I’m in Bukidnon for the summer, away from that time when diving and beaching does not make sense in Cebu. This time of the year, the whole of Cebu is crowded with people trying to take selfies on that blue-and-white backdrop.
Bukidnon is a special place for me, having spent most of my childhood years here. This is where I had my first race—against classmates and schoolmates. We did not know anything about pacing, hydration, or drafting. All we knew is we had to outrun each other from the start to the finish. That was the only way to send a message.
We also did bicycle races at the back of our school, where there is an oval track. But unlike the tartan tracks of Cebu City Sports Complex, ours is made dirt. It was just a grassy plane back then and was turned into an oval track by a grader in just a single day. Bike races then, were not about strategy and training. It’s just something we did on our kiddie-sized bmx during our one-hour lunch break. And back then, the monstrous grader with its earth-scraping and dirt-moving blades was a work of wonder.
Presently, I race mountain bikes—15 years older but none the wiser. The only work of wonder I truly care about is the bicycle. Bikes are so light yet so durable, and they are much more affordable than they used to be. Even without committing to a suicidal budget, you can still have a performance bike. I’m borrowing my uncle’s honest-to-goodness bike, generic frame with a generic fork, and a Deore groupset. That’s just about all you need to have fun and to continue to live your childhood. Going more expensive would be spending thrice as much just to get a 15% increase in performance.
I am looking to doing a few races in the coming months but I haven’t done a whole lot of proper training. I spend much of my time discovering and rediscovering places. Exploring our part of Bukidnon scares me a whole lot. There are parts here that are occupied by communist rebels. A couple of years ago, I came across a bunch of military guys with long rifles patrolling the mountains of our barangay. Neither rebel nor military guys have done me harm so far. But the thought of sharing the trail with 10 or so people where no one can hear you scream is scary. I’m afraid even if my fears are unwarranted. (Of course, the greater fear should be of bandits. They are armed people in small groups who, unlike the NPAs, don’t have a creed. They rob and, occasionally, kill.)
There is also that fear of “engkanto” which I haven’t totally gotten out of my system even until today. Engkantos are some sort of spirits, fairies probably, who guard the wild. They inhabit trees, creeks, bridges, rocks, and just about anything that is found in nature. As part of my night diving lessons, I have learned that we are afraid of the dark and the familiar because it is a primitive reflex. The early man knew that if he walks listlessly into a cave, there’ll be a huge carnivore who’ll be making a dessert out of him. And so we carry that fear, as a primitive survival instinct.
I have been on solo bike explorations but so far, the only strange thing I wonder about is why descents feel so much shorter than ascents. And whenever I am afraid, I just quote to myself this line from Desiderata: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars / You have a right to be here.”
That’s my way of convincing myself that engkantos are okay with me being around because the universe is not exclusively theirs (I’m pretty sure that’s not what the author meant but I like to interpret it that way). To begin with, it’s so crazy how I am such a non-believer of the supernatural when I am just at home and within the safer confines of civilization. And how I am such a respectful believer in the supernatural when I find myself alone in the woods where there is not a single person to make me forget about my fears.
The only reason why I explore trails alone is that getting lost is so frustrating. It’s so frustrating to not know where to go, I don’t know why travel bloggers romanticize being lost. I’ve been lost many times before, carrying a heaving bike through unrideable terrains, with cycling shoes that are not fit for walking. It’s so not cool. Don’t believe Tumblr photos that tell you to experience being lost. It’s a very risky thing to do deliberately and using it metaphorically does not make sense.
The photos in this entry are taken on two separate bike rides. The first four features the Manupali River on the upstream. The river winds through the valley shared by the Municipality of Lantapan and the City of Valencia. The river is an important source of irrigation throughout Central Mindanao and also produces hydroelectricity.
The rest of the photos are taken on a bike ride from Mt. Nebo, a “mountain” that comprises a set of hills. It offers a one-hour long bicycle climb, and an exhilarating downhill on another route. The highlight of the route are the Twin Falls, a 20-foot cascade which acoustically dominates an otherwise quiet forest.