TRAVEL: Mount Maculot: The First of More Weekend Getaways

Story by Ace Parilla for BukidnonNews.Net
Photos by Carlyn Loselle Caguicla

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CUENCA, Batangas (BukidnonNews.Net/31 December 2016) “Cuenca! Cuenca!,” the jeepney driver yelled as we passed by the infamous arch with inscription, Bayan ng Cuenca.

Still sleepy, me and my six other workmates stepped down for the first time in this unassuming Batangueño town. The 7 A.M. sun felt like it is gently waking us as we start our day hike. Like a thrilled child on a doorstep of a toy store, I could not contain my excitement when I first looked up and stared at the beauty and might of Mount Maculot.

With an elevation of 930 meters, Mt. Maculot is among the highest peaks in Batangas.   Rockies, a part of the mountain at 706 MASL (meters above sea level), offer a panoramic view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. Amidst the several deaths recorded in this mountain with the most recent dating in 2013, it remained a favourite day hike destination among thrill seekers the whole year round.

Being away from the laid-back and lush Bukidnon for a couple of months since I started working in Manila, I’ve always wanted to escape the bustling atmosphere of the city. Since both relaxation and adventure in Bukidnon is just a will-away as always, I have this ardent longing of getting in touch with nature once again; to clench and feel the sweet smelling rain forest soil.

When we reached the starting point of the mountain’s trail, the local tourism officer got ourselves a tour guide. “For your group, your guide is Mang Renato. He might be older than other guides, but surely he is as strong as a carabao,” jokingly said by the tourism officer.

“Before we start, I want you to know that I will be the rule in this hike,” said by Mang Renato as he smiles towards us. It is obvious to tell that he is about in his 40’s, but his posture and his mien suggest that he is reliable. With his humor and his distinct Batangueno accent which is truly fascinating, we instantly clicked with each other.

The early part of the hike was easy, but as we went deeper in the forest, the path became narrower and steeper. There were parts where we need to grip on exposed roots just to lift ourselves.

However, the hike to the campsite, which is a flat area in the higher part of the mountain and also the point between two directions, the summit and the Rockies, has twelve resting stations. These stations are adequately placed not too distant from each other to favor first time hikers.

There are also makeshift stores in every station, which hikers call ‘7/11’, that sells variety of refreshments and snacks. It has become a household joke among hikers that you can both climb and do shopping in Maculot. These respites make Mt. Maculot a great choice for newbies who seeks for a taller peak than most in the region.

As hours passed by, the scorching heat and exhaustion slowed our pace. But as we reach higher and higher every step, the peeking view of Taal Lake enticed us to climb even higher in order to get a clearer view. As we reached the tenth station, we were in awe as the panoramic view of Taal Caldera filled our eyes. Like what most blogs unanimously claim, it is a sight to behold.

The moment we reached the campsite, we were somewhat surprised when we saw how far still the summit is. Our knees were shaky, and some of us are exhausted already. It must be the price for underestimating the climb by not even preparing our bodies for it. However, most of us agreed to continue the climb, for amidst the tiredness, it will never be complete unless the summit is conquered.

From campsite to summit, it is already an all assault hike – no more resting stations, no more 7/11s. We noticed that in every hiker doing backtrail, their shoes were heavily covered in mud. Not so long then we experienced how muddy it is as we get higher and higher. It must be due to the high humidity and the denseness of the forest that hinders evaporation even in the middle of the day. Even if this leg of the climb is twice exhausting, the cheers of every hiker doing backtrail like “just keep going, you are near the summit”, “don’t stop, the summit is really beautiful”, are truly uplifting.

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More sweats dropped and more heavy breaths exhaled before we finally reached the summit. Nonetheless, the view at the tops is worthy of all the efforts. The wider views of Taal Lake and the vast Batangas scenery on the other side made us realize how beautiful the world is, if only we dare to look on a different perspective. It was also surprising that a couple of kids are selling ice candies in the summit!

The climb to Maculot’s summit surely eased my homesickness as I experienced something similar to home. Of course, I also noticed a lot of differences between my hike in Maculot, and in some of my hikes in Bukidnon.

First, even if fairly there are more beautiful peaks in Bukidnon, it is remarkable how the local tourism unit of Cuenca translated the tourism potential of Mt. Maculot into creating jobs and business opportunities for its people.

Another, hiking in any Luzon mountains including Mt. Maculot has been a favorite weekend or holiday habit among millennials, especially among the young professionals of the National Capital Region. The relentless sharing and uploading of photos and videos among social media sites has driven the millennials to experience and explore places themselves. In turn, LGUs strategically made ways to make trips which include hikes more secured, less hassle, and sustainable to par with the demands of tourism boost. Provision of readily available well trained hike guides, established paths and rest stations, and descent washing area at each base are some of the things already expected to see in every hike destinations in Luzon, from the tallest Mt. Pulag and even in short climbs like Pico De Loro.

Lastly, just like most of the mountains you may see as you travel via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), Mt. Maculot is a mountain densely covered with forest trees and shelters wildlife.

Unfortunately, many mountains outside protected areas in Bukidnon as well as other parts of Mindanao are either converted into agricultural lands or left extremely deforested. As a nature enthusiast, it is disheartening how past and present administrations act too slowly that they can’t keep pace to losing of life of our Mindanaoan mountains.

Somehow I wonder, maybe unless the LGUs realize the tourism potential of our less visited natural landmarks which includes mountains, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, and maybe unless they establish a system where they can extract money through sustainable ecotourism, only up until then they will start to care.

It was already near midnight when we reached our houses in Metro Manila. After all our bodies refreshed and all nice shots were uploaded, we immediately dozed up to a long and fulfilling rest. Mount Maculot gave us a unique experience that made us all wanting more – like another peak, perhaps.

(Carl Ace Parilla is a licensed veterinarian from Central Mindanao University practicing in the food animal industry in Central Luzon. He was among the top placers of the VetMed board exams in 2016. He hails from Impalutao, Impasugong, Bukidnon.)