Friday, March 19, 2010

Scaling Mount Samat

In our last newsletter we talked about all of the seatless toilets in the Philippines. We had several interesting replies. It got us to thinking: what could you possibly do with a used toilet seat, other than to use it as a toilet seat? Someone mentioned that they can be used as bicycle seats. So we are throwing out a challenge. What could you do with one or more toilet seats? Use your imagination and send us the best ideas. Remember, they are made of wood or plastic, and come in assorted colors, providing endless possibilities. If we get enough creative replies we will include them in an upcoming newsletter. We hope that this is not a crappy idea.

There are lots of twins in nature, but we never expected to see a twin banana. Marcia noticed that one of the bananas in a bunch was extra wide. Even though it had only one stem, when she peeled the banana, inside were twins! In all other ways it was normal. Have any of you ever seen this, or a similar unexpected phenomenon?

On Monday Steve gave a tour for about 90 U.S. Marines on a break from joint training exercises in Cavite. They arrived in their small assault boats, and for a few minutes it looked like Corregidor was once again being invaded. Tuesday he guided for about 40 members of the Pakistani Navy War College, here as guests of the Philippine Navy. Steve would be very hard pressed to decide which group was more well-mannered and polite. Although they come from opposite sides of the globe, all were gentlemen, with the exception of the two female Pakistanis – reserved, but very gentlewomanly.

On Thursday we took a banca to Cabcaben, and caught a couple of rides to the foot of Mt. Samat. The first thing we saw, right at the intersection, was a sign placed by the local Lions Club. Since we were both Lions for several years before moving here, it was nice to see that there is also a local presence. Soon after we began our uphill climb, we were able to ask a man who lives alongside the road how far it is to the summit: seven kilometers, or a little over four miles. Not really so far, except that the road is uphill at least 95% of the way, sometimes becoming quite steep, and rising to an altitude of 1850 feet. Our goal was to walk all the way up, and then back down. We decided we might opt to ride down, depending on the time.

It wasn’t very long after beginning our ascent that we could see the cross, which stands on the summit, way off to our left. Then the road turned that direction, and it looked to be quite the climb ahead of us. We have ridden up the mountain a dozen times, and knew that we might be in for a challenge, but had been looking forward to the hike for quite some time.

The road has a number of switchbacks, something to be expected on a mountain road, and our helper Roy spotted a couple of “shortcuts” that may have saved us a minute or two each. They were short but quite steep, something that you would much rather attempt going uphill, where a fall is minor, than going down, where a misstep could be disastrous. The next shortcut looked to cut a considerable distance from our walk, so up we went into the jungle. We soon encountered a stack of cut bamboo along the path, but paid no attention. Up and up and up we went, probably ascending at times a 30-degree slope. It was very hot, and we had to stop several times to rest. Steve joked to Roy that we better not be heading back to the starting point at the bottom of the mountain, which was of course impossible.

We both read a lot of the crime/detective/courtroom fiction that is so popular nowadays, and something we’ve often read is that a lawyer should never ask a question in court if he doesn’t already know the answer. Well, we now have a new rule. Think twice before taking a trail if you aren’t sure where it goes. Despite the fact that we were going uphill on a mountain that was coming to a peak, we suddenly came to a clearing on the trail with two possible uphill choices. Which to choose? Roy started up one while we rested, but returned shortly thereafter. That trail just came to an abrupt end. So we all headed up the alternative path, only to find out shortly that this trail ended in the middle of a thick, impassible bamboo grove. We realized that we would have to go all the way back down to the road. To put this in perspective, we had been climbing a very steep bamboo harvesters’ path for close to half an hour, probably having ascended somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 feet, only to have to go back down again. Aside from the loss of time and a good amount of energy, we were now faced with descending the same, very steep path.

Something we have learned from hiking the tougher trails on Corregidor; a walking stick can be very handy. Most of the time it really doesn’t do much, but when you are faced with a steep descent, a walking stick can be a life saver. The trick is to firmly plant the stick far enough in front of you that it prevents you from falling ass-over-teakettle down the hill if you slip or lose your balance. Without one, you’re risking a scary situation, while with a stick it can be a piece of cake. As we started back down the “shortcut” we were fortunate to be able to find a couple of made-to-order walking sticks. In another 15 minutes or so we were back on our way up the road.

Roy spotted one more shortcut, one he was already familiar with, and it made our walk to the top much shorter, albeit a lot steeper. The elevator inside the cross was operating, so we took advantage and went up into the cross arms. The wind was blowing so hard that it felt like jet-powered air-conditioning. It is probably the coolest we have been yet in the Philippines short of actually being in aircon. During our climb, we were drinking lots of water and Gatorade, and had arrived at the mountaintop quite sweat-soaked. Marcia, who cannot use sunscreen, had worn a lightweight long-sleeved shirt over a camisole. She held the shirt in the wind, and it was nearly dry after five minutes. The view from that height is spectacular on a clear day – we had clouds, but they were high enough that we could still see in all directions. Some days the clouds actually blow through the cross.

Having climbed a part of the mountain twice, we decided that we would take a ride down if we could get one. Amazingly, maybe a tenth of the way down there was a young man with his tricycle. He was happy to give us a ride back down the hill. He drove us to the next tricycle stop – they are licensed within specific areas - where we caught a ride into Balanga for a much needed lunch.

Now put on your thinking caps and send us some ideas for used toilet seats!

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