The plan was simple — finish my exams, book a trip, get on a
plane and off to the Philippines! When I was approached with
the idea of a recce trip to climb Philippines’ third highest peak,
the 18 year-old, easily-excited me said yes without thinking
I knew I wanted a break from the hustle-and-bustle of city-life
and I’ve always loved a good adventure. This sounded like a
perfect idea. In retrospect, I certainly got more than I bargained
for and my first solo expedition turned out to be one of the most
meaningful experiences of my life.
Day 1: Solitude.
As the day came to depart, it dawned on me that I’ll soon be off
on an adventure without any family or friends. That unfamiliarity
initially scared me, but I relished the idea of meeting new people,
who turned out to be inspiring thrill-seekers as well.
As I look back on the trip and life in general, I’ve always grown
the most when placed in unfamiliar and perhaps, scary
circumstances — it’s in those very moments you’re forced to
think, dig deep and discover parts of yourself that you never
knew existed. So that was the first lesson right from the
start — do something that scares you, you’ll learn way more.
We (myself and a bunch of like-minded strangers I’d just met)
landed in the capital city of Manila and hopped on an overnight
bus which took us from the airport to Baguio City the next day.
The ride was long, but it allowed me some time alone to reflect.
It was then and there that reality struck me — here I was in an
entirely foreign country, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. While
physically, I was alone, not once did I ever feel lonely — therein
lies the difference. The former is a state of being which I chose
while the latter pertains to how I did (not) choose to
feel — solitude enables opportunities to appreciate what you
have and soak in what’s around you.
I think that in our modern society, where everyone is tech-savvy
and interconnected, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that
‘being alone’ is unacceptable, perhaps even taboo. But really,
moments of solitude are extremely precious to me — they’ve
allowed me to think and explore, without having to be bothered
by what’s around me.
They’ve given me opportunities to challenge myself, undisturbed.
Looking back, it’s with solitude that I ran my first marathon,
climbed my first mountain and captured some of the most
beautiful moments — moments that only I myself can resonate
with, and there’s certainly value in that.
Day 2: Appreciation.
After the bus-ride, we hopped on (the top of) a jeep to lunch,
which was followed by an orientation of the national park, which
reinforced the notion of sanctity of Mount Pulag. While the
session was short and simple, I valued the amount of respect the
park rangers accorded to the area.
Culturally, it was inspiring and heartening to see the care and
concern individuals out there have for the natural environment,
and those values were truly manifested in the entire park, which
was nothing short of spick-and-span.
From the get-go, we were reminded to collect our trash and bring
it along with us and I soon started to appreciate how important
that mutual respect was.
For the rest of the trip, I was truly impressed at how the locals
always cleaned up after themselves and we were sure to do the
same. Ultimately, Mount Pulag appeared to be an untouched,
unspoiled land where humans and nature can coexist peacefully,
and to me, that’s an ideal world I’ll love to live in. That’s my
Upon reaching the jump-off, we commenced our 3D2N trek and
set up camp at the scenic Eddet River. The views certainly didn’t
disappoint and we took turns crossing the hanging bridge and
dipping our feet in the icy-cold water before night fell.
The air was filled with a sense of joy — joy in simplicity — I
started to appreciate the landscape around us, the available
toilets, the fresh spring water and the beautiful starry night
sky — things we so often take for granted.
During most of my travels, being grateful for the simple things is
something I always take home. It’s a salient reminder time and
again that I’m extremely fortunate to live the life I’m
living — having a proper roof over my head and family who loves
But someone once said, privilege is blind to those who have it,
and I guess it’s only when you’re confronted with tragedy or
perhaps thrown into nature (‘back-to-basics’ living) where you
start regaining your sight. It’s ultimately the little things in life
that make it worth living.
Day 3: Spontaneity.
We were confronted with the toughest part of the trek the very
next day where we had to move from Eddet River to Marlboro
Country, before setting up camp at Saddle (500m from the
summit). While the route was scenic and allowed for great photo
opportunities — we went through distinct sections of pine forests,
mossy forests and grasslands — the fact that we took the ‘more
difficult’ trek soon dawned on me.
It was during this part of the trek where my shoes started giving
way and I had stomach problems, but the other trekkers quickly
came to my rescue each time, offering charcoal pills and to tape
my shoes up, which I was really grateful for.
While we were a couple of individuals attempting to summit
Mount Pulag, ultimately the concept of teamwork prevailed.
This day made me see the beauty of humanity as everyone
seemingly put others before themselves. It was probably because
we all saw more purpose in reaching the summit with each
other — indeed, if you want to go far, go together.
I also started to expect the unexpected and instead of
wondering ‘how long more?’ or ‘when are we reaching?’, I
enjoyed the spontaneity — we had no idea what would be at the
next turn — perhaps the end of the forest, a rest point, a water
point or even the summit, but I learnt that that unfamiliarity is
the very essence of a great adventure.
Upon reaching Saddle, a thick fog engulfed the camp and we
initially contemplated assaulting the summit for sunset, but the
fog soon cleared, and we went ahead — although we didn’t catch
the sunset, it was nice to have the summit to ourselves that
‘Spontaneity’ was probably my most-used word of the year, but
also my biggest lesson. From conversations with random
strangers to escapades to places unknown or midnight
thoughts-turned-ideas, many of my greatest moments were
I always like to explain spontaneity through the analogy of a
photograph — would it be more meaningful if a photo, say
published on the cover of this very magazine, was taken
spontaneously by a photographer on one of his adventures or if it
was simply planned? I’d rather the former any day as spontaneity
translates into authenticity and hence meaning — to me, there’s
nothing great about an adventure if you knew where you’d end
up every five minutes or who you’ll meet at every turn.
Day 4: Beauty.
Before day broke, we quickly got up to ascend once more to catch
the sunrise. While we were beaten by many other locals coming
from the alternative Ambangeg trail, we shared the majestic view
of the *drumrolls* famous Sea of Clouds and the sun which rose
above it. We were really blessed with great weather
throughout — no rain, cool breezes and a chance to catch one of
the highlights of the trip.
As I pondered about the entire trek at the summit, the spirit of
adventurebecame apparent. I penned this just before the trip as
I reminisced of my previous experience climbing Poon Hill in
Nepal, and I stand by it:
“There has probably been nothing more fulfilling than
summiting mountains and nothing more inspiring
than hearing tales from mountaineers. The tangibility
of realizing a short-term goal whilst awestruck by the
surrounding landscape is priceless.”
After breakfast, we started our descend via the less hilly (but
comparably scenic) Ambangeg trail and took a jeep to our hotel.
We spent the night wandering around Baguio City’s night
markets and bars before having to wake up at 2am to catch the
overnight bus the next day.
I got to see the more ‘urban’ side of the Philippines and it’s really
a beautiful country — but then again, I always tend to say that
about every country I visit. Perhaps beauty isn’t only about
what’s out there, but also how you as an individual perceives
each place. I believe that with an open mind, a lady rummaging
through leftover food remains in the trash can or young boys
badgering passers-by for that extra cent can be equally beautiful.
Day 5: Adventure.
We took another long bus ride to the airport the next day, said
our final goodbyes to each other (especially our guide who had
been such a blessing) before heading in. On the plane-ride home,
amidst the conversations we had, I caught a glimpse of that one
single cloud afloat in the sky, and I soon realised that yes, I’d
done it! I’d achieved a milestone of travelling solo — a testament
to independence, I guess.
But on top of that, I did what I set out to do — be it summiting
Pulag, travelling alone or simply stepping out of my comfort
zone, and it was all thanks to this awesome opportunity.
In all honesty, I didn’t have the happiest of childhoods — I was
often restricted and punished for the smallest of things and my
parents always made sure I knew how to stand on my own feet,
rather than depend on others. But looking back, I’m glad they
saw the value of independence and inculcated that into me.
I’d say that because of my upbringing, I’ve matured faster than
those around me and with it, gained way more awareness about
the world and my place in it. I started to realise the importance
of dreaming big from an early age — here I am, a typical 18
year-old teenager, who is proud to say that he aspires to change
the world through storytelling, share beautiful and serendipitous
moments with others through photography and inspire youths to
seek out adventure. And independence has given me countless
avenues to pursue these dreams.
If you’ve got yourself to read up till this point, let me applaud
you. But more importantly, if there was one message I must put
out, it’s an appeal to one and all (*coughs* especially youths my
age *coughs*) to always seek out adventure — whether it’s
mountain-climbing or trying foreign food; solo-travelling or
picking up the flute, adventure can come in all shapes and forms,
but is always going to be out there. Let me assure you, you’ll find
it if you search for it. And once you do, go. And never look back.
You can always thank me later.
Find Nathaniel here!