escape from the kids
It took us a couple of weeks to recover from our kids’ antics in Japan. Once we did, an irrepressible desire to get away, even for half a day, set in. We revisited our list of hiking destinations in the Philippines, made dinner and massage reservations at a nearby hotel, arranged for childcare, and hit the road for a day trip outing without the kids. Our destination: Mt. Maculot, an hour-and-a-half south of Manila.
D had initially suggested spending the day at nearby Makiling Forest Reserve, which he had read was a prime birding destination. The photos of Makiling looked beautiful — a lush, dense forest covering the rolling slopes of the eponymous mountain — but, despite its proximity to Manila, Makiling did not feature in any travel blogs or tour guides S had perused, which gave her pause. We did a little more online research and the reason why this apparent hidden gem remains off the beaten path became readily apparent. Makiling is one of a handful of Philippine mountains to be infested with the limatik.
No bigger than a fingernail, these creatures are truly terrifying. Limatik are blood leeches — parasitic worms that have been know to burrow through clothing to latch onto their victims. In addition to causing itching and irritation, a limatik also secretes an anticoagulant when it latches on. Not only does this ensure a continuous flow of blood for the parasite to gorge on, but also it means that even once the limatik lets go or is removed the wound keeps bleeding. Worst of all, limatik tend to prefer soft tissue — eyes and ears, especially — and because they are small and hard to detect, they frequently succeed in their aim.
The internet abounds with photos of bloody eyeballs, squirmy leeches clutching hikers’ corneas with their tiny jaws. If one is unfortunate enough to let a limatik get in one’s eye, which apparently happens with frightening regularity, there’s not much recourse: the limatik itself won’t cause lasting damage, but pulling off the leech mid-bite will. None of the remedies that help get limatiks off one’s skin — such as alcohol or chemical products — can be applied to the eye. The only thing to do is wait for the parasite to suck its fill and then fall off on its own. The mental image of blood-sucking leeches dangling from our eyeballs was a strong deterrent. We took a hard pass on Makiling and went to Maculot instead.
Straddling two provinces, Mt. Maculot offers spectacular views of Lake Taal. It also proved a rewardingly challenging hike, especially in the rain that greeted us unexpectedly on arrival. It drizzled at first, the raindrops barely penetrating the canopy; then the rain picked up in earnest. We stopped for some delicious lumpia and buco juice at a makeshift snack stand in the woods. We also bummed a rice sack from the friendly vendor to keep our camera dry.
It took us a couple of hours to ascend the rain-slicked trail that led to the Rockies — a false summit with panoramic vistas of Laguna and Batangas provinces. The trail is so steep and the clayey soil so slippery that ropes have been strung up the mountainside to assist hikers in navigating the forested path. Even with good footwear we found ourselves slip-sliding all over the place. Fortunately the rain clouds parted shortly before we reached the Rockies.
The actual summit of Maculot would have required another hour to reach, and beyond the summit lay a traverse to the Grotto that would have taken several hours more. We decided to save those for another day: several hours of wet, difficult hiking was enough for this outing, especially given our evening plans back in Manila. Now that we know about the limatik, we’ll steer clear of Makiling and the other peaks that pose a similar danger. Maculot, on the other hand, is a hike worth doing more than once.