Up early on Tuesday morning, we three amigos hopped in the van and headed 12 km across open agricultural land to Biak na Bato National Park. The name translates to 'split rock' - which is also the name of a hike that Clem and I went on at Joshua Tree National Park last November.
Many kiosks of souvenirs and snacks cluttered the trail head. Buried somewhere past them all was the park office where we had to sign in and pay our 30 pesos admission fee. Then a park interpreter explained the trail map to us, answered our questions about terrain, time and distance, but really pushed hard to convince us to hire a guide.
Speaking in Tagalog to Clem and Tonet, she said things like, "You'll get lost, the guide has first aid training, the trail is hard to find, the guide can tell you historical facts and explain things, and you can't go into the caves without a guide."
We said 'thanks but no thanks'. The map said the trail we were planning to follow was either paved or a well-used forest path. We didn't have time to explore the longer wilderness trails that would take us up a mountain ridge. Clem also explained that I was an experienced backpacker, that Tonet had been there before, and that walking such paths would not be a problem for us.
Smiling resignedly, she led us down some stairs, around a path and up to a bridge crossing the river. Local people were doing their laundry on the rocks in the dried up stream below. On the far side, a broken concrete path led us through tall trees, and up and down sandstone-like rock. After passing through a picnic site with (sort of) toilets, we were in a beautiful, lush green forest - at last!
Remarkable rock formations rose on the left and every so often stairs on the right gave us access to the riverside where we could check out some rapids and little water falls. Unfortunately bits of garbage and empty booze and water bottles stuck in cracks and almost ruined the scene.
Having started our walk before 8am, we had the trail all to ourselves and took our time chasing dragonflies and butterflies.
At the end of the trail was a massive bat cave that required some intense scrambling to get into so instead we crossed a bridge and made our way around the back of the cave trying to find a path around and behind that might take us further on a higher nature trail.
|I'm up close to the massive entrance and very high off the ground on a boulder.|
|Tonet and Clem are far across a boulder field from the huge entrance.|
It looks small behind them because of the distance but is really huge.
|This bridge was supposedly built by the Japanese during the Second World War and is still incredibly sound.|
On the far side of the bridge we made an amazing discovery: a massive Dao tree:
Beyond the tree we tried to find a way around the bat cave but the path ended at the river which was only a trickle. Some garbage and a poem lay scattered from the last visitors.
Back down the trail, this time on the south side of the river for different scenery. By now, more people were on the trail so we were glad to be ending when others were starting. At 9:30am the heat was already oppressive.
Another picnic spot and a peculiar little shrine to Mary - with the statue itself cemented to a nearby rock and not in its original housing - were the last objects of interest.
Back on the highway we screeched to a stop when I spotted the Taho man, and again for fresh buko (coconut) juice.
An ominous sight at the side of the road was a notorious red house build buy the Japanese during the second world war where they housed their 'comfort women' - Filipinas who were abused at the soldiers' hands. Apparently it's haunted - not a surprising allegation at all!
Back in Baliwag, we hit up a Thai dry massage place - more like physiotherapy! A work-out for all our sore joints. Then a wander through the market where Clem and Tonet pointed out things in Tagalog so I could increase my vocabulary even more. It was a bit like the Manila markets, but not as crowded - more friendly.
We left our friend and Baliwag host to return to his work and caught a ride back to Manila with Tonet's parents who had driven up to San Mig for the day.