Toothaches, a care-free prairie run, picking wild raspberries, strawberries and blueberries on the roadside, and unprovoked giggles belong to girls and boys enjoying the freedom of childhood.
It did not occur to us that we could be girls and boys also along the trail to the Pulag Summit and back. On a rainy afternoon, we had no choice but to wear our raincoats, heavy packs on our backs we started the walking journey and in two hours we were traversing the pine forests and mossy forests stopping most of the time to re-fasten falling plastic sheets that served as raincoats and to take note of queer plants and insects on the trail.
It was a relief that the rains came before the trek. These lowered the temperature a little and made the trek a lot easier. Older trekkers, or those who have come several times before kept reminding us to enjoy the journey, taking time to smell the flowers, as they would put it. So we obliged. Later we realized there was no reason to rush, instead we took our time picking road-side berries, which we took straight into our salivating mouths.
All of a sudden the child in each of us came out and celebrated freedom. No more deadlines to beat, nor stories to send to expectant editors. Not even a picture to download. No PC, no internet, no electricity. Only eight-hour battery load and basic cellphone that could not even take a photograph of the mountain the indigenous Karaw, Kalanguya, and Ibaloy considered sacred because they believed it cradles the spirits of their ancestors.
Pulag lures. Everyone was taking pictures here and there. Of the rain-drenched leaves and moss-covered tree trunks that glistened after the afternoon shower. Of the super mooon, which appeared bigger thn usual, especially in the misty Pulag evening. Of distant mossy mountain kallajan trees that resembled broccoli or cauliflower from the Summit. Of the grassland sunrise that looked different each time. Of western-looking trekkers and freckled local porters. Of peasants eking out a living in well-manicured vegetable terraces that extended up to the pine forests. Of cabbages and potatoes, bananas and squash. There was so much to capture because the next trek may not be the same again.
Pulag offered so much more than what the cameras could capture. It tested not only the physical strength of trekkers but also their will. For example, it enhanced in each visitor the will to maintain and respect the sanctity of the place; to preserve its biodiversity because it the the country's gift to the world, with known species found only in the mossy forest or the grasslands; and to share in the responsibility of maintaining the prestine environment.
Pulag cures. By merely compelling each visitor to walk for hours, because there are no rides to the Summit. No tramlines to haul people and luggage. No hotel bed nor luxurious latrines. No restaurants nor fast-food joints. No hospital nor pharmacy to treat the wounded. It offers nothing to the modern-day tourists but nature in all its glory and splendor. These make each traveler a pilgrim and this non-exposure to toxins alone cures and strengthens. his also rationalizes the
Pulag cradles. While it is sad that locals could not harvest anything from Mount Pulag and are not even allowed to plant anything because it would disturb the natural makeup of the Pulag biodiversity, it fattens the heart that it cradles some of the most endangered species of mammals, reptiles, insects and plants. This explains the need to refrain from hunting and gathering and the urgent need to do research to document what species are still in this mountain range. This also rationalizes the appeal for trekkers not to bring any seed to throw along the trail.
Pulag pleads. Vegetables are growing in the mountain slopes inside Mount Pulag's pine forests. Mining operations are fast being processed to mine the bowels of the supposedly sacred mountain lair of indigenous peoples' ancestors. The mountain wanted to cry like the little girl or boy in each of us to ask for help. How else can this little girl or boy in us be free again if there are no more Mount Pulags where we can roam free, and giggle and in our silence, walk the trails with awe?
The walk home did not dampen the girl or boy in each of us. It even freed and nurtured it and we took pride as we showed off the little treasures that we gathered on the roadside: wild rasperries, strawberries and blueberries. When we reached the road, we had boiled sweet potatoes, sayote tops and pinikpikan that pushed tummy-filling red rice down our throat. After lunch, another thirty-minute walk to the jeepney terminal shook off all the bad cholesterol from chicken skin and broth that we had glutonously had with gusto.
With potaoes and cabbages from Pulag, bananas and squash from Bokod, and many happy memories of our trek to Mount Pulag, we headed home before the next sunset caught us.
Mount Pulag, you conquered us and here's hoping you also survived us this time. # Lyn V. Ramo