How Noelle Wenceslao, Janet Belarmino, and Carina Dayondon represented women as mountaineers.
Noelle Wenceslao will always be one of the women who brought pride to the Philippines. She, together with fellow Pinay mountaineers Janet Belarmino and Carina Dayondon, successfully climbed Mount Everest in 2007. Of this, they are regarded as the first Filipinas to climb the earth’s highest mountain above sea level.
Wenceslao was one of the guests during Airbnb’s #WomenInTravel event on February 28. As part of the panel, she recalls their journey and the challenges that came along the way.
She first tells the panel: “The three of us always say that it’s not important to remember who Noelle, Janet, and Carina is. It’s more important for people in this room to know na the first women in Southeast Asia to climb Mt. Everest are Filipinas, and it’s also important to remember that the first women in the entire world to make a traverse on Mount Everest, which is to climb from the north side and descend on the south side. So, we climbed from Tibet and descended into Nepal. The first women in the entire world—and it hasn’t been done since—are also Filipinas.”
While preparing for their expedition, the three women did not know that they would end up representing the different women in society.
She explains, “It was not by our own choice, it’s not on purpose either, [but] Janet ended up representing the mothers, Carina’s the sister, and I’m the daughter.”
Janet Belarmino as the mother
According to Wenceslao, the preparations for their climb started in 2004, with the climb happening in 2007.
A year before the climb, a surprise happened. Wenceslao shares, “So [in] 2006, Janet found herself pregnant. So, she gave birth in December of 2006, and by February of 2007, we were already acclimatizing in Nepal.”
Wenceslao emphasizes how Belarmino had to forego taking care of her young infant to do the climb. “She gave up the chance to breastfeed her baby, she gave birth and then left her baby and didn’t even know if she was gonna come back alive.”
She adds that Belarmino’s husband got really worried. “Her husband was crying to me. He’s this huge dragon boat guy and he was crying because he doesn’t even know if his son will ever meet his mother. That was Janet’s sacrifice as a mother. It wasn’t her own strength that pulled her through, because her husband was courageous enough to let her go not knowing if she was gonna come back.”
Carina Dayondon as the sister
Carina Dayondon represents the sisters, based on the struggles she had to go through and sacrifices she had to do to join the Mount Everest expedition.
Wenceslao narrates, “Carina comes from Bukidnon, a small town in Bukidnon [in a] typical Filipino family—14 brothers and sisters, number four out of 14. So, in the Philippines, what do you expect after graduating College and your number four? You’re sending 10 other siblings to school. So, she graduates college, she’s expected to do—I don’t know—maybe go abroad and do domestic help? Anything to make money to send the 10 siblings to school.”
That was when she was invited to the Everest project. Wenceslao adds, “Mountaineering is her passion and it doesn’t pay. So, she joined the Everest team and we would train and we didn’t get money for this. So, we would borrow money for vitamins and then her, at the same time, she wasn’t sending money home to her siblings; their house was going to be foreclosed. They were gonna lose their house, her siblings couldn’t go to school and what was she trying to do? She was trying to climb Mount Everest. They don’t see the value of that because it’s a hobby, mountaineering is a hobby, that’s what we know of it as.”
Winning the race
It came to a point when Dayondon almost left the group when she realized her family was in dire need.
Wenceslao continues, “Her family felt that she turned her back on them as a sibling because she couldn’t send them to school and she couldn’t even help with the house foreclosure. They [were] gonna lose their home. She talked to our expedition leader and to us, her teammates, and said she’s gonna quit. She was gonna quit because of her family and I have no question about her priorities because family is always important.”
But then, as Wenceslao shares, it seemed that God had the perfect answer for her when Dayondon asked for a sign. “She prayed to God and [said], ‘God, I really don’t want to quit. Give me a sign and tell me if I should stay and continue pursuing my dream of climbing Mount Everest.’ The next adventure race that she joined, she won one million pesos. There’s no clearer sign from God that she should continue. Not all signs are that clear but her signs are very clear.”
Noelle Wenceslao as the daughter
As for Noelle Wenceslao, before pursuing mountaineering, she was a “mama’s girl and a papa’s girl,” being a home buddy for the rest of her school life.
“[I] never left the house and I started sweeping outside the house only to train for Mount Everest. And then, I was also the sickly one, so I always get altitude sickness. And whenever we would be training, I never made it to the summit. I was always at the camp sick. My first successful climb where I made the summit was in Alaska. We climbed Denali, which is the training climb for Mount Everest. I made it and we travelled back to Manila and I was so excited to tell my parents.”
Noelle Wenceslao was very much excited to share the good news to her parents. “Being the mama’s girl, being the family baby, I was calling my mom to pick me up at the airport. I [didn’t] want to wait, I was a bit bratty because I wanted to tell her about my successful climb. I waited at NAIA airport, my mom wouldn’t arrive.”
Unfortunately, something happened that almost crushed her spirit. She narrates, “I got a call from my dad that my mom suffered a stroke on the way to the airport, so I was to follow. I was to take a cab to the hospital, which I did. I took a taxi to the hospital and I didn’t catch her alive. So, that was the hardest part. I was in the Philippines only long enough for her wake and for her funeral and then I had to travel to Nepal for an expedition again.”
Noelle’s father joins her
Noelle Wenceslao’s Nepal expedition was truly hard for her not only because of the loss, but because of her dad. She expounds, “I don’t have 14 brothers and sisters to keep my farther company. I have one sister who’s married and who wasn’t at home. It was just me, my mom and my dad, and then with my mom gone and me off somewhere where I might not come back alive, I can only imagine the emotional darkness my father was in.”
After the Nepal expedition, Wenceslao’s group was about to climb Mount Everest. Before the climb, she had to do something for her father.
She shares, “I took out all my savings. Every single cent, I gave it to my dad and told my dad—my dad is my outdoor influence, he got me to the outdoors and the best way to give back to him was to take him to the Everest base camp. So, I gave him everything I have to go to the basecamp. He didn’t want, he was hesitant. Sabi niya, ‘We can put up a business, sayang.’ That much money can put up a business, maybe a restaurant in Siargao.
“But I told my dad not to use the money for anything responsibly. ‘This could be the last thing that we’ll do together,’ and I wanted to take him to the basecamp, to be there when we come down and to Nepal, I wanted him to be there. So, he took the money and he was at the basecamp, waiting for me.”
The strength of Noelle Wenceslao, Janet Belarmino, and Carina Dayondon
Noelle Wenceslao, Janet Belarmino, and Carina Dayondon have truly embodied women empowerment with their journey to Mount Everest—from the preparations to the tragedies and challenges they’ve been through. This ultimately trained them to become the first Filipinas to climb and the first women in Southeast Asia to traverse Mount Everest.
Wenceslao says, “The way Janet, Carina, and I turned tragedy into something positive speaks of how strong Filipina women and women in general [are]. Our expedition trainer said, if an avalanche buried the three women, Janet would be the only one who will claw her way out and go home to her baby, because the other two are single!
“Carina took her strength for how her family felt that she turned her back on them. I was the baby and I took my strength on how I turned my mother’s passing into something positive with my father and also with my mother.”
Wenceslao ends her story with a touching incident involving her late mother and her journey to Mount Everest.
She shares, “[She was] not physically present [but] I felt that, spiritually, she was able to actually join me. Her friend had a dream and she dreamt of my mom. She asked my mom, ‘What are you doing?’ and she was sitting on a rock. She said, ‘Climbing mount Everest with my daughter.’ That was the night that we were climbing. So, I knew that she was with me.”
Airbnb and women
During the #WomenInTravel event, Airbnb revealed that its host community in the Philippines is its second-largest women-powered Host community in the world after New Zealand. Women make up for two thirds of all Airbnb Hosts in the country—proof that Filipinas are powering the local tourism industry now more than ever.
Hosting has, in fact, provided a significant financial opportunity, with Filipina hosts collectively earning over Php 2.5 billion in 2022!
Airbnb Head of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong, and Taiwan Mich Goh highlights the importance of its women-empowered host community in the Philippines. She says, “Women hosts are playing an increasingly pivotal role in the travel and tourism sector, and especially in the Philippines. We are heartened to see more and more women open their homes to travelers and provide the authentic hospitality that Filipinos are renowned for. As more Pinays step up to lead our host communities and share hosting tips with one another, we remain committed to supporting and growing our Pinay host community and ensuring that their roles in contributing to the industry are recognized.”
Banner Art Paulo Correa