist to my head. To make matters worse the tent was put up in a place that was not quite flat so my head was uphill and feet downhill.

I grabbed my pack, sleeping bag and crammed everything in the downhill half of the tent and used my rain jacket to make a large catch basin for the water pouring through. So dead tired, hungry and pissed I spent 3 hours with my 6 – 3 frame curled in a fetal position 3 feet by 5 feet. Stuck with my leg muscles contracted and unable to move the muscle cramps began in my quads, my hamstring, calves even my lats were screaming for relief – but I couldn’t move or the gallons of water collected in my raincoat and dam would come pouring down on the dry half of the tent.

After three hours the downpour lessened enough that the cook brought me dinner. It was pasta and mushrooms in a red sauce that actually tasted pretty good. Unfortunately impossible to eat laying on my side with my knees tucked under my chin, one arm holding back the dammed up water in my rain jacket basin and the other trying to hold on to the metal plate and eat the pasta life a dog directly from the plate with my head and mouth sideways of the plate.

As you might guess the pasta didn’t end up in me but slid off the metal plate into my sleeping bag and my face and neck. And at this point I’m thinking could this farce get any worse? Well it did!

After a moment of confusion as I yelled at him about his cheap ass worthless tent leaking like a sieve he finally jumped into action. He used garbage bags to cover the outside of the tent which seemed to stop the cascade entering from above.

But in his eagerness to solve my problem while at the same time terrified of this angry old white guy threatening to throw him off the next cliff we came to he reached into the tent grabbed my rain coat water basin and just swished it out of the tent one quick motion before I could react and stop him. The raincoat flew one way and a gallon or more of water the other way and then gravity sent it all flooding into the dry half of the tent soaking everything that was not already wet.

So I slept in wet clothes, a water logged sleeping bag and a kitty pool tent, tired, muscles cramping , hungry and cold. I laid there all night thinking about what I would like to eat – maybe a Baby Ruth bar again?. Thinking about all the dry clothes back at the hotel I might be wearing. And thinking about what the sentence would be if I ripped the heads off of both the guide and cook/porter. Which then got me to thinking how best to go Medieval on their asses.

But at some point I fell asleep and woke to a new day with no rain and the promise of food once I got out of this damn vertical jungle. We broke camp after declining a breakfast of red hot chilis and tuna fish with eggs, and down climbed slipping and sliding down the mud filled ruts and furloughs.

Eventually we broke out of the highland rain forest and continued my walk of shame. Filipinos are extremely friendly people and put a premium on respecting their elders. They never fail to greet you with a smile and a good morning or afternoon sir without fail. So every group would greet me and either ask my how old I was or congratulate me for summiting. I didn’t mind sharing my age but hated admitting I had failed. But such is life – sometimes you conquer the mountain and sometimes the mountain conquers you.

By the time we made it back to the trailhead my homicidal fantasies were forgotten and I began to remember all the things the guide and porter had done to make me as comfortable as possible with what they had. I’m sure two day old cooked spam is a fine meal for them and they probably thought the problem was me not their meals. And all my bitching about mud caked boots – hell they were making the trek in flip flops or bare footed. And even in the rain I could hear them singing and joking as if they were sitting in a karaoke bar in Davao.

The more I thought about my disappointment and childishness about the food the more I realized I had become the Ugly American Mark Twain wrote about. And I remembered a conversation I had with an ancient Buddhist Monk and headmaster of a beautiful 11th century Monastery on the Tibetan Plateau in China. He had invited me to tea and lunch in his quarters. While we ate he asked me through an interpreter what religion I followed. I told him I was a Christian but not a very good one.

His response was, “it does not matter Buddhist, Hindi, Muslim, Christian. Only one thing matters in the end – kindness. He touched my arm and said kindness to all men, pointed outside to a rooster – kindness to all animals, touched a bowl of boiled potatoes and carrots – kindness to plants. This is the essence of all religions and how we should live our lives.” Funny but as he talked I understood every word even before the translator spoke the words in English.

On this day I let my hunger, weariness and disappointment at my personal failure forget that lesson and treat these two men harshly and rudely. On parting I apologized for acting and braying like a jack ass and gave them both a large tip for their hard work – my failure was not their failure or their fault and I should not have been such a dick to them.

And as I walked through the fields of cabbages I decided – screw it I’m not done yet. Let’s see if the 180 kilometer 16 day high altitude Annapurna circuit trek can beat this old man! Time will tell, but now on to Puerto Princesa to paddle the first 2 kilometers of an 8 kilometer subterranean river then on to Mount Mayon an active and one of the most photographed volcanos in the world for its perfect shape. The adventure continues in the Philippines part IV…..

 

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2 Responses to My Philippines Adventure Continues with Dipolog, Butuan, Davao City and Mount Apo – Part III

  1. Shirley Burris Yates says:

    I bet you wished you’d save a couple of those Baby Ruth’s.

  2. Har S says:

    Your adventures are amazing. I Like baby ruth bars too when hiking. Gives me energy, crispy outside and creamy inside.

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