Hiking Pico de Loro

Pico de Loro Michelle and I hadn’t been hiking since The West Highland Way in Scotland. And prior to that The Banaue Rice Terraces  and Pinatubo Volcano were our last Filipino hiking experiences at least a year ago.  As we are both leaving the Philippines this summer, we wanted to get at least another one in before we leave.  We’d already missed the cooler months of December through March, and the only non-weekend day remaining on the calendar before departure was May 1…..so May 1 it was..hot or not!

Its amazing how having a hiking goal helps kick me into gear in the gym.  I went from dragging myself down there once a week on a Sunday to going 4-5 times/week on a mission.  (Note to self:  How about always having a hike planned?  It should be easy in Nepal!)

Pico de Loro

Pico de Loro

Pico de Loro is located in Ternate, in Cavite province, about a 2 hour drive from Manila. A friend had recommended to Michelle as an accessible day trip, not too difficult, on a well-marked trail, and I think that’s a pretty good summary of the hike.  As with all hikes here, its an up and down event (rather than cross-country).  I heard different times reported on how long it would take.  For us it was 7 hours roundtrip (which would probably would have been 6 hours if I hadn’t kept making us stop!)  Alot of the hiking is a more gradual climb, although there is a steep hour or so in the middle.  I found this exhausting in the heat as I couldn’t handle hiking sticks and a water bottle at the same time. ( I can’t believe I still don’t own a hydration system of some description.)  In general, I found the heat unbearable and I remember how exhausting Pinatubo was for just that reason.  There were times when I had to remind myself how great it was to be out of the city – and it really was….  Manila is not the Philippines, but it is so easy to forget sometimes.

Pico de Loro

May 1 is a Filipino holiday and I understand Pico de Loro is a popular hiking destination for college kids.  It was lucky we went as early as we did as the groups started to arrive in throngs after us.  At first I was taken aback how many kids were coming from behind, but they were the nicest people.  One group that over took us (because of my huffing and puffing) was kind enough to wait at a split in the path to make sure we took the right route.  And when I took a well earned break on the main ridge, they kindly offered to share all their food with me.  Really nice kids.  Many of them were staying the night and little camp sites starting going up all around.  While I waited for the others to come back from their attempt to ascend the beak, I watched a marriage proposal on a nearby rock.  Very cute.

They do need learn the hiker’s mantra that I was taught though:  take nothing, and leave nothing behind.  It was pretty clean up there, not too much litter, but it wasn’t litter free either.  And when I saw the piles and piles of plastic garbage at base camp that had been collected from a very recent clean up campaign, I understood how bad it could really get. I’m glad I didn’t get to see that.

The trail is marked as easy, and it is really – except for the heat.  Especially by Filipino standards where trails can involve climbing and ropes.  The beak itself I did not attempt, as rope climbing is not for me, but braver souls than me made it all the way to the top.  An accessible day hike from Manila.  Best done with an early start, December-February on a non-holiday weekday for a little more peace and solitude…


“Its the Final Countdown” ….

boredyoga30 days. I have to admit to feeling a little schizophrenic during this final phase.  I seem to oscillate between bored (with a bad dose of cabin fever) and peacefully calm; (watching all the pieces fall in place).  Notice I’m not frantic, frustrated, or overwhelmed at any point so far.  Should I be?  There’s also been a few waves of sadness as the goodbyes and final landmarks start to appear….and there will be plenty more of those.  The hardest part will always be leaving the people, not matter how much I miss the palm trees and beautiful beaches.  At times everything feels so mapped out, and we are just working down the list, checking boxes.   But there have been a couple of physical injuries that have thrown a spanner into the works, which just serve as a reminder that the unexpected is always a possibility and I am grateful that despite them it all seems to be working out.

My goal is to spend the next month best enjoying what remains (Latham’s graduation, last trips around Manila and the Philippines, last time with friends and last favourite things) and the least stressful exit I can manage…

SM Aura Revisited

Sept 2012

Construction in Sept 2012

In the usual Sim City style of BGC, SM Aura was built, opened, and packed with people in the blink of an eye.

SM Aura in May 2013

SM Aura in May 2013

I’ve been keeping track on this blog for 2+ years on the rapidly changing face of Fort Bonifacio.  I had planned to do one more post just before we leave which was supposed to include a revisit of the latest significant addition: SM Aura.  However, the building’s opening was uncooperative, with it’s official launch was last Friday led by none other than Sarah Jessica Parker who happens to be in town shooting a new movie.  Therefore, so as not to be the last person in the world to report on this, I am going to do a couple of comparison shots now between last September (as in my blog post then) and today but –fear not– I will do one more construction update next month.

aura crowds

I’ve seen some detailed pictures of the grocery store in the basement, which would probably be our reason for visiting on a regular basis, plus maybe the movie house.  There’s also a Kultura in house, which is good for visitors, and a “sky park” on the roof with some trees and places to eat.  It looks like a pretty spot if it wasn’t too crowded.

I haven’t summoned the courage to go yet, as the crowds were so massive this weekend.  Perhaps I can go on first thing on a rainy Tuesday morning next week, just to say I did?  I’ll save any further comments until I see for myself.

On belonging…


The Filipino sense of community is very different from the Western individualistic approach to life.  I notice how it plays a part in so many things here, contrasting daily in positive and negative ways.  Really understanding another culture takes time, and after two years I only feel like I’m beginning comprehend the nuances of so many things that go on around me.

Some things are more obvious.  Brand new in Manila, the very first thing you notice is how common uniforms are.  They are everywhere.  Every store has one and it not just about branding, although branding is very big here.  I think they are partly about clothing allowance as wages are so low, but there’s much more to it that that.  As I child, I refused to join the Brownies because I didn’t want to wear a uniform.  Very early on, I had developed some basic individualist leanings.  Here it’s just the opposite.  Very early on the emphasis is on belonging and collective responsibility.

My first experience with Filipino kids was playing at an orphanage in Makati.  After games were over it was time to clean up, and it was pretty amazing to watch.  The kids knew everything that needed to be done: brooms appeared, litter disappeared, and balls and toys were back where they belonged in seconds with no words spoken.  By contrast, yesterday, after an American family party, I went to the games room to clean up.  I asked the kids to help me pick up.  Their shoulders slouched, their arms went limp and they looked at me in horror.  They couldn’t slide out the door fast enough!

But the cookie crumbles both ways.  We raise independent kids who are raised to think for themselves.  I watch my son at 17 have a pretty clear idea of who he is and what he wants, and that makes me happy.    I want him to listen to his parents advice — we are the experienced ones after all — but to balance it with an awareness of his own needs.  Then he has ownership of his decisions, including his own mistakes and the responsibility to actually learn from them.  I see many Filipino kids that appear to have had their decision-making capacity removed and only know how to act by the rules.  It frustrating to watch, and infuriating at times to experience an adult who refuses to apply logic or adapt rules in a sensible way.

Nowhere do these two paths seem more distinctly different than at the international high school where Western kids parents’ complain about failing grades and how their kids “just don’t care”, and Asian kids whose parents’ rule their schedules, leaving little social time for their kids. I see them in the elevator at 8 o’clock at night returning from a tutor, still in their school uniform.

Its clear that communities are important everywhere, and many aspects of Western society aren’t looking too healthy these days.  There’s a lot the West could re-learn about community responsibility from the Filipinos.  On the other side, placing rigid limits on individual expression suppresses creativity and growth, and Americans have individual expressionism down pat.  There’s no right or wrong way, but plenty of opportunity for open mindedness on both sides.

Its not lost of me how ironic it is that that the Philippines strives to emulate American culture in so many ways, but deep down it is so different.  Living here for the past two years and watching the two cultures blend, clash, combine and adapt has been a continual learning experience and one I am very grateful to been around.  It will be one of my biggest takeaways from my time here.