Even the mountains of Apo never tire
The country’s tallest mountain that has survived environmental destruction, a home to more than 272 bird species and the world’s largest eagles is also home to surviving underage porters — as young as 10-year olds — who carry the heavy packs of local and foreign tourists alike in exchange for a modest fee.
By RAWI JUNE AMAGA-MORANDANTE
KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines — Summer is officially open. And despite Pagasa’s (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) report that it’s a wet summer this year, it remains the season when the young and young-at-heart yearn to go on vacation. People are itching to feel for the nth time, if not for the first, why it’s more fun in the Philippines.
Mt. Apo, the majestic 9,692-foot mountain, is definitely one of the best summer getaways that also offer one of the perfect summer activities that is trekking. The country’s tallest mountain that has survived environmental destruction, a home to more than 272 bird species and the world’s largest eagles is also home to surviving underage porters — as young as 10-year olds — who carry the heavy packs of local and foreign tourists alike in exchange for a modest fee.
“Igo ra pud (ang kita), malimtan nalang man ang kalisod ug kakapoy, (The income could pass to compensate my hard work. The hardship and exhaustion will just pass, anyway),” a smiling Ron said.
Fifteen-year old Ron earns PHP 350 (USD 8.09) for a day’s work. Porters like him load their packs with stuffs that weigh approximately 25-30 kilos. They carry tents, canned goods and 10 kilos of rice among other things. Aside from this, they also cook, fetch water and do other chores for the individual or group who hired them.
Porters here have common physical features despite their ages ranging from 10 to late 20s. They have typical built, height, calloused hands and feet and rough textures of scorched skin.
Porters are said the backbone of most climbing expeditions all over the world. The agile, dedicated and hardworking people, primarily from local communities, ferry massive loads of gear and supplies on their backs. They know where the crevasses and ravines are, where to locate water source, when to move and when to rest. They are the unsung heroes of high-altitude mountaineering. Without their labor, many camp sites would never be established and many summits would never be conquered.
Ron says kids like him always anticipate this season for added income. Kids, tinier and perhaps feebler than him, will definitely earn as anyone who climbs Mt. Apo, either for the first or several times, will hire a porter or two. Hiring a porter is a requirement for the first-timers while it is optional for the experienced mountaineers. Ron was hired by a group of 15.
Ron, a Bagobo, says he was only 13 years old when he started porting for tourists and mountaineers. Gaunt as he may seem, he used to carry a minimum of 15 kilos of loads. Now, he carries almost twice as much.
During the uphill climb, he endures the piercing cold (up to 2°C) with only a thin sweater on. He bears the scorching heat of the sun. And he doesn’t complain of hunger. Looking fragile with his tiny calloused hands and soles, Ron carries the overloaded backpacks of the fit and overdressed mountaineers for a very small amount.
Ron practically grew in the hills of Kidapawan. As a child, he spent most of his time looking after his younger siblings and helping farm his family’s parcel of land which his parents inherited from their forefathers. He had gone to school which is several hours away — by foot — from their home. But he only finished fifth grade as he was forced to stop when his parents can no longer afford to send him to school. They have to prioritize their most basic needs.
He says his family doesn’t earn much from farming that’s why he always looks forward to work as a porter on climbing seasons. With this, he could earn additional income for their daily needs.
After finishing his duty as a porter for the group of 15, Ron rested for a few hours with them and then politely asked to leave. He said he has another porting service. When asked if he’s not tired, his words reveal his optimism despite his weary eyes, “Wala na, ma’am. Nakapahulay naman. Wa man gani gikapoy ang bukid, ma’am. (Not anymore, ma’am. I’ve had enough rest already. Even the mountain never tires, ma’am),” (Rawi June Amaga-Morandante/davaotoday.