Journey into Mt. Guiting-Guiting – Part 2

The next morning at 6 am as I listened to a dove call, I tried to push my sleep-befuddled brain to remember which of the 5 doves found on Sibuyan Island it was. I turned to Rebecca. “Alimokon?” I whispered hopefully, and she shook her head. “Porongan” she said, then turned to Nino the young IP guide with us who confirmed Rebecca’s assessment with a silent nod. I had mistaken the white-eared brown dove for the black chinned fruit dove, which has two types of calls but usually employs a slower “coo” that almost sounds like an owl.

Rebecca woke the camp up at 4:30 in the morning so we could get a quick meal of instant coffee and leftover rice before heading out. Since the forest foliage is too dense to see most of the birds, the staff generally relies on vocalizations for identification. Nino confirmed or corrected every identification that Rebecca made, while I practiced identifying the 2 dozen or so priority bird species that the park service specifically looks for during their monitoring. Rebecca and Andy stopped often to point out various plants used locally for medicine, as well as which trees illegal loggers commonly targeted for lumber.

While Nino led and helped Rebecca with the bird identification Melvin, the vice-chieftain of the local indigenous group, stayed with the rest of us and pointed out critters to us way before we saw them; including a surprising variety of snails as well as some unusual insects such as a stick bug, a blue ant, several spider species and of course, numerous leeches.

Back at camp we ate lunch, which mostly consisted of rice, and then everyone curled up to catch some sleep. I headed down to the Cantingas River, which for years had won awards as the cleanest river in the Philippines. After about an hour I was joined by most of the group, many of which proceeded to pull out soap and wash their clothes and themselves in this beautiful stream winding through the mountains.

The rest of the day consisted of re-walking the monitoring transect with Rebecca in order to help her take a GPS point of the eight points along the route that they use to orient themselves. After dinner Nino constructed what looked like a rake out of rattan, a sturdy plant with sharp edges, and then clambered 15 feet up a tree in order to wait for bats to fly by. When they fly by, it was explained to me, Nino would essentially club them down and then the IPs would cook and eat the liver. I should mention that these are not small bats that we see in the United States, but large fruit-eating bats. As we sat around the campfire passing around the bottle of brandy, the only evidence of Nino above us was the red glow of his cigarette when he took a drag. Finally I crawled in my hammock to drift off to sleep.

The next morning I sat on the hill while I finished my coffee and watched dawn creep over the horizon. Facing southeast, four other islands were visible across the ocean including ones much bigger than Sibuyan. Behind me, clouds and the near-full moon hung over the Mt. Guiting-Guiting peak and it was beautiful no matter which way I looked.

When we arrived at the valley where we began our climb we stopped to pick some more pako fern and a local man climbed 30 feet up a coconut tree to knock a few loose so we could drink the coconut water and eat the flesh.

We then proceeded in tricycle (a motorcycle with a sidecar attached) to the next monitoring site; arriving as it got dark so we had to hike with our headlamps to the campsite. Fortunately it was only a short, flat 45 minute hike. After setting up, I went down to the river and laid on my back to watch fireflies float through the trees above, and occasionally saw the shadow of bats flit about overhead. To bolster dinner Pboi and Nino caught fresh crayfish from the river and cooked them in a delicious, oily sauce. The next morning we left at 6 am to begin the transect walk, and returned a little before noon. After a swim in the river, lunch and a quick nap, we packed up the campsite and headed back to the park headquarter; tired, happy, and looking forward to sleeping in a bed.

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