The Two-Pronged Fork and the Eater by Kit Singson
We devour the splendour of nature through travel, but we need to take a look at what we leave on the plate To travel, especially in the Philippines, is self-inflicted emotional stress. Submitting yourself to the wonders of an unknown road, an unfamiliar path, and a first-time experience gets you the exhilaration your spirit is yearning for. You get to try the local fare via the popular transportation option: the habal-habal to go around the island of Siquijor, or top-loading a jeep to traverse the lower peaks of Benguet (living off of canned meat and instant coffee are the icing on the cake). Your eyes are allowed the beauty of nature—the ashen flats of Pampanga, white beaches of Camiguin, charging rapids and beautiful river systems of Cagayan de Oro, and the seemingly extra-terrestrial sulphur-ridden boulder trail of Mt. Apo. The High Highs and the Low Lows But alongside breath-taking views and series of heart-flutters, I think it’s safe to say you have had your share of heartbreaks, too, a few times in your expeditions. You have learned that, in every place you visit there are two kinds of backdrops: those you take pictures of and those you do not. Bluntly put, those whose beauty have not been maimed by humans, and those that have or are in the process of wasting away because of our impact. You’ve got the high highs and the low lows. Like our country’s geography. As a traveler myself, I speak from experience when I say human impact is real and it’s here. Case in point: Mt. Pulag. The first time I climbed Mount Pulag it was majestic, raw, and there was a strict ordinance prohibiting deviation from the trail. Climbers were afraid of making loud noises and always brought down their garbage from camping out. The mossy forests were thick and almost constantly misty, the grasslands a rich brown and thriving. There was no outhouse, just (thank god there were) bushes you did your business behind of. There were only two tents besides our group’s. From 2007 to 2015, enchanted by this holy mountain, I went back five more times. On my third visit, there was an apparent increase in the number of tents (and people you said hello to along the trail), and a formal latrine (with a door and a roof). On the sixth there were tour groups of maybe thirty novice climbers whose provided so-so tents were shaking violently with the winds and rains on that day, and more than one established trail to accommodate the growing foot traffic. Nowadays I hear from friends that the campsites’ conditions are so bad climbers aren’t allowed to stay there anymore. Instead of reveling in the first light of the morning viewing the scenic multi-peaks out from your tent, you had to complete the ascent-descent in a day, and spend the night at the Rangers’ Station. I speak from experience when I say human impact is real and it’s here. Case Number 2: Whale-shark feeding in Oslob. This is probably the single most bothersome experience I have in terms of my moral compass. I participated in the activity and loved every second of it, heck I’d swim with those remarkable creatures again, but I am not proud to have done it, not in that situation or similar. However, the upside of first-hand knowledge is that I have an understanding of the process, and I can educate other people about what’s really happening (as opposed to just reading about it on social media, news sites). What I’ve learned is that it is a livelihood for the locals and the government. For a hefty fee and stringent cut-off rules, you can go through an orientation on general facts about whale sharks and how one should behave to keep disturbance at a minimum. You are carried to an enclosed area in open water via small boats with no motorized propellers and you stay there for a set amount of time (about 30-45 minutes). The boatmen feed the sharks going round the enclosure from one end to the other as tourists in their snorkels and fins try to get as close to them as possible, at about 10 feet away. Point is, the locals have a source of income as guides, the area progresses, and the whale sharks, although now inept to hunt in the wild (and yes, is a possible threat to their survival), are affected the least possible way according to the Department of Tourism’s capacity. It’s not ideal and it’s inexcusable. But it is also an effect of a booming ecotourism in Cebu, an informal and accidental planning at that. I speak from experience when I say human impact is real and it’s here. Case Number 3 and one of my most recent heartbreaks—the destruction of Mt. Apo in Davao-Cotabato. Known as the highest peak in the country, it takes a different courage to experience its brute. It took us four days and three nights of round-the-clock hiking, rock climbing (cliff-hanging and pulling ourselves unto 87degree inclines), river-crossing and scampering in the dark to reach campsite. It took all our energy to go forward as the weather did not cooperate and the terrain had a habit of surprising us (first bridge to the jump-off was obliterated by the typhoons, as were those in the last leg of Kidapawan traverse). I was nursing a semi-torn knee the whole way down. But I don’t remember the difficulties without the joys of being cradled by the mountain. In fact, I remember them more than the less than perfect conditions. Apo has the most stunning environments I have ever been in: plains and grasslands, mossy forests, pine forests, the never-ending boulder trail, meadows, marshlands, lakes, and rivers. It has it all. It was the kind of beauty that put a tear in your eye. Only a month and a half after my visit, the news of a fire breaking out from the summit campsite of Mt. Apo reached online news sites. It took the local government, volunteers, and international aid four weeks to put it out, saving what’s left of the mountain beyond Lake Venado on the Cotabato side (coincidentally, we planted a Jar of Peace from the Dalai Lama in said lake). My anger was so deep, so intense that it was all I talked about. But I wouldn’t have been affected as much if I didn’t see the reality while I was up there. The last campsite before the summit was a dump. Packs of junk food and tin cans of corned beef and tuna littered the place. There were used tissue sheets, plastic utensils, and everything else you could think of—not in tidy trash bags left for the rangers to collect—in concentrated mounds, beside what seemed like ash and burnt ground left from campfires. Just two days prior to our climb, the rangers were able to bring down twenty bags full of garbage, and there was an eyesore, already restored. Oh and yes, there were cigarette butts by the hundreds. No wonder the grass caught fire. I speak from experience when I say human impact is real and it’s here. Traveling is a privilege, it is a gift we give ourselves. But I implore everyone to choose to be eco-tourists. Be responsible for your waste, and be mindful of your influence on nature. Keep our mountains and oceans as you saw them, experience—not conquer. Do practical conservation and restoration acts (Mountaineers’ Code, clean-ups, bringing your own trash and even strangers’ with you) and educate your friends about the ethical ways of going on adventures. And I hope, nay pray, that more people will cringe at the sight of poor behavior while on trips, and that more people will develop the conscience that it takes to save our planet. I’m not talking about saving it for future generations. I’m talking about saving it because it’s the right thing to do.