(Published in Sunstar Davao, January 15, 2006 issue)
The invitation to go on a jungle and river trek came from friend Micmic Villaflor of the Tia Belau newspaper in Palau one Thursday afternoon. I said yes even before she gave me the details (I’m still the same “fly-now ask-later” type of person I was in the Philippines).
I became excited because I thought I already bid goodbye to my outdoor activities in Davao just before I left for this island called the Rainbow’s End. Co-employees Jacky, Celina and Denice delivered me in the company truck (no other car was available at the moment) to the headquarters of the US Air Force in Airai a few miles from Koror State and left me there.
I looked around and was dismayed to see everyone in their proper trekking attire, shoes and backpacks and a supply of drinking water strapped to their bodies. Uh-uh, I was in a light pink shirt, maong pants torn at the knees and rubber sandals. I said to myself they must have been overacting because I’m not new to mountain climbing and there aren’t no high mountains in Palau.
I approached one group of soldiers and introduced myself as a representative of our newspaper. One of the US Air Force captains who was in the midst of tying his shoelaces glanced at my feet and stopped in mid-air.
“Are you going with us in that?” he asked in disbelief, pointing to my sandals.
“I’m afraid so,” I shrugged. He stared at me incredulously as though I said I was going to walk barefoot on live coals. I bought my sandals just before the stores closed the night before at a staggering price of $9.95, the kind I could buy here in Davao for P150 or less.
“You need protection, we can’t take risks,” he replied. I told him I was comfortable in my sandals and I would never feel alright wearing closed shoes as it cuts off the circulation of my blood but he got an extra pair of large socks and insisted that I put them on. Uh-uh. Albeit mumbling I obeyed the captain and the trek began.
I was with soldiers and a handful of females who climbed up the steep slope as though they were walking on level ground. As the only form of exercise I get is in going up and down the eight rungs of stairs to our office everyday, I was panting in no time and was at the rear of the group.
The pathway narrowed when we entered the jungle (don’t get me wrong, there are no real jungles in Palau) and the real challenge began. It was so muddy and I kept falling down as we had to navigate the river for at least three-fourths of the trek. It was getting dark and the sandals gave me trouble as it got entangled in roots and shrubs very easily but I did not say anything. I ended up being at the rear of the group because of the sandals and gave the very same Air Force captain and another Air Force member headache because they had to slower their gait so as not to leave me behind. They were the group “sweepers” after all and were tasked to see that no one gets lost in the forest.
When we reached a deep portion of the river where a waterfalls dropped off, the trekkers were given the chance to either go around it or swim across and fight the strong current, with the aid of a tout rope tied to a tree at the riverbank. I opted for the later (as if I know how to swim!!!) but I was that confident. It turned out that I was the only one who used the lifejacket stationed there.
Anyway my sandals did not let me down, and we (me and my sandals) are going for another trek next month with the same group. This time it’s going to be a moonlight trek, and yes, I’m going to buy my own socks and a replacement as well for the pair I’ve damaged beyond redemption. My apologies to the Captain whose name I forgot to ask…