As of late, our country’s law enforcers—soldiers, policemen, tanods—have taken the brunt of unfair labeling and exposure. Media outlets usually portray them as incompetent, lazy, abusive, and corrupt men without honor. But nothing could be farther from the truth. During our CHT Segment 3 Hike, we witnessed firsthand to their kindness, dedication to safety, duty to protect, and bravery. To us, they are heroes.
Hiking along with us on this eye-opening segment were our guide Sir Jing as well as fellow adventurers Apol and Kier. These two are seasoned hikers.
We strapped on our Deuter ACT Trail backpacks and raced towards the Cebu South Bus Terminal. We gathered up early before 5 AM to escape the throng of vehicles that usually jam the highways during weekends. Without the heavy traffic that we usually encounter in Metro Cebu, we arrived earlier than usual at Barili at 7 AM. If you remember, this was the end point of our CHT Segment 2 hike.
No carenderias were open when we got there—and we still haven’t eaten breakfast! We were ready to submit ourselves to a hungry hike when, fortunately, the first carenderia of the day opened. We treated ourselves to a traditional Filipino breakfast of spicy hot tinola, eggs, vegetables, and coffee and bought packed lunch.
With our tummies warm and full, it was time to start Segment 3 of the Cebu Highlands Trail. It’s a good thing that this trek started on a dirt trail. If you remember on our Segment 2 hike, 70% of the trail was on hard, hot asphalted/concrete roads.
The trail went up on a gentle incline as the sun started scorching the land. But it was okay. As long as the ground is soft, we’re definitely fine with the sun’s heat. Besides, the mountain air here was cool and refreshing.
As we went higher, we had an encompassing view of the mountains that surround Barili. Extracted from the Cebuano word “balili” (grass), Barili is mostly an agricultural municipality, just like many municipalities outside Metro Cebu. Barili’s economy centers on agricultural products such as coconuts, vegetables, bananas, rice, and maize.
Recently, however, Barili has amped up its tourism industry. Mantayupan Falls, considered to be one of the tallest waterfalls in Cebu, is located here. Other attractions include Bolocboloc Natural Spring Pools, Molave Milk Station, Sayaw Beach, and more.
As usual, the CHT is an outdoor classroom. Sir Jing taught us plant ID. This one is called Sambong. It is a medicinal plant that locals use to treat a variety of common ailments including upset stomach, fever, cough, colds, and more.
Hiking deeper into Barili, we came across these kids selling hotdogs and pandan juice. We admire kids in the hinterlands. Unlike their spoiled counterparts in the city, they strive to be productive and earn on their own. At a young age, they are already quite independent.
A week before our hike, Sir Jing already called the LGU of the municipalities to inform them that we’ll be hiking through their area. To our pleasant surprise, a unit of police officers from Carcar and Barili as well as a detachment of Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) from Barili caught up with us! Wow!
They were instructed by their superiors to escort us to the following municipality of Sibonga for our safety—although we know it’s very safe here. We felt like celebrities! Hahaha!
These brave law enforcers went ahead of us, securing the route and stopping at various points until we catch up with them.
Sadly, that was the end of the dirt trail. It was a long and winding road ahead of us. And that means, our feet need to wear their game faces for the long trek ahead.
Sir Jing said that this road is way off the map. Although smooth and asphalted, not a lot of city dwellers have traversed this road as it runs beneath Cebu’s spine.
This is going to be a long, agonizing walk. And we were right. But don’t you just love the view?
Walking on extended times on asphalted or concrete roads is torture to our feet and lower limbs. However, in this remote part of the island, there are lots of places for respite. Massive karst cliffs, fertile jungles, vast farmlands, and majestic mountains all take our breath away, making any CHT hike worthwhile.
While walking to the neighboring municipality of Sibonga, we came across a familiar fruit as we took a roadside break. We plucked out these pale red berries, called Milla Milla Vine, (Bolonganon in Cebuano; Lingaro in Tagalog), from a bank of shrubs. If you have been reading our Bakun Trilogy series, you might have remembered that we ate this very same fruit during our climb up Mt. Tenglawan.
The fleshy fruit has a pleasant sweet and sour taste. It’s a natural energy replenisher—Nature’s energy bar, so to speak—so we harvested handfuls of Milla Milla.
A few hours later, we caught up with the policemen. In the middle of nowhere, we might add. Hahaha! Knowing that we were undergoing an exhausting adventure, they prepared some fresh coconuts for us. Boy, that was refreshing!
It turned out that some of these guys have parents who work as farmers. As thus, these policemen know a lot about climbing coconuts, knowing when is the best time to plant corn, taking care of cattle, and more!
The sight of pastoral farms, green hills, and tranquil mountains is a stark contrast to the concrete, steel, and glass jungles in the city. Here, time seems to slow down. The din of everyday life reduces into a pleasant hushed whisper. The breeze blows cooler and fresher. Yes, it’s a wonderful world out here.
Half an hour before noon, we arrived at Lamac, which marks the border between Sibonga, Barili, and Carcar. We found a nice sari-sari store with a cool sheltered area. Best of all? The store sells ice-cold soda! Perfect place to take our packed lunch and take a nap.
And then, there’s another surprise. Waiting at the sari-sari store was a pair of police officers from Sibonga, standing by to escort us to the municipality’s border!
After lunch and a 30-minute nap, we started hiking again. According to our itinerary, we’re supposed to arrive at our campsite at 5 PM, but we want to shave off an hour from the itinerary.
We did mention to you that southern Cebu is mostly agricultural, right? If you love vegetables, then you’ve come to paradise. Wherever we went, we found bundles, baskets, and piles of fruits and vegetables.
Because there are only a few large trucks and pickups in these areas, produce are often hauled to the lowlands on all types of vehicles available to the locals. We found two lads wrestling heavy baskets full of cabbages on their flimsy motorcycle. How they are able to balance the vehicle while driving on steep mountain roads, we don’t really know.
Cottage industries such as furniture manufacturing are existent here although the products are made of local and natural materials. The profit margins are razor-thin, and it’s difficult to imagine how these people manage to earn a decent living, considering the effects of inflation.
The signs of civilization faded as we hiked deeper into the hinterlands. Huge cliffs and huge mountains formed like a canyon on both sides of the snaking road.
Sometime during the hike, a heavy downpour spilled from the heavens. We were totally drenched, and while that saved us from dehydration and heat exhaustion, we experienced a new kind of suffering—icy chills and soft, raw spots on our soles.
The funny thing was that our police escort followed us on their vehicle, driving slowly on 1st gear. We continuously gestured to them to go ahead and wait for us at a point several kilometers away. But they insisted to follow us “for security purposes.” Hahaha!
Close to 3 PM, we arrived at the barangay of Basak, Sibonga where several barangay tanods (watchmen of a barangay) prepared for our arrival. That’s just WOW! We never expected to receive any special treatment in any hike, so this was quite an experience.
We rested and answered nature’s call in their barangay hall. They also bought some soft drinks and bread for us to snack on. During our stay, we explained the purpose of the CHT and how it will one day benefit tourism in their area. They got excited and revealed to us that there were caves, waterfalls, mountains, and other hidden wonders in their area.
Satisfied after a filling merienda (afternoon snack), we thanked the tanods and went on our way. A few hours later, we finally arrived at a ridge that overlooked Argao, one of the biggest municipalities in Southern Cebu. Looking at its expanse filled us with both excitement and trepidation. That’s a vast, vast land that we’re going to traverse tomorrow!
Arrrgh! Walking on hard asphalt or concrete for hours really takes a toll on the lower limbs. As much as possible, we walked towards the side of the road where the ground is softer.
Compounding our exhaustion was the fact that our police escort was tailing us. We wanted to rest for more than 5 minutes, but we felt embarrassed to do so since they would have to stop too. And we know that driving a vehicle for hours at walking speed is terribly tiring and frustrating.
Sometime past 3 PM, we arrived at Bae, the southernmost barangay of Sibonga. We were quite elated; it meant that we were very near our campsite.
Our lower limbs were ready to give up. In fact, we would have wanted to camp here on this beautiful farm and start early tomorrow. Hahaha! But the itinerary has to be followed.
The past few months were a long, dry spell. Good thing that farmers already harvested their crops.
A carabao sled in action! While considered an oddity in modern times, ancient ways to transport people and goods still prevail in these hinterlands.
At long last, 15 minutes before 5 PM, we finally arrived at Mompeller, Argao. Another team of police escorts, this time composed of SWAT team members, accompanied us to our campsite. And what a campsite it was! We were to stay in an unfinished health center—complete with a toilet and a good supply of water!
And we don’t have to set up our tent’s flysheet because we’ll be camping inside the structure! Woohoo!
We set up camp and cooked dinner. Due to a coordinated meal plan, we had a buffet-style dinner consisting of soup, veggies, meat, and fish! What a delicious dinner!
The VIP treatment (a.k.a. police escort) was a new experience for us. It was funny yet embarrassing, but it opened our eyes to the strong sense of duty of our amazing law enforcers. They’re always ready to give a helping hand. These hardworking, alert, and brave men will always ensure that citizens are safe and secure, even if doing that duty may cost them their lives.
Part 2 of our CHT Segment 3 Hike is next. Itinerary, budget, and other tips for this segment will be included in the next article.