Real People: Mel Beluan

Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually met Mel, though we have a lot in common. If somebody made a Venn diagram of writing, healthcare, and advertising circles, we’d be occupying slightly different corners of the same intersection. Oh, and UP. What we don’t have in common is mountains: he’s climbed so many and I’ve…not. (I’m a loser.) But that’s why I’m so excited to feature him here. I’ve learned a lot from reading about his adventures and I know you will too. Make sure to check out how he funds his travels. The best way to save money is to not spend it; live simply, or as Mel often says: “Eliminate want.”

Ascent to Mt. Apo’s summit using the so-called “direct ascent” route. Photo by Eric Gavino.


Mel M. Beluan

I edit a newspaper for doctors, create content for ad materials, and practice medicine.

Traveling for me is enjoying the wild outdoors — in particular, nature-trekking, which in our country usually involves climbing mountains. Trekking is a balance between plans and impulses, because, hey, why not? Whatever the case may be, I fund my treks with my savings, but mostly I fund them by almost exclusively nature-trekking.

I don’t invest in cars, cameras, iPhones, condos, fancy shoes, J.CO donuts, etc. I’m not fond of restos, bars, and hotels. I eat in carenderias. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. I don’t smoke. I don’t have a family of my own. I buy secondhand. I DIY. I commute (or sometimes I say I “commuteer”). I don’t have a credit card. I try to live simple and cheap. I have zero debt.

Now that’s a whole lot of travel funding tips for you. (In my case, they are family health funding tips as well, since my father is sick.) I’m not enforcing on myself a certain lifestyle. It’s just my nature. I like to think I have this Zen-like mental kit I’m equipped with.

Anyway, I’m not bashing people who love cars, go semi-annually to Boracay, or upgrade their iPhones, but the wild outdoors is way, way cheaper. You need to initially invest in a backpack, a jacket, a sleep sack, etc., but a lot can be bought cheap online and local, and DIY’d if you are resourceful. My trekking shoes are cheap, mod’ed, and recycled. You don’t have to do everything that I usually do, but what I do may give you an idea.

Mount Napulauan in Benguet, with ascent from the Municipality of Hungduan and descent to Hapao, comprising a so-called mountain traverse.

Tip: It’s extremely cold up there, but not as cold as Mt. Pulag. Ask about landslides along the trip to the trailhead (where you start the trek) and back; they’re common in the rainy season. The mossy forest part of the trek was the prettiest in my trekking experience; photo shoots will surely slow you down there. At the summit, there might be a sea of clouds with the sun or the moon hovering above, similar to the one on Mt. Pulag. Both ascent and descent are difficult. The descent is super torture to the knees. Try less difficult mountains first, as this traverse is informally rated 7 out of 9 in difficulty. Go there in a group in order to save.

Mossy forest section of the climb to Mt. Napulauan’s summit. Photo by Karen Escalante.


Mt. Mantalingajan in Palawan, said to be the most difficult mountain in MIMAROPA’s so-called Knife Edge Trilogy. I already climbed the other two in this trilogy, Mts. Halcon and Guiting-guiting (G2). These mountains are rated 9 out of 9 in difficulty. The phrase “knife edge” refers to the so-called blade-thin, steep ridge of a trail that one has to negotiate in order to reach the summit. All three mountains share this feature.

Knife edge on Mt. G2. © Mel Beluan
Knife edge on Mt. G2. Photo by Maynard Orrey.


Mt. Kanlaon, Mt.Talomo-Mt. Apo traverse, Mt. Dulang-dulang and the Kitanglad mountain range, Kibungan circuit, Bakun trilogy… wait, Mt. Everest?! Isn’t a climbing bucket list anathema to a Zen mindset?



There are several faves based on different criteria. I love Mt. G2 in Romblon for its difficulty and other-worldly terrain of shards of rock. Photos of such need no filters or post-production. The climb was also memorable because a lot of things aligned for me: bad weather, not being physically fit, my shoes detaching from their soles, my busted headlamp, etc. The climb requires mental and physical toughness. Never miss having a shoot at Mayo’s peak, with the “knife edge” in the background. Climb in the summer.

Ascent to Mt. G2’s summit, before the kiss-the-wall section of the hike. © Mel Beluan
Ascent to Mt. G2’s summit, before the kiss-the-wall section of the hike. Photo by Elmer Parazo.


None really. The room and service only need to be good enough.

None. The food being served only needs to be clean and familiar.


We have many reasons to travel, or in my case, to trek. People travel to bond, make friends, selfie-shoot, picnic, drink to death, get over an ex, prove a point, etc. While I have no problem with picture-taking, bonding, and the like (in fact, I like them), I consider trekking mostly as a celebration of nature, and of beautiful mornings and health; a form of endurance and exercise; an escape.

Final tips. For newbies, climb easy mountains first. You don’t have to climb difficult mountains. Trekking is not for everyone, and your first trek will decide if trekking is for you. For those few of you who will pursue the outdoors after their first trek, you will be rewarded with adventure not possible with the usual tourist spots. You will soon begin to realize what a lot of your non-mountaineering friends will be missing out in our country.

Prepare physically and mentally. Before the start of the trek, load up on fluids, electrolytes, and carbo. Try to be self-contained and self-reliant with your food, water, shelter, raincoat, first aid kit, etc. Never trek solo. Got a medical condition? Check with your doctor if mountaineering is for you. You can learn more about mountaineering in a basic mountaineering course (BMC).

Don’t make your travel or trekking bucket list too long or else it will stress you out. Do short-term impulses non-bucket-list style but tip the balance toward the sensible long- and medium-term plans and bucket lists. In travels and in life in general, a few impulses here and there mean we can never plan everything long enough, because, so to speak, tomorrow, we die.

By the way, I was an insomniac. My weeks are long 12 months a year. If there is one thing that trekking has helped me, it has probably helped reset my body clock.

Real People: Mel Beluan” was created by Mel Beluan and LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

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