“Our greedy senses drank it all ~ the dark night like coffee spewing across a turbulent sky embellished with the Sons of Perseus.”
Part 1 – Perseids Meteor Shower Peak
Whenever the comet Swift-Tuttle passes through the inner solar system, its ices are heated up and softened by the sun. That’s right — ice. I imagine cold fire traveling at the speed of light. Fresh comet material is released into its orbital stream and a celestial debris called the Perseid cloud is created. This cloud is responsible for the Perseids Meteor Shower visible from the earth every year from July to August.
On any given year, earthlings can expect to see stars shooting at a rate of 100 per hour every night for the entire duration of the show. And they put on quite a good show, mind you. However, this year’s shower is an outburst that is double that number, owing perhaps to the comet’s location which is now closer to the sun while inside earth’s orbit. This spectacle will only happen again in 2126 which means that if you witnessed it this year, you are one lucky soul, considering that you probably won’t be around during its next outburst. Think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime Halley’s comet experience.
To be among the lucky ones, Kim and I, and a few members of the Cebu Spelunking Society climbed Mt. Naupa for a spectacular view of the meteor shower on August 12, 2016 ~ the day that the meteor shower would be at its peak. It was Kim’s third time hiking Naupa, the second time for me, and the first for my CSS family. Kim was the supposed appointed guide for the trek but since she could not join us until later in the afternoon, I took the lead in guiding the group through the trail. Thanks to my wonderfully disruptive sense of direction, it is needless to say that we got lost. But it is also in getting lost that we find the way which we inevitably did.
We made it to the camp site before sunset. The rain made it there too but by nightfall, it began to subside, leaving only thick clouds to veil the sky which nonetheless made stargazing impossible. The predicament did not dishearten us, however, as the night was only in its infancy and we had so much time to wait. We were contented to lay on our tarps spread on the ground beneath the heavens and the 5-billion stars hiding there somewhere.
Later in the evening, when the the wind became unbearably chilly, my friends retreated to their tents. Snug in a fleece blanket, I remained out there with the elements until some time after midnight, growing to love the intimacy between the cold and me. I did not even mind the black bat that kept returning to check on us. I would have let it stay that way had Kim not kindly summoned me to the tent we had pitched earlier.
4 hours past midnight, the sky finally started to clear enough to afford us a view of what we came there for — the meteor shower from front row center, or at least what was left of the show before daybreak. So we were there huddled once again under the magnificent theater of the sky with our spines flat against the solid mountain, mouths agape at each sudden streak of light that ostentatiously cuts across the darkness above us. Those shooting stars were trying to break the fourth wall, or the ceiling in our case. It felt as though for our vigilant patience, heaven rewarded us the encore of a last full show, except that we were the only audience. And it was dynamic.
Part 2 – Naupa Peak
When morning was all over us, the first creature to greet us was a hawk in flight just a few meters away from us. Over the mountains and trees, he hovered with mighty wings aspread. His head was white like that of an American bald eagle. The rest of the body was reddish brown. He moved along an imaginary circle above the adjacent mountain which stood lower than our camp. So we were blessed with a magnificent view of this equally magnificent creature whose demeanor was so sure, silent and calculating. After several more rounds in the air, he finally made a swoop to whatever it was that he was preying on.
We broke camp and proceeded to climb the other peak ~ the real Naupa peak ~ an almost perfect cone of a mountain settled not far from the camp site. I call it “real” to give it the distinction it deserves as opposed to the camp site which many hikers mistake as the highest peak in the area. On ocular inspection, the cone was clearly the taller one. A local we met confirmed that Naupa is actually the cone-shaped mountain, and that if one had keen eyes, it was visible even from the flyover in Tabunok.
The Naga mountainrange is akin to that of Dalaguete. It comprises of several peaks, albeit rising to altitudes much lower than the mountains along Mantalongon, that sprawl across a bucolic landscape. Most articles I have read regarding the subject told of treks going only as far as the camp site. This means that the true peak is one that is rarely trodden by hikers. And the rarity only made me covet it more. The drive to reach the geographical pinnacle of Naga was going to break my heart if left unfulfilled.
From the camp site, we studied the structure of Naupa and tried to single out a path that would lead us to the peak. Unlike the camp site which was mostly grass, Naupa had a dense growth of trees and shrubs. From where we stood, a flag, that a previous contingent who reached the peak had apparently planted, was barely visible. Apart from that, there was no clear sign of a trail. But we decided to keep going anyway and adventurous as we were, we endeavored to blaze our own trail should we fail to find one. This is what I love about the group. We don’t back out in the face of adversity and we share an unspoken commitment in achieving the goal.
We descended from the camp site and traversed through a corn field. It is interesting to note that the corn fields which now occupy huge portions of the surrounding mountains used to be nothing but empty fields of black ashes in the summer when Kim and I were last there. On those mountains, the local farmers practice kaingin, a farming system in which the remains of old vegetation after the harvest are slashed and then burned to clear and fertilize the land for the next planting season.
As we emerged from the corn plantation and drew near the foot of the mountain, a very narrow path came into view. It was almost hidden under a thick outgrowth of thorny shrubs, cogon, and other wild plants perennial to the area. This only proved my earlier suspicion that very few wandered into this mountain. The soil in some parts was very loose that we had to crawl on all fours or grab onto rocks and firmly rooted vines to avoid sliding down the incline. We met a lot of colorful butterflies along the way. Finally, after about forty minutes of upward struggle and multiple stinging cuts on our skin where our bodies were unprotected by clothing, we conquered the elusive peak. Whew! We may not be pioneers but we were one of the few who braved it to the top. From there, we admiringly looked over everything below that is within our field of vision. It included the camp site that seemed a little less commanding from our vantage point but beautiful nonetheless. The brown hawk that we saw earlier that morning graced the sky once more with its effortless flight. If his timing there meant anything, what a lovely coincidence it must be. It was the perfect conclusion to a beautiful climb.
Dear Mt. Naupa,
Thank you for hosting us once more in your idyllic abode.You are more beautiful now than I remember. The stars shine in your hair, my Dear. How many more wonders do you still keep hidden from me? Can’t wait to discover them all.