My slow walk up Mt. Pulag…(last part)

The day of the climb was long and hard, for me. The few new muscles and a headache that Jason said was normal made the noodle and soup first rate. Everything tastes better up the mountain and after dying a little. It’s almost spiritual.6264

The temperature was dropping and I had rested inside our tent trying out all blanketing I could get preparing for what we expected to be a very cold night ahead. So I took a pill and napped for an hour. And before I knew it, dinner was ready and my headache was gone.  Jason and white chicks, as we called our two foreigner friends Coleen and Laura, cooked up dinner and it was sumptuous.  But the dinner was not the main event for the evening, Mylene wanted to make cheesecake! And she did. All the girls helped her out and made what to me was an awesome idea and it wasn’t bad. Wasn’t bad at all. It actually worked. It was definitely an upper.


The night was reassuring, the skies opened and stars abound, The moon was bright and round, it lit the corners of the mountain, it was pretty and so comforting.  I now understand why people found themselves by going on these long climbs. Of-course for me this was already a long climb. In reality, the route we took was called the executive trail.  And this was the easiest among all the trails.

A little bourbon and a little organic cigarettes were all we needed to warm up and warm down for the night, got to know the white chicks more and more while Agot, Mylene and Tomas turned in early.  We had a 4am wake-up call for a 4:30am climb up the peak.

I think none of us really got up at the sound of our alarms because as we were having coffee, we saw the sky turning blue and we all hurried up the peak. And this was a very steep incline and I remember catching my breath saying, wow, I literally used up all the rest I got from my sleep and I was only halfway, I think we shocked our bodies in that it had barely woken up and here we were trying to sprint to the top before the sun came out, you could not in any circumstance miss that moment otherwise, all the walk the day before would have been for nothing.

We all got up there. Tomas is 10 years old and he was on top of that mountain. 10 years old!6306

I remember taking photos and then after a while stopping and telling myself, nah, you can’t shoot this. It won’t fit the frame. And I don’t have the words either.63306329


And so this is where I stop explaining Mt. Pulag. You need to get up there and see it.

The Flotsam Story…(Part 2 of 10)


So there we were decided on shooting a film, we were going to do it with 2 DSLR’s and just friends. The impetus was that we knew what we wanted and it was to capture what made me and other people come back to Flotsam coupled with the dream of making our own Richard Curtis film. Not to copy from Richard Curtis but to be independent and personal guided only by your experiences and just simply following your gut.

Joncy believed in the auteur school of filmmaking and he would always tell me this but here we were doing a film together and he laid it down every so often, we follow the auteur school where-in the director is king, we follow your lead.  As the director, I have to say, you cannot have a better situation coming in a film project than this.


But it was really a chicken or the egg thing—they (Mia Sebastian, Carla Suiza and Joncy Sumulong) had built Flotsam and Jetsam hostel of which I was a fan of, following and writing about…here I am trying to put that whole feeling and concept of the place into a movie, so although I was the director, they were still the experts to the whole Flotsam experience so, it was quite symbiotic as I was actually following their lead as well.

Next thing we worked on was the premise and the characters.  I knew I didn’t want to do a surf film or a film about surfing. Maybe because I never considered myself as a surfer so even if I wanted to do a surf film, I wouldn’t know how.  I always knew that surfing would be the sport I’d be doing for a long time but I also knew that I was not a fanatic of anything but to get out of Manila and a stress-filled life, which is why surfing appealed to me so much. Of-course, I’m no hypocrite, surfing’s greatest offering was… girls in bikinis!

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So Flotsam was not going to be about surfing.  It would be about women in bikinis. I’m kidding. Ha!

Flotsam would be about love stories that happen in a surftown.

Before we even thought of making this film, I always knew that if I did a short film in Flotsam, the main character would be Flotsam.  I just saw the artistic hostel as a very strong force akin to the bar in Cheers and the restaurant in Mystic Pizza.  And as simple as this first character played out, so did the rest—who else would be in the movie Flotsam but the regulars at Flotsam?

There are a few characters in the film we loosely based on real people in Flotsam or from the surf-town.  I use the word “loosely” because they were inspirations only for as soon as we casted each character, it was a collaboration already between actors and the screenplay in coming up with the most interesting character onscreen. We made the actors/actresses own their roles.  And they did.  Ahhh, the cast. We had the best cast… but I’ll save that for another blog…

Back to the story.   Joncy was hell-bent on doing the film that he got Earl Noche to come in and make it happen.  Earl who works in Sales and Operations, is a very unique individual. Like Joncy, he’s the type of guy who when committed to something, would make things happen. A doer. And he committed to this.


For weeks, Earl and Joncy would go around and find the funds to make this film. I always knew what Joncy wanted because he was a film fanatic but Earl, I still couldn’t get what he was about. So one day, I decided to just go and ask Earl why he was doing this and he simply put it: “I’ve sold everything…name it, I’ve sold it… but I’ve never sold a film.”

Where I wake up and think of stories to make into film, he gets a high out of selling.  Joncy and I would sometimes just look at Earl, sigh and say “iba talaga si Earl.” And it’s true. The guy is unique.

We also got a professional producer to come in to handle the production and brought in another marketing Goddess named Cheska to help us make this happen. And Cheska was another character, the only female in the group so far, all bubbly and girly, a real chick is what she was.


So there was the core of Flotsam movie production being formed slowly. First it was just Joncy and I. Then Earl came in. Then our producers. Mind you, it was an all alpha-male group of first-class hecklers. And then the no-pushover chick, Cheska. Eventually, we would have Darlene Malimas join the mix. And the whole film was going to be the first baby of Banana Pancake Trail Productions.


The short version of this story will always be: we drove back from La Union and created a child.


My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 2)

Lesson 2: my sense of humor kept me alive. (Cont.)


Mind you, days before our trip, the weather report predicted 93% precipitation and 100% the following day so I prepared a little too much in that my backpack had me 3 sets of clothing because I can’t stand getting wet.  So I was prepared.

By the mid-way of our trek, the fog greeted us. At first glance, it was a pretty sight, we took out our phones and photographed away.  Or maybe it’s just because we’re already high up that the fog seemed to thicken.  We rested amidst the fog and it was indeed getting cold-er.


After a while, everyone trekked on again.  So every now and then we all stopped and Jason and I caught on with the rest.  But this was the last stop and we were far more exhausted than any stop earlier. So off they all went, Aling Lina, our porter who wore white was just as much a white ghost leading the pack. Wasn’t much of a leader I suppose as she disappeared into the horizon. I actually have a photo of the last set of mountains we had to cross and there she was, a tiny dot after 15 minutes of leaving us. One day I said to myself, I shall film her story. I don’t know how but I will. She was for me the most fascinating story in this whole climb.


I remember the last long stop Jason and I took because I was looking at Mang Felix seated by the grass looking away and it seemed like he was writing down notes on a small notebook. But do not trust my memory because at this point of exhaustion, I could be hallucinating everything already. And I told Jason, I think he’s tallying our stops and we’re probably going to win the record for the most breaks and stops taken by trekkers going up.  And in a few minutes, the clouds got darker and Mang Felix just about had it with us I thought, he excused himself to go ahead telling us that it might rain and that he should get there ahead and pitch all our tents. And he left us and in my head, wow, we were that bad our guide left us. But he meant well.

So we put on our raincoats and decided to walk faster—in our head that’s what we wanted but it was still the lolo walk of literally one step at a time.

But we made it.  And when we got to the side of the mountain which was supposedly the peak we would climb, we saw our camp and everyone was there. They called it the saddle and it was gorgeous and downhill.  So our last 15 minute trek was downhill and really steep.  In my mind, shit, I’m going to climb this tomorrow, can I just camp here instead. Ofcourse, none of my wishes came true except for one thing, we had the saddle all to ourselves.


By this time, I had a headache and they said it was just my body getting used to the high altitude and probably the cold. In my mind, it was my body freaking out telling why the hell did I bring it there.

We pitched our tents, Jason and the girls made noodles and soup, it was the best tasting noodles and soup I had ever tasted. And it never rained. In fact, the sun came out after we set up all our tents. What a day?! And I survived what came out to be about 5 hours trek for me and a whole lot of steps. One never really counts their steps until they are forced to do one after the other with a huge monster on their shoulders.

Monster. I think that was the term used for Sheryl Strayed’s backpack when she hiked the PCT in her book Wild. She had over-packed and did so many mistakes as a first-time climber. And I was such a fan of the book, I even blogged about it and then eventually watched the film. And like a real fan, I did all of the mistakes she committed. Nice one Jay.

But let me show you why it was all worth it.  And this was just the saddle.



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(To be continued… Part 3)





My slow walk up Mt. Pulag… (Part 1)


I had only known about Mt Pulag from facebook photos of people above the clouds, I am not a mountaineer and was not aware that this was the 2nd highest peak in the country.  My interest is getting away with a bunch of friends and what could be farther from the great Manila shithole than climbing a mountain that’s above the clouds.


The trip was marked for early May, then it moved to end of May and then it moved again to early June. Up until the very last day, I didn’t know much about the details of the trip. I had just gotten back from a US trip and a 12-day film shoot so my mind sort of arrived late as my body was back in town days earlier.  I admit that I just put my utmost trust to my friends Jason Moss, Mylene Dizon and Agot Isidro.  I knew that they would not put me in harms way.  Jason Moss referred to the trek as “banayad”.


Weeks prior to the trip up Mt Pulag, and the very first day of my movie shoot, we went up the waterfalls in San Juan. It was gorgeous but the trek was deadly for us normal big city folks.  What was described for us as a 30-minute trek took us 2 hours and some of us got sick because of the heat.  It affected our whole 12-day shoot, in both good and bad ways that 2 days after we wrapped our shoot, I had to go back to the waterfalls and take the longer but kinder route and enjoy the falls just to get rid of my trauma.  So the longer route was about an hour and 15minutes and I was exhausted but I enjoyed it. Trauma forgotten.

Cut to me asking how long the trek to Mt Pulag is—“it’s only a 4-hr trek.” BOOM!

Again, you just have to trust your friends.  I followed a short list of things to pack and admittedly packed a little more—2 more shirts, an extra shorts, and being paranoid about my diabetes, packed 3 times the required trail food.  Here lies the problem.


So we drove up to Baguio, ride a jeep another 2 hours across the mountains and then we begin the trek.  Jason lent me a 45 pound backpack which I estimate would have been easily 50 lbs as I packed it to the brim. 5 liters of water, a heavy tent, winter clothing and lots and lots of trail food enough to feed a small family.


I remember bringing my pack to the car and telling myself “shit, how the hell am I gonna carry this for 4 hours?!” and then moved on ignoring that most important warning off an inner monologue that could have saved me all the trouble that was about to come.

Lesson 1 learned:  listen to your inner monologue.  Stop, shut up and listen.

Lets put it this way, the trek was, yes they were right, “friendly to say the least”.  It was not at all hard.  We had 10-year old Tomas, son of Mylene and he was fine all through out.  I was dying literally and we had only walked an hour.

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At the first stop, Jason realized that my bad was too heavy so he took out and transferred the tent to his backpack. That’s how defeated I must have looked.  And then we went on, my pack was more manageable. And then his pack became too heavy so we split the tent between us.  But my pack was just too heavy that I remember walking like a grandfather taking one step at a time literally and we weren’t even half way. I was saying to myself, how the hell will I get there?  It seemed impossible. Seriously. That’s what was in my head.  My shoulder were in so much pain.  The air was so thin already that I was panting almost the whole way which I think took us a little over 5 hours from the regular four hours.

I constantly asked Jason who stayed with me all through out—if what I was feeling was normal and he would constantly reassure me… that I’m far from being in trouble because I hadn’t stopped cracking jokes and laughing.

I realize that a big part of me is really crazy because I distinctly remember feeling like I was dying and in so much trouble I couldn’t walk anymore but always laughing and having a fun time still.  It’s kind of schizo!

So I wasn’t in trouble.

Lesson 2: my sense of humor kept me alive.

(to be continued)

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