Food for thought.
Taraw cliff is situated on the left side of the El Nido town shore. It is a limestone rock formation that from previous centuries, maybe a home for thousands of sea creatures but today it holds nests for swiftlets also known locally as balinsasayaw. These are birds that can only be found in El Nido, Palawan and they only build their nests in mountain cliffs such as Taraw. As many would know, these birds probably have the most expensive saliva in the whole world, for each kilogram costs around 120,000 Pesos (3,000 USD). Their saliva is the main ingredient in the famous Nido Soup. After reading this blog, you would probably know why they have the most expensive saliva in the world.
The climb to Taraw Cliff.
Before our trip, we have read many stories about this cliff and how hard it was to climb and it really got us curious so we decided to take a look at it ourselves. To be honest, I did not really believe most of them until we reach our first assault; here goes the story of our climb in Taraw.
We started by riding a tricycle to the jump-off. A small wooden bridge surrounded by houses that leads to the foot of the cliff. A few steps away from the jump-off, a muddy lake was lying beside the trail, giving a feeling that it will be a nature-y journey to the top. It was raining the night before and it wasn't sunny that morning so it gave us a soft breeze to start.
I could not find any words that would describe the next few events of this climb so i just wrote the only word I could think of three times for the chapter title. Mountaineering experience won't prepare you for climbing Taraw. It was serious rock climbing from the first assault. And when I say serious, I meant serious like 80-degree-5-storey-high-limestone-piercing-death-drop serious. I wrote many climb stories and talk about death cliffs all the time and I want to take that back for if death cliffs have a picture in the dictionary, the cliffs in Taraw should be it. There were times you will need to pull yourself up with the strength of your arms just to get to the next stepping stone and I am not the leanest person you've seen, so go figure.
We were four in the group (excluding two guides) and I had problems during the first assault so I came in last. The second guide was right behind me and there is this place in where we have to come around to go to the next assault. It is what others would call a fork road, or in this case, a fork cliff. At that time, I didn't know it was a fork cliff so I hastily moved up the longer path. Mang Jun, the guide, told me to pause a while and asked me if I can climb the other cliff; which, at the time, looked like a 5-storey wall of limestone to me. I asked him if he was serious and he laughed, so it gave me a brief relief. He was not moving from where he was standing which was far from where I was at that time so I asked him again if indeed he was serious; he laughed again and said yes. He said we would make up for the lost time we had during the first few assaults.
A little push.
I went down to foot of the wall, which ironically, is the fastest and safest way up according to Mang Jun. I looked up and it still looked like a wall to me. The guide was trying to build my confidence and was always telling me it was easy and I could do it. He did a pretty good job of convincing me so I took the shorter, much dangerous cliff. Right after I set off both my feet to the wall I was describing earlier, he gave another encouraging phrase, "it is easy, just don't look down and fall down." I told myself, "nice one, the first words were better. way to go Mang Jun!"
Going forward and thinking backward.
Halfway through the climb, I was thinking really hard if I made the right decision, knowing I'll come down the same way I went up. I paused a while in the middle of a long reach and looked back in every painful step to a sharp limestone, every reach I did to go to the next stone, every muscle I stretched to pull myself up and every little sweat I shed while climbing. And then I remembered the stories we've read, how beautiful it was at the top and it gave me further strength to continue. After a short daydream, I looked down at my feet and I swear there were around 15 fat mosquitoes sucking my leg. I tried to shake them away with my hands but they didn't want to let go. After a few seconds they all went away, the alcohol intake I had the previous night probably helped me for the mosquitoes flew away after tasting my blood.
Life changing jump.
I caught up with the group at a place we call "life changing." One way to describe it is if you look at the movie poster 127 hours, it is the closest thing I could think of to picture the place. We have to lean back and take a little jump to get to the next part of the climb. I did a mistake of not following the first parts of Mang Jun's instructions earlier, I looked down. And I was hoping, praying, calling all angels for me to follow the next part of his advise, which is not to fall down. It was a long way down and there were spikes. Like an obstacle in an Indiana Jones movie. We all made it through and we laughed about it after wards.
After a few bumps on the way to top, we all reached the summit two and half hours after jump-off. The pictures in the internet would not match the view from where we were standing. El Nido's medium-sized cove, covered by mountains, fronting a clear blue beach and sand, surrounded by ant-like creatures roaming around which were townspeople and foreigners, torn-up rooftops and a sunny sky. The view was breathtaking. The feeling was rewarding. Suddenly all the pain went away after a deep breath from the summit breeze.
Time stopped for a short period and like the waves we saw crashing to the cove; anything that went up will slowly go back to where it came from. After taking our conquered photos, we went down the same way we went up. Contrary to what I thought earlier, it was easier to get down. Maybe because gravity worked with me half of the time. Climbing down a wall is probably easier than pulling yourself up a wall. Terrible thing here is, you have to look down so you'll know where you'll step down next.
The pleasant smell of burnt rubber.
After a few ups and downs to the cliffs of Taraw. A smoke was seen a few meters from where we were. And frankly speaking, burning rubber is not the most pleasant smell you could inhale specially when you are gasping for air. But the smell of this burnt rubber never felt so comforting for we know that we are near the town proper. And yes, after two more minor assaults, we have reached the source of the smoke, a bunch of kids making trumpo (tops). We made it down. After 3 and half hours, 7 battle wounds, 2 major contusions, ripped shorts and shoes we finally conquered the cliffs of Taraw.
Keys in surviving Taraw.
There are numerous tips to survive Taraw, two of the most important are: don't look down and don't fall down or simply just don't be nervous and don't die hehe. Kidding aside, this is a different ballgame from mountain hiking, so wear proper shoes and don't bring much with you. If you can't help bringing your SLR, at least be ready for a few dents after the climb. I brought a Lumix and still found it hard not to bump it along the way. If your halfway there and you're about to give up, remember that the summit is worth it. And the story you will bring down with you is the kind of story you can tell your grand kids over and over.
All words and pictures in this article by Red Amancio.
LTC authors' note - Red, lupet nyo! Di namin kaya ito =))