diary of a budding design genius


Being higher than the clouds

Another mountain to cross off my bucket list…

Finally, after planning for months, we got a chance to climb Mt. Pulag in Benguet, the highest peak in Luzon, the 2nd highest in the Philippines. Being a small group, we couldn’t afford to charter a jeepney on our own, so we risked it and boarded the 11:00pm Victory Liner to Baguio, hoping to find a group we could share a jeepney with when we got there. We were lucky enough encounter a group of “over 40” mountaineers who called themselves The Bandidos. They were already sharing a jeep with a couple, Eric and Rina, but there was enough room for us.

After a few hours on the road (including a brief ride on the roof among our packs), we finally reached the DENR station where we had to register and get briefed on the park’s rules and regulations. The camping grounds are part of a protected National Park and is the territory of several Benguet tribes. Respect for the environment as well as the native tribes were clearly emphasized. The Leave No Trace principles definitely had to be followed. Our group’s names were registered with a team leader, first aider and sweeper assigned per group. We ended up being the Chopsuey group along with Eric and Rina. Then off to the jeeps, where we rode for a couple more hours before finally reaching the ranger station — and that’s where the real adventure began.

Top ride on the Jeepney

From the ranger station, its a 3 hour hike to camp 2 where we spent the night. The hike starts in a pine forest, but as we climbed higher, it gradually changed into a mossy oak forest. Just hiking through the forest presented so many photo ops already. The plant life in that high altitude is already very different. The mossy trees were intriguing, as were the endemic dwarf bamboo and the wild berries along the trail. It was a steady climb, but my preparation for this climb consisted of just a couple of short runs and my weekend walking all over Singapore. My walking stick proved to be a worthwhile investment which helped me a lot during the climb. I got a little extra help as well with carrying my pack part of the way with the porter Alice and I hired to help us alternately.

Starting the trek

Oak Forest

Mossy Oak Forest

White flower growing between the rocks

Dwarf Bamboo

More strange plant life

When the mossy oaks finally gave way to rolling hills, we knew we were close to camp. We were among the early ones to arrive and the campsite still had plenty of choice spots left. We set up camp on a relatively flat patch of grass with a view of the peak and the great big blue skies. When the tents were up, and the packs stowed, we went into the tent and promptly fell asleep. It was early afternoon.

My gear beside a little clump of dwarf bamboo

resting before setting up camp

Erika Jumps

We woke up to find that our isolated campsite wasn’t so serene anymore. Other groups had come and tents had sprouted everywhere. The tent directly across from ours belonged to a family from Benguet who had brought their one year old baby up the mountain to celebrate her first birthday. The baby actually had an envious climb. She didn’t have to carry any pack, her mother carried her all of the way and diapers meant she didn’t need to worry about using the common latrines (read: a hut with a hole in the ground… a lot of people miss).

The view from inside the tent

The baby from the tent across ours

It was only 4pm, but we had nothing to left to do for the rest of the day, so we decided to work on dinner. It turned out to be a great idea, because after we tucked in our tuna aglio olio with olives and capers, it began to rain. That wasn’t completely unexpected, so we retired to the tent. After browsing through our photos and a couple of card games, we geared up for the cold night ahead. I was asleep by 7:30pm. In anticipation of the nighttime low temperatures, I wore almost all the clothes I brought. I wore two pairs of socks, a pair of tights under thick jogging pants, a thermal top, a t-shirt and a fleece jacket. All these under 2 blankets in my silk sleeping bag and I still woke up several times because of the cold. I was so tempted to wear a 2nd pair of tights, but it was too complicated to get out from under the covers and change in the cramped tent. Anyway, we were up for real by 3am to prepare for our ascent to the peak. We needed to be up in time for the sunrise.

Eric and Rina were life savers offering us warm Nescafe Brown ‘n Creamy (warm because nothing would stay hot for long in the cold). I added my extra pair of tights, waterproof jacket, gloves, scarf and bonnet to my already bulky outfit, put on my shoes, grabbed my camera, headlamp and walking stick and was ready. . . or so I thought.

Racing to the peak before dawn

The two hour climb to the peak was extra difficult for me, even if we weren’t carrying any packs. It could be the lack of sleep, the thin mountain air, or the fact that it we were going at a fast pace, racing against the sunrise. The sun started peeking out of the clouds when we were only halfway there. We went even faster (or at least I tried). The effort of the climb warmed me up and made me break a sweat, so I gradually shed my layers of clothing as we climbed. Slowly, but steadily, I pushed myself up the final assault to welcome the glorious view at the highest point in Luzon. The weather was perfect. The view, made the climb worth it. We were higher than the clouds. It was so cold I had all my clothes on again, down to the gloves. The tops of mountains all around peeked through the clouds. The morning sun cast warm yellow rays on the surrounding rolling, grassy hills. It painted a scene I will always remember.

A sea of clouds

You can see part of the trail we took from camp to the peak

Gorgeous view

Mountains as far as you can see. . .

See that cloud covered mountain?

Morning Sun

Conquering Mt. Pulag

Are we dressed for The Philippines?

Hundreds of photos later, happy and hungry, we headed back to the tent for breakfast, then to break camp and to head back to Baguio, back to Manila and on to new adventures.

Heading back

The Seven Leave No Trace Principles


  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize use and impact of fire.
  6. Respect Wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.



Singapore Photo Diary

A weekend in Singapore. A little bit hot. A little bit rainy. Painful feet. Shopping and eating to death. Still more to see next time.

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Searching For An Oasis

I was looking forward to a weekend of peace and quiet, camping on the beach; roughing it. On just two hours of sleep, my friends and I went on a 5 hour drive to Pundaquit and a 1 1/2 hour bangka ride to Nagsasa Cove. I had visions of a serene beach with picturesque pine trees and a mountainous background.

We had decided on Nagsasa Cove because Anawangin Cove has become much too popular and we heard news that it already resembles a market on weekends. Nagsasa is in the same area with the same gray sand, pine trees and mountain background, but its further away and less popular, so we thought it would be perfect.

As our boat passed by Anawangin Cove, from the distance, we could already see crowd. We were feeling a little smug for choosing to go to a more isolated cove, further away. Finally, after a long, uncomfortable ride on the bangka, we caught our first glimpse of Nagsasa – –  and saw what seemed like huts – lots of them, all over the beach.

Needless to say, we were gravely disappointed. There were a lot of people there and more would come as the day progressed. The huts belonged to a series of pseudo-resorts separated by bamboo fences. Each “resort” had a cluster of huts, surrounding a sari-sari store, a hose pumping fresh water from the nearby river and a few stalls with primitive toilets in the back. Each group can rent a hut for P100 and set up camp beside it. The hut has a table, benches and a shelf to store the packs. By nightfall, it became definite that we wouldn’t be getting the peace and quiet we came there for. With nothing else to do, each group gathered around their tables or bonfires and played card games, played a guitar and sang along, or told stories, shrieked with laughter or had playful arguments. It was noisy. Each of the “resorts” on either side of ours had generators lighting the sari-sari store and thier distant hums became our background noise. By lucky chance, the resort we chose didn’t have a generator and saved us from listening to a loud buzzing all night long.

Don’t get me wrong. Nagsasa is beautiful. It may not be as picturesque as Anawangin, but it had its own appeal. The cove is surrounded by tall mountains. They are all golden and red under the summer sun. The sea is calm and pine trees dot the beach and line a small lake where the river ends. A short 2o min. walk would take you to a small waterfall. Its dry though at this time of the year. A much bigger waterfall can be seen an hour’s trek away, but we didn’t go.

I’ve been blessed to have seen Boracay before it turned into the seaside shopping mall it is today. There was no electricity yet and the only accommodations were nipa huts on the beach. I went to Anawangin when few people knew about it. There were no structures on the beach, not even a sari-sari store. I went to Siargao when it was visited only by the most avid surfers, when there were no direct flights and even the Surigao airport was closed. Even the Bohol of 7 years ago is very different from the Bohol now. There are few remaining places in the country where you don’t have to pay a premium for peace and quiet. It is nearly impossible to find one during the summer months. Are there any truly isolated Oases left?

Our "resort" was marked by a flag made of an old umbrella

You can see the huts from this distance. There are more behind the trees.

More huts

More campsites under the trees

Okay fine, its still beautiful