It’s Manunggal Trek Week Again

You know that “this is that time of year” when mountaineers start to act up. Just the other week, I found in my blog, Rebelmind (cebuano.wordpress.com.ph), comments from old acquaintances Barok and Nante about photos I posted in the middle of last year. Those were memories on last year’s trek to Mt. Manunggal frozen by the camera.

Balamban Councilor Dave Karamihan, whom I befriended at the camp site, e-mailed me weeks ago reminding me about the ritual. Last week, I read a press release about this year’s climb, which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of then president Ramon Magsaysay whose plane, Mt. Pinatubo crashed into Manunggal’s peak.

This is definitely Magsaysay, and by extension Mt. Manunggal, week again. My officemates who have joined me in the climb the past years are re-scheduling non-trek affairs to accommodate the activity. I am sure other ritual keepers, like newly minted assistant executive Judge Meinrado Paredes and members of CEBU are doing the same.

My wife Edizza has decided to join me this year, her third since we were married. We initially thought of bringing along our eldest, Edison Khan, 4, but let go of the idea after considering the child’s temperament. He is always on the go and a laborious and long climb from Tabunan to Manunggal would be too monotonous for him to endure.

I also will have to forget Marquez-Barrera and Peñalosa-de Leon. I have seen the bouts of Mexicans Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera against Manny Pacquiao and would have liked to see on TV the two fight each other this Sunday. Our very own Gerry Peñalosa will be challenging Daniel Ponce de Leon in the undercard.

But why go to such lengths just for the climb? The question is actually a variation of the one that reporters asked British mountaineer George Mallory: why climb Mt. Everest? “Because it is there,” he said. Manunggal is right in the middle of Cebu. More than that, one can find there history: bits of Mt. Pinatubo and a Magsaysay memorial.

Fifty years ago, Manunggal was a thickly forested and forbidding peak. Now a decent road runs to it and, aside from the Magsaysay memorial, a chapel, a building and even rows of comfort rooms have sprouted there. Much of that can be credited to Balamban town officials, the environment department and, yes, those mountaineers.

I wasn’t around when the first trekkers reached the peak 15 years ago to kick off the annual Manunggal climb. I joined the climb in 1996, or almost 11 years ago, alone (unlike the others who were in groups), and bringing with me a small cheap tent. The starting point then was still Adlawon, which was farther from the peak than Tabunan.

I sometimes would walk barefoot and stop on ridges to stare at the mountains and reminisce. The best years of my life (six years) I spent in these parts, thus the climb was part homage to Magsaysay and part homage to my past. But purposes change and even as my past receded from view, the joy of being in the mountains once a year has not left.

I therefore do not tire of the ritual and of writing about it. I will continue to encourage those who have been there to go back, and those who have not been there to join the trek, especially this year, a golden commemoration. You can check the various mountaineering groups, or the Balamban Municipal Government. See you there.

-Candido O. Wenceslao (I wrote this for the March 14 issue of Sun.Star Cebu)

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