AND then there was one.
In stories about quests, going to the mountain focused on the solitary self. It did not matter how many persons made the journey or if the traveler went with a guide.
Only the individual goes to the mountain. Only a person returns from it.
Or perhaps I misread the tales. One person enters the mountain; another emerges from it.
After about an hour, our group recently crisscrossed from the Poblacion of Dalaguete to sitio Talayong in the town of Alegria, a journey that connects the southeastern to the southwestern side of Cebu, the coast to the uplands, the known to the unknown.
We had dinner at a roadside eatery that had changed its menu and setting over the decades but still had a guard/receptionist who missed a tooth or two but not an opportunity to chortle while explaining the difference between plain chopsuey and Sun Yat-sen chopsuey (answer: the ham bits that gave away a taint of decadence in the vegetarian mishmash).
It had begun to drizzle when we began the ascent, the wind and the rains whipping and shaking the canopies of the tallest sentinels that towered above the dark, watching mass looming above us by the time we mounted to about 600 meters above sea level.
After we made the crossing, we debated the wisdom of choosing the Mantalongon route to reach our host. The husband, an old hand in these mountain ranges, preferred crossing Nug-as in Alcoy to Lepanto, Alegria, but caution prevailed over adventure as we would make the journey at night.
Our host said that the sparsely dispersed households lull travelers until they are approached by strangers along the Nug-as route for handouts. Nightfall, said our host, is not a good time to refuse strangers who will remember and make sure you remember as well that refusal when you lose your way and have to double back on the road.
In these times, few mountains remain virgin territories, unreached by motorcycles. A single-lighted Cyclops transporting a returning resident disgorged by a late bus from the city sometimes breaks the fog-wreathed stillness and silence.
Aside from droning invasions of the “habal-habal (passenger motorcycle),” clusters of the cone-shaped “bukag (basket),” woven from unbreakable rattan to hold as much as 100 kilos of lettuce, pechay or sayote balanced on the forehead and back of a farmer, huddle by the dark roadside like jaded commuters awaiting the trucks of middlemen that dawn brings.
I was beginning to think the old tales had to be rewritten when I saw the first kachubong dripping silver in the crosshairs of the car lights. Flute-shaped bells of the mountain, the flowers toll a note for this traveler: never does the same person return.
[Photo: Roy S. Tabada]
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s September 15, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”