That would probably be a non-issue if I did it in a country with a cooler climate, where eggs don’t fry on the pavement in the summer, and where the sun is at least 90 million miles away instead of just next door.
But I climbed this (small) mountain in the Philippines, which is a breathtakingly beautiful country, but also where, in the summer, the sun likes to match the islands’ beauty point by point in heat. Nevertheless, we forged on. We were on the island of Sibale, in Romblon province, at the heart of the Philippines.
Based on how our group had to stop and catch our breath after climbing about 15 steps to get to the forest trail, I placed our collective fitness level at .2 percent. But there was a ray of hope: beside me was a local man in jeans. I figured things were looking good and easy if this guy thought jeans would be the appropriate outfit for the day. So I walked on, encouraged.
We reached the end of the cemented path and went on into the forest trail. All throughout, we had to scramble over huge rocks and duck under low tree branches that decided to cross over to the other side of the path. Our chattering and jokes gradually faded away until the only sounds I could hear were crickets and the crunch of dead leaves under our feet. Being surrounded by nature does that to people, I’ve observed. Trees and mountains, oceans and rivers have a way of working themselves into your soul and the only choice you have is to quiet down and listen.
Some parts of the way were awash with the noon sun. Walking through those hot patches that stretched about 10 feet at a time became increasingly difficult as the path wore on. At several points, I was so close to saying, “You guys go ahead. I’ll just wait for you here.” What kept me going was the shame of bowing out ahead of the guy in jeans. I thought, if he can defy the heat in his denims, I can, too.
Sweat dripped from me as if I were standing under a shower. It even dripped from my fingertips, which had never happened before. It was briefly fascinating. The only thing that stayed sweat-free was my black dry-fit t-shirt. (So they do work.)
Finally, we reached the end of the trail. Approaching it, I could see the rich aquamarine sea through the trees. It was sparkling, as if calling out, “Jump in, jump in!” There was nothing I could do but stare at its majesty. That was all anyone could do.
At the tip of the trail-end was a grotto bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary. It faced out to the sea. The locals built it that way, they explained, so that Mary would protect the island from all coming danger, and also to greet visitors and send off travelers with a shower of blessings.
I like to think that I fell under that shower. See, in usual cases, the same amount of effort that I put in on that trek would have landed me in bed for at least half a day, gasping for breath. But on that day, there was none of that. Sure, I was tired. But I wasn’t close-to-death tired, which I would sometimes get in the city.
So that night, I drank to the beauty of life, the wonder of the unknown, and the power of faith.