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The First Kanlaon Safari

Posted by andrea lizares on August 21, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Andrea and Manuel Ati-Atihan Photo taken

a few months before the First Kanlaon Safari

I climbed Canlaon, sacred mountain and home of the Visayans supreme creator goddess Laon, when I was 20. The eco-tourism adventure package promised transportation, experienced guides, porters to carry water and heavy loads, outhouse facilities on the trail and in the campsite, organized activities.There was no doubt in my mind that this was something I could do. “If others can do this, so can I”  echoed my 200 lbs Rotary Exchange foster sister Anne Marie Guthrie. Our guarantee was Manuel, tall, lean, strong, trustworthy, my best friend for several years, to look after us and find the tent, backpacks, and other camping equipment that we needed.

Manuel and Andrea in 2008 or 2009 together with sons Anthony and Francis in a day climb to Tinagong Dagat in Silay

At least a bus full left the Negros Occidental Capitol grounds that Good Friday morning of 1977. Most were first timers expecting a good time with friends. Manuel, Anne and I were with LCC Arfien (La Consolacion College Architecture, Fine Arts, Engineering) buddies, including our teacher Architect Emiliano Varon and his wife. The last persons I expected to see joining a rugged and physically challenging activity were my uncle Junior Servando, his wife Myrna, and their son Andrew.. Also there as was the well known artist, Jess Ayco, another non-outdoors person, at least as far as I knew.

This being an official event organized by the province, we paid a courtesy call on the Mayor of Canlaon City before we headed for Camp Mapot , an old Boy Scout Jamboree campsite. After we reached Mapot, we listened to a pre-climb orientation during which we were assurance that if we slipped or slid on the trail, we wouldn’t fall more than a few feet. Of course we were taught the mountaineer’s code – take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

Sleeping on the uncomfortable floor with so many people moving around and the cold at 5,000 feet asl was not easy. Excitement also made  us restless. Wake up call was to be at 5:00 a.m., Black Saturday. We were going to have breakfast, a short program, then break camp and be on the trail before sun-rise. The days's program said we should be at the campsite by 2:00 p.m. with plenty of time to pitch our tents, have group activities, and prepare supper. Easter Sunday, we would be up before the sunrise, say our Easter morning prayers as a group, then make the final assault to the highest peak of the Visayan islands. After that, we were to go down an easier route and exit in Masulog where a bus would be waiting to bring us from Kanlaon City to Bacolod.

Because of its lush natural forests, Mt. Kanlaon is home to many unique species of flora and fauna and it abounds with legends and tales of powerful spirits and strange forest creatures that protect the sacred mountain. Sorjanos, local shamans from other islands, climb Canlaon on special days to gather herbs and other materials for their magic arts. With these expectations of Laon’s mountain, the first hour or so of trekking along vegetable fields and barren ground burning under the sun, made me ask, “Where is the primary forest? Where are the Visayan Spotted Deer, the Visayan Warty Hog, the hornbills, the other birds and animals for which Canlaon is famous? Where is all the magic and the mystery we’ve heard so much about?”

The author's youngest son Anthony during the 2008 Protest Climb through part of the Wasay Trail, said to go through the best part of the primary forests of Kanlaon. Notice how dense the trees are. Anthony's first  climb was a 4 day trek in the Northern Negros Mountain Range. He was ten years old.

The different parts of the trail were not particularly difficult for the 20 year old and the 200 lb 17 year old. The hot treeless terrain eventually gave way to cool and enchanting rain forest.  We were never far from others so the forest felt safely familiar, no chance of getting lost or getting bewitched by a forest enkanto. “Are there snakes here?” Anne wanted to know. Manuel assured her that there were none. There was also little chance of a Visayan Warty Hog goring us with its horns. Even birds and frogs were hard to find as our eyes were focused on the trail.

Michelle, daughter of Andrea and Manuel, in a group climb held around 2004. This climb began in Guintubdan

in La Carlota City and it exited in Mambucal. Although a longer trail, it is probably the most scenic route to take.

The three of us enjoyed the cool wet forest because this was what we’d expected when we decided to climb. But by 2:00 p.m., we were nowhere near anywhere the campsite. After lunch and 6 hours of trekking, Anne and I asked practically all the guides and locals we met, “Layu pa (Do we still have far to go?)?” Everyone was happy to oblige with “Isa na lang ka oras (Just another hour).” Another hour, and another hour, and another endless hour. In time all I could do was put one foot in front of the other, mindlessly like a zombie.

Sisters Josephine and Michelle Si with friend Micah Arroyo and fellow trekkers in the Jardin Sang Balo.

The high altitude and the thin topsoil stunt the growth of trees here so the Jardin looks like it has been

landscaped by a bonsai lover. Who the widow (balo) was, whether she lost her husband here, disappeared

in this area out of despair because of the loss of her husband, or she created the garden, that is not known.

“Don’t rest until you really have to,” Manuel would tell us. Despite his heavy backpack, our tent, food, and sleeping bags, this was easy for him to say. It was actually his 2nd Mt. Canlaon climb in less than a week. To cheer us up, he told us how he and his friends had lost each other and the guide with his group didn’t know the way. He and his companions run out of water and also suffered hypothermia. If they were able to do it. . . . At least we were with a big support group and couldn’t get lost.

View from 8,000 feet asl. This photograph was taken by either Josephine or Michelle in 2004.

When we finally emerged from the rain forest at higher than 7,000 feet asl, we gasped at the unobstructed panorama of Negros Oriental and Tanon Strait . Makawiwili peak, 8,000 feet asl and overlooking an extinct crater of Canlaon we reached at about 2:00 p.m.. Makawiwili is the one big must see on this trail that we were on so after more than 6 hours of endless climbing, we were ecstatic to arrive at somewhere. The “Abaga” or Shoulder where we were to camp was still a normal trekker’s 3 hour trek away, however. Haay. More one step at a time thinking although the view from the top never ceased to be amazing.

The lagoon surrounded by dense forest and partially shrouded by fog. What a sight for tired legs! :)

“Manuel, we have to do this again, but do the climb in two days instead of one,” I told my loyal climbing partner. I was sorry about all the parts of the trail I hadn’t really been able to experience because all the while I had been too focused on arriving. It was a time for realizing the truth of the saying that life is the journey, not the destination.

Margaha Valley, the old crater at the base of the present active crater. This breathtaking sight is definitely one

of the highlights of the climb.

At around 5:00 p.m., we arrived at the Abaga (Shoulder), also known as the Pagatpat Ridge, our campsite. Getting to the end of the endless trek was like attaining nirvana.  “Help us pitch the tent,” Manuel said. “Too tired,” Sleeping Beauty mumbled after I found a comfortable patch of grass on which to lie on.

Sarah Si, the author's second daughter, can carry a man's load and beat many a guy on the trail. This photo

was taken along the Wasay Trail during the 2008 Protest Climb

The temperature can get near 0 degrees Celsius at 8,000 feet, especially at night. The wind was blowing fiercely as the shadows lengthened. All Anne and I wanted to do was was get inside our tent, leaving Manuel and the Arfien guys to do the cooking. Our teacher Architect Varon and his wife had expected tents to be provided and since this wasn’t the case, we shared our Boy Scout tent for three with them. More than a little crowded, but with the howling wind howling and the bitter cold, there was a lot of comfort in warm bodies pressing against each other.

Exhausted though we were, the noise of the wind against the tent and the tossing and turning of 5 people in a tent for 3 made it hard to sleep. Furthermore, we were on a slight slope, our heads higher than our feet. Toes bitten by the cold would be our signal to kick ourselves back inside the tent. It was a relief to hear people moving around outside and then to hear the wake-up call which marked the end of the almost sleepless night.

Josephine and Michelle at the crater during their 2004 climb.

The final “assault” to the rim of the crater took an hour and a half. In the photographs of that first safari. we all looked and felt like conquerors. I knew of course that what we’d conquered was not so much the highest peak in the Visayas but the limits we’d set for ourselves. There was loose gravel at the edge of the crater so I chickened out and did not dare to go near. It was enough to be with the group that planted the First Canlaon Safari flag there.

We have conquered, say the beaming faces in this photo of the Arfien group posing near the crater in 1977,

the First Kanlaon Safari. Anne Marie Guthrie is the big blonde at the left side of the picture. The author might

be behind the camera but where is Manuel?

Definitely not for bungee jumping but is this actually the famous crater of Mt. Kanlaon? Photo by Josephine

or Michelle, taken during their 2004 climb.

The descent was without the sense of victory we got from the climb but going back was the most trying part of the 3 day safari. The trail that exits in Masulog (part of Kanlaon City) is the shortest, steepest route and it goes through the most damaged parts of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (before 2001, the Mt. Canlaon National Park). To make things worse, there were no water sources for a refill of fast emptying water bottles.

After the Pagatpat Ridge, the elevation is too high for anything but grass to grow. So this is how the volcano peak looks. That it continues to look this way further down is unforgivable. It is also absolutely no fun to be going

all the way down from the peak through such a barren slope, or steeper barren slopes.  (Photo from Josephine and Michelle's 2004 climb)

Down this side of Canlaon, there was no evidence of the virgin forests and the wildlife for which the mountain is famous. We went down hot, treeless mountain slopes where we suffered from thirst while our knees and toes were tortured by the merciless downhill route. The first signs of human habitation were a relief beyond measure. My uncle hired a carabao and cart to bring him to Masulog but not after he’d already sliced open the toe portion of his brand new pair of Adidas rubber shoes.

Anne, Manuel, and I finished what we’d started out to do, of course. No cheating. There was nothing like the first drink of water after all the long hours with my empty water bottle. If there was anything that I didn’t want to happen again, it was the thirst. The following year, Manuel and I climbed again with the Varons and a few Arfien friends. We went a week before the Safari and took the mountain at our own pace. After that, Manuel and I got married and the babies that came one after the other plus peace and order problems caused by insurgency in Negros, put a third climb beyond our reach.

26 years and 7 kids later, in 2003, myhusband and I put on our backpacks and trekking shoes again. We did a 4 day trek of North Negros (Patag, Tinagong Dagat, Sulfutara) with 5 ofour children. Two years later, we climbed Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon.Kanlaon is still something we promise we'll do before we get too old for another climb of the sacred mountain.

For more photos of Kanlaon

Andrea Lizares Si is a member of the Board of Palmas del Mar Conference Resort Hotel. She is a lawyer and was City Administrator of Bacolod from 2001-2004. In 2008, she became lead counsel of the class suit to declare unconstitutional, several provisions of the law allowing the geothermal exploration of part of Mt. Kanlaon's primary forest. She and 4 of her 7 children are respondents in the illegal trekking case.

Categories: Negros Eco-Tours and Adventures

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Reply jodelyn
1:31 AM on March 15, 2011 
I like to go where they have a volcanoes and take a pictures as a souviner. I am adventurios person and love to travel always where they have a volcano..I like this view of the volcano.
Reply anonymous
2:01 AM on March 15, 2011 
I just want to know how many hours from Bacolod going to Mt. Kanlaon?
Reply pete rivera
11:16 PM on August 18, 2011 
Hi Andrea and Family,

got some photos of the First Kanla-on Safari in "79.will send you some copies for your kids?sorry that was long time ago and not sure if it was your kids or somebody else in that group photos.Atyy John was stillthe DOT Field Chief in Negros Occ. shortly before he left for his Osaka assignment and later years the West Coast (USA).Perhaps someone could still identify them(photos).Art Valdes a novice
climber at the time (his first high altitude climb) shared a tent with me .there was an exciting tremor very early morning and he was looking for me since i was going some perimeter check among the participants in the Safari.i was aware there were quite a few youngsters at the time but my assignment
was more on safety and security.(with the consent ofAtty John O,jr i've formed a special group quietely -the "Dirty Dozen" as advanced team from Masulog(place of the popular Perez Kapamilya (Gigito Sr. Toto,etc;)there were some mediamen in the Safari.I think it was a good and memorable climb for your
nieces and/or nephews?not too many knew that our place is very near the volcano and since i was only about 10 years old i had been going hunting on the Mansalanao later years, i led with another farm hand,some Salesian priests from DBTI (Don Bosco,Vicmico),Fathers John Buchta,Monchiero,Ricaldone,and another one ? up the base of the volcano.i like father Monchiero(italian)because he kept on feeding me bread on the way up.not too many had been to the side of this crater on the Mansalanao side.( unless they had seen or notice some wreckage of a plane of WW11 vintage on the slope just after the last of the short-short trees then the so-called "cogon like grasses burned by the ciruhanos,manogbulong,etc;and the inhabitants at the base of the volcano who goes hunting deers(young deers called "LumbayS" after a few days burning or "kaingin'.usuall on the holy week or Good Fridays.For years we have seen these smokes from the town of La Castellana and nobody has checked or stop these things.Until one day,i remember after some years the rivers near the town turned into chocolate and muddy(i remember seeing some snakes in some branches or trees carried swiftly by the current from the landslide areas the townsfolf could actually see the extent of the cavein at a distance.i'll never forget that day we went to the river banks and just watch the effect of the indiscriminate practices of the kaingeros for years and years.when i joined a tour of negros(Alay Lakad-the very first one ,as well as when we toured the whole of Negros province in my stint with MBC-dyEN,La Carlota,somwhere between Sta Catalina (Siaton)and Cauayan,i've seen quite a few of the already highly developed kaingins from along the highways an/or roads not too far the cost and effects of the kaingins,kalbonized effects of the forests,and the business of illegal loggings at the time.BTW i am aware that you're some sort of an advocate for the preservation of the forests,one of the God-given beauties of nature to the living creatures.i admired your courage and determination as well as your friends and supporters to prevent hopefully the realization of this anti-nature(environment) mega projects in the national park.Perhaps someone forgets that Nature has its "Balance" too.You touch it or
play with it- just like you remember you're agood Ping-pong player once.the ball bounces back,for every action ,there's always an equal and opposite reaction) i believed more on my teacher in physics than Tito Albert?)Nobody can really stop Nature or fight it.If there are no more trees in the forests (roots) to hold H20(rain)it'll naturally seek its own level(according to my not so favorite physics teach(bless her soul she already passed away living me with a solid 75 grade inthe secondary school ).Ergo you already knew the "cause and effects" as a result but the people need to be aware that it's not so much as it is maybe politically correct but also in my personal belief stupidly wrong eh?
Well that's all in the name of progress and development really ?What will they think of next? Thanks and Regards.
Reply Andrea L. Si
3:16 AM on August 19, 2011 
Hi Pete. Thanks for your long comment and istorya. Would love to have copies of the pictures of the first Kanlaon Safari, if you can post them here or in facebook. Are we friends in facebook? Better in facebook because storage space in this palmas website is limited. You can also post in You will have to register, though. Please do.

[pete rivera]
Hi Andrea and Family,

got some photos of the First Kanla-on Safari in "79.will send you some copies for your kids?sorry that was long time ago and not sure if it was your kids or somebody else in that group photos.Atyy John was stillthe DOT Field Chief in Negros Occ. shortly before he left for his Osaka assignment and later years the West Coast (USA).Perhaps someone could still identify them(photos).Art Valdes a novice
climber at the time (his first high altitude climb) shared a tent with me .there was an exciting tremor very early morning and he was looking for me since i was going some perimeter check among the participants in the Safari.i was aware there were quite a few youngsters at the time but my assignment. . . .
Reply Andrea L. Si
3:18 AM on August 19, 2011 
Thanks for your comment. I hope you've been to Kanlaon.

jodelyn says...
I like to go where they have a volcanoes and take a pictures as a souviner. I am adventurios person and love to travel always where they have a volcano..I like this view of the volcano.
Reply Andrea L. Si
3:25 AM on August 19, 2011 
There are different routes to the crater. The one we took was from Kanlaon City in Negros Oriental. I think the shortest way to Kanlaon City will take about 2 hours. From Kanlaon City, you go to Camp Mapot and begin the climb from there. The more beautiful routes begin near Mambucal (the Wasay Route) and in Guintubdan, in La Carlota. Mambucal is 37 kilometers from Bacolod but the trek to the crater is the longest of the 3 main options. Guintubdan is about an hour from Bacolod. The trail which begins here is much shorter than the trail that begins in Mambucal. I haven't been to Kanlaon through the Mambucal and the Guintubdan trails so I can't tell you much more about them.
[email protected] says...
I just want to know how many hours from Bacolod going to Mt. Kanlaon?