Mt. Batulao, a famous beauty of a “beginner” climb, is asked to be boycotted by the mountain climbing groups. Curious, I dared to go and find out why.
Mt. Batulao, The Well-Loved Mountain
It’s strange I haven’t climbed Mt. Batulao earlier. After all, its proximity to Manila made it a popular destination for beginner climbers. The hike to the peak of Mt. Batulao is clearly defined by loose soils amid grassy slopes. Some assaults are steep that ropes were installed to aide climbers. And being an open trail, there are not much trees lining up Mt. Batulao, which made the sweltering heat almost a daunting factor.
Multiple stores providing temporary shelter, restrooms and refreshments made climbing Mt. Batulao more comfortable. Too comfortable, to my taste.
From the beginning of the trail, one can already see Mt. Batulao’s beauty characterized by a seemingly sleeping dinosaur’s jagged back. It’s like a reminder to finish the climb no matter how difficult the path ahead is. No wonder Mt. Batulao’s landscape has been well-loved and repeatedly visited by both beginner and experienced climbers.
However, when I invited more people to join our climb, I was surprised to hear repulsive reactions from the mountain climbing community. The #BoycottBatulao movement was started because of dubious organizations and local groups collecting unwarranted registration fees from Mt. Batulao’s many climbers.
Facebook groups and travel blogs echoed the message to discourage treks to Mt. Batulao until the local government implements correct policies that protect climbers from trail extortionists. As much as I am appalled by the Mt. Batulao “scams”, I was curious to find out for myself what the buzz was about. Now here’s what I found:
The Usual Commercialization
The moment we got down the bus, guides and tricycle drivers flocked to us offering their services. Because we were first-timers in Mt. Batulao, we opted to get a tour guide, but we skipped riding the tricycle. Our guide informed us beforehand that there will be a total of PHP 90 collected for three registration points.
There have been reports that getting guides for Mt. Batulao are made compulsory, even for climbers who are very familiar of the trail. The guide fee was also said to have increased to PHP 500 for a maximum of 10 persons, a sum higher than the usual PHP 300 fee for Mt. Batulao. Even the tricycle rides cost PHP 100 for three persons, but only PHP 30 per person — so that riding alone is cheaper than riding with a group.
But the compulsory guide and the guide price hikes for Mt. Batulao are only proposals pending on a barangay-level and have not been approved. Still, we agreed on a PHP 500 fee for our group of six.
Mt. Batulao Toll #1: The Dubious Health Center
The first registration was at a newly constructed Sitio Caybunga, Brgy. Patugo Balayan Health Center. PHP 30 was collected per person. You may think this is cheap, but the typical registration fee for mountain climbing only ranged from zero to PHP 20 per person. Those fees charged are mostly for parts of the trail that are private property, for environmental maintenance, or for the operations of the local groups such as tracking registered climbers for safety.
PHP 30 may not be much for an average person, but collecting that sum from a handful of climbers at Mt. Batulao is huge. This Health Center in particular have termed the compulsory payment as a “Donation”. Our guide said it has only been installed late last year.
Toll #2: The So-Called Tourism Outpost
The next registration point was at The So-Called Tourism Outpost not far from The Dubious Health Center. It has been previously reported to collect PHP 10 per Mt. Batulao climber. But for our group, they did not collect any amount. The old lady manning the registration table even said, “Hindi kami namemera” (We’re not extortionists).
However, another climber we met at the peak said they were collected fees from this booth.
Toll #3: The Anniversary Celebrants (New Trail)
For our hike, we chose to ascend and descend via the shorter but more treacherous New Trail of Mt. Batulao. Upon Trail arriving at Peak 8, a sari-sari store just past the campsite collects PHP 30. I asked what the collection was for, and the local said it’s for the 8th anniversary of the New Trail of Mt. Batulao which is on February 6. There will be a huge feast he said, and he even invited us to it. I’ve never heard anyone celebrating a Trail’s anniversary before.
The Anniversary Celebrants claim to collect the fees at Mt. Batulao year-round. They also claimed to be the first ones to collect fees decades before, and that without them we wouldn’t have an established trail. I found this claim to be The Original Collector unbelievable because the New Trail is of Mt. Batulao, well, new. There are still other groups of collectors at the Old Trail. They proudly said that the local government doesn’t have a hand in these collections.
Toll #4: The Basecamp Collectors (Old Trail)
Had we chosen to traverse to the Old Trail of Mt. Batulao, we would have been collected another set of fees. A so-called “Ligaya Basecamp” pre-Camp 1 of the Old Trail collects PHP 10. At Camp 1 itself, another PHP 20 was collected for a total of PHP 30.
So, if we have been unlucky, our tour guide would be right in saying we would have been collected a total of PHP 90 all in all — way too much for a dayhike at Mt. Batulao.
Collecting a huge sum of money without the local government’s permission is illegal, and plainly covetous. It would have been better if the funds collected went to environmental care for the trail of Mt. Batulao, or to installing new ropes for the assault. But these collectors appear to enjoy the funds only for themselves with zero benefit to Mt. Batulao or its climbers.
This kinds of opportunism may have clouded climbers’ bliss upon setting foot on Mt. Batulao. It also spread a negative word about the mountain, as far as promoting a boycott, when in reality it was people who are at fault. The mountain itself was highly recommended for a rewarding “first climb”.
Is Boycott the Solution?
I think the #BoycottBatulao movement was not successful in terms of discouraging climbs, considering the still-heavy traffic in Mt. Batulao. It did, however, stirred up conversation and generated publicity about those who take advantage of the mountain. Mountain climbers are generally the peace-loving kind. But a lot of them in Mt. Batulao, even foreigners, seem to be aware of the over-charging and have asked questions to the concerning parties.
Opportunism in tourism is a reality not just in Mt. Batulao. But I’d hate for climbers to miss seeing the beauty this mountain. I personally think the better route to resolving the abuses going on in Mt. Batulao is to encourage dialogue between climbers and the local groups. Now that we found that charging of registration fees and forced guideship is based on a non-existent legal mandate, we should climb Mt. Batulao insisting on correct processes and demanding proof from scheming groups. A value that should be instilled to beginner climbers.
After all, such abuses are not only directed to climbers, but also to the mountain itself.
How to commute to Mt. Batulao: From Coastal Mall Bus Terminal, ride a bus going to Nagsugbu. Asked to be taken down at Evercrest (PHP 100), which is the jumpoff point to Mt. Batulao. You can ride a tricycle to the Elementary School (PHP 100 per 3pax or PHP 30 per pax) or opt to walk to Mt. Batulao’s jumpoff point.
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