Text and photos by Aries B. Espinosa

TO OUR pleasant surprise, our group not only survived, we found that we enjoyed the entire experience, with some participants (even the non-cyclists) even noticing some unexpected health benefits. It certainly helped that our expert vegan chef Edilberto Villamor of Greenery Kitchen (a quaint restaurant along Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City recently voted by international vegan experts as among the world’s 50 best vegan eats) concocted some of the tastiest Pinoy favorites that he veganized using his tried-and-tested recipes, with Quorn vegan mycoprotein goodies on the side, and the freshest vegetables, fruits and spices bought from the local markets.

By going vegan for a full five days, and using the most frugal yet powerful diesel-propelled vehicles available in the market, our group of 28 people were able to minimize our carbon footprints and our overall impact on the environment. Ultimately, no more innocent blood (this time, the blood of livestock) was needed to be shed for us to conquer the passes. Buckets of sweat, certainly.

We were in sync with Mother Nature for those five days. From the food we ate, and the ingredients we bought (from markets just a few kilometers from our stops) to the vehicles we rode, even to the cooking and kitchen utensils we used (no single-use plastics, all reusable plates and metal mugs), we made sure that our tourism lifestyle was 360-degrees environmentally sustainable, and 100-percent compassionate and cruelty-free. It was a victory for life, and many steps forward towards the conservation of precious resources.

And yes, up here in the mountains, there’s unlimited water, too. Cool, refreshing, life-giving water.

Day 1: Carranglan, Nueva Ecija to Dalton/Balete Pass (elevation 914 meters/3,000 feet), then Aritao, Dupax Del Sur, Bambang, ending in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya (102 km)

Day 2: Bayombong to Solano, to Kiangan in Ifugao (at the Ifugao Museum), back to Lagawe, then on to Banaue, Ifugao (102 km)

Day 3: Banaue, Ifugao to Mt. Polis Peak (elevation 1,895 meters/6,216 feet), to Bontoc, Mountain Province, to Sagada, then Besao, ending in Tadian, Mountain Province (104 km)

Day 4: Tadian to Aluling Bridge, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, to Bessang Pass Shrine (elevation 1,500 meters/4,920 feet), to the towns of Suyo, Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia, and Salcedo, then ending in Gregorio del Pilar (122 km)

Day 5: 4 km trek from GDP town proper up Tirad Pass Shrine (elevation 950 meters/3,120 feet), then trek back down to Gregorio del Pilar, ride bikes to cross Patupec River to Salcedo, then end in Candon City. (8-km trek plus 25-km bike). From Candon City, all participants rode vehicles back to Manila.