Christian flashed a shy smile as I approached the bench he was sitting on, his feet propped up on the unpolished wood on either side of him. I was being shielded from the drizzle by my brown umbrella which I folded upon coming under the shed that was part of the registration area.
It was already past 3 PM, and I needed at least 2 hours to climb the summit, pause for a while, and climb back down. I had to be back at the highway by 7 PM in time for the last trip of the bus that would take me back to Manila.
“Samahan mo ulit ako,” I told Christian, talking about being my guide once again just like a year ago.
That Mt. Talamitam climb in the summer of 2011 was one of my most unforgettable climbs. While it was scorching hot when we started the hike, we had to pause and hide under the leaves of banana trees when it suddenly rained; the lightning and thunderstorm made it so scary for us to go on. The mountain, by the way, was the most barren that I have climbed.
The kid, who was now more certain that it was indeed me from last year, said, “Ang hilig mo sa naulan at saka sa hapon.” (You’re so fond of climbing when it rains and in the afternoon.) It was 2 PM when we climbed last year.
Meawhile, one of Christian’s two cousins who went with us last year was also there. Floriel greeted me excitedly and started talking about the pancit canton we cooked with rainwater at the summit and how we were afraid of getting struck by lightning.
After writing my name on the log book, changing into my climbing clothes and leaving most of my stuff in Bro. Ted’s (the Barangay Chairman and the kids’ uncle) house, Christian, Floriel and I walked under the drizzle and headed for the summit.
It was a tiring climb for me because I have been climbing rarely these days. Sitting in front of the computer all day with no exercise whatsoever has taken a toll on me. I asked to rest three times all through the climb but we were still able to make it to the summit in an hour and twenty.
The talks I shared with Christian and Floriel along the way made the climb seem faster than it actually was. I don’t know if it was just a feeling, but they treated me like a long lost friend, filling me in on the highlights of their young lives since we last saw one another. It also became like a funny interview when the conversation turned on me, as I tried to answer them in ways their young minds could grasp.
I had with me the DSLR, but because it was drizzling (and I left the umbrella back at Bro. Ted’s, of course) I was only able to take a few shots at the summit. It was also getting late so I had to hurry back.
Using the side trail on our way back, we passed by some mountaineers (thirteen, according to Floriel) camped just below the summit. They were going to stay overnight and it was so brave of them to do so despite the drizzle, strong winds and dark clouds that threatened hard rains.
At exactly 5:50 PM, we were already at the lone store near the registration where we had ham and egg sandwiches and sodas. I needed that because I would be in for a long ride back to Manila.
The light and bubbly conversation continued on while we ate, and while at it, Florian, Floriel’s younger brother who also climbed with me last year, arrived. He was less shy now, and he showed the most physical change when I last saw them. He’s now taller and more conscious of his looks. (Compare the above photo with this.)
He was all smiles and joined the other boys in telling me stories – mostly about school, girls, and some scary stuff.
Time flew by so fast, though, and I had to go. The three of them walked me to the highway and stayed with me while I waited for the bus.
“Kailan ulit balik mo, Kuya?” Christian asked, and I was glad he dropped the “Sir” for “Kuya.”
“’Pag may time, babalik ako,” I promised.
Floriel, being the only one who had a cellphone, even gave me his number. “Text mo kami, ha, Kuya?”
I know I have created a bond with the kids. I haven’t texted them yet, but I will one of these days.
Somehow, I now know that it’s really not the mountain that gives you great experiences but how you climb it and the experiences and friends that you gain while walking its trails.
Mt. Talamitam has indeed given me memorable experiences in the two times I climbed the mountain. The first one may be most remembered by the hard rain and thunderstorms, but I know the second one will always put a smile on my face every time it will cross my mind.