Tuesday, August 07, 2007
In the shadow of Sondawa
Mt. Apo, king of Philippine mountains, loomed before me as I hit the last kilometer of my run. For the past two days I did my run on this same route, but overcast skies hid the long dormant volcano from view. Today the sky was clear, and from where I was on that last uphill I could see its peak, the country's highest at 10,311 feet above sea level, kissed by a single clump of grey cloud.
Running "in the shadow" of Sondawa, the name by which Apo is known to Manobos and Bagobos living around its foothills, always inspires me. I don't know why, but seeing it towering majestically in the distance as I run seems to energize me and erase whatever trace of fatigue or pain there is in my body. It is as if this mountain - both mystic and sacred to the indigenous tribes, with its steaming and ice cold lakes, sulfur pillars, and moss-covered age old trees - breaths fresh life into my battered limbs.
They did a foot race up Sondawa, the only one that covered a full course from Kidapawan City to the peak, sometime in the early eighties. Hardy runners from Kidapawan, Arakan, Cotabato and Davao braved the 3-day multi-stage event. They tackled the roughly 21-kilometer mostly ascending dirt road from Kidapawan plaza to Lake Agku'u on day 1. They took on the Marbol trail with its seemingly endless climb following a series of river crossings to spend the night at Lake Venado on day 2. Then they did the final ascent to the peak on day three.
A veteran of the Alay sa Pangulo marathon of the seventies, Romeo Pallarcon of Arakan, won the event. Other runners said he did it largely with the help of a Manobo runner, Crispin Damo of Sitio Sayaban nestled in the foothills of Mt. Apo. Damo knew the terrain like the back of his palm. He served as guide and porter for climbers. Damo himself landed in third place if I remember right, following a runner from Davao whose name escapes me.
And there was Alex Bornea, the race's heartbreak kid. Kidapawan's top bet, he was said to be leading the way going into Venado when he accidentally tripped on one of the many tree roots that dotted the trail and suffered an injury. They had to bring him down the mountain on a stretcher, I was told.
Some of those who did that one-time race were friends of mine. They invited me to join them in taking on Sondawa then. I knew myself and my capabilities. I was out of their league. But running up Sondawa, perhaps tracing the route taken by those unsung Mindanaon runners in that one-time race, is a dream that still burns within me.
I have trekked to the peak of this grand old man of Philippine mountains 5 times. At least once, I want to run my way up, beneath the canopy of centuries old trees, amid bird calls and the thunderous roar of hidden waterfalls of Mandarangan Trail. Or maybe through the mossy forest and "Elfin Woodland" of Bongolanon Trail perched at about 1,800 to 2,700 meters above sea level, and experience that surreal feeling of running through the forest moon of Endor, home to the Ewoks of Star Wars fame.
For now, I take satisfaction in being energized by Apo Sondawa as I pick up my pace towards the end of my run.