They go quietly at night scaling walls and rooftops. You don’t notice them, you don’t hear them. You’ll only see them after they’ve posted their daring stunts on their social media accounts. From where they stand, the world below looks so bright and large, but at the same time so tiny yet otherworldly.
These urban explorers have found a new way to appreciate the beauty of this sometimes sad, beat, downtrodden and jaded city. And they have nothing but their courage, a strong grip in their hands, and balls of steel to help them climb to the top.
Meet three urban explorers who are card-carrying members of a tribe that's growing in strength and numbers: Karl Bautista, Benjo Cabarroguis, and James Viado. Know their stories and be inspired. Be spurred to join them or live vicariously through their buwis-buhay stunts—either way, it’s an adventure you wouldn’t want to miss.
Why do you scale high buildings, risking your life for a good view?
Karl: I do it for the thrill. It’s like a mini adventure and you get a different sort of high when you're on top of buildings. Plus, it’s a lot more quiet up there.
Benjo: It started as a cure for my depression; I felt I could meditate better there. Now I do it for work, for and with friends, to inspire others, and to live part of this life to the fullest.
James: It's an escape and distraction from the negativity of life.
What lured you into this activity?
K: Parkour was a main factor, but not everyone needs parkour skills to start this. Although being able to lift yourself up onto platforms and jump over obstacles like small gaps is a plus. It was actually because of my friend Benjo and other adventure-crazy guys that I got into climbing. We have a small group called Black Lotus. We're just a bunch of weird people with weird hobbies that involve risky challenges.
B: My friend took me with him on one of his explorations. It was one of those dark days for me, and he shed a lot of light into my mind. I was, you could say, saved.
J: My friend has a friend who has access to a rooftop in BGC. Kinapalan ko mukha ko kahit kaka-meet lang namin nung friend ng friend ko para paakyatin kami sa building! (laughs)
What was your first experience like?
K: It was mental! At first, I enjoyed the view from the middle of the rooftop, avoiding the edges. After a few photos, my friend then told me to sit on the ledge. That’s where you question yourself, question whether you can do it or not. Anyone can sit down and sway their legs anywhere, but put a 120 meter drop under your feet and your body starts to get heavier with every step. After a few heavy breaths, a clear mind, and a let's-do-this mentality, I was able to sit down and conquer my fear of heights.
B: Remember how, when you were younger and you and your friends rode bikes and decided to explore places and find out what your mind and bodies could do given a certain obstacle, you'd do everything you could to feed your curiosity and sense of exploration? That was a very pure, nostalgic, and beautiful feeling that I didn't want to forget or let go of.
J: Surreal. Ibang klase. Takot ako sa heights pero once you're there, excitement exceeds your fear kaya kahit takot ako sa heights, nagawa kong umupo sa edge ng building!
'Not everyone needs parkour skills to start this. Although being able to lift yourself up onto platforms and jump over obstacles like small gaps is a plus'
What's your favorite part about it?
K: It's the climb. Seriously, sometimes we'd have to walk 50 or more flights of stairs to get to the top and other times we'd walk over Ibeams and scaffoldings, but it’s traversing through all these that makes the experience worthwhile. But once at the top, you'll feel fulfilled, far away from city life. It really feels like a mini vacation where you can just breathe and stare at the sky and leave your worries on the ground floor.
B: The meditation—where the universe and I would converse in a language only we know. I would always get down from the building learning a new life lesson.
J: Cityscape, city lights, tsaka nakakalimutan mo lahat ng problema sa buhay when you're in that specific moment. Wag ka lang magpatugtog ng emo habang nasa edge baka mapatalon ka bigla!
What's your most memorable climb so far?
K: It was a building under construction. We planned to go in the middle of the night to attract less attention. But while we were climbing up, things got a lot more difficult than we expected—workers were still up, security and maintenance crew were roaming around. We almost gave up. I swear it felt like we were in a videogame—avoiding the lights, hiding in dark corners, and making our footsteps as quiet as we could. The difficulty just increased as we climbed higher and higher. Then we saw the breathtaking view at the top—a 360 view of one of the cities in Metro Manila. We stayed there for a while just to make the most out of our trip.
B: A building somewhere in Ortigas. I was with a dear friend. We talked about death, mortality, the afterlife and how life is actually beautiful.
J: It was my third climb, where I sat on the edge of the building. The shot was taken by my awesome friend, Benjo Cabarro!
What's on your rooftop-climbing bucketlist?
K: My friends have been inviting me to climb a crane. A building by the bay or a crane in the pier would be pretty awesome, too. We seldom climb while the sun is out, but when we do, watching the sun set on the horizon is one of the best views you could get of any city.
B: I've got one building left on my list. I'm already working on it. It's a secret for now.
J: I want to climb a crane and if possible, I also want to fly my drone while I'm on a crane. But maybe not so soon. I still have to overcome my fear of heights. Bumabalik-balik eh.
Would you recommend this to others?
K: Yes and no. It depends. I'd recommend it to people who want to take a risk.
B: As long as they accept the risks (injuries, death), then go for it! I, however, waive myself and won't be responsible for their actions. Climb responsibly and at your own risk.
'I've got one building left on my list. I'm already working on it. It's a secret for now'
What tips would you give to wannabe rooftop climbers?
K: Just do it! This activity can get mental and physically challenging, but it doesn’t require years of practice or special skills. They just need to trust themselves and have a few seconds of courage to live on the edge. And if they're not ready for that, maybe they could take up parkour to slowly progress and learn that they are more capable than they think.
B: Go to the building's admin, get or buy a permit. Don't do it for the fame, likes, and shares. I've climbed with a few people who fell into the social media sinkhole and it got into their heads.
J: Take it easy. One building at a time lang! GPS dapat pag takot ka sa heights... Gapang Para Safe!
Word of caution: FHM does not encourage the climbing and scaling of buildings without proper permits.