LOOK: The rewards of hiking after months in quarantine

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Mt. Banahaw as seen from Mt. Manabu. Kuya Ellis tells us this is the first time in a while that it’s appeared unshrouded by fog or clouds. Photo by JL JAVIER

Last year, my mother, who worked in the aviation industry, took an interest in hiking. She was able to do plenty of hikes in Hong Kong where she worked, before she came home to the Philippines. Since coming back, she and I have been meaning to find ways for her to pick up on her hobby, and for me to finally try it out for myself as I had never gone on a hike before. (I refuse to count the field trips we had in high school where we did short “treks” to provincial waterfalls and walked into literal bat caves in our PE uniforms.)

I came across the posts of one of my friends who’d already been able to do several hikes since the year began. We talked to him and eventually he was able to organize a trip to Mt. Manabu, Batangas, which he’d just climbed recently. He suggested it for its low level of difficulty, graded a 2 out of 9. It was supposedly perfect for us as our group included first time climbers and kids. But on the day of the hike, it turned out to be harder than expected because the trail was wet with mud and very slippery due to the recent rainy days.

As quarantine restrictions were eased and tourist attractions were reopened to a limited capacity, we found the perfect opportunity to organize the hike. According to the Batangas Provincial Tourism Office, parks, including natural sites such as Mt. Manabu, are open for GCQ areas starting Mar. 5, 2021.

On the way there from Las Piñas, we didn’t encounter any checkpoints up until Barangay Sulok in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, which is already the Mt. Manabu jump off point. Here, we were only asked to list our contact details and to pay a 30-peso environmental fee per head — no other requirements needed. 

I found the climb a very welcome change of scenery especially after being cooped up in Metro Manila for months of quarantine. I personally thought we were very lucky with the day we decided to climb because the weather was pleasant and cool throughout, even towards the latter part of our hike approaching noon. For the majority of the hike, you’ll spend walking under thick canopy with ample shade from the sun.

I ended up having a really good time on the hike, especially spending it with my mother and some of my friends who all seemed to enjoy it very much as well. I fumbled through the more slippery downsloping parts of the trail, had a few minor slips and falls (turns out it’s hard to maneuver over muddy ground by grasping at tree branches with one hand while taking photos of everything that’s happening with the other), but I enjoyed the whole thing nonetheless. It made the view on the summit all the more rewarding.

We were a group of 12 people and were spaced out slightly to observe social distancing. The distance grew even more as we adjusted to our own pace. Our line eventually spread out enough so that we were each just walking with our respective families.

Personally though, I decided to keep my mask on all throughout the hike even when I found myself relatively far from everyone else. I used a KN95 face mask that I prefer for more physical activities because the space in front of the mouth and nose makes it feel more comfortable to breathe in. I also credit the nice weather that made wearing a mask less cumbersome. My ears did eventually feel some strain from the garters but I suppose it was a small price to pay for extra safety.

Our hike began at around 8 a.m. in the morning, which was later than planned (to avoid the day’s heat) but it was cool and pleasant in the forest nonetheless. Photo by JL JAVIER

Due to the recent rainy days, the otherwise straightforward trail was wet with mud and slippery. Photo by JL JAVIER

While most of the hike was through dense forest, there were also several stretches of meadows and clearings. Photo by JL JAVIER

Kuya Ellis, who resides at the foot of Mt. Manabu and one of our guides on the hike, calls us to resume our hike after a short breather at one of the mountain’s eight stations. Photo by JL JAVIER

Some parts of the trail involve very steep inclinations for which there are ropes to cling to. Photo by JL JAVIER

My mother became interested in hiking just last year before she came home to the Philippines. Photo by JL JAVIER

Our big group of 12 people filed behind Kuya Ellis, spaced out slightly to observe social distancing and as we adjusted to our own pace. Photo by JL JAVIER

We reached the summit of Mt. Manabu after just over an hour and a half. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Taal Lake can be seen in the distance from one of the sides of the mountain’s peak. Photo by JL JAVIER

Our guides tell us that we were very lucky on this day to catch the views from the summit so clearly in great weather. Photo by JL JAVIER

After a brief pause at the summit (which was surprisingly slightly crowded with other hikers and campers) we began our trek downward. Photo by JL JAVIER

The hike back proved to be more difficult especially that the muddy downslope was just as slippery. Photo by JL JAVIER

We tread the trail downhill carefully, sometimes grasping at branches and even roots for support. Photo by JL JAVIER

By 12:30 p.m. we were finished with the hike and back at the foot of Mt. Manabu. Photo by JL JAVIER

After the tiring hike we settled down at one of the small karinderyas at Mt. Manabu’s jump off point and rewarded ourselves with authentic Batangas Lomi. Photo by JL JAVIER