The value of the wild
The value of the wild
(Published in Frontrunner Magazine January 2015)
It is 6am. The sky is white, and at 2400m above the sea –the sky is right in front of me, wet as a rain cloud. I start running down the dirt trail, gardens all around me till I hit the pine forest as I descend down into the valley to the east, below Mt. Pulag.
The compulsion to be outside has always been strong with me; some of my earliest memories are of running to the Balili River in the backyard or catching tadpoles and small eels in the garden canals in the farms beside our home. While experiences like these were common when I was younger, they are less and less accessible to people now. The river behind our home where I used to catch little crabs and fish is now a polluted wasteland and the sprawling vegetable gardens in our valley have become tall buildings. Open space has become premium property and there seems to be no stopping this push towards the gods of concrete and the loss of our green spaces.
9am: I descend into the valley on the eastern slopes of Mt. Pulag on the river that leads to Ifugao and its famed rice terraces. I run past thatched roofs and little children walking down the path to school with their mothers walking behind watching as their kids walk to a school, which in the city would be considered very far away. And these kids do it every day.
While many Filipinos grow older, they move from the outdoors to the indoors, replacing the dirt under their fingernails with nail polish and bare feet on the grass with uncomfortable fashionable pointy leather shoes. I, on the other hand, have moved from playing outside to working outside. My office has no windows and the view is better than that of the CEO sitting at the top of a skyscraper in Makati. While many people spend hours facing a computer monitor, I am out on my mountain bike exploring the back roads and trails, on my feet climbing a mountainside or running through a deep valley in the heart of the Cordillera. As the director of the Cordillera Conservation Trust I am tasked with thinking of ways to conserve the forest resources of the mountain region. And while much of our work consists of working with children in elementary schools, building forest nurseries, and forest building, my favorite conservation tool in our toolbox is to create outdoor experiences that bring people outside to experience nature, to feel the ground beneath their feet, to breath air untainted by smoke or chemicals and to see the forests as they are –raw, wild, free. This is our way of investing in the future of our mountains, by investing into the creation of experiences in the outdoors and creating advocates out of athletes. Experiences that will take regular Juan’s away from the 4 walls of their cubicles, from the pulsating monitors of their TVs and computer screens and into the wild. Not watching it on channels like Discovery or National Geographic but living it themselves. They come out of our mountains changed beings now hungry for more of this raw wild space.
It is 2pm and I am running up a ridge line at 1500mASL through the mossy forest surrounding Mt. Pulag’s remote north eastern side, I was alone, I still needed to climb another 1400 vertical meters to get to the summit, then it starts to rain, and there are leeches, lots of them. I have been out on the mountain since six in the morning mapping out the route for a new trail running event we would be holding for 2015, The Cordillera Mountain Marathon. This is probably my favorite part of the job -creating something from the wild space –where most of the locals can only see land for their gardens, wood for construction, and animals for hunting, I run through and see a place where people can experience nature; an opportunity to create an economy based on not touching but appreciating the wild resources as they are. This is another tool we try and use during our events – create an economy around wild spaces where one does not need to cut down the tree or clear a forest to feed the family. You do not need to create a product from the forest when the forest itself is the product, the mountains, the clear streams, the tangled woods and cold weather these are the products we sell –their value increasing exponentially with more people sharing the experience of nature. You do not need roads for this merchandise to flourish because it does not need to be transported and the only care it requires is for you to leave them untouched and unspoiled, it cares for itself. Creating events that create this value is primary among our goals.
4pm: I am standing at the summit of Mt. Pulag the rain and wind now battering and I stay only a few seconds before running back down, the trail now slippery from the rain, and the cold seeping through my layers of clothing. I make my way back down to the village of Babadak, the rain pelting all the way down as the sun sets to the west and I have a brief view of the sea over the orange horizon as the water pelts the landscape endlessly.
6pm: I am sitting by the fire drying off my tired body, happy to be inside on such a cold rainy night around friends. My mind though was still back there staring out into the wide expanse of the Cordillera, the wild mountains, my heart skipped a beat.
THE CORDILLERA MOUNTAIN MARATHON:
The highest marathon distance trail run in the Philippines, 42km Sky Marathon and 11km Trail Run to be held in Mt. Pulag on March 22, 2015. For more information visit http://cordilleraconservationtrust.ph
The current Chief Forest Builder of the Cordillera Conservation Trust. He is a National Geographic Explorer and did the first Philippine Cordillera Traverse in 2005 crossing the mountain region from Benguet all the way to Ilocos Sur in 38 days. An avid outdoorsman he has trekked in the remote regions of the Himalayas, Patagonia, and Borneo among others. In 2008 he and Doni Gonatice biked continuously for 24 hours around the rough roads of Benguet for the Padyak para sa Binhi ng Kordilyera covering 206 mountain kilometers over rough roads of Benguet and raising enough funds to jump start the Forest Building program of the Cordillera Conservation Trust, in 2009 he repeated this feat with Levi Nahayangan and Ken Daweg. His love of the outdoors has led to a lifelong passion for our environment and his home in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines.