The way to Osmeña Peak

The way through and out of Cebu was all billows of exhausts and screaming hot sun. Then it was blistering heat, children and adults enjoying the novelty of a foreigner on a bicycle foolishly working his way across the country during the day’s middle hours, and fresh coconuts eaten by the roadside. I stopped once for carabao milk on the way to Moalboal, and played catch with a group of Filipinos celebrating a birthday in a swimming pool while a DJ played overly loud dance music in the bar behind us. With my glasses off, and illuminated only by disco lights, I could only just see the ball. But that wasn’t going to stop me!

Somewhere along the way, I saw two teenage boys brandishing their cock(erel)s before them, in advanced position, ready to fight. Cockfights take place on Sundays, at least in Cebu, and possibly in Visayas more generally. Most towns seem to have an arena, but I didn’t get a chance to enter one. I met an American man whose eyes looked like they’d been painted onto his eyelids. They were strangely vivid. And an Argentinian called Bruno, who was pretending to be a cyclist. He had nutcracker thighs bulging like nuclear-powered vessels, a chin like an anvil and aggressively hairy legs. I asked him where his bicycle was. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer but recommended the donuts at a nearby bakery.

Snorkelling in Moalboal, I saw thousands upon thousands of fish in layers and reams, enfolding each other’s swarms like so many murmurations of starlings. There in the depths, perhaps twelve metres below me, was a school of sardines, shimmering silver, a single organism twitching against the dark blue, lines of sunlight raining down on them from the surface. A shark might come and take what it pleased. Tourists certainly do. I saw one plunge herself down to the seabed to wriggle amid the corals, for pictures, footage. The woman who ran the hostel where I stayed said one of her recent guests had seen a whale shark at the drop-off, but mostly we were looking at sardines.

She also told me about the carnage caused by (Super) Typhoon Odette, of which more later.

Oslob seemed like the karaoke capital of the south. All night they carried on. Then it occurred to some of us that whoever had the buttons was playing karaoke, rather than administering it. As in, pre-recorded tracks of people singing, not particularly well, over backing tracks. This bamboozled me. Oslob, where the Freddie Mercurys of the Philippines mix and mingle with the less gifted, Franklins dance with latter-day Dylans. The hottest place on Earth.

Just inland from Moalboal is Osmeña Peak, Cebu’s highest point at 1,013m. It’s in the municipality of Badian, which is also home to the Kawasan Falls, Cebu’s most popular attraction. The view from the top is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, really. It’s almost unbelievably spectacular. The road Google Maps suggests you take to get there, however, is rough. As in: think twice before taking it. But then, probably, take it, because what the hell.

First you cut inland, pretty much perpendicularly, from the coast. The road is steep but in good condition. You climb the first few hundred vertical metres like this, ascending at somewhere between, I don’t know, 5% and 14%, for a few kilometres. These are estimates, based on experience. Maybe the heat added a couple of percentage points: unless you start very early in the morning, the sun will probably be high enough in the sky by the time you’re halfway for steady streams of sweat to be pouring down your face.

When the asphalt gave way to dry earth, I thought the dry earth might take me the rest of the way. At least this track was relatively smooth. But patches of gravel and larger rocks became more frequent and the wide path turned into a narrow mishmash of small boulders and tufts of grass. I passed some workmen working in a small quarry, who told me that the next two kilometres would be difficult going. They looked surprised when I carried on, half walking, half cycling between the walls of high grass.

Five hundred metres later I rearranged some of the weight so as to make it easier to carry the bike up the rougher stretches, but even so, it felt like a pretty stupid undertaking. I couldn’t cycle. I was hauling the bike up large steps of rock in the midday heat. Every time I checked my progress on Google Maps, my little blue location maker seemed barely to have moved. I was drinking a litre of water every half hour. Sweat was dripping off my elbows and forming pools in the various clefts of my body whenever I sat down. The hot wet green of the jungle produced mosquitoes, which dive-bombed around me and made me paranoid about stopping.

I almost turned back, but the gradient of the track and the looseness of the terrain meant it would be almost as hard going down as it was going up. So I shovelled my last handful of peanuts into my mouth and bit the bullet. Eventually I made it out of the jungle and, after a rocky switchback, on which another worked passed me, riding his motorbike as if it was the most normal thing in the world, I found myself back on the asphalt. Less than two miles of loose, steep, stony path it was, but it felt like an endurance challenge. Then, like salt in the wound, there was a long straight road climb at something like 15%. I was zigzagging all over it, trying to get some momentum, but it beat me. I pushed the bike up the last hundred or so metres.

Then you have to actually get to Osmeña Peak, which is another 15km or so south, along the ridge that runs down the island’s centre. Mostly this was fine, although during the final ascent to the trailhead I got caught behind one of those vans selling ice or fish by the kilo or campaigning for some local politician. They drive painfully slowly with a directional loudspeaker blaring at an angle from the rear so that you get the full blast of whatever they’re saying; stop periodically, so that you can just about climb past them; and then inch past you again, to repeat the cycle.

The trek up to Osmeña Peak itself is short – barely 10 minutes, but you’ll have to pay for a guide – and you can camp in the grassy area that surrounds the peak itself for something like 200 pesos. And for my money, the whole stupid shlep was worth it…

In the foreground are karst protrusions more rugged than you’ll find among Bohol’s Chocolate Hills – these, I believe, are an example of kegelkarst, characterised by cockpit areas in between. But the topography of Badian does not conform to any pattern, as Bohol’s postcard landscape seems to. The rock juts out of the ground, forming cliffs, cones and pyramidal hilltops, some blanketed in foliage, others naked and grey. I found myself imagining what it would have been like before all the vegetation had a chance to take root. It would’ve been desolate, apocalyptic. Now, though, under the late afternoon sun, it was magnificent.

Between the peak itself and the sea far below are a few rows of these dark, limestone obstacles. Then there are coastal plains, but these aren’t much flatter. In the distance is the small town of Moalboal, with Zaragosa Island easily visible off shore. The sea glistens. Behind you, the hills give way in similar fashion, although the sea isn’t visible. Still, that’s where the sun rises; depending on the weather, early risers get to experience a morning spectacle.

Standing at the highest point of the long thin island, you enjoy this immense feeling of perspective, of being able to look out and see geography. You can imagine the world around you being created over millions of years. Ask Laura and she’ll tell you how much I love looking at topography. Well, watching the light die over the surrounding peaks, Badian’s lowlands and the Tañon Strait (the sea that separates Cebu and Negros) was one of my favourite topographical experiences.

(If you click ‘Open image in new tab’ on the picture above and zoom in, you should be able to see my little green tent on the far right hand side of the image.)

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One thought on “The way to Osmeña Peak

  1. Hey there, love your blog!
    What an incredible journey you had! Your descriptions of the scenery and experiences are so vivid, I felt like I was right there with you. It’s interesting to learn about different cultural traditions, even if they may not align with our own beliefs. Thank you for sharing your adventure!
    Charlotte 🌿 🌊
    With you from ocean to mountain top ⛰️


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