|Stalls at the summit of Mt. Batulao, September 7, 2013|
by Gideon Lasco
In the narrow confines of a tweet or a Facebook status message, it is difficult to articulate a position clear, comprehensive, and not prone to misinterpretation. An essay gives more breathing space for ideas, which is why it has remained my favorite avenue to voice my thoughts on particular issues, especially contentious ones. Even so, I am aware that whatever medium I choose, there will always be dissenting voices. So be it. My only hope is that inasmuch as I respect others’ opinions, mine will merit the same respect.
In this short position paper, I would like to voice my view that mountaineers should not patronize stores on the summit or the trail. Before I present my arguments, I would like to make the disclaimer that I am not against the locals, and I am not against their merchandise. In fact, whenever there is an opportunity I try to buy products like fresh fruits and vegetables. We need to make the locals feel that we value them, and that we respect them. What I am against is the venue in which their merchandise is sold. I think the jumpoff, not the trail or the summit, is a better place for their livelihood to be lived out.
Here are my three arguments:
First, by patronizing them at the summit or the trail, we are encouraging the establishment of more stores, because that’s the way it is: where there is demand, supply will follow. More stores will mean more people coming in to build, to maintain, and to operate those stores, which means more impact to the mountain and the ecosystem.
Second, we are encouraging a culture of convenience that runs contrary to the principles of mountaineering. Essentially, by depending on stores along the trail for drinks like Mountain Dew, we are subcontracting to them our responsibility to bring our own hydration. From this starting point, visitors can easily get caught in the process of “subcontracting” everything, from food (i.e. halo-halo), shelter (i.e. staying in huts instead of tents), and even entertainment (i.e. a videoke machine). Once again, this progression of more and more services will require more manpower, more movement, and more impact to the mountains. We have seen this happen in Mt. Romelo and Mt. Maculot.
Third, more stores will mean more trash in the mountains. Even with the locals’ best efforts, this is the inevitable consequence of more products lying around, and more visitors coming to the mountain. Again we have seen this happen in several mountains.
The locals are not to blame in this situation. Actually, there is no point in pointing fingers. Moreover I am sure that they have no intention of harming the mountain. What is important isn’t “who is to blame” for the problem but “what we can do” to be part of the solution. And I suggest that by not patronizing them in certain places like the summit and the trail, we will discourage this cycle of ‘commercialization’.
You might argue, “Aren’t the locals entitled to do what they want? They live in the mountain after all!” To this, I respond: I agree that the locals do have a right to the mountain! But those rights are not absolute. If they burn down the mountain, we cannot simply say that we have to respect them and watch the mountain go ablaze. Time and again, we have seen how the locals’ interest and that of the environment do not always coincide. The mountains do not have a voice of their own and when the situation calls for it, we have to be their voice.
There will be a way to say this nicely, of course. When a local offers beverage, maybe we can say “Pwedeng sa baba na lang?” as sweetly as we can. Let us help the locals, but let the venue of helping them be a place that doesn’t harm the mountain. This, I think, is a reasonable compromise.