Footsteps of ghosts.

Last Sunday I went on a hike up a mountain with some friends. Mt. Ayaas was roughly an hour away from Quezon City in the Sunday traffic. An hour’s drive showed the highway diverging onto a two-laned path lined with trees, which slightly zigzagged its way to the end. It was paved and smooth at first but later carried pockets of broken asphalt and eroded ground. The sight of trees by the side of the road later faded into heaps of garbage – almost two or three stories high – full of old tins of cooking oil and plastic bags and decomposing food. Dogs went here and there while some children played alongside the road, rolling a deflated tire with a bamboo stick. They had smiles on their face.

When we arrived at Brgy. Mascap – a place of which I know is just somewhere in Rizal – we signed a waiver that basically waived any responsibility the guides had for our safety. Given that it had rained quite hard earlier in the morning, we thought it best not to think about it too much. From then on, we climbed – first along paved inclines and then into the muddy earth with stones and trees and vines and sharp things brushing against our arms and legs and faces. The forest air enveloped us with the smell of wet earth and plant life. It was the breath of the jungle right after its shower. Bugs crawled and flew across us while others clung to our skin. Many times we walked along a narrow path. It had room for only one man, and at times only one foot so we had to walk with one foot over the other as if on a tightrope. In those times we had the mountain wall on one side while the other only had the view of a perilous slope to the bottom.

We were not the first ones who climbed the mountain and we will not be the last. The footprints of those who went before were already etched on the earth. The grooves of their feet dug deep – deep enough for a good foothold. I looked out for these prints like hints from ghosts on how to negotiate the mountain. A thought came to me of how the media tends to glorify the new and the different. “Stop living in the past,” they tell us. But in this mountain climb – the past is really all the difference between the summit and the abyss.

We eventually made it to the top at around noon. I made a dreadful mistake of packing only one asado siopao for lunch but it still felt like it was the best meal in the world after that climb. After some pictures and a rosary, we climbed down and made our way back to the barangay hall. On the way back, we stopped by a small water fall where some of us took a dip into the shallow but cool lagoon. After our brief respite we decided to take a tricycle back to the barangay hall since we were all spent by that time.

With aching legs but full of cheer we drove back to Manila. We passed through the mountains of garbage, the lines of trees, and to Commonwealth Avenue just as the sun was setting. And as darkness crawled over the skies, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

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