Leave No Trace - as a mountaineer, we always hear those three words; the principle that bound all outdoor enthusiasts to preserve nature. We are always reminded that in the place we travel to, we must take nothing but only pictures, we must kill none but only time, and must leave nothing but footprints. But more than the footprints and more than leaving no trace at all, what if we leave a meaningful mark to the community we visit?

When a group of photographers and outdoor enthusiasts decided to climb Mt. Pulag last June 3, 2017  it was definitely with a purpose. Bringing their cameras and printing machines, they plan to reach the far flung schools in the Cordillera mountains and provide the students their school ID for this coming school year. I was lucky enough to be invited and join Juan Portrait's 4th and biggest Brigada Eskwela project.

Some of the finished school ID for Mt. Pulag Elementary School

Our group met at Eton Centris one early Friday morning, at around 3:00 AM. There were seven of us driving up to Kabayan, Benguet to meet the other peeps that will join our team. We traversed the highways heading to Kabayan and after a total of 8 hours in the road, I finally saw Babalak Ranger Station, a familiar site that signaled us that we already reached the jump-off point of Mt.Pulag. After having a hefty brunch, we headed to the place we will call home for the weekend - Baban's Homestay. The last time  I was here it was a few years back, the place got bigger, but still able to preserve its humble homey feeling. We laid our bags in our each assigned rooms, relaxed for a few minutes before we decided to plan the activities for tomorrow.

Courageous JP volunteers. "Jus Belib" is their mantra, hoping the best outcome from an unlikely situation.  Appropriate as they take hard routes and trails just to give back to the children of Benguet. Photo from Juan Portrait (c)

This is the fourth time that Juan Portrait visited Benguet to take pictures and provide the students of Mt. Pulag Elementray School their school ID. This year, with almost 40 volunteers participating, they are planning to go bigger, visiting other schools within the vicinity of Mt. Pulag: Line 10 Elementary School, Lebeng Elementary School, Abucot Elementary School and the schools that are assigned to our team: Lusod and Awing Elementary Schools.

Lusod Elementary School. This humble school is situated within the mountains of Benguet. Photo from Nina Beltran (c)

Early morning the next day, a group of habal-habal drivers were already waiting for us outside Baban's Homestay. They were the only means of transportation for us to reach Lusod Elementary School. We rode aboard their two-wheeled vehicle and grasped for our lives, as we drove up and down an off-road track leading to the secluded sitio of Lusod. It was the longest motorcycle ride I had in my whole life, a total of four hours back and forth, and most likely the scariest ride as well. Come to think of it, I would never ride a habal-habal  in Manila. In a addition to the fact that they are illegal, I have a fear of going toe to toe with humongous buses flying by EDSA; but here I am, grabbing for my life as I ride without helmet and literally harnessed myself to the habal-habal driver to keep me from falling immeasurable heights from both sides of the mountain ridges. Luckily, from time to time we have to take a short break and let the motor recuperate from the strains of carrying two passengers along the most treacherous trails it has taken. It was also a great way for us to slow down and enjoy the view on these trails. The view going to Lusod is amazingly beautiful, farmlands on mountain terraces, mossy forest, and pine trees; they were an easy picturesque, but I am unable to to grab the shutter of  my camera while literally holding for my life.

A two-hour habal-habal ride from Kabayan to Sitio Lusod. Photo from Nina Beltran (c)

When we reached Lusod, a number of queries raised from my mind out of curiosity. How far are we from Baban's Homestay? To get here, we need to drive down Benguet, pass by Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao and back up to Bokod. Is this the only school they got in this place?  The whole sitio including its humble school is situated within the mountains of Benguet. Technically there are no other means of way to reach this place but to take a habal-habal ride.What would the students transitioning to high school do after their school year? During our stay here I am unable to saw or heard a school that caters to secondary level. This concerns me a bit, thinking that a much better education is out of reach from this small sitio. Is the government able to reach this place? I highly doubt; in addition to the good learning materials and computer that they already have, we learned that like the school ID's we are providing, all of them are from donations.

Juan Portrait's Ley (left) taking photo of a grade 1 student from Lusod

The faculty of Lusod Elementary School told us that students from the nearby Awing (with only 9 enrollees) will go to Lusod to have their photos taken here. We also learned that this is the very first school ID their students will own in their lifetime. This gave this mission a much higher meaning for me. I would assist kids to stand up in front of a white cloth, holding a piece of chalkboard with their names and grade level written on it. I advised them to smile as I count form one to three, but most from them I got nothing but blank stares. I wondered how I will crack a smile on their faces. After clicking the shutter of my camera, I turned the dial to review and showed an 11 year-old girl her photo. I was not failed, after seeing her face in the screen of my camera, she burst a grin, exposing the white green-stained teeth hidden in her rosy red cheeks. Then I told her, "One more", and on the next photo she showed me a beautiful smile.

Grade 1 student from Awing before showing his photo
JP's Sarah (right) can't get enough of this kid's cute smile after showing his photo
After taking photos of around 60 students, we promised to directly hand them over their first ever school ID. We returned to Kabayan and headed to Mt. Pulag Elementary School to meet the other Juan Portait Peeps (JPeeps) who were assigned to take photos from the other nearby schools. As much as our tiring body wanted to rest, there were still more tasks needed to be done. We helped on the production of the school ID, from printing, cutting, laminating up to the attachment of lanyards. I noticed how everyone, meeting each other for the first or second time working together to achieve one goal.

There were already a couple of times that Divine (center) and Ley invited me to join their outreach program, but was only able to do so last June; it was an experience worth doing again and again.

It was almost dark when we returned to Baban's Homestay, in here I witnessed a better picture of the well knitted camaraderie of the volunteers. Every one were busy, some finishing up the production of IDs, the kitchen crew preparing the meals for the whole team, others tidying up their gears and bags before heading to their respective rooms, and some chatting around sharing laughter, getting to know each other and exchanging stories of their recent adventures in their assigned schools. The last day was no difference, everyone were arranging their bags and getting ready to go home. It feels like a summer camp with everyone saying farewells, taking souvenir pictures, and promising each other they'll return and see each other next year.

Sunday morning. A thanksgiving climb to Mt. Pulag for a successful Brigada

It amazes me to see common city dwellers like me able to make a big difference in our own small way. To some, photography is a serious passion they pursue, and to others, a hobby that they enjoy during free time, but either way our passion and hobbies were turned into a purpose driven act in making a big impact to these students. If we think of it, to most of us a simple as a school ID is something that we took for granted during our school years, but to them it is a gift to be known, to officially identify themselves as learners; I am very grateful to be part of giving them these gifts and that is a mark [more than the footprints] I am willing to leave to this community I recently visited.

Team Lusod: (L-R) Ley, Divine, Sarah, Nina, Meryl. Photo from Nina Beltran (c). Insert Zee (kitchen crew) and Kuya Manny (transportation). 

Note: Some of the photos featured in this post are from Dr. Nina Beltran and Juan Portrait.


Conveniently located 3 to 4 hours away from Manila is another coastal town in Quezon that is facing the Pacific Ocean.  In certain months or season, the tides in this eastern tip of Southern Luzon swell up to heights that are perfect for surfing. We are talking about Real, Quezon.

The Pacific Recreation Kamp or The PaRK is one of the resort in the beachfront of Real. The whole area is a camping ground over a bed of soft grass and shaded trees, perfect for pitching tents and hanging hammocks. There are also open cottages and tables for rent, a communal C.R. and shower to make the camping trip more easier. There is also a sari-sari store that can cater all your basic needs, they also sell breakfast meal, grilled hotdogs, and saba con yelo all day.

The sari-sari store that caters to all your basic needs.

Restocking for supplies is easy as the nearest market is just a few minutes drive from the PaRK. There are tricycle driver just in front of the resort (near the sari-sari store) that you can ask to bring you to the market or the further town proper. Fresh stocks of seafood are being sold in the market; they offer the usual fish and squid to a more unusual type of fish (something I forgot the name of).

Campground over a bed of soft green grass.

Getting here is easy since there are buses (Raymond Transit) directly bound to Real stationed at Sampaloc, Manila. On the other hand, private transport can easily take the Manila East road down to Real Quezon. The roads are established and well lit, but extra caution is needed since there are a lot of blind curves along the way. The travel includes a scenic view of the Sierra Madre ranges and Laguna lake.

We, coming form Cavite, entered SLEX via MCX, took the Calamba exit and traveled to Pagsanjan and to Real Quezon, same travel time of 3 to 4 hours. We also advise that 4:00 AM would be the perfect time to leave to be able to get to  Real early in the morning.

Mini half pipe / skate park.

There are a lot activities that can be done here, in addition to just beach bumming. Surfboard, skimboards, and paddle boards can be rented. There is also a mini skate park for the experienced and thrill seeker wishing to try it.

Usual rates

Additional Information:

1. Surfboard Rental

  • P200 per hour
  • P500 half day

2. A beach house can be rented

  • P7,000 whole house
  • P1200 non airconditioned room
3. Raymond Transit has 24 hours available buses bound to Real. Fare is around P200.

4. Sari-sari store is only open up until P10:00 PM

5. The PaRK usually have a lights out rule at 11:00 PM. But they allow small talks beyond time and just be mindful of other campers.

6. ATM machine is only available in Real Town Proper, look for Racquel Pawnshop near the market.


30 seconds is not enough to show how amazing the experience was. We're extending our Get Lost series to a full minute for this one.


Here is our Itinerary for Ampucao Ridge a.k.a. Mt. Ulap.

0900 PM - Assembly at Victory Liner Pasay Terminal
01000 PM - ETD Manila to Baguio

0500 AM - ETA Baguio City. Early breakfast
0700 AM - ETD to Baguio Central Mall. Look for jeep heading to Ampucao
0800 AM - Departure to Ampucao
0900 AM - Arrival at Ampucao. Register.
0930 AM - Start trek
1130 PM - Lunch at Ambanaio Paoay Peak (Stonehenge)
1200 PM - Resume trek
0200 PM - Arrival at Gungal Rock, Photo Op.
0300 PM - Arrival at Campsite. Set up Camp
0400 PM - Summit. Watch sunset
0430 PM - Descend back to capmsite
0600 PM - Dinner. Socials

0530 AM - Wake up Call. Sunrise viewing
0630 AM - Breakfast. Breakcamp
0700 AM - Start descent
0800 AM - ETA Burial Cave
1000 AM - Back at Sta. Fe exit
1100 AM - ETD to Baguio. Lunch
0100 PM -       ETD Baguio to Manila


RT fare Baguio to Manila - P 900 pax (P450 one way Airconditoned Bus)
RT Baguio to Ampucao - P 100 pax
Overnight Guide Fee - P 800 / 10pax (P 400 per day)
Registration - P 100 pax
Camping Fee - P 500 / 10pax
Shower - P 20 pax
Food contribution  P 150
TOTAL = P 1400

If you want a hassle free trip we also recommend the service of Mt. Pulag Edelweiss Tour; they also do Mt. Ulap tour. You may contact them at 09107987005 or 09303631218 for their affordable rates.


It was afternoon when we reached Baguio City, a few more hours and the night stars will start to show up. The weather is colder than usual due to the recent downpour. We alight from the bus we considered our temporary shelter during the 7 hour travel; there was already the usual crowd waiting at the terminal offering guest house for rent and souvenirs for sale.

From the terminal, we traveled to Erickson's place to stay for the night and head to Ampucao the next day. We took our dinner at Good Taste Restaurant near Burnham Park before calling it a day. We prepared everything we need for our overnight trek to the famous Mt. Ulap tomorrow.

The next day, we head to Baguio City market where we heard there are jeeps that could take us to Ampucao for P50 each. The bus terminal is just across the market besides Baguio Center Mall. In the terminal, you can easily ask locals where is the jeep heading to Ampucao. Travel time is around 40 to 60 minutes.

The registration area in Ampucao is near the basketball court. It can be easily identified as there are tarpaulin hanged on the walls, and most people who is planning to climb Mt. Ulap is either resting or preparing for their climb.

We paid the necessary registration fee, and we were assigned with two guides. We did our last minute packing before we start our trek.

Our climb started out good, the weather is not that hot but not yet raining. Although we were already expecting that during the climb or on the camp it will start to rain again. Ampucao Ridge easily became our favorite hike as we are surprised with the beautiful scenery every stop on our way. It was like a well laid show by mother nature. The fog is covering the area, and when we stop to rest, there will be a clearing to show you it's green, lush mountain, pine trees, rock formations and many more. After a few minutes of adoring the place, the fog will cover the scene again as if mother nature is saying "move on, there are more I want you to see".

When we reach camp it was the most beautiful thing to see, it was only us who'll be staying for the night. Our guide explained that the usual weekend would have the whole camp site covered with tents and people, but that day was an exemption.

Just right after we pitched our tent it started to rain, but the rain progresses from a drizzle into a full downpour slowly while the sun is slowly setting and bidding goodbye. One of the best sunset I've witnessed during a rain.

The campsite

The evening was a bit playful as the rain did not stop until we finish our dinner, but luckily we had a great sleep the whole evening.

The next day, the weather is much better, we continue our traverse down Ampucao ridge into a different path.

The summit of Mt. Ulap

A couple of hours and a familiar scenario of small halo halo store resides at Sante Fe, signaling that our trek is almost over.

We continued to embark down the trail as it progress into a small community and the  climb was officially completed. Some of us took a bath before heading to Baguio, while most decided to return to Bagiuo and just freshen up there.

Gungal Rock

You don't have to worry about transportation heading back to Baguio as there is always a jeep waiting at Santa Fe. From here the jeep brought us to the nearest Good Taste Restaurant in Baguio for another hefty late lunch.

We returned to Erickson's place to freshen up. Some decided to roam around Baguio more while some decide to rest and wait for the bus back to Manila.

Itinerary and budget to follow.