The question is not at what age you want to retire, it’s at what stage. After my Mt. Apo climb with friends, I seriously considered “retiring” from hiking and mountain climbing. RETIRE. Such a big word coming from someone who has not seen it all. Someone who has not reached that far. IKR!

At some point, I just thought it’s the next logical step. Nature has witnessed us growing together on the trail, and it seemed like time has come to for us to grow separately. To find our own niche. Forge our own paths. As for me, maybe it’s time to rekindle an old love. My first love, poetry.

But it turned out easier said than done. So there I was, on another boat trip to an unknown land.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recently approved the reopening of the Tinagong Dagat, a two-kilometer caldera which is said to be the old crater of Mt. Mandalagan. And when Jharm of Lakwatserong Engineer posted that he was gathering 15 hikers for a DIY climb, James immediately reserved our slot. Jovy, Kim and Shiela also decided to come along and join the fun.

New Faces, New Stories

The group met at Cebu North Bus Terminal for the 5pm bus trip. It was mostly shy smiles and few nods at first since most of us were stranger to each other. If this was six years ago, I would have paled to the thought of meeting new people. But experience — and probably age too — changed that fear to thrill. Well maybe still a little anxious, but definitely an improvement…

The bus departed from Cebu City 35 minutes late and we arrived in Tabuelan port at almost 10pm. It was quite a long ride, but it gave us time to rest since most of us had just got off from work/class that day. We then boarded the roro going to Negros Occidental which took 2 1/2 hours and reached Escalante port at past midnight. Yet, that wasn’t the end of the trip. From there, we rode the bus for another two hours going to Silay where our chartered jeepney was waiting. At 2:52 am, we met our driver who led us to the merkado for our last-minute errands.

It’s not often that we get a chance to travel to old cities such as Silay. Although it was dark, we passed by several old structures and can’t help but wonder what kind of history such places hold. It would have been nice to wait until the city comes to life but we had to leave.

We reached the old hospital in Brgy. Patag at 5:30 am where we had our orientation with DENR who strongly emphasized their strict policies on waste management: Each hiker is required to list all their plastics, big or small, before the climb. The number of plastics will then be compared to the ones we bring back after the climb.

Mt. Mandalagan does not only make up the so-called Negros Trilogy along with Mt. Talinis and Mt. Kanlaon. More importantly, it is the heart the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP) and home to old-growth forest remains and important fauna and flora. That is why this area is highly protected.

Limatiks and Its Bloody Kisses

We began the hike after an hour. While walking on easy path, we started making scare jokes about Mt. Mandalagan’s infamous leech-infested trail. No hiker from Mt. Mandalagan would miss to tell you about these bloodsucking worms.

Some of us like Jovy, Kim and Shiela have not been “kissed” by these creatures so it was a kind of fun teasing them. Soon enough, limatiks started showing up. From low lying bushes to the forest floors, they waited for unsuspecting hikers to pass. A lot of “hugot” were also made because of these tiny creepy crawlers.

“Maayo pang limatik mo hold on!”
“Sanaol dili buhi-an!”
“Mu let go ra na once mapuno.”
“Napaakan na ba ang tanan?”

The leeches were very hard to get off you. But however scary, they were actually pretty harmless — and painless too. They only need very little amount of our blood and that’s it. In the end, our attention shifted to the the gradual uphill climb and we let the limatiks took our blood sacrifice for climbing Mt. Mandalagan. Here’s Kim and his battle wounds.

By 9:30, we reached the “platform” — a small clearing ideal for pit stops and e-camp. This is where we cooked our lunch since we didn’t have hosted meal and must prepare the food ourselves. Despite being strangers, hunger became our common ground. Cooking the rice, fried chicken, and tinola then went smoothly.

The Beauty of Tinagong Dagat

After two hours, we resumed the hike and finally got a glimpse of Tinagong Dagat from above. There was a tree that served as a view deck for hikers which would remind you of Mt. Talinis’ summit. We took our time to breathe and snap some photos. Then, we continued with the hike for an hour or so .

At 2pm, we finally reached Tinagong Dagat. The first thing that caught my attention were the mountains that looked like a huge imposing wall surrounding the flat terrain. According to many, Tinagong Dagat was the old crater of Mt. Mandalagan. During heavy rainfall, water rises from it and this empty field becomes a wide lagoon. Hence, its name.

I was half thrilled to see Tinagong Dagat in its “high tide” but also glad that there was less water that day. We wouldn’t have space to camp if it was the other way around.

After pitching the tents, some of us started preparing our dinner while others started snapping photos of Tinagong Dagat’s picturesque spots.

There we also some who chose to take a power nap and regain their lost energy. As for me, I was nursing a terrible knee pain. In all my hikes, it was the first time that I experienced such level of pain — to think that I have a high pain tolerance. I was certain it was not because of the hike since the trail was a lot forgiving. I don’t think it was the cold too for I’ve been to colder places but didn’t get knee pain before. So I guess it was either my lack of practice with load or age. Or both! HAHA.

It was foggy in the campsite most of the afternoon. There was also intermittent rain, but this did not stop us from having our well-deserved dinner. What followed was a fun and chismis-filled socials — and another set of forgotten memories for the drunkards.

Exit to Campuestohan Trail

Mornings in Tinagong Dagat is not as dramatic as one would expect. Because it is surrounded by mountains, you don’t get to see the sun rise from the horizon. It was gloomy when we woke up so we headed straight to breakfast and breaking our camp.

After making sure no trashes were left at the campsite, we started our descent to Sitio Campuestohan. Our guides told us that in this side of the mountain, there are less or no leeches at all. And indeed we were spared from limatiks.

Personally, I think Campuestohan trail is lot better than Patag. Here, the forest is more alive. From ground surfaces to trunks and branches — everything is covered by moss. It’s the kind of damp environment that one wouldn’t mind.

As we went deeper into the forest, we passed by a number of small streams and brooks. It awakened the inner child in us and we were kids once again enjoying cold and refreshing water along the way.

In the final section of our hike, we had to trace the irrigation that led to the dam. It was fun yet dangerous since one slip could also mean injury. Thankfully, we all reached our destination safe and sound.

Here’s to more mountains. Until next time! 👣😁