Trips - Mt. Panamao, Biliran Island 

Mt. Panamao's High Adventure 

By Bruce N. Ragas, Cebu City 

BILIRAN Island is an excellent port and often the gateway to further destinations within the Visayas and even Mindanao. 

The 555.42-square-kilometer island-province teems with beautiful white-sand beaches and its natural coves offer untold adventures to the daring traveler. 
It is bounded to the north by the Visayan Sea, to the east by Samar Sea, to the west by the Strait of Biliran and on the south by Carigara Bay. 

Topography is slightly flat to gently rolling and rough terrain, an ideal bootcamp for both novice and expert mountaineers or backpackers alike. 

It has narrow coastal areas of lowlands with lush and green mountainous interiors, except for the towns of Naval, the capital, and Caibiran. 

There are many points of interest in this idyllic provincial setting, but the most prominent landmark which captured my unquenchable thirst of adventure for mountain climbing is the proud and intimidating height of Mt. Panamao in Caibiran. 

Biliran's highest peak (1,030 meters), provides a panoramic view of the captivating island and its dazzling seas, and offers a cool climate and unlimited source of fresh and crystal-clear water, most especially during the  wet season. 

Tests conducted by Philippine National Oil Co. revealed immense geothermal power beneath. 

Struck by the intriguing challenge of Panamao, 14 of us in the Trek Out Mountaineering Ministry decided to explore the mountain one hot week in April to experience and unravel the truth behind the myths and folklore of its giant snakes and deadly creatures. 

Our team included Lou and Pamela Relampagos, Christian and Carolina Lorenzo, Rey Legayada, Arthur Kho, Ronnie Gabrillo, Carlos Bongon, Clint de los Santos, Lea Caballero, Raymond Bandalan and ArvinCapilitan. 

Taking a boat from Cebu via Palompon, Leyte, we arrived at Kawayan town in time for a sumptuous seafood lunch prepared by a good friend, Fr. Jack Serate, the town's parish priest, who also prepared our transport and accommodation. 

We proceeded to the town police station and were told by the authority that no mountaineer has ever reached the peak, except for local hunters and farmers who depend on the mountain's providence. 

Undaunted, we took an hour uphill climb to Barangay Tubig-Ginoo, our jump-off point. The barangay captain provided us a guide who knew Panamao like the back of his hand. 

Our first night was spent on a prairie-like flat grassland near the forest line overlooking the poblacion of Kawayan, the calm blue sea cloaking the chain of islands, and the panoramic scene of a descending sun in the distant horizon. 

Anticipating a difficult and treacherous trail, we took an early rest. The night sky waltzed with stars and a full bright moon assured us of bright weather and nice days ahead. 

The following morning: Early and heavy breakfast, checking gears and filling all water containers to the brim as if arming ourselves to the teeth in a gladiator combat against a fierce giant. 

As we stepped on an inclining terrain amid thick vegetation, Panamao proved a force to reckon with. Passing through forested ridges, grassy cliffs and slippery trails, our heartbeat slowly adjusted to air conditions. 

The El Nino phenomenon has taken its toll on Biliran, forcing us to go on water discipline (mountaineers' term for water conservation). All water sources in the  mountain have almost dried up. 

At rest, we feasted our eyes on the green and wild landscape. But there was a wide clearing as we approached one of the peaks--a recently denuded and burned area prepared to be farmed. 

A sad sight. The slash-and-burn method of farming has almost reach the highest portion of the mountain. It was a cleverly selected area because it was not visible from below and could not attract attention from authorities. 

After almost eight hours of uphill battle and bushwhacking negotiation along the trail, we reached the campsite near a dried creek. Even though the peak was just 15 more minutes of hiking, we decided to spare it for tomorrow. 

As darkness and nocturnal sound blanketed the campsite, singing, lively discussion and laughter floated around. We recalled the day's well-done mission. Sharing of various emotions, feelings and experiences spiced our conversation. 
We then made a formal bid of good luck and goodbye to one of our members, a Franciscan brother, who looked forward to his overseas religious mission in Israel for three years. 

The next day's chore was an alpine peak assault. It took us almost half an hour to reach the summit. Coastal, sea and island lay below us. We captured with camera shots the moment we would not want forgotten. 

When we left the following day, it was purely downhill along treacherous, slippery trail--sliding and crawling, more than walking. Just as we all consumed our water, we made our way outside the forest cover. 

Despite aching, sore muscles, we were elated that we successfully made it to the peak and back. Minor wounds, skin abrasions and bruises were treated like game trophies. 

At the parish convent, we ate our fill of tinolang manok as if we never took any meal for almost a week. To reward our body with a cold bath, we lingered at the Masagongsong Swimming Pool, a natural pool. 

Since it was our last night, it was hard to let go of the moment of total control and focus. Such primal moment was very hard to let go. The thought of going back to the complex and fast life of the city and office work seemed unbearable. 

What else could be done except to let go and be back in the life of working for a living. Not just for a living but also to earn and save in order to climb another mountain again. 

And soon. 

Bruce N. Ragas is a member of Trek Out Mountaineering Ministry in Cebu City. 

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