TACLOBAN CITY, LEYTE – For my 20th climb of the year I flew here with fellow Visayan Voyager Lalaine Hablado and Bakun Trio companion Darms del Rosario to visit the veritable Mt. Tres Marias in Biliran – the highest mountain in the island and the second highest in Region XIII (Eastern Visayas) next to Alto Peak. Held in folklore to be the dwelling-place of snakes and spirits, Mt. Tres Marias is avoided by locals and barely-explored by mountaineers, but the few who have reached it speak highly of its numerous waterfalls and enchanting mossy forest. We came upon the invitation of adventurer Jhoc Nalda and his family, mountaineers all, and generous hosts indeed!
The climb almost never happened, however. Our excitement was literally doused by rains and strong winds. Typhoon Santi’s arrival cancelled our deprature from Manila early Saturday morning, and instead of seeing greener grounds, Lalaine’s newly-minted REI tent had to settle for concrete jungle as we pitched it on NAIA Terminal 3 while waiting for the long queue for rebooking. Fortunately, after six hours we had our flight rebooked for the same flight the next day.
When we finally arrived early Sunday morning, there was no sign of storm; it was a good day with open skies. We remembered the Visayan Voyage days of bright summer; perfect weather. Our hosts fetched us at the airport and gave a hearty breakfast of kilawin, lapu-lapu, and other fresh seafood. Then we set off to do the climb.
The road trip to Biliran took three hours – passing by the towns of Palo, Leyte, and others. Along the way we were joined by Mabel, Jhoc’s girlfriend, who happened to be a Loyola Mountaineer. After a quick grocery stop at Naval, the capital town of Biliran, we headed to the jumpoff: Brgy. Siatao, Almeria. Rene Galleros, author of the trails, guided us. Saka Ta Bay – “Let’s Climb!” says the sign at the jumpoff – a reminder that we were in Waray territory, and the diversity of Philippine languages always makes good anecdotes. Here young ones are affectionately called ‘pangga’ and the guys would joke about the meaning of ‘sili’.
The trails were benign. Jhoc’s description, “It’s like Kanlaon’s Guintudban Trail but with a lot of waterfalls” was very accurate. The waterfalls were amazing and seemingly climactic: starting with mere trickles and culminating with the grand Ulan-Ulan Falls where we took a lot of pictures and the Nomads’ Falls where we took a plunge in the natural cold waters. Crossing the rivers was a challenge, however, leaping from rock to rock on a heavy pack. Fortunately my new Merrells did not fail me in this department (I will write a gear review soon).
After the waterfalls, we entered a forest very much like that of Kanlaon. We night-trekked for a good two hours. True to myths, the mountain is a snake sanctuary. We saw two snakes that evening, and more the next day. The first day of trekking ended at the Aeta Campsite, ~940 MASL where we spent the night.
The next day, we took it easy, leaving at 0730H for the summit assault. It took around 2 hours, and on the way the forest turns mystically mossy – with all the trappings of a Lord of the Rings scene. The faunal and floral ensemble were amazing: green vipers, tree frogs, various beetles, and sightings of eagles. At the summit one is offered a view of the historic Leyte Gulf, as well as the seas surrounding the junction of Leyte-Samar. If not for the cloud cover we would also have seen Masbate – accessible by pumpboat from Northern Biliran. Like in Tabayoc, you have to climb the dwarf trees to get a view at the summit. The elevation was an impressive 1315 MASL.
On the way down Rene took us to an easier trail, avoiding the waterfalls for an easier, river-free descent. Instead of being a dull trek, our interest was no less aroused, this time by the unique fauna that we saw along the trail. I will not dare speculate on the uniqueness of our discoveries, but suffice to say the biodiversity of Mt. Tres Marias is really amazing; even more amazing is the fact that it. But very alarming was what we saw in the trails: fallen trees; trails wrecked by carabaos used to haul the logs. Indeed, illegal logging is threatening to destroy this paradise!
By 1630H we were back at the jumpoff. After a quick tidying up we headed to a swimming pool with natural spring water in Biliran, then again, the long drive back to Tacloban. But our energetic hosts still managed to take us to the must-sees of Leyte-Samar: we drove through San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the country, reaching Sta. Rita in Eastern Samar. We also visited the Leyte Landing site where Gen. Douglas MacArthur declared, “I have returned!” in August. Aside from the childhood days of Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, another memory the elderly Waray folk recall is that of the momentous Leyte landing. Finally, we had a late-night dinner at Cafe Zaragoza in downtown Tacloban City. The bulalo was excellent!
As for the numerous other adventure possibilities in Leyte-Samar including Alto Peak, they will have to wait till the next time. I am just glad to reflect and look back to a great weekend. Three new provinces, one new mountain for PinoyMountaineer.com, new discoveries, and of course, new friends. Many many thanks to the Nalda family for an awesome weekend!