A day before my weekend trip, my slightly superstitious dad told me that Talim Island is the place to go if you want good luck. Legend has it that when you go there on a Good Friday, you will have good luck, good fortune, or good health for the weeks that will come after. Who does not want all that goodness? Besides, it was not too far from Metro Manila, unlike the other famous trekking spots.
So when my mother in law invited me to check out the island and the high school where she worked for a decade, I went and brought my mom and cousin with me. By golly, it did not disappoint.
Historically, Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere used Isla de Talim as one of the prominent settings where the main character Elias allegedly swam to evade the Spaniard civil guards who were in hot pursuit of him. During our visit, the water was as still and clear as a piece of pristine paper unsullied by ink or dirt.
In this non-fiction mode, I did not swim Elias-style. We went aboard a commute ferry that costs 30 pesos per head which started at the Binangonan port caled pritil.
On the way, we saw the looming presence of the nearby Fuente del Diablo, an uninhabited rock formation which has its own story. It was named as such because of a folk tale that a devil lurks in the rock formation who is eternally courting a beautiful lady.
Somewhere in between the mounds of earth, we saw the peak of Tagapo shyly protruding in the middle. I took it as a mountain’s cue to me, a clear invitation to an adventure. I said to myself: Well, mountain, consider that challenge accepted.
We arrived at Barangay Janosa’s port 45 minutes after we left Binangonan town proper. We had to sign up at the entrance to signify our intention to climb Tagapo. It was clear to me that once you check in at the island, you leave all the urban complexities to bask in the simplicity and beauty that they have to offer in there.
It was a very sunny day when I embarked on the journey with my three adventure buddies Nice, Grace, and my husband Paul.
Our elder companions stayed behind at the school while we began our trek at 9:30am. All Tagapo climbers are required to have expert guides. Luckily, we were assigned two fun and adept guides, Kuya Barry and Kuya Orly. They were our literal life savers especially when we went through the cliffs.
The decision to climb Mt. Tagapo or Susong Dalaga was a spur of the moment idea. In fact, I had no sunscreen and I was wearing flipflops, which is probably one of the craziest ideas given the adventure we were about to undertake. (I strongly advise future trekkers to wear a lot of sunscreen and find ways to cover your head well because there is no water source anywhere in the mountain. And follow the other usual tips for mountain climbing activities.)
Locals tell me that in the 1980s, some people climbed up Tagapo in a pursuit of the rumored hidden Marcos gold. These days, the Talim Island locals have an annual panata or tradition of climbing this mountain every Maundy Thursday with fervent expectation of an answered prayer and a Good Friday miracle. (Some of the old ones joke that it used to have a perfectly conical shape which earned it the maiden’s breast moniker and now it may be up for a name change because of the gold-mining craters at the peak.)
At first, it looked just like a typical grass-laden terrain. Our phone signals started becoming intermittent during our ascent.
Then, we began hearing the birds more and the people less. The rocks and thorns started increasing in number as we worked our way up, all 1,400+ feet of it. Tagapo’s summit is the highest point of Talim Island.
When it rains, natural shelters are made by the water’s motion, such as this interesting circular arc that can be found more than halfway up the summit:
The last leg of the upward trek (after what seemed like an endless and inclined pile of rocks) looked very much like Teletubby Land. I felt the ground beneath my feet in between steps. It was hot, soft, and dirty.
The whole time, I was fascinated by the clarity of the cloud formations and the interesting shapes that played with my imagination. There were donuts and fluffy bears and an endless view of cotton balls.
The summit had this breathtaking effect that cancelled out all the sweating and wheezing I had the whole time I had to climb my way there.
This was the place where the horizon and the lake and the sky meets together in perfect harmony. You need not do anything else by then; all you have to do is open your eyes, inhale the scenery, and feel the good vibes of hitting the peak of Talim.
We stood there for awhile and avoided the craters for safety, and the adventure unified our bond and made us feel closer as a group.
A nearby campsite is available for people who want to build tents and stay there overnight to maximize the experience.
In my experience, the descent was much harder because it was so steep. Tiny rocks can make you slide to oblivion if you are not careful. A part of the return trail had a very scary cliff which had us literally hanging on to dear life; no one was brave enough to take out a smartphone for a selfie during that moment.
We all found it difficult to part with the unsullied view of the clouds so we kept some visual souvenirs of our memory:
Contrary to legend, I did not find any gold or notice any added luck after my climb. I did notice, however, that I inherited the inexplicably contagious calmness of Laguna Lake on the way back. Gold or not, trekking Tagapo in Talim Island is still an unparalleled and legendary experience. Treasures I found in there may not be reflected in the usual monetary currency, but in the number of smiles and happy memories of almost kissing the clouds with the ones that I love. And I survived it well enough to live to tell the tale.