9/10/2016. Two weeks after the success of Mt. Sumagaya-Mt. Lumot traverse, here comes another episode of travelling light and cheap to the historical province of Leyte. Though I’ve been thinking about visiting this place for 9 years, this was actually my first time to be here. I remembered my history books when General Douglas MacArthur waded on Leyte’s shore and made his famous speech “I have returned” during World War II; too bad I wasn’t able to capture the landing site.
Our mission: Conquer the highest point of Tres Marias and make a side trip to Sambawan Island.
Tres Marias name was coined because of three abreast mountain peaks. Located in Almeria, in the island province of Biliran, its highest peak stands at about 1,315 meters above sea level. It may not be as high as other mountains we’ve been to but I have to admit, I gained a healthy respect for her because just like an eccentric woman, her behavior can be quite unpredictable. Just when you thought you’re trekking through a graded trail, she will hit you with a punch of slippery rocks upstream or surprise you with loose soil and uprooted saplings. This is dangerous as one false move could spell the difference between a fatal disaster and staying alive.
From Cebu, our group arrived at Ormoc Port around 5am. We then took an approximately 2-hour van ride to Naval. There used to be a direct trip from Cebu to Naval Port but some shipping companies have indefinitely suspended their trips. As we speak, I’m not really sure if it has been lifted already or not. We met our guide at Naval public market and rode a habal-habal towards the major jump off at Barangay Sampao in Almeria (25 minutes). Here you have to register your name and pay Php20 if you’re a tourist who wants to take a stroll to the Ulan-ulan Falls and Php50 for us climbers who would be trekking beyond the waterfalls. They also offer Canyoning/Canyoneering activity over the boulders of Ulan-ulan. By the way, there are numerous waterfalls in this mountain so water source won’t be much of a problem. Like most jump off trails, it initially started with a short concrete road until we reached the first waterfall (Ulan-ulan). After half an hour of taking pictures and soaking up the water’s soothing effect, we then ascended to the Recoletos Falls. According to Rio, our local guide, a priest from the University of San Jose – Recoletos (USJR) Cebu who is also a native of Almeria, brought a saint and planted it right next to the flowing water. I don’t know which saint but I’m guessing it’s St. Joseph. On our way to the next waterfall called Nomad’s, we stopped for a quick Buko break. Rio was kind enough to climb a coconut tree and provided us with a refreshing drink of coconut water and young coco meat. This time, another group of climbers passed us by and I was happy to see strange faces in an equally strange place. We continued our trek until we reached Nomads’ fall where we took our lunch and dipped in the pool. My biggest challenge was leaping from rock to rock to cross the streams. I’ve always been paranoid by slippery rocks maybe because of an old spelunking experience when I almost lost grasp of a cave column and hit my head in the dark. This was a long time ago; now I’ve learned to exercise extra caution in the wild.
From Nomad to Camp was a 2-hour ascent but no worries as trails are already established. Along the way came various types of wild orchids and other flora that were completely unknown to me. We have also noticed a handful of different birds singing and humming which clearly embodies the breathing element of the forest. I can only imagine the rich biodiversity of the nearby mountains that are still, to this day, remained unexplored. This mountain is beautiful in every inch of the word. The thought of traversing through the second and third Marias – even more beautiful and immaculate – is thrilling and truly excites my mountaineer spirit. But folks, it may take 3-4 days and major preparation to pursue it but who knows, we might come back the same way to surmount these ladies. Although it’s pretty common among heavily forested lands to rain, we were still startled by rain showers just as we were nearing the campsite. Don’t ever forget the golden rule of packing your things in plastic bags or waterproof containers especially your non-waterproof gadgets. Total trek time from jump off to campsite is around 5-6 hours. The camp is wide enough to accommodate us and the other group. It also has a nearby stream for water provision.
The next day drew an early wake-up call as we prepared for a summit assault. We headed uphill along typical woodland trails to mossy forest beneath sharp ridges. Every time I got a view of the skyline, I would almost leap in joy thinking it was already the summit but I ended up thwarted. Finally after an hour and a half, we have reached the highest peak of Tres Marias. Somehow it reminded me of Mt. Matutum and Mt. Talinis’ summits. Not everyone is lucky enough to witness the magnificent view of Biliran island especially during early hours when clouds cap the atmosphere but our group was blessed with visibility and still managed to capture memories. Someone did not do her homework so I’m not going to pretend and tell you the names of the neighboring islands that we saw from above because I don’t know any…sorry. Our way back took us 50 minutes – pretty fast because some of us began running downhill. After brunch, we started our semi back-trail; semi since we passed by the same trail and shifted direction halfway through the forest. The best thing about low expectations is that you are setting yourself up for even lower disappointment. Despite my toes killing me, my 5-hour expectation turned out to be a 3-hour descent. How’s that for a staunch trekker? We were back at Barangay Sampao and arranged a boat ride to Sambawan Island. Watch out for the breath-taking view of Sambawan on the next post!
P.S. If you’re planning to climb Mt. Tres Marias, please contact the following from Naval Tourism Office to provide you with a local tour guide:
Chessa Lumbaca – 0998 959 5357
Lauro Tarroyo – 0948 215 0905
I highly recommend hiring Rio as your guide because he is more knowledgeable of the complexity of the mountain, conscious of a trekker’s pace and doesn’t leave anyone behind and mostly proactive (he always carried a jungle bolo and actually scoured the woods to cut some large bunch of banana leaves as covers underneath our tents). I have encountered a lot of mountaineering guides ever since I joined this sport so trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Best of luck and don’t forget to share your experience!
5:00 AM ETA Ormoc Port from Cebu via Roble Shipping (Php510 tourist accommodation)
5:30 AM Van to Naval (Php110)
7:30 AM ETA Naval; Breakfast
8:30 AM ETD to Almeria via Habal-habal (Php50)
9:00 AM ETA Brgy. Sampao, Almeria. Register (Php20 for tourist attractions, Php50 for climbers)
9:15 AM Start trek
1:00 PM ETA Nomad Falls; Lunch
2:00 PM Resume trek
4:00 PM Arrival at Campsite
5:00 AM Wakeup call / Coffee
6:30 AM Summit assault
8:00 AM ETA Mt. Tres Marias summit (1315 MASL)
8:30 AM Start descent
9:30 AM ETA Campsite; Brunch
1:00 PM Start descent
4:00 PM ETA at Jumpoff
5:00 PM Side Trip to Sambawan Island