When the GMA news crew arrived at camp today, we had to make some quick decisions whether it would be prudent to bring them along with us to try and cross the Kamanoyo mountain to get to the main body of Matulid River on the other side.  According to the AWAT rangers, it usually takes Dumagats around 30-45 minutes to cross the forest. But Dumagats are fairly known to move like Spiderman even on the sheer slopes of Angat.  We were also told that the last time a band of AWAT personnel crossed Kamanoyo, it took them seven hours, but they didn’t have a Dumagat guide with them that time.

In any case, we found it prudent to do the trek after Cesar and company have the footage they need, otherwise they might not make it back to Manila in time to edit for the evening news.

Beau, AWAT head Mr. Mendel Garcia and I took the GMA crew to the headwaters, where the largest tributary, Matulid River, feeds into Angat.  As expected, we could only take even the inflatable boat so far. The water was so low that pieces of discarded fishing nets littered the water and some got tangled in the boat prop. Boat master JP was still able to dock, and we left him to handle the mess while we climbed up one side of the riverbank that used to be underwater to try and get a better view of Matulid farther up.

It was a magnificent view, but saddening at the same time, since all we could see even from that high vantage point was an almost empty river that had a thin veil of liquid passing over grey, muddy silt. Maybe Romi Garduce’s kayak team would have better luck crossing this area. We were hoping that the river wasn’t as bad upstream, in Anoling, which we hope to see if the kayaks are able to get through this silty area, or if we’re able to cross through Kamanoyo.

The GMA crew got all the footage they need, shooting from the dry riverbed in the headwaters. So after eating a hearty lunch back at camp, the news crew went back to Manila, while Roda, rangers Andok, Lando and myself went to Kamanoyo to try and cross to Anoling, guided by Bubot, a young Dumagat.

We were a bit worried because of the time (it was almost 3pm when the boat team dropped us in Kamanoyo). We decided that if an hour and a half has passed and we still haven’t reached Anoling, we would turn back in order to be able to trek down while there was still a bit of sunlight.

Kamanoyo didn’t look much like a body of water, which was characteristic of most Angat tributaries by this time. We were hoping that the mighty Matulid is still an exception.  We had a hard time finding a place to get down, as areas between the receding waters of Angat and solid ground in Kamanoyo was filled with grey quicksand. Kudos to the boat team for great navigation in waters that seemed to get lower everyday and was filled with sharp “tuods” (dead petrified trees that were in the waters) that could easily put an inflatable out of commission.

We finally got to solid ground by hopping and balancing on fallen, petrified logs. We probably looked like circus performers.

The mountain between Kamanoyo and Anoling is beautiful. I didn’t expect to see a patch of virgin forest so close to Metro Manila, but there it was. Too bad we were rushing because of the waning sunlight.

The trail was challenging enough, even with a guide. Luckily, we were able to reach the peak in about 45 minutes. Sadly though, what we found there was alarming – a large area had just been burnt down, apparently for “kaingin.” Even the rangers were shocked. The place was still smoking. If we hadn’t climbed today, AWAT would have only found out about this much later. It remains a mystery who the culprits are, but as you’re reading this now, Andok and Lando would probably be hot on their trail. Hopefully they’ll be brought quickly to justice.

After letting the rangers take a quick assessment of the kaingin situation, we continued on our trek down the other side.  In a little over a half-hour, we finally reached the tiny community of Anoling, which looked almost deserted.

Since it was fast becoming dark, we just made a quick survey of the surroundings and then decided we would have more time and resources to explore the river and the area better when we go back with Romi and the documentation team composed of mountaineers and rowers.

So after rushing back through Kamanoyo with barely enough sunlight to spare to rendezvous with the boat team and ride back to the Water Watch Camp, I retire to my tent for the meantime to give this tired shell of a body some rest. I expect more challenges tomorrow, with Romi and his mates arriving to lend a hand in the expeditions…

JP Agcaoili