I sometimes climb mountains for reasons other than conquering them; to be tattooed by the legendary Apo Whang in Kalinga, to plant a tree in Bulacan, to be the unwilling model for a postcard in Romblon, to see the beautiful amphitheater rice terraces in Batad. Adding to that list is a climb for coffee. That’s right folks, I climbed Mt. Manabu in Batangas for the promise of free, hot civet coffee, as recommended by a friend. I found the idea enticing enough to gather my friends and take the hike.
Did I say friends? Scratch that. Only one friend managed to stay true to his word. That’s right, the other friends bailed on me a day before this trip. As if that’s not bad enough, I wouldn’t even know that they weren’t going had I not asked. Really, how difficult is it to take the initiative to inform the organizer that they are not coming? I’m sorry, I don’t want to begin this article on a bad note, but I want them to know it’s not okay. I wish they could have given me a little courtesy.
How to get to Mt. Manabu?
It became a family activity of some sort with the attendance of my two cousins, my sister, and my niece. A friend, whom I call the ultimate survivor for being the only one who didn’t back out, completed our group.
We met at the official meetup place for hikers, McDonald’s Buendia at around 6 in the morning. We took a 2-hour bus ride to Lipa City in Batangas and from there, we had to take a jeep to Fiesta Mall Junction. From Fiesta Mall, we split our group into 2 and hailed two tricycles that drove us to Sulok.
The tricycles stopped by the registration area so we could settle the registration fee and write down our names on the logbook. I noticed that we were the only climbers around; looks like we came in the off-season. At the jump-off point, we met our guide, Mang Ellis.
It rained the day before and that morning, hence the muddy trail. I still remember the challenge of trekking the muddy path to Hulugan Falls. I took a deep sigh thinking of the challenge ahead. My companions were all wearing closed shoes. I stared at my trekking sandals with dismay, “Oh lord, I’m going to get my feet dirty.”
Where is Mt. Manabu?
Mt. Manabu can be found in Barangay Sta. Cruz, Sto. Tomas, Batangas. It is considered to be a minor climb with a difficulty of 2/9. It is what some climbers describe as a “pabebe climb”, meaning the hike is so easy it is perfect for beginners. The hike can be finished for more or less 2 hours depending on your pace. The total trail distance is 4,738.2 meters.
Mt. Manabu Stations
Mt. Manabu is especially crowded during the Lenten Season because of its 8 stations that are being used for the stations of the cross. This explains the large cross in the summit and the little crosses that you will find along the way. If you look at the map you will notice that the trail is shaped like a rosary. The summit is in Station 6. On your way down, you have the option to take the same path from whence you came or take the other path that leads to Stations 7 and 8.
The Dogs of Mang Ellis
We managed to pass through Stations 1 and 2 with ease. There were a few creeks and rivers that we had to cross, which made me realize wearing trekking sandals was not a bad idea after all. From the jump-off point, we were being tailed by some dogs, which we soon realized were taking part in our trek, or rather they were keeping their master, Mang Ellis company.
One of the dogs stayed close behind Mang Ellis. Because of its color, I started calling it Brownie. What I didn’t expect is that the dog is indeed named, Brownie. And he wasn’t the only brownie in the bunch, the other 2 dogs that also sport brown fur were also named Brownie. Mang Ellis just added a number to tell them apart, so there goes Brownie 1, Brownie 2, and Brownie 3. Isn’t it hilarious? Why did he name them so, it’s less stressful that way, he said.
“How could you tell one from another?” I asked Mang Ellis.
“They have different faces,” he replied.
I didn’t believe him at first, but during one of our rests I had a chance to look at the dogs closely and noticed that each brown dog has different facial features from another. There is another dog that is of white color and I guess I don’t have to tell you its name; that’s right it’s Whitey .
My Very Active Niece
There are 3 first timers in our group; my sister, Luz, my cousin, Jennifer, and my niece, Amber. Nobody seems to enjoy this hike more than Amber. Picture a thin and tiny little girl with pale skin, going off on her own. She climbed with so much ease and with such speed that if this was a race she would have easily won. While the rest of us were questioning ourselves why we were doing this, Amber was telling me to take her to our next climb. Mind you, we haven’t even reached the summit yet, and the girl was already planning her next hike.
The entire time, I could hear her mom, Jackie and her aunt, Jennifer chiding her for being too fast. Many times she would try to overtake me and every time I would tell her to stay behind me.
Jennifer and Luz weren’t as eager as Amber, in fact, they swore never to climb again. Alchris said that he joined another hike recently and he remembers telling his mom never to do it again, yet there he was, doing yet another climb that he was also regretting .
I was feeling lightheaded for the most part of the climb, a fact I attribute to only eating eggdesal instead of a big meal.
The Free Coffee at Station 5
Coffee awaits those who would climb Mt. Manabu. An old man with dark hair welcomed us in this little hut adorned with tarpaulins. Mang Ellis picked the thermos and poured coffee on some ceramic blue cups and handed them to us. On the table were jars of civet coffee grounds that he is selling to climbers for only ₱100.
As we sipped our coffee, I took the chance to interview the old man a little. He is Tatay Tino and he mans the Station 5 hut to offer free coffee to hikers. The tradition started in the early 90s by his brother, Mang Perying who likes to talk with climbers. There is a good population of civet cat or what we call locally as alamid in the area, hence they are able to make civet coffee. This coffee is expensive due to its unique processing something that Mang Tino and his family did not know until they heard it from some climbers.
I’ve had this kind of coffee in Vietnam, and to this day it remained to be the best tasting coffee I have ever had. Because of this, I had great expectations on Mang Tino’s coffee, but I find that it lacked that robust flavor present in the Vietnamese version. Nevertheless, it wasn’t bad and definitely worth a try.
The other interesting thing you will find at Station 5 is the life-size sculpture of a penis, which for some reason they are calling anito. Mang Tino said that maidens who have climbed Mt. Manabu and touched the anito have found love.
I told the old man that if I don’t find love after this then I have him to blame, to which he replied, “It still depends on what you believe in and how open you are at finding love.” Well, whether I find love or not, I couldn’t pass up the chance to take a picture with the anito for souvenir .
Station 6: the Summit
From Station 5, the assault begins. My headache has improved a little bit, thanks to the coffee. I haven’t been working out that often lately so my body was not in the best condition. Still, I persevered but as all the other climbs, I could only keep my head down to see where I am stepping on and didn’t have time to fully enjoy the view.
A few kilometers before the summit, we reached a flat area where we spotted some campers. Some of them spent the night over. It rained the night before, I’m sure camping there in that weather was anything but fun.
After 2 hours of labor, we reached the summit. Looking at the view made everything oh so worth it. I felt proud of my sister, cousin, and niece for finishing the climb. For first-timers, I think they did well. The dogs who have followed us all the way to the top found their spots to nap while the humans went about the whole business of picture taking.
The Descent to Stations 7 and 8
We had a bit of a debate whether we should go back the way we came or take another trail for our descent. We ended up following Mang Ellis’s suggestion to take the other route.
We all agreed that the trek down is much more difficult than the climb. Because of the mud, the trail was quite slippery that I had to use all of my lower leg strength to prevent myself from slipping. I am such a restless person, always burdened with thoughts, but in that moment my mind blocked all things saved for the task at hand. I kept my eyes on the ground and was very careful where to put my feet. There were a few times that I found myself on the ground despite my best efforts.
I heard Amber say that her legs were feeling wobbly. I noticed that my legs were the same whenever I stopped for some quick rest. The dogs would stop along the way as if they were waiting for us. We gave way whenever they wanted to walk ahead.
The grottos can be found at Station 8. We stopped here to wash our muddy shoes in the creek.
At 2;42 p.m., the trek has officially ended. Getting there and doing the hike on your own is possible, but I still recommend getting a guide especially if you’re climbing with kids. Here’s an itinerary that I made for your reference.
I was grateful for the cool wind, the beautiful view, and the good company. I am glad that despite the “bailing situation” the trip continued and turned out well.