The air is cold and I hear my breathing labor as I run uphill through the forest. Clouds of vapor coming out of my mouth as the heat from my body escapes into the cool morning air. Nature is waking up all around me as the sun slowly lights up the landscape and I watch as dewdrops on the leaves give way to mist and spiderwebs, normally invisible are now visible from the dew that hangs on the silky threads sparkling in the morning light.
Then, Goodmorning! I bump into a tourist walking down the trail in the opposite direction, one after the other till I reached the top of the 8km ridge I pass tourists walking down, each one with a smile and a greeting. I must have said goodmorning 50 times before I reached the top and at some point someone even offered me a cookie, which I promptly ate with a smile and a thank you.
I was in Sagada in January, running up from what they called blue soil to the ridge of Marlboro country and back into town. January is peak season in this small town and while I often try and avoid this time of year in Sagada as I abhor the crowds I found that I thoroughly enjoyed all those “goodmorning’s” I had to give as I labored my way running up the ridge, I thought to myself who was I to dictate who can experience these beautiful wild spaces I was enjoying myself, they were as awestruck as I was, likely even more so than someone like myself who has been doing this for the last 20 years. As I climbed I heard as many “wow’s”, “ganda”, “beautiful” as the good morning greetings I gave out. It was like seeing a version of myself first exploring the beautiful wild spaces many years ago, complete with bad equipment, shoes that were clearly better off in the mall, handbags, pants that were clearly not cut for the outdoors, and nail polish lots of nail polish. And it was wonderful to see. Seeing people realize that this actually exists and it is possible for them to access it.
I am an outdoor snob, I’ll admit I have on many occasions avoided the crowds that have become commonplace in spots like Sagada, Mt. Pulag, Mt. Ulap, etc… I raise my eyebrows when I see people walking in the outdoors with handbags or the wrong shoes or looking seriously labored on an extremely easy hill. But then running up this mountain greeting each person as I passed and getting a free cookie I realize that this could be my mother, or a brother who till fairly recently has been avoiding the outdoors or myself 25 years ago. These days I see so much hate for this unnamed throng of humanity that is just now discovering the outdoors, the people who know nothing who are invading the wild spaces in which we are the only owners and have the only right to use because we’ve got the skills, experience, and cool gear to earn the right to be here. Now 25 years later who was I to dictate who should and shouldn’t have access to this beauty, 25 years ago this mindless throng could easily have been me on the other side of that goodmorning cookie.
While there are of course times when I would much rather not be in a large maddening crowd, looking at Sagada –this is a place where nature has quite literally put everyone to work. The Blue soil, Marlboro Country, Kiltepan Sunrise, Caves, Lake Danum Sunset, and so much more, nature has put the entire town to work! The value chain created by nature here is astounding from guides to the restaurateurs to inns and homestays all the way to construction and even furniture making the economy is vibrant and that is all because of the wild spaces that abound and surround this town. In fact in the Mountain Province, aside from the vegetable producing areas, Sagada seems to be the brightest spot in their economy as evidenced by the construction boom and large number of migrant labor, all this is not because there are 5 star hotels in Sagada, all this is because they’ve been able to preserve large swathes of the wild so close to the town and this is what provides a value for the entire village, including the villages nearby. And yes the maddening crowd has created this value and not the dirtbag solitary lone wolf commune with nature types like myself.
So here I was contemplating the maddening crowd as I ran up the mountain and with each greeting I found a new ally in the cause to preserve the wild spaces. Each person here provided a value that is far more than I, even in my capacity as the head of the Cordillera Conservation Trust, would be able to provide. So engaging these people and nurturing this new found love for the outdoors is something that can be more productive than the hate I keep seeing, it is always easier to criticise and that will always get you more hits on social media, but building this community is where the real work must be done. To see this throng of humanity as an opportunity rather than a curse and maybe the wild spaces in this country will have a future.
Keep it Wild.