07-Jun-2003 -- My brother Rudy introduced to me the Confluence Project by one day sending to me the website of his confluence find. Instantly, I got interested on the project and a quick check at the website showed that there is only one confluence point in the island of Cebu where I live. I knew that with the spread of the news about the project, that point will not stand not located for a long time knowing that Cebu is brimming with trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts.
So my immediate challenge is to form the team. Of course I am the self imposed Team Leader. Just being attuned to the Philippine culture in self-imposing oneself to a desired position, rig an election if need be. I have to confess, I am not an experienced mountaineering guy. The best I have done are 1-hour hike up to an uncle’s place in the province. So I need someone who have the experience. Lucky for me, my best high school days pal Christopher Requilme (Toper as we fondly call him) is a mountaineering enthusiast with several climbs on his belt. He can be the Navigator and the trek guide. Getting Toper’s nod to be part of the team is no problem after he heard what the project is all about. Finding a confluence is just too tempting for him. The third, and a somewhat reluctant member is my wife Jane. She is a certified city girl and trekking is very far from her mind. A little explanation on the task and a little enticing story on being with green grass and nature got her to sign up for this. The team was complete!
Later though, I realized that we still lack a critical part of the plan. A GPS unit. This device is still a rare thing in 2003 Philippines. (But we are the SMS capital of the world! “Texting” as we commonly call it.). The rarity of a GPS unit is I guess due to the fact that the more immediate necessities prevail in the day to day buy decisions of the Filipinos, including myself. Of course, Rudy is kind enough to lend to me his Garmin Etrex unit.
Our original plan is to visit the site on May 31. But we were not able to do it owing to the ever unsolved mystery of the Philippine Mailing firms’ overnight package that has the habit of becoming a 2-day mail delivery. Yeah right, blame it on the weather….. The unit is supposed to arrive on a Friday but I did not receive it until late morning of May 31st. We already cancelled the plan the night before.
We had to postpone the search to June 7. The mail mishap is a kind of blessing in disguise though. If we have done the search on May 31, we could have been less equipped with maps. The trip could have been more difficult. It may be my lack of proficiency in internet surfing, but the best map that the Internet can produce is still referring to the major towns of the general area of the confluence point. Toper’s expertise kicked in and he was able to produce a detailed map showing the topography and village names around the confluence. He bought it at a specialty map store that only the mountaineers knew. We have reviewed the map and it was strange that it does not show any place called “Guadalupe”. The confluence is referenced as “1.8 Kilometer of Guadalupe” in the website. The site must have gotten it wrong for sure.
D-Day. We started the trip at around 8am. The GPS unit is telling us that we are at 92 km from the confluence. This should be about 3 hours with the traffic in Cebu City area and the winding provincial. Food provisions is courtesy by Philippine’s version of McDonald’s – Jollibee. (I know that Jollibee people will never agree to this and would tell me that they offer a whole lot better meals than McDonald’s. )
We passed by town, after town and have driven for two hours . There was little excitement still since we are not yet seeing the village names on the detailed map. Also, the reggae music we are playing in the car was getting into me. Toper popped the tape earlier and told us that the music is the best way to prime up for a trek. I do not know if the day will come that there could be a discovery of a scientific explanation for this. But, you can never argue with the navigator and not let him “primed”. Consequence could be grave (and tiring) later.
It was my first trip to the northern part of the Cebu Island – strange considering that Cebu is an island that is only about 270 km long. Cebu City where I live is right about the mid-portion of the island. I have always been a southern part guy with my parent’s roots there. Unlike the south, the north has great views with long stretch of plantations. It is not really flat plains but were of small hills. In some part, you can almost see towards the horizon. The view while driving is already worth the trip for me and Jane.
Around 11am, we were already hitting the less than 15 km reading of the GPS unit. Our navigator is already very focused on his map. I teased him with the constant question on where should we stage the trek and that his map is off. He always responded that he is sure with the map but the GPS reading intimidates him (Technology always intimidates the old school I should say) . We finally hit a spot where the lowest reading at 1.4 km and it was again climbing up when we drove beyond the point. We were not expert GPS users but in our simple mind, mathematically, we thought it was not good and we were heading away from the confluence. So we decided to head back to where we got the lowest reading to make it our trek start point. While heading back, we saw a strange structure atop a hill in the middle of this very provincial road. There was a very long flight of stairs towards a huge Virgin of Mary Statue at the peak of the hill. We found out that it was The Lady Of Miraculous Medal chapel. Two birds in one stone! We quickly decided to make that our jump off point and we also get to visit a special chapel. Besides, the peak can be a good vantage point in assessing where the confluence is and looking at the possible trek path.
So off we climbed the stairs. It was indeed long. We had to stop twice to catch our breath. At the peak, it was better than we thought it would be. We were at a point where we have a very good vista of the area. Definitely the best starting point. Since it was noon, we decided to have lunch before doing the trek. One slight problem. We needed to go back to the car to get our provisions. It means we have to go down the flight of stairs. Going down means going back up again! No other way. Jane had to wait for us at the chapel.
While grabbing the gear and the lunch in the car, I was assessing whether to take two water jugs or just one. The laziness in me won and I just took one. Hey! Remember the flight of stairs? Not good if you carry heavy stuffs. Later, I realized that that was a bad decision.
After the quick lunch, I noticed that we only have a half-full jug. I was thinking of getting the other jug. Hey! Remember the flight of stairs? Nah, it’s just a 1.4 km trek to the confluence. We will be back in no time! Water will be enough. After a few moments rest, we started the trek. About after 80 meters, it started to rain. Giant droplets! We had to go back to the chapel and had to wait for 30 minutes for the rain to stop. Was that technically “an attempt” to find the confluence? I think so. So this trip is now officially 1 attempt.
The trek was truly beautiful, there were trails to follow and the hills and the farms are truly beautiful. It is the start of the rainy season and everywhere was just fresh greens. The smell is truly fresh also. Something rare for city people like us. We had to go through several fields and small hills. Filipino families especially in the provinces are fond of having dogs. Both as pets and guards. So everytime we pass by a house, dogs bark like crazy. Jane goes crazy also. She is scared of dogs. There was one point also that we needed to pass by a cow. We were approaching one since it was tied up to a tree where the trail is. About 8 meters from the animal, we saw that it took an attack stance complete with the scary grunting! I looked at my shirt and I was wearing a bright orange shirt! Trekkers of the world, learn from this! We had to quickly find a farther route. Seeing that we were going away, the cow went back to this peaceful munching of the grass.
Distance to confluence was dropping rhythmically. 1.4 km, 1.3,1.2,1.0. After that though, the real fun begun. We were lucky in the first 400 meters with the trail matching the directional arrow of the GPS. After 1 kilometer, trails were starting to diverge. It was becoming a constant bout with the question on what trail to follow. Tall vegetations and the hilly topography made it difficult to make out where the trails would lead us. Always if you follow the trail, you’d lead away from the suggested direction of the GPS unit. At first, we tried to follow the trail. The GPS unit then seems to get stuck to its numbers and barely drops! It even climbs up! Toper and myself are the impatient types. Naturally, we thought of following a straight line as much as possible. Jane, did not challenge the decision. Not a bit. Besides, she is busy enjoying the fresh breeze and the beautiful greenery. We started to trim the distance at a pace again. It was a good decision! Not until we found ourselves standing at the peak of a hill and the trail ended. We saw that there were steep slopes in front of us. Toper, feeling challenged with his navigational skills and experience has decided to scout ahead. I got a confession from him later that in their treks, they always hire guides and did not trailblaze. He then surveyed the front of the hill leading to the confluence path and it was all slopes! Not too step though but one can slide down with a wrong step. There was thick vegetation on the slopes also. Toper did find a narrow gap on the shrubs. We noticed thorns on the shrubs also. We thought that going through the shrubs than heading back was easier. We were getting tire that is. It was not easy going through that part of the trek. Steep slope and you need to hold on branches to keep from sliding and yet be careful enough not to grab the thorns. But we made it through without a scratch. Who says city people can’t trek? We saw Sugarcane plantation at the bottom of the hill and beyond the plantation is what we recon as the confluence. So we were motivated and excited. Going through the plantation is easy. Except that by the time we reached the other end of the plantation, our shoes were about two inches thicker with mud soles. Mud was some kind of thick sticky brown clay that is difficult to scrape off from our boots.
A few minutes later, we were at a point where reading was in the 15 meters. It was near a field of freshly planted corns. We were very excited to see the further drop of the reading and reading single digit meter numbers. Then we realized that at about 1.5 meter reading, we were standing under a huge tree’s wide leaf canopy. The tree will block the direct view of the sky for the GPS unit! I will not get any GPS readings! Luck was still on our side, because just at the edge of the tree canopy is where the confluence is. It was truly exciting to locate such a spot. The only one in the island of Cebu. The first confluence to be located in the Central Philippine area!
The local family who owned the lot was looking curiously at three strangers holding a cellphone looking device circling a spot in their area and getting excited about it. They were excited also in seeing strangers in their area. I am sure it was not a common scene for them. They were smiling with us and seem to be happy that we were happy! Truly the proof of what they call Filipino hospitality. Two of them were excited and have approached the spot also. I needed to tell them later that they need to leave that spot for my mandated photo taking. It was awkward trying to tell the landowner to step away from his property. It was not easy also to explain what we were trying to achieve. These farmers in this part of the Philippines live a very Spartan life and talking about latitude and longitude and finding the convergence point and be happy about it can be a big challenge. After several approaches on explaining it, they were able to understand and seems to be glad that the confluence is in their property. I hope that other trekkers will visit this also later and I am sure these local folks will point this spot out to them.
On the trip back, we had to improvise. Jane has been swearing that she will not climb back and go through the thorny bushes again. It looked like a sign that she got enough of the fresh greeneries at that time. Toper and I agreed that it was not a good idea to argue with a city girl whose pants from the knee down is muddy, sweating profusely and trying to get a shade at every opportunity she has. No more trailblazing from thereon. Also, we were running out of water by the time we reached the confluence point. Water was enough for one drink only. When Toper found out, I got a good lecture from him about “water discipline” when trekking. He also gave a lecture to me that a spot that is 1.4 km away is actually a 2.8 km walking distance from a start point. Talking about learning it the hardway. We needed to travel the shortest distance back to the chapel or better still, ride the local’s means of transportation. We found out that the nearest place to get transportation is in a place called Guadalupe! The website is right afterall. Guadalupe exist. There is a downer however. The trek distance to Guadalupe and to the chapel would be the same. So goodbye to the idea of riding our way back then. We have to walk. Good thing that a local boy named Roy who got attracted to our commotion agreed to my offer to be our guide back to the chapel for $2. He is heaven sent.
All in all, it was truly worth the adventure. Nice to be one with nature again. Time to plan for the next confluence point to find. Now I understand why some members have 30+ find credited to them. I think this has some addictive element to it. We are now certified to be hooked on this. Stay tuned for our next find….