(The author and his friends climbed Mt. Mabilog on June 7, 2014.)
- Where: San Pablo and Nagcarlan, Laguna
- Difficulty: 2/9
- Hours required to reach summit: 1-1/2 to 2 hours
- Trail description: soft loam and clay, with high tendency to get muddy when wet; grassy and not steep; last leg of trail is moderately steep
- Attractions: abundant banana and coconut trees, scenic views of lakes, panoramic vista of neighboring Calabarzon mountains
This year marked a sudden change in my life as an adventurer, and my life had been catapulted into the once unknown realm of mountaineering. Just last December, I embarked on a solo backpacking trip to Thailand and Cambodia for 17 days just because my intuition told me I was not Asian enough, nor did I feel Asian enough to call myself one. And no, the trip was not spontaneous. In fact, preparation was already underway by August 2013, so at least four months of intense research was poured into this trip to ensure my safety and to learn as much as I can about the history and culture of the Siamese and the Khmer empires.
Then came January, when a former classmate from my high school invited me to climb Mt. Sembrano in Pililia, Rizal, just a few days after returning from my Indochina spiritual journey. After the trek, my friends and I vowed to ourselves that we would climb at least one mountain every month.
And sure we did. This is our sixth month and our sixth climb together.
MT. MABILOG: THE LITTLE GIANT
Enough of the background story, and let’s go to the main point of this blog post which, of course, is the trek to Mt. Mabilog in Nagcarlan, Laguna plus the side trips we took on to immortalize our first climb as a big group (nine heads depending on which head you count XD).
Mt. Mabilog has three trails, namely, the Sta. Catalina Trail, the Sto. Angel Trail, and the Sulsuguin Trail. The first trail is not well-established and, thus, may not be suitable for those who wish to go on side trips after the trek. The third trail is as easy as the second trail; however, our group decided to exit, instead, through this trail since it is much closer to Bunga Falls. Making the second trail as our jump-off point, then, would mean seeing more of the mountain as we exit through the Sulsuguin Trail. Got it? Furthermore, Gideon Lasco of Pinoy Mountaineer also remarked that the Sto. Angel Trail had more scenic views of the lakes of San Pablo.
Our group met at Jac Liner near LRT-Gil Puyat and took the bus headed for Lucena. (Lucena-bound buses at Jac Liner are available 24 hours on weekends.) To get to the jump-off point of Mt. Mabilog, we got off at Maharlika Highway in San Pablo, Laguna, just in front of Jollibee (PhP 127). From there, we took a tricycle to 7-11 Plaza (PhP 10/head). Beside 7-11 are jeepneys plying the route to Ilog (Pandin Lake). Ride that jeepney and ask the driver to drop you off at the entrance to Pandin Lake (PhP 14). We were dropped off at the terminal, which also happens to be the road going to the lake. Local children offered to guide us to the jump-off point for a fee, but we politely declined since we knew it was quite near. In fact, we only took 10 minutes to reach the expansive lake.
The locals living by the lake earn money by guiding mountaineers along the trail, selling halo-halo and other snacks, and providing gears for visitors who wish to swim in the lake. One may also opt to have lunch there for PhP 360/person for a cottage, a set meal that includes rice, ensaladang pako (fern salad), ginataang tilapia, adobong manok, and buko juice. How I wish we tried their luncheon offer, but we insisted that we would exit through the Sulsuguin Trail and, thus, would not be able to stop by Pandin Lake for lunch.
There is NO FEE for the registration, but visitors must register at the jump-off point and secure a guide (min PhP 300). Although guides were not required since the trail was easy, we thought we’d get one to help at least one local. I think that’s one of the positive things about travel. More than the luxury of being able to discover and explore places, traveling offers the travelers to help the communities they visit. More than the cultural interactions that foster healthful communication, there is also some economic significance that transpires, and the visited community benefits, as well.
We left Pandin Lake and started walking westward with our light backpacks and our open umbrellas. What was distinct about Mt. Mabilog was the abundance of banana and coconut trees along the trail. One can never mistake it for a non-tropical country, because the presence of these heat-loving trees is already a giveaway. After around 15 minutes of walking, our guide signaled us to look to our right and notice the growing magnificence of Yambo Lake. “Diyan po kayo bababa mamaya,” he explained. (That’s where you’ll descend to later.) We were surprised as to how close Yambo Lake was to Pandin Lake.
After a couple more of walks, we were teased by Mts. Cristobal and Banahaw as they revealed their crowning glories on the far side of the western horizon.
Mt. Mabilog could have been a perfect/untarnished/flawless treat to us, especially to my beginner friends, except that some portions of the trail were flat and was comparable to a walk in a boring neighborhood. But we were not to be disappointed, for such boredom was a prerequisite to pure ecstasy on top of the Earth.
Since the rain poured in the previous evening, the trail was a little muddy and slippery but, since, it was not steep, there was little chance that anyone would slip and hurt himself/herself. We walked almost unceasingly, except for the rare moments when we had to drink water and snack on Jelly-Ace. 😀 An hour passed and we could see the summit. Some chose to stay just a little below the summit to rest under the shade of tuba-tuba trees as most of us scampered away from our most previous footprint to the glistening summit.
The entire group of nine people stayed at the summit (which is also the campsite) for more than an hour to relish the wide horizons and the fresh mountain air. We shared our lunch of canned tuna paella, fried chicken, hotdog, sausages, boiled eggs, and rice. It was a priceless experience of eating together a meal that would otherwise taste bland and ordinary, if not for the good company and the hunger pangs brought about by trekking.
Hiking teaches us the value of food, so that we wouldn’t complain when we are served with blandness and poverty. Hiking allows for the realization that friendships are nurtured not by calendar time, but by time spent together in meaningful activities. Hiking, no matter how easy or difficult, provides a meditative background to anyone who needs some space to think. And those are the reasons why we hike.
By the time we finished our jump shots and our insane groupie videos, it started to drizzle a bit, as if God were signaling us to stop our boisterousness and leave the mountain quickly. The rain was soft, and it dropped daintily upon our cheeks, summoning our deepest excitement for our Bunga Falls side trip.
Since Bunga Falls is much closer to the jump-off point at Sulsuguin, we chose to exit the mountain through the Sulsuguin Trail, instead. After leaving the summit for about 15 minutes, there was a fork that leads to the left and straight ahead. We took the left trail as that was the start of the Sulsuguin Trail. After another 15 minutes of walking, we joyfully found ourselves at the base of Mt. Mabilog on the side of Yambo Lake. If you find the ascent too easy, you’d find the descent even more so.
The group quickly took pictures of the lake and played around the raft areas and with the boats by the shore. After cooling off with cool mineral water and lemon-flavored softdrinks, the group decided to take a tricycle going to Bunga Falls, where freshening up would be possible and even quite liberating. The trike fare per person was PhP 40, although most of the blogs mentioned a mere PhP 30. (Haggling skills, where where you when we needed you? :P).
MEDITATION AT BUNGA FALLS
The trip to Bunga Falls was quite relaxing because the roads we drove along were perfectly paved with cement and the scenery was consistently lush green. Calabarzon, especially the towns closest to NCR, has a tendency to appear like Metro Manila, so it was quite amazing to feel that this part of Laguna did not quite resemble the gray metropolis in any way. It gave me the feeling that after a while, I would start to miss the metro. And that “missing” feeling was quite therapeutic.
The ride from Yambo Lake to Bunga Falls was probably 20 minutes long. There was a registration of PhP 5. Although cottages were not mandatory, we opted to rent one to have a place to leave our things (PhP 300). There were cheaper ones, but the distance from the waterfalls varied inversely with the price of the cottages. The more expensive ones were closer to the falls; whereas the cheaper ones were quite far and were often obstructed from the waterfall panorama by the more expensive cottages.
Immersing in natural water sources after a strenuous activity provides a host of health benefits, provided that the body is allowed to cool down a bit before plunging into the water. After an exercise, the skin’s pores are wider and are more likely to excrete toxins from the body. Water facilitates the removal of those toxins. Also, since the water is cool, the pores are allowed to shrink to their normal sizes, hence, preventing toxins and microbes from entering the body.
After taking off our socks and softly massaging our leg muscles, we started dipping our toes into the refreshing moss-green water and let our exhaustion while away. There is something so delicious about the sound of rushing water. It is consistent and rhythmic. Bunga Falls was not different. There was solitude in the midst of a social gathering. There was silence among the noisy chatters in the nearby hut. Listening to the water was meditative.
In all my past hikes, no hike was ever complete without a refreshing serving of halo-halo. For two hours, all we did was play in the water, eat halo-halo and hamburgers, and watch the children jump in frenzy from the top of the waterfalls. When it was already 4 PM, we changed our clothes and flagged a tricycle going to the Underground Cemetery (PhP 25), where we could take a jeepney going back to San Pablo.
NAGCARLAN UNDERGROUND CEMETERY
When we reached the cemetery, we were awestruck by the ancient feel of the place. Truth be told, I did not expect the cemetery to look so historic like the houses in Vigan or in Taal.
Built by Franciscan missionaries in 1845, the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery is the only catacomb in the Philippines. It is built in the same area with the expanded San Bartolome Church and Convent, which has a reclining image of Jesus Christ by the altar. On June 11, 1978, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
To reach the catacomb, one must first enter the church. The door to the catacomb is to the right. The place was eerie and quiet, too eerie that one of my friends would not dare enter it until we accompanied her. To be honest, the area underground was small and was not very remarkable. But the fact that that was the exact place where the leaders of the revolution held meetings during the Spanish Era was quite intriguing. I could not help but imagine the place being filled by rebels and anti-friar groups. The cemetery induced a cinematic appeal to the entire place.
When we were already satisfied with our historic meal, we softly left the cemetery and luckily chanced upon an old lady selling espasol, a Filipino delicacy made of galapong (rice flour), coconut milk, coconut strips and then breaded with rice flour. A set of 5 espasols cost PhP 35, but three sets would cost only PhP 100. The woman also sold uraro. It’s a type of cookie made from ground arrowroot.
Since it was already time to go home, we took a jeepney going to 7-11 Plaza on the side of the cemetery (PhP 25). We had dinner at Lugaw Queen in the plaza area. The prices of their meals were quite cheap, and the quality of the food was excellent. There were different types of lugaw, adobo, boneless bangus, and desserts. After a filling meal, we took a tricycle going to Jollibee along Maharlika Highway (PhP 10) and then rode the bus going to Cubao (PhP 127-137).
While seated comfortably inside the bus, I could not help but ask why my Saturday was wonderfully eventful. We could have spent it sleeping all-day or watching TV while eating hotdogs and cheap pizza. But no, we didn’t do that. We chose to hit the trail and bask in the beautiful sunshine that God constantly provides. And we listened to the whispers of the the waterfalls…and the spirits of the dead beneath the ground. 😀
So, why consider Mt. Mabilog as a weekend getaway?
- Climbing it is like a walk in the park. No intense training required to summit this lilliputian mountain, hence, it is very suitable for beginning hikers.
- It is close (but not too close) to Manila, giving you enough distance to know you are far away from the urban jungle.
- You’ll be afforded stunning views of two of the seven lakes of San Pablo. You could even swim in the lakes when you reach them!
- Mt. Mabilog is surrounded by giants – not the mythical ones please! Behind Lakes Pandin and Yambo are Mts. Banahaw and Cristobal. On the other side of Mt. Mabilog are Mts. Kalisungan and Atimla. Splendid views of these mountains? Check!
- It is a stone’s throw away from other travel spots in Laguna (e.g. Bunga Falls, Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery, Cavinti Caves).
Breakdown of Expenses
- Bus from Manila to San Pablo – PhP 127
- Tricycle to 7-11 Plaza – PhP 10
- Jeep to Ilog (Pandin Lake) – PhP 14
- Guide fee – PhP 300 (divided by 9 ~ PhP 40)
- Tricycle from Mt. Mabilog to Bunga Falls – PhP 40
- Entrance fee to Bunga Falls – PhP 5
- Cottage fee – PhP 300 (divided by 9 ~ PhP 40)
- Tricycle from Bunga Falls to Cemetery – PhP 25
- Jeep from Cemetery to 7-11 Plaza – PhP 25
- Tricycle to Maharlika Highway – PhP 10
- Bus to Cubao – PhP 127-137
- TOTAL – PhP 463-473 (excluding food and pasalubong)
- 0500 Take Lucena-bound bus from Buendia
- 0700 ETA San Pablo City. Take trike to 7-11 Plaza.
- 0730 Take jeep to Sto. Angel
- 0800 ETA Pandin Lake in Sto. Angel. Start Trek.
- 0830 Reach Yambo Lake Viewpoint.
- 1000 ETA Summit. Early lunch
- 1200 Start descent
- 1300 ETA Yambo Lake. Rent trike to Bunga Falls
- 1330 ETA Bunga Falls
- 1600 Depart from Bunga Falls. Take trike to Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery.
- 1645 Leave cemetery. Take jeep to San Pablo then trike to highway.
- 1730 Take bus going to Manila
- 19300 ETA Manila
May the gods of the mountains always be in your favor.
The Pinoy Joie de Vivre