Thursday, April 9, 2015

Qantas Airlines takes you to outdoor destinations in Australia!

It has been almost a year ago since I had a wonderful outdoor experience in Australia. After hiking up Mt. Kosciusczko, the highest mountain in the continent and one of the Seven Summits (see Hiking matters #397), I proceeded to have a wonderful time in the Blue Mountains (Hiking matters #398-399). Coincidentally, we caught a glimpse of royalty as Prince William and Kate Middleton were also visiting! “Bushwalking” in the spectacular landscapes of the Blue Mountains was certaintly a highlight of the trip!

In between these outdoor adventures I also enjoyed the vibrant atmopshere of Sydney, and even managed to do some wine tasting in nearby Hunter Valley!

Australia is very accessible from the Philippines via Qantas Airlines, which recently launched a new online payment facility that makes it easier for travelers to book flights using the Internet. Qantas, Qantas, Australia Pacific's Best Airline in 2014, also has flight specials from Manila to destinations in Australia and New Zealand!

I look forward to traveling again in Australia for its great outdoors. I have yet to see the famous Ayers Rock, not to mention more hiking in the Blue Mountains and in Tasmania, an island with its own unique geography and biodiversity. And of course, beyond Australia lies New Zealand and all the adventures it can offer.

When it’s time for me to back Down Under, I will certainly check out Qantas Airlines!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

An open letter to the SPAR Development Corporation: Spare the Lioness and the Rhino Rock from quarrying!

More and more people are going to Norzagaray, Bulacan to discover for themselves the beauty of the Lioness Rock and the Rhino Rock. These rock formations, although relatively small, have the unique qualities of taking the form of animals, and offering breathtaking views of the town. The visitors come in peace, and do not intend any harm. All they want is a glimpse of the beauty that is the birthright. The locals have welcomed them with open arms, and the rocks have become a source of pride for the people, not just of Norgazaray, nor just the province of Bulacan, but of the entire country.

Today I was informed by Councillor Junjun Saplala of your plans to close the area, as well as your directives to the locals to stop bringing visitors there. As you are a quarrying company, you will excuse us for fearing the worst, and that is, that the rock formations are at risk of being quarried -- and perhaps as soon as possible, before more people see the beauty there and become concerned about the plight of the rock animals.

You have benefited from the town of Norzagaray and its people, and have profited greatly from their land. Regardless of your legal entitlements, I appeal to your good hearts: keep the formations open to visitors. Do not stand in the way of a peaceful and healthy pursuit that inspires people and stirs in them a pride for our land. Do not be the stereotype of a company who only cares about profit and its own interests. Instead, take the lead in protecting the area, turning into a park: this is a gesture of goodwill that surely will be appreciated by the people.

Moreover - and more importantly, I implore you: DO NOT DESTROY THE LIONESS AND THE RHINO ROCK. Whatever profit you will earn from these rocks cannot match the priceless gift of beauty, and the pride that this rock formation has brought to the people of Norzagaray and the nature lovers of our country. Be mindful of the parable in the Book of Samuel, of the rich man who have hundreds of sheep and yet still coveted the one single lamb of his poor neighbour.

Surely, you have already profited a lot from the land and the people. If nothing else, spare the Lioness and the Rhino that have survived ages - and can keep surviving if we allow them.

You see them as rocks, but we see them as beautiful figures carved in stone. You see them as raw materials, but we see them as finished products of God himself. If you cannot see them as we do, then at least leave our objects of beauty in peace, and let the future generations be the judge of whether it has been for the good.

Gideon Lasco
March 21, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hiking matters #450: Mt. Arayat Traverse from Magalang to Arayat, revisited

Six years after I first did the Mt. Arayat Traverse, I returned, following the same trail that I took in preparation for our unforgettable Visayan Voyage in April 2009 (see Hiking matters #49). This hike is a perfect complement to the Makiling Traverse I did the other week, the two mountains being the two 'Marias' of the North (Mariang Sinukuan) and the South (Mariang Makiling) respectively - important geographic and cultural landmarks.

Magalang to Arayat, or vice versa? Geography took part in our decision-making. I mentioned the benefits of going from Magalang to Arayat, that is, North to South, in my previous entry: 
For one, it is more covered than the initial grass/woodland of Arayat. Secondly, the northwestern location of Magalang would buy us time before the sun hits us. And that would work for our benefit too on the way back.

We arrived at the trailhead at Brgy. Ayala, Magalang at around 0630H, and started trekking shortly after. Generally shaded,  the trail was dry and dusty (maalikabok) but pleasantly well-established. Many locals pass through the trail to reach the Puting Bato - a shorter hike that leads to a scenic rock formation within the mountain. 
There were two choices of trail to take - one steep but short, the other longer but scenic. We favoured the latter, and was rewarded with the sight of beautiful balete trees that reminded me of the overgrown temple ruins in Cambodia. Just as surely as there are limitik in Makiling, there were mosquitoes in the trail. And, as with Makiling's little menaces, I just took them in stride.
By 1000H we were in the North Peak, which has a small military outpost. In the past, rumours and reports of insurgency have created the impression that Arayat is a dangerous mountain and this view still lingers, but for several years Arayat has been very safe and we have not heard of any untoward incidents.

The most exciting part of the Arayat Traverse is trekking the ridge between the North and the South Peaks. Taking about an hour, it features forested ridges reminiscent of the Pantingan-Tarak Traverse, as well as scenic rock formations that go up the crest of the forest. There used to be a giant rock here called 'Haring Bato' - we still saw it in 2009 - but a landslide caused this rock to cleave into pieces, altering the landscape, but with the beauty of the scenery intact.
Compared to the Makiling Traverse from Peak 3 to 2, Arayat's traverse section isn't overgrown, and the ups-and-downs not that pronounced - though there . Thus it is really a pleasant walk. South Peak itself is an unremarkable grassy protrusion; the main attraction of the area is a small peak past the campsite which offers a view of Arayat's horn as well as the vast plains of Central Luzon, with Pampanga River meandering through it.
We had lunch at the South Peak campsite, then proceeded to do the descent. The first part has lots of rocks, which gradually recede as you lose elevation. Then it's just forest, until it gives way to open, grassy slopes, some parts were charred because of a recent brush fire. This part of the hottest in the trail, but at least we were already descending. Actually from that part, the end of the trail isn't too far. In all, the descent took us just two hours or so. There is now a cement road all the way to the monitoring station, whereas six years ago it was still rough road. (In my first hike up Arayat, way back 2007, we even had to walk all the way from the resort.)

What can I say about the hike? It has way more trash than Pico de Loro, and a lot of mosquitoes, but in the end, Mt. Arayat turned out to be a more pleasant and cooler hike than I remember from my two previous hkes. The two viewpoints - at Haring Bato midway through the traverse and near the South Peak - are great attractions, and so are the ridges and the majestic trees in the Magalang side. Indeed you can never judge a mountain on a basis of one or two climbs, just as you cannot judge a person with just one or two encounters. Keep visiting; keep climbing! Treat the mountain as a friend, and you will be rewarded.

1 Mar 2007 (before PinoyMountaineer)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hiking matters #449: Hiking up the newly-reopened Makiling Traverse trail for 2015

Mt. Makiling (see itinerary here) is my home mountain and I have written about it many times, having made it a sort of tradition to hike it annually since I was very young. Even before I first hiked Makiling at age 8, my neighbourhood friends and I were playing hide-and-seek games that lasted for half a day, with players hiding as far as Mudspring and other nameless features of the mountain.

Since 2008, I have favoured the Makiling Traverse from Sto. Tomas, seeing it as a long detour on my way home (I can literally walk to our house from UP Los Baños). Thus I was delighted when I was informed by Mr. Erwin Adornado that the trail is open again, and I immediately set out to climb this mountain with my friends, which included Puerto Princesa environmentalist Jessa Garibay, who had just come from Japan for a trail-building fellowship.
MakTrav can be confusing at first, because there are many community trails, but once you reach the right path, it is very straightforward; your progress is marked by station signs. After a slow start, there will be a steep section from Station 6-7, which terminates at the junction with the now-defunct Palanggana Trail. This is when the fun begins!

After a brief grassland section, the trail reenters a forest until we reached the Melkas Campsite, which is a relatively flat but shaded area. From here, there is a sharp ascent to reach the famed Melkas Ridge - a series of rock formations that I consider the highlight of the trail. It ends in the 1020-meter Peak 3. Though sixty-odd meters short of Makiling's highest point, this peak is the most scenic, offering nice views of Batangas and Laguna.

From Peak 3 to Peak 2 - the summit of Mt. Makiling - it takes less than an hour. It used to be much longer but the trails are more established now even though there remains some challenging and overgrown parts. Needless to say, there were limatik, but if you move fast enough and refrain from resting, you should be able to pass through unscathed!

We were at Peak 2 by lunchtime, and started the descent shortly thereafter. Once a challenging hike, the UPLB Trail is now a breeze, with the '90 degrees' of the past now having a ladder. The only drawback is that the trails are quite muddy when it's raining. After an hour and a half of forest, however, the trails become wider, transitioning into a rough road. And not long after, motorcycles can take you to the exit point, abbreviating a further walk of four-kilometres.

It turned out to be a wonderful hike and we had a post-climb celebration in Herb Republic in Los Baños - which also ended up to be a good choice! Thanks to everyone who joined  the hike! I'm most glad to do the MakTrav again!

Hiking matters #238: My first Maktrav attempt
Hiking matters #449: MakTrav 2015

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