Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Mount Apo Experience (Part 2)
It's almost 2 p.m., and we have reached a campsite. I thought we were to break camp already and I prepared to pay the guide who carried my backpack for me. However, as I inquired I was stunned to know that after long hours of walking and crawling we have just reached half of the mountain. We rested a little while digging through our bags for lunch. I did not have anything to dig, since I was not able to pack my lunch. Rain started to pour, at first just a drizzle, until it developed into full big drops making us scamper for shelter through the little made-up stores in the site. I began to question the length of our trek, and when asking how far yet we are from our destination (the wide plateau of Lake Vinado where climbers converge for the night before climbing the peak the next day), the words "malapit na" begin to irritate me rather than to comfort me, having heard the phrase from our guides for hours already. How long will we still walk and climb and crawl? Sonny invited me to share his lunch with him.
Reflection: One of the sad realities of the struggle for chastity is that it is a process - and as such you would not know how long will you be struggling or if there is ever an end to this struggle. But we must forget the progress that we made, how little or insignificant it may be. We must continue to move, even though emotional and spiritual fatigue sets in. We will never reach our destination if we remain where we are now.
We are now standing in front of the 87 degrees upward slope. There is a wooden ladder leaned on the slope, and I said this would be easy. But when I looked up, I saw that the ladder ends halfway of the slope, and for the rest of the climb one should hold onto a rope where some knots were made. I slowly went up the ladder, and when I reached the end of it I more slowly grabbed onto the rope while pulling myself up with my arms and attaching my feet on whatever steady rock I could step onto. When I reached the final knot my feet slipped and for seconds I was hanging onto the knot at the end of the rope tied to a tree while frantically asking "Ano na gagawin ko susunod?" Sonny, who was busy filming us climbing the slope, told me "Hawak ka sa susunod na tali". I saw another rope tied to the same tree, pulled myself up using one arm and grabbing that rope to fully pull myself onto a ledge where that other rope is leading to. Finally I survived that 87 degrees slope!
Reflection: In our life's journey, we sometimes encounter 87 degrees slopes - situations that seem impossible for us to go through, including our pursuit for chastity amidst our addictions and compulsions. We sometimes feel we are already at the end of our ropes. We cry out in despair, and "Somebody up there" tells us the next move we should make. And we survive.
By this time I was really dead tired, and every time we stop to rest a while I'm taking more time just mentally preparing myself for another walk. There were times I'm mumbling to myself "I don't like this anymore" or "I will not do this again". Sonny, who was walking in front of me, had enough of my statements and said to me "Tigilan mo na yang mga ganyang negative statements. It will not help you. Para ka ring gumagawa ng mga inner vows. Dapat positive ka sa ginagawa mo." Though I still could not help but say these statements, Sonny's comments made me think. My negative statements actually contribute to my fatigue, as it wears down not only my physical body but my spirit as well.
Reflection: The primary motivator of a person is oneself. If you don't believe in yourself, no one will believe you.
At around 4:30 p.m. we arrived at the plateau, and we were greeted by the majesty of the summit of Mount Apo! What our guides have told us is true - when you reach this point of the climb it will be so awesome you will forget about the difficult experiences you had gone through. We took turns taking pictures of ourselves with the mountaintop, before heading to the campsite at Lake Vinado. The cold wind was strong, penetrating the skin - and though I was wearing stretchable bands for my arms and legs, it wasn't enough to keep me warm. Someone called out that the temperature was 8 degrees Celsius - no wonder I was freezing! When we were done registering with the military positioned in the camp, we looked for our companions who have gone ahead of us, knowing they have already pitched our tents. We eventually saw them amidst the sea of tents pitched on the vast grounds of the lake shore. I looked for my guide, paid him for carrying my backpack, and immediately looked for my thick jacket. I also looked for my body warming oil to keep warm my hands and feet. The butane stove is already opened where Rod is cooking rice. As I was warming myself, I began looking for the other food stuff that is lined up for cooking. When the rice was cooked, Letty and I took turns cooking dinner and preparing the sauce for lunch tomorrow. It was comforting to be near the fire while we were cooking.
Reflection: Life changing situations demand major adjustments. As we progress in our struggle towards chastity - learning how to avoid playgrounds, playmates and playthings, learning how to pray from the heart and growing in relationships with other men and women - we suddenly find ourselves different from the way we used to be. And when the going gets tough, it's a common temptation for us to go back to the familiar, more comfortable ways where we could numb our pains. But change is a birthing process - it demands pain.
After cooking and eating dinner, the fire was turned off and all I wanted to do was snuggle inside the tent which I shared with Kuya Benjie and Ramil. The air was colder than before. I changed my wet socks to dry ones and readied my sleeping bag. But the guys had other plans. The others were invited inside the tent for some feedback/reflection about the first day of the climb and planning for the next day climb to the summit. The guys wanted to climb the summit and spend the night there. Rod explained the downside of spending the night at the summit since it's colder at the peak and there is little drinking water available. I was trying my best to rest lying down awkwardly folding my body to whatever space left in the tent, but my mind was imagining the movie 300 with the young Leonidas spending the night in a cold cave. I can't stand the cold here at Lake Vinado, how am I to survive the summit? So I opened the idea of some people going up the peak but going down to spend the night at the lake instead. All of them were resolved to spend the night at the peak, and they were convincing me also to join them. A cold breeze entered the opened tent and that sealed my decision: I'm climbing the peak but will go down that same day. Then came the time for sharing. I am not to share what others have shared, but I will just share one of the major realizations I had in the climb - that I was using the climb to validate myself as a man. I still have many insecurities about my manhood - that I'm not that handsome, I'm not muscular enough to protect women, I'm clumsy and physically incompetent - and these things have been ringing in my thoughts and in my heart while I was climbing, especially in the difficult trails. I cried in front of my companions realizing this, especially when I thought about the woman whom I am developing romantic feelings and saw myself as an incompetent man for her. My co-climbers comforted me and assured me in various ways how I have grown in my masculinity. I thank God for that night of affirmation.
Reflection: We need people in our lives. We need them to know that we are not alone in the struggle. We need them as mentors on how to live a good Christian life. We need them to remind us of who we truly are because most of the time we think of ourselves higher or lower than we should. True Christian friends are used by God to affirm us about our true selves and to help us reject our false selves.
Morning has broken, and I could hear people bustling around outside the tent. I stayed for a while trying to compose myself for the cold wind. When I went out, it was still cold, but the sun rising above us somehow penetrates through the cold air to give us a little warmth. The guys were near the lake chatting among themselves, so I came to them just in time for a group picture shot. We were listening to Dok Richie, a Red Cross volunteer, as he talks about the different movements in Mindanao and how the relationships of these movements contribute to the conflicts being experienced in the region. I was trying to listen but my mind is distracted by my body longing to release the past day's wastes. I looked around and saw this boy carrying two pails of water from the lake and asked him if there is a toilet in the camp site. He asked me to follow him and so I followed him in an area away from the campsite where tall grasses were growing. He had another companion who was busy clearing a small area and amazingly using the cut tall grass as four corners where they tied a thick cloth around to form a square area. They told me it's now ok to use the toilet, and I was really surprised that inside the square area was a toilet bowl! I did my stuff and paid the boy 5 pesos for bringing the water. I disinfected my hands with alcohol and started to help Rio, one of our porters, cook breakfast. I also cooked the fish for lunch and gave instructions regarding the mixing of the fried fish and the sauce I prepared last night. I then received instructions from Rod on what to cook for breakfast and lunch the following day, which has to be prepared already before they arrive back from the summit.
Reflection: As we grow in our pursuit for wholeness and holiness, we start to forget old habits and to form new habits and the things that were once strange become familiar.
I now prepared for my climb to the summit. I was accompanied by Sonny's friend Tulanoy who is also a volunteer rescuer. It was about 9am when I began my ascent to the summit, and I was quite excited about it. I brought only a small backpack with provisions for the day and a trekking pole. The trail was a mixture of forest foliage and open grass. The forest was muddy but the surrounding trees and plants provided me with shade, moisture and abundant oxygen that I could breathe in making my walk quite comfortable. But in the open grass the sun was up and beating my face but I wasn't aware of the sun burning me because of the cold breeze that accompanied the heat of the sun. The cold wind dries up my skin making it easier for the sun to burn it (I haven't notice my sun-burnt face until we came back in Manila when it started to generously peel off).
Reflection: The love of God is like a forest that protects us from the burning rays of sin, providing us with life-giving nourishment that makes our journey through life bearable. Being in the state of sin is like walking on open grass where the wind of worldly values (hedonism, relativism and individualism promoted by mass media) makes our consciences indifferent and callous to the effects of sin, unaware that is slowly burning us, wearing down our bodies and spirits.
Tulanoy and I took turns taking photos of ourselves on top of big rocks scattered around. Almost 4 hours of walking uphill is taking its toll on my legs. It was great having him around, knowing that there is someone watching over your steps. At times he would just let me climb by myself when the trail is manageable, but when he notices that I'm having difficulty over some rocks he would climb ahead of me and stretch out his hand and help me pull myself up. I have to confess I was becoming anxious every time I would not see me behind me or in front of me, that my security in climbing this mountain safely was based on his presence.
Reflection: The presence of God doesn't mean you would always feel Him around you, but knowing that in times of trouble He would always be at your side. Awareness of God's presence is like a child confident that his father is just there for him no matter what, whether he sees him or not.
to be continued...