In the span of 5 years, I have climbed Mount Pulag 5 times, 3 of which I arranged. One thing I like about arranging trips is that I get to talk a lot with the locals, guides and porters. And my climb last March 5-6 was one of the best talks I had with the locals, guides and porters.
Ma’am Mereng is the current Protected Area Superintendent (PASU). I admit one of the reasons why I love going back to the National Park is because of her lecture. She requires everyone to attend the lecture. When I say everyone, it means EVERYONE. The lecture will not start when one of the climbers is not in the room. But who’s complaining, her lecture is not the boring type. You’ll end up laughing throughout her serious lecture. You’ll ironically memorize and respect the mountain. I’ve attended her lecture twice. The 2nd time I thought it will no longer be as comic as my first but I was surprised that she did not use the same jokes as she did on my first time.
What I love about her is her passion to protect Mount Pulag and the locals that live within the area of the National Park. One time when we were logging out of the park, we chatted about the widening of the trails to the summit due to the established trails being muddy from the rains. She proposed that small rocks be put on the trails to lessen the mud effect. She also challenged me when I return, for added challenge, to carry a rock and place it on the trail.
Kuya Roy has been guiding people up Mount Pulag since 1987 and he was the guide in front of our group. He told his story about guiding more than 100 people up the mountain and he was the only single guide. Many of which got lost because they could not wait for Kuya Roy. He was slow not because he was weak, but because he was helping the weak.
According to him, guideship to Mount Pulag greatly improved when the association for the guides and porters were introduced. They limit the number of people per guide making their jobs to watch the people and to protect the environment easier. He did not need to tell me that the safety of the people are their top priority because during our trek he would constantly kick rocks aside that may trip us trekkers, he even brushed the moss in one of the rocks that we will be stepping on.
One time there was a branch on the trail and it was obviously cut by a bolo, he removed the branch to the side. I asked what would be the reason that people would cut the branch and leave it on the trail. His answered quickly, one of the highly possible reason is because one of the climbers is tired and felt comfortable moving with a stick as a trek pole. This greatly showed 23 years of experience as a guide. But it was sad that just for comfort, one would just cut down a branch to be a trek pole. It’s actually illegal to do that, except if there are emergency cases, which I never foundÂ out (if there is) when we arrived at the end of the trek.
Kuya Felix has been guiding people for less than 5 years. He was doubtful in being a guide because he had to attend lectures and trainings for guideship, protection of the environment and, most importantly, first aid before he could actually guide and earn. But he decided to proceed and was very happy with his decision. It was obvious that the guides and porters in Mount Pulag were not just ordinary people who know the way to the peak, they are actually knowledgeable about guideship. But it was good to know what they had to go through before they become certified guides. It makes me feel safer.
Guideship was his sideline work from farming, so as the other guides and porters. He decided to be a guide because he needed money to support his farm and to provide milk for his children. We talked more about farming in the mountains. According to him it was easier to farm in the cold mountains than on low lands because of the cold weather reducing the risks of pests. But if he were to grow carrots it would take him 3 months to harvest unlike in the lowlands it would only take 2 months.
The day of our talk, he said that the price of carrots is 50 Pesos per kilo in Trinidad, Baguio City but sometimes the prices drop down to 10 Pesos per kilo. Transportation fee for his crops costs about 3 Pesos per kilo. If the price is 10 Pesos per kilo, he would only get 7 Pesos per kilo. If you think about Kuya Felix working on his farm for 3 months you’ll realize that he’s losing money, but he will still sell because it’s better than nothing. This made me realize that as a consumer I am happy when prices are cheap, but I quickly complain when prices go high not realizing if the producer of what I consume are happy. The producer and consumer should meet in the middle, we both should be happy.
What is making the prices too low? Surprisingly, the main cause is vegetables and root crops are smuggled into the country. Add up the importation of the said products. If the local farmers want to compete, they should drop the prices to a very low and unhappy price. According to Kuya Felix the packaging of the imported crops are better than the local crops, but the local products are much fresher.
Porters. From experience, it is hard and tiring to walk with a heavy backpack when you are not in your optimal pace. The optimal pace is the pace that is not slow and also not fast but your own personal pace where you feel that you can walk for long distances without stopping. That’s why when Kuya Felix asked me if it’s OK for the porters to go ahead, I said yes without batting an eyelash. Their optimal pace are definitely faster than mine.
Do I ever get worried about our belongings? Of course I do! I know that the association is highly concerned with its reputation of their guides and porters. They are trustworthy for the life and belongings of the climbers. Still the climbers should be responsible with their life and their belongings. If a bag is lost due to my decision for the porters to go ahead, I will accept the consequences of my decision and do something about it. For the 3 times that I arranged a climb to Mount Pulag, I always make our porters go ahead and never did they leave our things unattended even when they arrived early to where we are going.
During our trek to the campsite (Camp 2) from the Babadak Ranger Station it started to rain, I was expecting our porters not to be at one of the major rest stops but they stopped there and waited for us. One of them approached me and asks if we had rain covers for the bags. They were concerned that our belongings will not get wet. This made me feel a lot secure with our belongings and they didn’t even open up the bags to look for a rain cover. I assured them that they did not have to worry because the things inside the bag had a big plastic to keep them dry from the rain. Then they waited for us to leave before they also left going to the campsite.
Unfortunately, I only had a small time to talk with our porters and didn’t get to remember their names. 🙁
The Good Points of Pulag Guides and Porters
- They undergo training for Guideship and First Aid.
- Sweeps the trail from possible tripping elements such as rocks and branches.
- They limit the number of people per guide making it more manageable to watch over the people.
- They ask if the porters could go ahead. If you don’t allow them, they will not complain.
- The guides also carries bags of the people that are having a hard time climbing.
- Makes sure that the mountain is protected from unrespectful visitors.
- Both the guides and the porters pick up the trash, even the smallest trash such as candy wrappers.
- At the end of the climb they ask for comments and suggestions about their guideship and the porters. This is to know where they could still improve on their services.
If you ever climb Mount Pulag and are satisfied with their services, please shake their hands and say your thanks directly to the guides, porters and Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau staff. Your smile and words will go a long way to help and encourage them in guiding people to the mountain.
So who’s up for the challenge of bringing a rock and placing it properly on the trail?