31-Mar-2008 -- After my failure to reach 14N 121E, due to lack of fitness, we caught the ferry to Negros. The still unclaimed confluence at 10N 123E lies only about 50km south of our home in Bago City and I have had my eyes on it for some years now. It lies in some mountains with no roads shown within about 15km of any of the modern maps and the wife believes the area is still full of bandits, at least that is what she tells me. I had managed to get a look at the mountains on an earlier trip to Sipalay, a beach resort on the south west of Negros, and they looked pretty forbidding. It was difficult to estimate whether the point was on a really steep mountain or just one of the foothills. I was convinced that this would not be an easy point to get and it would involve some potentially challenging hiking but I was keen to give it a go.
The problem was that the wife had her heart set on Boracay, a world class beach resort just across the water and Panay island. The ferry sail allowed me to come up with a strategy, rent a bus, take the whole family (or almost) and drive to Boracay with a day spare before I had to return to Egypt. Then hopefully I would be in the good books and I could borrow the brother-in-law and have an attempt.
We rented the bus, took the “Strong Republic Nautical Highway”, drive to Bacalod, ferry to Dumangas, drive to Caticlan where we had to leave the bus and catch an outrigger to Boracay. We had two great days in this lovely beach resort before heading to Roxas, Panay, which advertises itself as the sea food capital of the Philipines. It lived up to its billing and then we headed back to Negros via Dumalag where another branch of the family reside. We arrived back late at night and by nine the following morning I had downloaded all the photos and everyone was happy.
Rocky, my brother-in-Law was free for the attempt so off we set in our bus, driving south to Himamaylan. I had recently downloaded the 1954 vintage US army maps for the area and it showed a track leading into a village called Carabalon, although there seemed to be two Carabalons on the map. We stopped in Himamaylan to ask for directions to Carabalon and got put on the right track heading east. This road is marked on both the modern maps and the US army maps. I wanted to follow this road until just before it turned north, where we would head south. When we got to where we wanted to turn south we had arrived at Carabalon! There was a track heading south but we stopped and asked directions but this was difficult as we had already arrived in the last named place I knew of! We had the usual problems of trying to explain this mythical point and why we wanted to get there when two Barangay security guards, Jerome Octabia and Felmar Pelafael offered to come with us as guides. They said the track leading right would take us to a small river but that only the big sugar cane trucks would cross. Sure enough we came to the river about 800m down the road and still 12km from the point. We could look up at the foothills which were largely agriculture with a mixture of rice and sugar and there was a village sat right on top of the first ridge. The ridge behind was dark and massive so where was the point? I could point out the “mountain” over which the point lay to our two guides who said the only way was to walk. I was disbelieving looking at all the farm land, through which you could see tracks but they were adamant. There was no way I had time to walk in and back 12km, even if my few morning runs have improved my fitness so that I could physically cope with the hike. Jerome and Felmar seemed to think that a 12 km hike was no problem – 2.5 hours easy. With no other ideas I agreed to give it a try, hoping as we made progress and they got a better idea of where I really wanted to be, other options would present themselves.
So off the four of us went, across the river and up the other side through some lovely scenic countryside that was well worth the walk by itself. One hour and 3km as the crow flies, we reached the steepest slope so far and I was starting to struggle, when Jerome and Felmar decided it was time for a cigarette is when I realized I was out of my league even though they were wearing hiking flip-flops. So I called a halt and we retreated to the village of Sijio we had just passed where I tried to question how the villagers got the nearest jeepney with no success. I think they thought I was concerned I would not be able to hike back out and started to make arrangements to get either a horse or buffalo to carry me back to the bus. I convinced them I still had some life in me and started asking about options emphasizing we were still 9km away. The wife had stayed in the bus so I had little in the way of translation at this stage as Rocky’s English although better than my Illollo but pretty limited, but suddenly there was a bit of gesturing to the southeast and something about 3km – progress?
We hiked back to the bus and drove back to Carablon where we had lunch and I had the wife interrogate this new idea. They said there was a road a little further back that went up into the mountains that we could try. After lunch we about turned and retreated about 1km before turning left onto about 50 yards of concrete road before descending a steep and rough track to a ford over the river that had stopped the bus before. We followed this rough, but easily passable in our bus, road for over an hour rising ever higher onto the first ridge of hills until we crested the ridge and suddenly looked over into the valley beyond. This “lost” valley was full of farms and small villages spreading over the mountains beyond. Jerome and Felmar said we would not have enough time to get across the valley but that this track we were on would take us down to the valley and across it. We decided to stop at the nearest house and buy some coconuts which the farmer had to climb the tree to cut down. There was no electricity here and little traffic on the track other than sugar trucks. The farmers said that a truck came once a week to pick up produce and transport down into the valley. Nearby was a lovely school that catered to the families living in this remote area. We were still 5km from the point and I estimated that the point lay on the far side of the valley on the slopes of the mountain. We were at 600m and the estimated elevation of the point is 900m which sort of confirmed my thinking. It was clear that we could not get the point this trip but we had certainly found the way into the nearest spot where we could hike from. How far to hike and how much of a climb was the only question? After a refreshing freshly cut coconut, buying a bunch of coconuts and a bunch of bananas we turned around and set off back to Bago. Although we failed to get the point I felt satisfied that it was day well spent, passed some lovely scenery, discovered a “lost” valley and got some lovely fresh fruit into the bargain. Next time I would be in a good position to conquer the point but I suspect my fitness will still be tested so need to ensure I get a good fitness regime going well before.
The turn off for this key track is at 10 05 44N 122 56 27E.