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A Filipina’s tale of Mt. Everest, the seven summits and the Balangay

Take the risk: “The danger of an adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort,” says writer Paulo Coelho.

Philippine Coast Guard’s Carina Dayondon agrees in relation to her journey as the first Filipina to finish the task of climbing the Seven Summits, or the seven highest mountains in seven continents, including Mount Everest.

Carina narrated during her recent guesting in our online show Amigos Marino her 14-year endeavor to summit the world’s tallest mountains that started in 2004 when she was invited to join the Everest Team.

Her amazing report card for the seven summits started with Mt. Denali (6,190 meters) in North America in 2006, followed by Mt. Everest (8,850 meters) in Asia in 2007, Mt. Elbrus (5,642 meters) in Europe in 2013, Mt. Kosciuszko (2,228 meters) in Australia in 2014, Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters) in Africa in 2015, Mt. Aconcagua (6,962 meters) in South America in 2018, and finally Mt. Vinson Massif (4,892 meters) in Antarctica in 2018.

Along with two other Filipinas, Carina’s team was the first Southeast Asian women team to climb Everest and first to scale Everest in traverse. Instead of the usual route, they ascended via Tibet and went down through Nepal.

Being an outdoor person myself, I can relate to her experiences in mountaineering that entails a lot of mental, physical and financial preparations, though I only scaled local mountains like Pulag, Guiting-Guiting, and Banahaw, and portion of Mount Fuji, among others.

Each mountain has its own set of challenges.

Alpine mountains, in particular, were unfamiliar to the typical Filipino body temperature with hazards including inclement weather conditions like extreme cold, dangerous terrain, hidden crevices, extreme heights, altitude sickness while enduring thin air, daily avalanches, loss of appetite, mental disturbances and disorientation.

Sports and outdoor activities, including climbing, were already a part of Carina’s life as she grew up in the sleepy mountainous town of Don Carlos in Bukidnon, the fourth eldest of 14 children.

She has one principle: treat nature with reverence and do not be overconfident by recognizing the limitations.

If one’s body or the weather will not permit it, then better back out of a summit attempt.

“It’s not just mountains. It’s even the sea. You submit to it. If the mountain will not allow you up, then you wait. There’s always another time to go up,” Carina said in an interview.

What is more important, Carina added, is they showed to the Filipinas, the young ones, there’s nothing impossible if one is determined, focused, and if she believes in her dreams.

The sea is also part of Carina’s life as one of the focal person behind Diwata ng Lahi (spirit of lineage), the very first balangay boat replica.

The Balangay is a boat built by joining planks edge-to-edge using pins, dowels, and fiber lashings.

It was first mentioned as balangai or balanghai in the 16th century chronicles of Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta who joined the expedition to the Spice Islands led by explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

Known as the oldest watercraft found in the Philippines, it is evidence of early Filipino craftsmanship and their seamanship skills during pre-colonial times.

The Balangays navigated without the use of modern instruments, and only through the skills and traditional methods of celestial navigation of the ancient Filipino mariners—steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns and bird migrations.

Diwata was later joined by two more Balangay boats namely Masawa Hong Butuan (bright light of Butuan) and Sama Tawi Tawi (original inhabitants of Tawi-Tawi).

The Balangay boats initially journeyed from Manila Bay to the southern tip of Sulu, stopping off at numerous Philippine cities along the way that covered a distance of 2,108 nautical miles or 3,908 kilometers.

On their second major voyage, the Balangay boats sailed to trace Filipino ancestors’ trade and migration routes, throughout Southeast Asia in 2010.

It then sailed to Micronesia and Madagascar the following year, then across the Pacific to the Atlantic and all the way around the world, returning to the Philippines in 2012 to 2013.

Similar to scaling the seven summits, the Balangay team encountered challenges like big waves and inclement weather, specifically 12 low-pressure areas, in navigating an ancient boat to take them to the different ports.

The journey of the Balangay boats has proven the Filipino seafaring prowess.

The 23rd National Seafarers Day in 2018, with the theme “Marinong Filipino: Kayamanan ng Lahi!,” placed emphasis on the voyages of the Balangays that epitomize the strong-willed Filipino mariners.

Carina’s journey is proof that embracing earth’s wonders is in the Filipinos’ DNA—we are naturally attuned to the mountains and waters.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786

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