Having been born and raised in the city, outdoor activities weren’t really a part of my childhood. Growing up, my parents liked to take us out of the country to experience other iconic cities, their culture and lifestyles. Very rarely would we explore the beauty of our very own nation, an archipelago made up of over 7,000 islands – some of which China is illegally claiming as theirs, destroying coral reefs to construct new islands.
But this isn’t a current affairs piece on international relations and foreign policy. It’s about a how a half-day trek strengthened ‘the sister bond’.
When we were younger, my family spent long weekends (and usually when we’d have guests from overseas), in pretty beaches and resorts for some major R&R – sipping coconuts by the beach, 90-minute massages, pool-time and fresh seafood. I thought that maybe this time my sisters and I could try something different whilst my parents jetted off to Hong Kong in the winter. Instead of lying on our backs barely lifting a finger, maybe we could actually do a bit of work and go hiking. Knowing I’m probably the most physically active of the two, I didn’t want to suggest anything too strenuous and opted for somewhere closer to the city yet still quite scenic: Mount Pinatubo was perfect.
I saw beautiful pictures of this volcano from friends and when I asked my sisters if they were up for it, they were ecstatic. I was most especially surprised when my youngest sister Ella (12 years my junior) had raised her hand to help vet out tour guides and said, “Yay! This is on my bucket list!” Wow, I thought, I’m totally gaining ‘cool sister’ points.
We forced ourselves to sleep by 11 the night before cause we had to leave at 3:30 in the morning to drive northwest of Manila. Mount Pinatubo is actually an active volcano near the tripoint of three Philippine provinces: Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga. It’s famous – or rather infamous – for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991, which made it the second-largest volcanic eruption in this century. Because of this, a wonderful summit lake appeared making it a bit of a tourist attraction.
All the tour packages said the same thing: it starts off with a 4×4 road adventure from the base camp to the jump-off point where the 5km trek to the Crater Lake begins. The whole trek would take around 3-4 hours and we’d be home way before dinner. Easypeasy! We said. And off we were on the much-anticipated bumpy ride!
A few minutes later, our driver stopped and the guide said we couldn’t drive any closer to the base camp. Apparently the strong rain from the night before had made the path impossible to drive in. This meant we had to walk an extra 2km to the base camp to begin the 5km trek. Yeah that’s fine! Woot! We all said in unison, excitedly getting off the 4×4 to start the trek. Within the space of 10 minutes, all of us had managed to slip and fall because of the lahar paths. Quite funny, but deep down I started to question if we could really handle the 7km.
Most of us citydwellers don’t spend a lot of time in green, natural spaces. A lot of studies have been conducted all pointing to the positive effects being in nature has: ie. how it can improve our mental health and decrease brooding and morbid rumination, and chances of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Even taking long walks have great psychological benefits. For me, this hike reignited the ‘sister bond’ that has been somewhat dormant since I moved away.
My sisters and I grew up doing things together and always were around each other even if at some point one was incredibly annoying. There was no such thing as “personal space” and even if we all had our own bedrooms, we always just hung out in one – my bedroom. Together, we always found something to laugh about, even if it was at the expense of the other.
This trek allowed me to be around them again, and play the older sister role I used to play. Herding them to sleep the night before, packing snacks and sandwiches before everyone woke up, helping them get up when they fall and pushing them to the top.
At the same time, it also allowed me to see them in a different way: not as little sisters, or minions, but as two different individuals each with its unique set of quirks. They are Eribelle and Ella, not just Erika’s sisters bundled into one. They aren’t my attachments, they are their own person each capable of doing great things without me.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave the pack and venture the world in search for your own identity, your own voice independent from socially defined values imposed on you. Ironic how in my case, the price of independence and self-discovery was in sacrificing treasured moments of being physically around the very people that matter the most.
It also took me years to stop calling myself names like selfish and ungrateful for pursuing my own path, and going against the grain to come closer to my truth. Eventually I came to the realisation that this was a fundamental part in acknowledging my Self as an individual so I can start truly living, because I am in control.
I guess I wouldn’t have appreciated this if I never left. In many ways, the times we share now become much more precious and meaningful. This was the first hike we did together but certainly not the last. There will always be bigger metaphorical volcanoes to trek and mountains to climb, some of which we will do together, as sisters, but majority we will probably do as individuals. The world is our oyster.