Friday, May 15, 2009
Mount Apo Experience (Part 3)
At last we arrived at the summit! I was exhilarated that we finally made it! But Tulanoy wasn't resting now. We went up with a couple of climbers whom we have met along the trail to the first peak. There we saw the marker indicating that this was the revered place of the locals where their ancestors would offer up sacrifices for their "Apo" the mountain-god. I got the tarpauline of Courage from Tulanoy and spread it amidst the strong winds of that peak. I asked the other climbers to hold the tarpauline as Tulanoy shot a picture of us waving it through the winds. I have accomplished my mission of climbing the highest peak of the country for the Courage Apostolate! I sat on the stone marker and said a prayer of thanksgiving to God for allowing me to survive the climb and offered prayers for the strength of the apostolate not only in Manila but all over the country. I was ecstatic!
Reflection: It is true that you meet God on mountains. The majestic heights and the force of nature experienced at the peak of the mountain creates awe in the depths of your soul as it understands the power of the Almighty displayed through its creation. God will meet us at the end of our mission.
We came down from the first peak on a plateau where some tents have already been pitched for the night. We took our lunch (technically I was the only one who ate, Tulanoy refused his share in my lunch). Afterwards we ventured to conquer the remaining two peaks of Mount Apo. We came to look down on the Dead Lake - it was called as such since during summer (such as this time) the "lake" is like a big football field with no water, but on rainy season it is filled with rainwater. We came to the second peak where we were supposed to see the crater but the fog was too thick for us to see anything below. We took some foggy pictures, made some acquaintances (including a European) and proceeded to the third peak. This peak is quite exciting because of its boulder-like features. I climbed this peak and Tulanoy took some neat pics of me. One thing fascinating with climbing each of the peaks is that when you are on one peak, the other peaks look shorter than the peak that you are currently standing. It's sort of a visual illusion but it's cool. Well, you'll literally feel cool in each of these peaks, actually more than cool - sometimes numbingly cold. When I came down to the plateau where we met the rest of the climbers who have just reached the summit and pitched their tents for the night. They congratulated me for having climbed not only one peak but the three peaks of this high mountain.
Reflection: God will most certainly bring us from glory to glory. And so we must be excited that He will bring us to a point that we are satisfied, but to several points in our lives that we will feel undeservingly blessed. We are still works in progress, the Lord will bring more greater good in our hearts - for He knows the capacity of our hearts more than we do.
I had to start going down to reach Lake Vinado before the sun goes down, and so Kuya Benjie gathered the other climbers and porters around and we spread the tarpaulines of Living Waters and Courage. Ron, one of the rescuers, shot our memorabilia pics where, as Kuya Benjie puts it "the unity of Evangelicals and Catholics doing the ministry of healing is visibly seen". It was truly a happy occasion for me.
Reflection: I truly believe that unity among Christians will be happening soon. It was in Church that division was spread throughout Christendom, and it will be in Church that oneness and harmony will happen. Jesus said "...that they may be one, as you and I Father are one".
Tulanoy went ahead of me in going down. I trust him that he will not leave me. After about 20 minutes of trekking downhill, I saw him assisting a middle-aged woman who seemed to have trouble walking. She was with her husband, and though he was telling Tulanoy that she was just resting since they had made the climb straight from the foot to the peak, Tulanoy told me afterwards that he saw in the woman's eyes that she had no spirit left to continue on with the trek. So we accompanied her in going down, with her hand fixed on the shoulder of Tulanoy. To be honest I felt a little bit irritated that we were moving slower than usual, and we were trying to reach camp before the setting of the sun (I felt ashamed later on about these feelings since I was also a cause of delay for my companions during the trek). We finally reached camp just in time before the last ray of the sun touched the earth. In gratitude for what Tulanoy did, the couple gave him a hat. But for Tulanoy, his heart goes for people who seem to have lost the spirit to move on, and he is just glad to have been of help to them. Hope I could have a heart like him.
Reflection: There is such a thing as holy interruptions. Sometimes we are so used to a fast paced life with activities and schedules up here and there that we forget to stop and be sensitive to those around us, especially those in need. Sometimes we are so engrossed with our own life and its deadlines that we ignore the people close to us, especially our family. We reject anything or anyone that will slow us down, not knowing that it is through these holy interruptions that we will be rewarded with God's presence.
Back at camp, Kuya Panot and his son were waiting for us and he was already cooking dinner. I asked him how I could be of help and he told me just to relax in the tent and wait till he calls me for dinner. I'm not used to just relaxing while other people are doing stuff so I inquired further and he asked me if there were remaining spices (garlic, onion, tomatoes) which he could use for cooking sinigang. I went to the tent and scrambled among the food stuff using only my headlight to look for what he was asking for, and saw only tomatoes. I gave him the tomatoes and he asked me to just stay in the tent till he calls me. I obliged and ran through my own stuff. I first got myself warm, then started packing my stuff to get ready to move out the next day (Sonny gave us an estimated time of 9 a.m. when they will be down from the summit and we should all be starting to move down the mountain). I know this is the only time for me to pack my stuff since tomorrow I have to cook both breakfast and lunch for everyone (I was tasked by Rod to do this since I'm the one left at the lake with the food stuff). After a while I was called by Tulanoy that dinner is served, so I went out of the tent welcomed by yet another freezingly cold night. After dinner, I thought of cooking rice already for tomorrow to save time, but Kuya Panot told me not to worry for they will help me cook in the morning. I thanked them, especially since they were already the ones cleaning the pots and pans used for dinner, and after a short chat with Tulanoy (where I disclosed myself being involved in the ministry for SSA persons) I reluctantly went back to the tent to continue packing my stuff and get some rest. It was cold even inside the tent, with the wind blowing wildly outside. I was glad the bags of my other companions which was placed around the tent was keeping me a little bit warmer as I slept.
Reflection: People with acute performance orientation syndrome (the innate ability to do multi-tasking and stretching one's capacity as a person in order to seek affirmation or validation from the other person) such as myself really have a hard time keeping still and letting other persons do the job for us. When people volunteer to assist me or to do a task for me, I should be grateful to them, sensitive that it may be the good Lord telling me "Son, let me do that for you. You have done enough". Thank you Lord! Help me to be still and listen to your voice.
Morning came, and I heard Tulanoy calling me out asking me about the food stuff that needs to be cooked. I grabbed the bag containing all the food stuff for breakfast and lunch and went out of the tent. Rice was already cooking. I then prepared the scrambled eggs and dried squid for frying, while Tulanoy and the rest of the guys helped me in preparing the salted eggs and tomatoes. When we finished frying breakfast, I turned to the remaining marinated fish and began deep frying them, while I asked the others to help themselves for breakfast. One of the rescuers finished his breakfast and most kindly volunteered to substitute me in frying the rest of the dried bangus. After breakfast I went inside the tent to fold my sleeping bag and earth pad, just in time for the other climbers from the summit to reach the campsite. I went out of the tent to greet them and I was taken aback when I saw that it was raining and a very thick fog was covering the whole area! The climbers took turns eating breakfast, packing their things up and securing their fish lunch. I grabbed a cooked fish, placed it inside a plastic bag and inserted it inside my shirt. Sonny saw me shivering (I was wearing only a thin shirt and shorts with the arm and leg bands) and kindly lent me his sauna jacket to keep me warmer. At around 9:30 a.m., Rod signaled us to depart from the campsite, and I was in awe (short of a mixture of excitement and fear) that we were about to walk through a very thick fog with almost zero visibility - we could not see the path ahead save for the other people who were walking ahead of us. The rain was also pouring hard which blurred our path all the more. One of us commented "Parang kamamatay lang natin" (as if we had just died). I followed close to the people ahead of us, afraid that I might be lost in this thick fog.
Reflection: Sometimes in our lives we feel we are also covered with a thick fog. We couldn't see the path ahead, and we become afraid to move on. These are the times when we need to trust the Lord and grow in our prayer time. These are the times when we need to look beyond our present struggles and be inspired with stories of past members who have gone ahead of us and have been victorious over our sin condition.
When we reached the forest area, the fog cleared up and the rain turned into a drizzle. We were lined-up in some steep part of the trail, and that's where I realized we were to go down in the same path that we have taken going up - including the 87 degrees cliff. The pace was painstakingly slow for all of us. Fortunately there was this guy with an mp3 player playing some happy tune that somehow dissipates the boredom of waiting in line. When it was almost my turn I saw Kuya Panot with his son tied with a harness on his waist and he was slowly lowering himself down the cliff. I smiled when I saw the face of his child confidently looking at his father while they were coming down the 87 degrees. My turn came and though I was anxious at first looking down the almost perpendicular cliff, I grabbed the rope and slowly lowered myself, with one hand holding firmly on the knots of the rope and the other gently gliding across a bamboo. It took me a while before I finally made it down the cliff, all the time my heart pumping in anticipation of whether I could make it. It was a relief being able to pass the 87 degrees, yet I was thinking aloud - why does it seem easier to go down that cliff than when we were climbing it up the other day? It was easier to drop your body down than to pull your body up.
Reflection: Two points... First, the attitude of Kuya Panot's son reminded me of how we are supposed to trust God as our Father. We are to cling tightly into His embrace, trusting that He will carry us through the rough times of our lives. Second, as it was easier for us to drop our bodies from a cliff than to pull our bodies up the cliff, so it is easier for us to drop the struggle and let our sexual desires rule than to take up that cross and overcome our sexual desires. When Jesus tells us to "take up your cross and follow Me", it's not going to be easy. That's why it is called struggle.
We've been walking for hours now till we reach another campsite where we ate our lunch. I took out my cooked fish and offered half of it to Fidel, one of the rescuers who volunteered to personally guide me down the mountain slopes (I think Sonny has assigned one rescuer to each of the "weakest links" hehe). He invited me to eat with the other rescuers and porters who were having a feast over a pot of rice and some cooked meat by Kuya Panot. It reminded me of Jesus' multiplication miracle - I gave half of my cooked fish and I was shared with rice and meat! After eating we filled our water bottles from the stream flowing beside the camp with the sign "drinking station". I was thankful that even after drinking water from these untreated streams my amoebaiasis did not recur. Within a few minutes we started to walk again, this time determined to make as little stops as possible in order to reach the foot of the mountain by sundown. It was getting warmer so I took off the sauna jacket and gave it back to Sonny. While we were walking I started to converse with Fidel and asked him about things in his life. I was happy to know that he had dreams - of finishing his marine course while continuing to volunteer as a rescuer, of entering the airforce by enrolling in flight school in Manila, of settling down and having a family of his own in Manila but eventually going back to Mindanao to make a simple living. I encouraged him to continue pursuing his dreams and reminded him that everything that he is now will contribute to what he will become in the future, and that his present experiences will enable him fulfill his dreams. To be fair, I also shared a bit (well more than a bit) of myself to him, particularly the nature of my struggle and my present concern of learning how to court a woman. Things turned to be more spiritual and I learned that he was a Mormon and that he was the only Mormon in the family. I told him I was familiar about Mormonism since most of my father's relatives are Mormon. The whole walk was interesting since we exchanged ideas and stories about ourselves.
Reflection: That's true intimacy. As a counselor I have a natural talent to make other people comfortable sharing their stories with me, as I also become true to them by sharing my own story as well. Before, I didn't feel comfortable sharing my deepest, darkest secrets. But now that the Lord has been doing a lot of healing on my soul, my story didn't contain only dark secrets of my past sins but how the Lord has called me into life by His unfailing love. The small victories in my story were brought about by Christ's victory over my longing soul.
I was able to catch up with Kuya Benjie, and as we were nearing the rushing waters of the nearby river I just felt like singing. So I sang 'Our Father' by Mallotte, a traditional classic sung usually in weddings and other ceremonies. He heard me singing and asked me to repeat the song. I obliged, then he asked me to sing 'Lead Me Lord' and a couple of other songs. My heart was leaping as I was singing, and I knew I have entered into worship. I suddenly felt an inner sense of energy within me and found my feet, though already tired from hours of walking, hopping from rock to rock and gleefully striding along the river trail. I suddenly appreciate the whole of creation around me - the flowers, plants, rocks, river water, the wind and the sun on my face. If I only knew that singing worship songs would make my walking lighter, I should have sung earlier in the climb.
Reflection: Man was made to worship - so he either worships God or some other. There is power in worship, for it unleashes the inner desire of our souls to be united with its Creator. I pray that I continue to worship the one true God in my heart.
As we were nearing the foot of the mountain, a tinge of sadness came to me. I felt like the apostles coming down Mount Tabor after witnessing the Transfiguration of the Lord. Everything good and wonderful has to come to an end. My mind wandered on the memories of the climb - the different types of terrain that we have gone through, the campsites, the lake, the summit, the people who have been part of this wonderful journey - this will now end. And in a few days, I would have to go back to work again in a job that does not bring me fulfillment and to toil again in the ministry that God has given me. Everything comes to pass. But like Mama Mary, I shall treasure these things in my heart. Nonetheless, when we came to the foot of the mountain, we realize we're going to spend the night in hot springs! We rushed going down the resort where our companions were waiting for us. We took off our clothes and jumped into the hot springs. What a relief! Our aching bodies literally sighed in the nice warm (more of hot though but we didn't mind) feeling of the springs. Our adventure has come to an end! This warm springs of living water was a great reward for that grueling but glorious climb to the highest peak in the country!
Thank you Sonny for inviting us over to your place there in Mindanao to have this unique experience! Thank you Rod for leading us through the climb! Thank you to all my Living Waters companions - it was great knowing that I have shared this momentous experience with people that I trust! Thank you to all our kind porters and rescuers who have literally shared our burdens and have also shared their lives with us! Thank you God for your wonderful creation that not only exemplifies your majesty and greatness but also is instrumental in teaching us lessons about life!
Reflection: Mountains tell us a lot about God - this awesome magnificent God. But mountains also tell us a lot about life and about life's struggles. I told Sonny that was the last time I'm going to climb Mount Apo. But after writing this article and making these reflections and realizations about the climb, I may think about climbing it again. *wink wink*
“The experienced mountain climber is not intimidated by a mountain -- he is inspired by it. The persistent winner is not discouraged by a problem -- he is challenged by it. Mountains are created to be conquered; adversities are designed to be defeated; problems are sent to be solved. It is better to master one mountain than a thousand foothills.” - William Arthur Ward