What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own [place] we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits.
—Albert Camus, Notebooks
Distance, memories, I often consider them as one entity. There is a gap, space between the present and the past, and we often reconcile them through memories. A long travel―though physically draining―is a mind exercise. It allows the mind to remember, revisit, reconstruct, reaffirm memories.
Distancing One’s Self
Philippines’ scattering islands and various languages are manifestations of its plurality.
Antique is yet another agricultural province, just like Cebu. Its main produces are rice and root crops such as cassava and sweet potato (camote), and perhaps some more, which I didn’t chance along the trail. It has its own full-grown language, Kinaray-a, yet since it is part of Western Visayas region, other languages are spoken too like Hiligaynon. We tried curbing down the language difference by utilizing Filipino, which I am uncomfortable using.
“Paano nyo piniprepare ang balanghoy?” (How do you prepare any casava delicacies?)
“Pakuloan, lagyan ng gata, lagyan ng asukal” (Boil, pour down some coco milk, and drop some sugar.)
“Sa amin, sa Cebu, mas sikat yong puto. Ang galing gumawa ng Mama ko non,” I said with pride.
Distance allows home to take the form of a memory. Travel―especially away but not necessarily far from home―provides a gap, a space between the I and the familiar. One looks at the familiar in a different angle.
George Santayana articulated, “there is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.”
Language fosters humor, yes. The locals had this knowing smile every time I asked, “Makasabot mog Bisaya?” (Can you understand Bisaya?”) Sabot has a totally different and intimate meaning in Hiligaynon.
Philippines―too small a country for others―still I fail to grasp the disintegration of its languages, of its islands, of its people.
Nature and Its Faces
Movement—how puny it can be—contributes to a greater one.
Fishermen often read the unpredictable nature of sea and its waves by observing the clouds on mountain ranges as well as the movement of the wind. That is what I had learned from my father. I thought it was nothing but a bluff, but it seemed factual.
If Mt. Igdu-aw’s peak is crowned with omnibus clouds, rain is about to come―that’s the observation of the old locals in Valderrama.
Earlier part of the trek was graced with a good weather; while we neared the saddle of the mountain, it started drizzling. Right after we set up our tents, we were cursed with a thunderstorm: two tents down, one remained standing.
With our tents down, we had to look for alternative shelters around.
“Cave, cliff foot, hut, or the nearest village. Always look for alternatives. And, yes, stay calm.” Another lesson learned from Myand Abao, a mentor friend.
We found a hut where farmers rest.
Every lightning strike made me realize nature—just like anything else—has different faces: generous, calm, moody, wrathful.
Outdoor enthusiasts are—should be—considerate and adaptive with its random tricks and tantrums.
A place cannot exist without its people. And people cannot exist without their place. They coexist. Visitors, strangers―every now and then―may deliberately try, pretend to know the place, the people; yet those who know, understand the place are its people.
For fleeting visitors like us, assaulting Mt. Igcoron’s peak took us more than an hour; for the locals, however, it was only a matter of minutes reaching it. Why? They know the texture, character of their mountain. They are comfortable with the steepness of its slope, with its rather rugged character.
Time teaches, allows them to adapt to the very nature of the mountain: to its crevices, to its grass, to its slope, to its danger.
Mt. Igcoron’s ridge looks like a high-elevated balance beam and we, the inexperienced gymnasts. Locals crossed the ridge with perfect execution. They exactly knew where to put their feet, where the soft earth lies, where the fragile rocks are.
And perhaps they made fun of us―Sir Tiki, Sir Ice, Sir Myand, and I―who could barely breathe while crossing the ridge.
What One Has Not Explored Yet
It takes days, months, years, even a lifetime in familiarizing, then understanding a place. I cannot even truly claim I understand my neighborhood, my hometown. What I have are snippets: pieces of fractured realities best suited for random conversations and writing.
Antique, which looks like a worn-out pluma on the map, is partially sandwiched by Ilo-Ilo and Aklan.
During our three-day visit in Antique, we had not had the chance to go to Valderrama’s pride: its mountain resort. Locals even thought we visited Valderrama not for Mt. Igcoron but for its mountain resort. There is raffleasia—a parasitic plant—which bud can expand up to 18–20 cm in diameter. It can be found in neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
There are places best left unexplored, yet there are those that demand revisits. Again. And again.
Mt. Igcoron’s Texture
Dry season brings Mt. Igcoron back to its naked brown self―stripped from its green grandeur. The locals affirmed it is harder assaulting Mt. Igcoron during this season since there is nothing to hold. With its steepness, I do not think it is possible to be overly confident with one’s footing. Hands have equal importance with feet.
Igcoron’s grass―we called it napir at home, they called it giron―provides a dependable support. One should be ready with paper cuts and rushes especially with no gloves, arm sleeves, and trekking pants or leggings on.
It just a simple realization that any flimsy-looking object is not always safe to touch.
Reaching the knife-edge ridge was already gratifying since it provided a 360-degree scenery. We had the whole Valderrama before us: with its varicolored residential roofs, the green square-like rice paddies, the distant mountain ranges and peaks: on southeast, Mt. Igdu-aw, on northeast Mt. Madjaas, Mt. Nangtud, and Mt. Baloy, and, yes, below, Cangaranan River. It is the main water source of Valderamma. It looks like endless white snakes in a mating ball.
Assaulting the peak―if you ask me―is always personal, intimate. And it is optional. A mountain shall not reduce its importance, existence to its peak.
© Text and Photos by Jona Branzuela Bering