Bianca Rei

Mt. Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna

I look like a real adventurer here!

I’ll never get tired of saying it again and again: School Field Trips is more fun in HEDCen! I’ve never joined anything as fun and educational as this back when I was in grade and high school. I’m just glad that I get to experience this while I work there.

Last January 2014, I was lucky enough to be able to join the third and fourth year high school students and teachers of Holistic Education and Development Center (HEDCen) on their Immersion Trip to Los Baños, Laguna. Lucky because it’s free! Part of my job as the School Librarian is to facilitate one of their outreach activities, which is to donate books and help organize a school’s learning resource center, and to document the whole trip.

The trip was not the usual sightseeing tour that other schools (at least the ones I know) offer Students were not allowed to bring electronic gadgets (e.g. mobile phones, tablets, laptops, music players, etc.), except cameras for documentation, for them to fully experience the trip. It was fun, yes, because we were able to be in places, see creatures and species, and do a variety of activities other kids do not normally experience. However, it was actually exhausting, because we all have to work, including the students.

Call time was set at 2:30 AM on the first day and it has been the same each day for the rest of the trip. We had very little sleep because it was all work until after midnight. Going up, we all, including the kids, had to share the load of carrying food, water, tools, and equipment of the whole group, add to it our personal belongings. The students have to set up different kinds of traps, measure different quadrants, and monitor set-ups for their animal, insect, bird, and tree studies. They also have to cook their own meal, set up their own camp, and clean up after their own selves. And we, teachers, have to be there every step of the way.

First Day

After checking the bags of our students (for banned items, such as electronic gadgets, junk food, etc.), our bus left the school at around 3:30 AM. We arrived in UP Los Baños (UPLB) at around 5:30 AM, and ate our breakfast at POLA Therese Canteen at the back of Forest Products and Research Institute. Then we proceeded to check in at the TREES Guesthouse. We were given enough time to settle in, leave our heavy bags, change to work clothes, and bring only what’s needed for the rest of the day.

Our first stop was an outreach activity at Paciano Rizal Elementary School. We were welcomed by their principal, Ms. Sylvia Encabo, who oriented us about the school. After that, we started unloading the bus of books for donation. Then, divided ourselves into groups: the group who would paint the walls, the group who would paint the chairs, and the group who would organize the library. It took all morning to do all task.

After the outreach activity, we had lunch, then we proceeded to the Makiling Botanic Garden, where trees that are endemic to the Philippines are showcased. The walk around the garden gave us a glimpse of what we are going to expect the next day, a combination of uphill and downhill trek… so much like a warm up for a bigger and harder exercise. Then we went to the Museum of Natural History and saw well-preserved animal corpses, including fetuses.

The last stop for the day was the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Students were given time to research about their chosen thesis topics at the IRRI library. They also got the chance to know more about the importance of rice in the lives of the people around the world at the Rice World. We finished the trip early that day and used the whole night preparing (distributing loads, unloading bags, taking showers, etc for the next day.

Second Day

The wake up call was at 2:30 AM. We all had to will ourselves out of our beds and onto a very cold morning. We were ready by 3:00 AM. To warm up, instead of taking the bus going to the canteen for breakfast, we walked. It was a 30-minute walk. Though short, it was kinda difficult, due to our very heavy bags.. add to that our very heavy sleepy heads. We were a bit energized after breakfast, then we started to walk again. We reached the foot of the Mt. Makiling around 5:00 AM, registered, then started the climb. It was really cold. I was wearing 2 layers of shirt, arm warmers, a jacket, leggings, pants, long socks, gloves, a cap and a pair rubber shoes. I had to take one of the layers off one by one after every few meters, even if it was really cold, because the heat coming from my own body was making it difficult for me to breathe and to walk. We were allowed to shout “Stop!” if we want rest, but I guess none wanted to look weak, so during the climb, we only had one or two stops, so that other people could relieve themselves.

We reached Peak 1 and set up camp at around 7:00 AM. After setting our tents up, we proceeded to scout for an area where students set mist nets up for bird studies. It took most of the morning for the set up to finish. We went back to camp to refill our water bottles, prepare the other set of equipment, then proceeded to set up quadrants for tree studies. Then, we had lunch. Students cooked their own meals while teachers were served by our very own master chef, Teacher Sarcia. That very yummy Adobo made us forget how tired we were. We stole a few minutes of rest and sleep while waiting for food.

After lunch, we were given a brief lecture about Balete trees and we get to see what’s inside. After that, we checked the mist nets and walked a little farther for bird watching. It’s actually harder than it looks, looking for birds and identifying them at one glance, and sometimes, only by the sounds they make. It took about an hour before we went back to camp. I refilled my water bottle then went with the group who went down the mud spring to set up a harp trap for bat studies. The trek to the mud spring wasn’t easy. We had to skip large rocks after another while avoiding spiky vines, keeping a lookout for limatiks (leeches) and trying not to fall, before we get to our area. The harp trap was too complicated to set up that it took the students the whole afternoon until night time to finish. The trek back was even harder because it was darker and it was an uphill climb.

After dinner, we all went out to check the traps for animals/birds. One of our nets caught a bat, then the students were called to be taught how to identify one. When we went back to camp to set up for the insect and frog studies, I bailed out, not because my body can’t but because they’re going down the mud spring again and I don’t wanna go there at dark when I couldn’t see limatiks (and I’m so scared of them), so I volunteered to just stay behind to guard the tents. I wanted to sleep while waiting, really. But, it was sooooo cold, even when I had three layers of clothing on me, a jacket, plus two thick blankets, I still could not take it. People got back to camp around 2:00 AM.

Third day

I had to get up earlier because I was assigned to accompany a student who needs to attend an Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) church service outside UPLB. I got up, packed up our things, prepared breakfast, then started the hike down. It was easier walking down, partly because my bag was nearly empty. We reached the foot of the mountain around 7:30 AM, went back to the TREES Guesthouse, took a bath, then went to church. Believe me, it was so hard to keep myself awake and to listen to the minister because I was so exhausted I can hardly keep my head up and eyes open. By the time the service was done, the others are already on their way back.

We all ate lunch together, packed our stuff, checked out of the guesthouse, then went back to the school.

I can barely lift my legs up the next day, and my body was really sore. But, we all went to work the next day with smiles on our faces, like we all had a new set of batteries in our bodies. haha!

This is the first trip of the 12 trips I made back in 2014, when I was trying to find myself.

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