A run around Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog. Ever since I participated in the inaugural running of the Mayon 360 180km Ultra last April 2011, I have been dreaming about this. No doubt, by comparison, it would be at a smaller scale considering that the Mayon 360 involved running thru 3 cities and 7 towns while the Mt. Iriga 360 will pass thru 1 city and 1 town only. I even wondered how long or short the running distance will be.
|Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog Adventure Run|
|The route of the Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog Adventure Run|
But the idea remained in my running bucket list. Running thru the highlands of Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog and going down the lake town of Buhi and then back to my home barrio of San Agustin in Iriga fascinated me. “Why?” you may ask. I am tempted to quote English mountaineer George Mallory’s answer of “Because it’s there” when asked why he was trying to be the first to climb Mt. Everest, or mimic’s flamboyant ultra marathoner Dean Karnazes' candid reply “Because I can.” For me, it is a combination of the two. For so many years, from my childhood to my present middle age, everytime I gaze at Mt. Iriga from our house, I often wondered what the places are behind the mountain. The mountain is there. I should explore it. And now that I have been fortunate to begin acquiring the skills and passion of an ultra runner (having finished 4 ultra marathons to date), I gained the confidence that I can actually do an adventure run around the mountain.
Just a clarification on the name Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog Run. We are not talking about two mountains but only one. It is the mountain with coordinates 13- 27-24 N 123-27-24 E and situated between Iriga and Buhi, with a peak measured at 3,924 feet above sea level and a base diameter of 10 kilometers. Among the townsfolk of Buhi and the Philippine mountaineering community , this mountain is known as Mt. Asog but enter Iriga City and its residents are adamant about its name as Mt. Iriga. Mt. Asog’s name comes from an ancient datu (chieftain) of the Agtas named Asog, who reigned over the region although in Bikol folklore, Asog is the name of the effeminate priest of evil who wore all kinds of trinkets and wiggled provocatively during the Hidhid and other rituals for Aswang. So for the sake of harmony and world peace, I shall refer to it with a compromise of a name.
I almost did my Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog adventure run last June 16. But at that time, I failed to sufficiently prepared for it. For one, I did not have a support vehicle and a running buddy. Come the last week of June , I felt I was ready after having borrowed from my Uncle Robert his driver Jan Jan who was familiar with the ins and outs of Iriga and Buhi. Plus, I got to recruit two running buddies : Ric Lozano, a Naga City-based 83nean and Mariano, a local-based runner.
Mariano is an interesting fellow. I first saw him last year when I was running up to Sta. Teresita, one of the mountain barrios in Iriga. I was going up and he was going down the hills. He had a lithe built with long legs akin to that of Rio dela Cruz. He was kind enough to make a u-turn and run with me up to the barrio and back to the lowlands. Ever since, we have been exchanging texts about info of local running races. He had already done a run-around Mt. Iriga to Buhi and back. His local intel of the route would be invaluable. Unfortunately, three days before our target run of June 30, he texted with the following June-worthy words : “Gud eve puh sir...Ahm ika2sal n pla inviting u bukas bglaan eh..” I could not help but smile with a devilish grin. It would seem that Mariano is a charmer himself and got into a sweet and wet sticky situation. All I could do was text back with these words: “Mahirap talaga ang runner dahil habulin.”
The show must go on. Upon arriving early morning in Iriga on June 29, I did an easy 11-km run from San Agustin to the bridge in San Francisco and back. After my run, I touched base with Jan Jan the driver. We decided that he would be riding his own motorcycle, with a backpack full of bottled water and Gatorade. There was a 4X4 vehicle available in our house, but I decided against using it for practical and safety reasons. A 4X4 SUV would consume more petrol than a motorbike. Being escorted by a white Nissan Patrol would make my running buddy and me quite conspicuous in a road where the common vehicles are carabao-drawn wagons, fully-packed tricycles and fully-laden jeepneys. Up to now, there are reports of NPA rebels (euphemistically referred to as Nice People Around) and rowdy bandits roaming the mountain barangays. Just a couple years ago, a Red Cross medical team travelling for the mountain barrio of San Pedro got held up by local brigands.
Come 5 in the morning of June 30, I was awake and up. Excited. It would seem that Ric Lozano was also excited. He was up earlier at 4am and was on his way via bus from Naga City, 37 kms away from Iriga. Jan Jan was in our house 5:30am and Ric arrived shortly before 6am.
With the adventure team complete, we started our Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog run at 6:30 am. No registration fees. No singlets. No fees. Running is free.
|With Ric at the start of the run in front of our house|
|Taking the road to the right bound for Sta. Maria|
|The all-terrain vehicle in these parts, the Pababa|
The first 5 kms were familiar for me, having trudged thru them a couple of times, the latest being last June 3 (refer to http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2012/06/running-in-foothills-of-mt-iriga.html#more). When we left Sta. Teresita and entered Sta. Maria, this was a new running territory for me and immediately I could feel the steepening of the incline of the road. We were now traversing a shoulder of Mt. Iriga. My fellow Mayon 360 finisher, Ric Lozano, commented as we entered Sta. Maria that this place seems to feel like the Sablayon road (the hardest part of the Mayon 360). A handful hundred meters more, after seeing bikers and pedicab riders going down and pushing their wheeled contraptions, and ourselves feeling the lactic acid building up in our calves, Ric revised his comment and said this was more difficult than Sablayon. I said “Amen to that” and clapped my hand to signal the Galloway shift from running to walking. We reached the topmost part of our run at Km 478 marker, 9 kms into our run. I looked at my Timex and it showed we have been running, more like crawling, for 1 hour 39 mins.
|The road in Sta. Maria....|
|...until we are reduced to walking...|
|Pause for some picture taking.....|
|... with Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog at the background...|
|Maximizing the space on the local jeepney|
The downhill part started when we neared Tubigan, a sitio of the barangay of Sta. Maria. It is so-named because during the rainy months, this low-lying place is like a caldero that gets to contain all the water from the surrounding highlands.
|At the Tubigan crossroads|
At Sitio Tubigan, there is a crossroad. If you go left, you get to go to the mountain barrios of San Pedro, Nino Jesus, Sagrada and San Ramon, the latter being the last Iriga barangay before you enter the town of Ocampo. We did not go left but instead we went right which led us to Burocbusoc, a barangay of the Municipality of Buhi. I kidded Ric and asked him if he had his passport with him. He asked why? I told him entering Buhi feels like a different place as the dialect being spoken here is very much different from the mainstream Bikol language and the Rinconada dialect being used in Iriga, Baao, Nabua, Bato, Balatan, Bula, Ocampo and parts of Minalabac. To illustrate, cooked rice in Bikol is “maluto”, it is called “kanon” in the Rinconada dialect and evolves into “umoy” in Buhi. Cat is “ikos” in Bikol, “upos” in Rinconada and becomes “ungaw” in Buhi.
Actually, the dialectal variations between Rinconada and Buhi was explained in a blog I read a few months ago. Please visit http://ibalon.wordpress.com/category/baao/. The author points to the fact that the mountain roads were the main roads in the past. For those born in the 1960s and beyond, we grew up knowing that the lowland Naga-Legaspi road is the main artery in Bicol. However, it was actually the labyrinth of mountain roads in the upland areas. On the part the Buhi, there was no mountain road in the past that connected it to Iriga. The lowland Iriga-Buhi road is of late vintage and so is the paved road connecting Tubigan with Burocbusoc which is more recent. The dialect in Buhi is actually of the Western Miraya dialect which is also prevalent in Polangui. There is a road connecting Buhi and Polangui.
|The hills around Burocbusoc abound with bubbling spring water|
Now, there is a paved road connecting Tubigan and Burocbusoc, thanks in large part to the pork barrel of our congressman. This paved road is what we took as we entered Buhi. It is interesting that the names of the two barrios are associated with water. Burocbusoc refers to the bubbling movement of water from the springs prevalent among the hills of the place.
|The paved concrete....|
|...road in Burocbusoc...|
|...to a rough...|
After the public elementary school in Burocbusoc, the paved concrete road gave way to a rough gravel road which stretched for more than a kilometre. I guess the pork barrel wasn’t deep enough. Hahahaha.......We runners had no complaints though as our running feet got to feel a different kind of terrain underfoot, softer than concrete but trickier as a false step could lead to an ankle twist or worse. This was made even more difficult as our eyes were more focused on the green mountainous scenery around us rather than the road surface. We were in fact even blessed with a glimpse of the majestic Mayon Volcano as we entered the barrio of Tambo.
|Entering Barrio Tambo, we caught a glimpse of the majestic Mayon Volcano|
In the rough road of Burobusoc, Ric and I were also blessed with the sight of mountain bikers looking at us in a disbelieving manner. They are used to seeing fellow bikers but not runners in this mountainous area. Last June 10, 2012, the 3rd Mt. Asog Mountain Bike Extreme Challenge was held where participants went for a loop or 2 of 15kms each around Mt. Iriga. Mountain biking is presently a big thing among Iriga athletic types, bolstered by keen interest among city officials and businessmen, some of whom are known to own bikes worth Php 200,000 or more. Sacre bleu. Compare that to the Php 3,900 price tag of my NB 880 and easily a pair of running shoes is best value buy among mobility toys for big boys.
At Tambo, we turned right and ran on a road beside Lake Buhi. Of the 3 lakes in Rinconada, 1,800-hectare Lake Buhi is the deepest, most beautiful and most mysterious lake. A couple years back, I had the chance to swim in the deep part of the Lake and let me tell you it was so darn cold and the strong current underneath made it difficult to swim a few meters out of the floating cottage. Of course, it is the pride of the Philippines as Lake Buhi is home to the smallest commercial fish in the world, the Sinarapan or Tabios in the Rinconada dialect whose scientific name is Mistichthys luzonensis .
|On the road beside the lake|
|Beast of burden with the Bicolano Penguin|
|Passing the eastern side of Mt. Iriga-Mt. Asog|
The lakeside road is mostly downhill from Tambo to the town centre of Buhi. Our pace increased and in no time we were cruising thru the barangays of Cabatuan, Salvacion and then Sta. Clara. We caught sight of our Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1983 classmate, Omar Mercurio, waiting on the roadside by the entrance to his farm. The rest of the way from his farm to the Buhi town center, Ric and I had the privilege of being escorted on motor by the popular Vice Mayor of Buhi.
|Crossing the bridge into the town proper of Buhi...|
|...with Omar as escort...|
When we touched down in front of the Buhi Church, I look at my trusty Timex and it read 2 hours 54 mins. I inquired from Jan Jan about the odometer reading in his motorbike and he replied that we had covered a total of 23 kms from San Agustin to the Buhi poblacion. Improving.
I requested Vice Omar to bring us to a place in the poblacion where we could eat pansit bato. He obliged and brought us to the carenderia of the Aqua family. We were immediately served the pansit together with the potent sili patis. The owner of the carenderia was on hand to serve and we were well taken care of with pitcher full of ice-cold water and ice-cold coke. I beat Omar to the draw in asking for the bill and I was floored by the price of the four servings of pansit bato. Total bill was Php 24 for 4 hungry persons. I smiled to the owner and told her that in Manila, Php 24 wasn’t even enough to pay for 1 hour parking. Perish the thought of SM being in this place. That would mean no more pansit bato for Php 7 each. Santa nyaan.
|Buhi Church with a June wedding in progress|
|The tarp of Mayor and Vice Mayor of Buhi|
After our 30-min merienda break, we said goodbye and thanked Omar for his ever-reliable hospitality. He told us that he had in mind a couple of trail routes in his beloved Buhi for the 83nean runners to take a bite at when we come back. I told him “If you trail it, we will blaze it.”
For the first 15 mins after our merienda, we did walking. At the outskirts of the Buhi town proper was a monument with the title “nakaBuhi” and this kind of explained the origin of the word of the town’s name. The monument showed a family of four with their dog on the move and warry of something, as if escaping from something. Likewise, the monument in front of the Municipal Hall showed a group of native men led by a friar on an exodus , bringing with them the church bell. The present Buhinons are the descendants of the refugess and survivors who also fled from the wrath of Albay’s Mayon Volcano’s eruption on February 1, 1814 hence the town's name “nakaBuhi” which means the one that got away or escaped.
|Photo in front of NakaBuhi statue|
|Monument in front of the Buhi municipal hall|
After the picture taking at the monument, we proceeded to resume our 4-1 Galloway. This style is slow but it is methodical and pretty soon we had departed the barrios of Sagrada and Lourdes and entered Sta. Justina.
Now, this barrio is the last one before we leave the town limits of Buhi. It is also the longest barrio of Buhi, and I would estimate we ran 3 kms in this barrio. No wonder, there are two public elementary schools in this barrio, Sta. Justina East and Sta. Justina West. In political speak, this is a battleground barrio come election time as this has the most number of voters of any barangay not only in the town of Buhi but also in the entire congressional district of Rinconada. Sta. Justina hosts also the lone hydro-electric power plant in the province, the 2.8 MW Lake Buhi Hydro Electric Plant which was constructed in 1952.
|Passing the ricefields in Barrio Lourdes|
|Passing the Buhi Hydro Electric Plant|
|Running past the welcoming warrior of Buhi|
Leaving Buhi, we passed by a big statue of a native warrior with his trusty sidekick, a hunting dog. The statue is meant to welcome visitors to Buhi, but how can a warrior with a bow and arrow make a tourist feel welcome? I guess the warrior statue is meant to appeal to the spirit of adventure, and I must say my running around Mt. Iriga/Mt. Asog into Buhi, with 50% of its area considered mountainous, is an adventure in more ways than one.
The entry back into Iriga was signalled by our crossing the bridge spanning the Barit River. The first barrio is Santiago and then Sta. Elena, followed by Sto. Domingo. I noticed that the road was newly-concreted. First time I could remember this part of the Iriga-Buhi Road as having a good concrete road. There was a sign at the side of the road thanking President PNoy, Sec. Butch Abad of Budget and Iriga Mayor Madeline Alfelor for this project. Thank you indeed. Our tax money at work.
At this point, we were skipping the walk breaks of the Galloway as this was lunchtime already and we were hungry. After Sto. Domingo is San Juan which is already part of the centro of Iriga City. At the crossroad before entering the city center, we turned right at the Shell Station and proceeded on our way back to San Agustin.
|With Enyong’s mom at the sari sari store|
In front of the Iriga Central School in San Nicolas, we stopped by the store of my grade school classmate Enyong for some cold water and Mountain Dew. Enyong was not there but her amiable mom was there to entertain us. After our fill of Mountain Dew, we went off for the last leg of the journey.
The 4 kms from Enyong’s store to our house in San Agustin is a familiar running territory for me. We finished it in 30 minutes , thanks in large part to the refreshing sugar rush of the Dew.
I looked at the watch and it read 5 hours and 39 minutes. The driver Jan Jan texted his odometer reading: 23 kms from San Agustin to Buhi and 20 kms from Buhi to San Agustin for a total of 43 kms.
5 hours and 39 minutes in traversing the following 20 barrios: San Agustin, Perpetual Help, Sta. Teresita, and Sta. Maria in Iriga ; Burocbusoc, Tambo, Cabatuan, Salvacion, Sta. Clara, San Buenaventura, Sagrada, Lourdes, and Sta. Justina in Buhi; and Santiago, Sta. Elena, Sto. Domingo, San Juan, San Roque, San Nicolas, San Isidro and San Agustin in Iriga.
Not bad numbers for the Bicolano Penguin.
More than the numbers, the Mt. Iriga-Mt Asog run is my pioneering adventure into the idea that running is free. No registration fees. No waivers. No prizes. All you need is the road and a running buddy.