Hiking for a Cause: Reaching Out to the People of Idao Community and Discovering Mt. Atog and Its Unexplored Ranges in Barbaza, Antique
By: Ritchel C. Cahilig
“I’ll come back,” I told Nanay Pangga as I bid farewell to her and her family. They accommodated me and Jackie in their house when we got stranded there a night before. They cooked us a very special meal for lunch and native adobo chicken and pinamalhan (fish cooked in vinegar) for dinner. “Ka-itsura mo akong bata (you look like my daughter),” Nay Pangga told me while eating. “Diin siya, Nay (where is she)?,” I asked. “Nagatrabaho siya sa Manila (she’s working in Manila),” she replied. I smiled at her and asked if she misses her daughter. I got teary-eyed when she said that seeing me somehow eased her longing. And that started a long evening chat over a glass of tuba (coconut wine) with Tatay (Nanay Pangga's husband). That night, Jayson (our guide) and the other kids went to the nearby river to catch some shrimps or patuyaw which they served for our breakfast the next morning.
Nay Pangga, her dog also named Pangga, and Nong Ricky who works as a forest ranger accompanied us to the mountain and even brought us a very delectable lunch we shared at the summit together with the other rangers. According to them, Jackie and I were the first non-local/non-agency hikers to set foot at the summit of Mt. Atog. It was a surprising news to us! They served us hot coffee when we took a rest at one of the nipa huts, fetched us spring water, and picked us wild berries, star apple, and fresh buko juice along the trail. When I asked them what are the things they wish to have, Nong Ricky said a can of Alpine and salted peanut to make a buko shake while tatay wanted a pair of shoes for his callous feet. Hearing those requests made me speechless.
“Nay Pangga?,” I called from outside while knocking their door. It’s 11:30 in the evening of June 11 and it’s been three months since I left the place. I came back to bring their requests as I’ve promised. The door opened and for the second time, I was welcomed by a familiar feeling of home. The delight in their faces were priceless! I introduced Richard and Clark to them. With us was Tay Itok, one of the legendary guides of Mt. Nangtud. We left his house at Lombuyan, Barbaza at 7:30 PM and took a new trail going to Idao. It was a four-hour grueling hike in the middle of the night. We didn’t expect it to be that hard.
Since Jackie, Rona, and Khione arrived in the community a day before, they hiked to one of the view decks facing Mt. Atog and spent the night in a farmer’s hut. The three of us and Tay Nito slept at the house of Nang Pangga. At past midnight, I was awaken by mosquito bites so I woke Richard up and asked him to accompany me to sleep outside. We picked up our sleeping bags and laid them down at an open bench near the house. It was a lovely night under the canopy of stars and moon. The dark sky was awash in light. A superb experience.
Early morning of the next day, a bowl of shrimp and fish, a plate of mushrom, a bunch of bananas, a dozen of buko, and freshly-picked pineapples with the sight of native pigs, chickens, and turkeys playing on the ground welcomed us all as soon as we stepped out the door. It was a memorable scene!
Not long after, the three ladies arrived. It was a reunion for the six of us. We then had coffee and breakfast courtesy of the people of Idao. Their warmth and hospitality truly amazed us. In exchange, we made them a jar of buko shake with salted peanuts and served them like they were the guests. Afterward, we had breakfast all together. After eating, we started to prepare for the outreach activity. We laid down all the items we brought on the bench and set up the materials for the games.
A week before it, Jackie and I planned to go back to the community. Fueled by our desire to give something for the people of Idao, we invited some of our outdoor friends and organized an outreach activity. Since it was scheduled on June 11-12, we call it an “Independence Hike for a Cause”. We brought grocery items, clothes, toys, and fruits for them. Of course, I didn’t forget to bring the condensed milk (Nong Ricky calls it Alpine) courtesy of my cousin, Nang Delyn, and salted peanuts. They’re amazing and yes, there’s nothing to pity about them.
They live in a remote community with only 10 houses, some of which are abandoned. Going to their place is a tough journey. It took us more than five (5) hours of hike and more than 10 rivers with strong unpredictable currents to cross to reach the community of Idao (composed of only 9 families) and another more than two (2) hours to conquer the summit of Mt. Atog.
This community revealed to us how difficult but lucky in a way to live in a far-flung, isolated but rewarding patch of land bounded by mountains and rivers and decorated by rice terraces, amazing ridges, scenic landscapes and warm people. The walk up here was arduous, long, and dangerous and we thought of the residents especially the children who pass the same trail everyday for their living and for school bearing the intense heat of the sun and the freaking coldness of the rain. Such are the reasons why we held an outreach and social activities especially for the kids.
Immersing and reaching out to them was heartwarming. Every moment of it. We came home exhausted because we subjected our body to physical torture and our feet and lower back to muddy shoes and heavy backpacks but we're emotionally happy and fulfilled. That's good enough for us.