Friday, May 15, 2009

Kiangan Flashback

This is a cut and paste from a May 8, 2002 blog. The photos were added recently. Made some minor edits before posting.

---start of flashback entry ---

Sappy Travelogue
May 8, 2002

I just had a memorable weekend, and for some reason I cannot find the words to write about it. We went up North and maybe my muse loved it there so much that she decided to stay behind. It’s extremely frustrating because I am wishing I can write about it as well as I have experienced it. Muse, muse, come back wherever you are. Nope, nothing. Still at a loss for words. So I’ll just plunge on and try to describe my weekend. I was able to get some free vacation leaves for Friday and Monday due to 2 instances I had to work Sundays. That meant I had a 4-day weekend to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. Tuks, his sister Yella, his cousin Angie, and I set off for the Northern province of Ifugao in Tuks’ reliable Honda Civic. We left our house past 10 and went to pick up Yella and Angie and we were at the North Expressway by midnight and out of it in more or less an hour. We exited and got into long winding roads of countryside. The three femmes slept most of the way while Tuks drove, something he seems to truly enjoy. We woke up to a breathtaking sunrise, with mountains, hills, and rice fields replacing our daily vista of concrete and steel. The road, lined with trees, stretched towards a horizon. The sky was cast with a pinkish bluish glow. It was refreshing to wake up and know we are out of the city and away from the rat race arena. Our mobile phones inutile as no cell sites were in sight. There was one Kodak moment when we caught the sun peeking out at that point where two mountains overlap. Kind of a cliché photo op, but it was too beautiful to pass up. I asked Tuks to stop the car. I said the word stop about five times but he kept on driving. When he slowed down it was too late. The view was gone and if we drove back the sun would not be in the same place anymore. His excuse for not stopping was that he did not think I was serious about asking him to stop. Sounded like something from a rape trial. I said stop and I meant it. But Tuks, the Vacation Nazi himself, has this race he plays in his mind as if Michael Schumacher and the devil are after him, and the jury of the Guinness Book of Records are waiting at the destination point to clock in his record breaking time. There could be a Mother Mary apparition by the side of the road, or a real, live Elvis Presley sighting by the highway shoulder, or Jennifer Lopez herself in a thong with a sign that says “will f*** for food” and he still won’t stop just to take pictures. It messes up his flight plan or something. I tried to sleep to forget about missing the photo op, and as I woke up Yella realized we were lost and we had to do a U turn. Ironically, the turn we missed was about a kilometer from the photo opp spot. I think Tuks, in his rush to ignore the sun peeping over the mountains scene, stepped on the gas and that’s how we missed a turn. If we had stopped to take that photo we would have been coasting leisurely and we probably would have noticed the little directional sign. And we wouldn’t have lost so much time.

Other than that sour moment with the Vacation Nazi, every other moment went well.
We arrived at the house of our host in time for breakfast, checked in at the Yamashita Shrine, where we were billeted, and headed for the Banaue Rice Terraces.

The Banaue Rice Terraces. We grew up being taught in school that this place was the eighth wonder of the world. As adults we realized that almost every country has its own “eighth wonder”. Call me biased, however, I think this spot is quite deserving of that claim. I will try to post my photos as soon as I can, but you can drop by this site I found through google to get a preview of how amazing this place is. Think Mt. Rushmore in grandeur, but prettier. It is a wonderful example of God and man’s coalition to create monumental art. Think 2,000 years back and how the tribal mountainfolk who created this wonder had to survive against or with the environment. Too far from the sea to subsist on seafood, their mountain slopes too steep for traditional rice fields, the Ifugao folk carved rice terraces following the contours of the mountain, meticulously piled and matched the rocks for reinforcement, used mud to bind the structure, built an ingenious irrigation system, and combined function with art leaving a work of beauty and a source of sustenance for future generations.

Having said all that, I also have to honestly say that it was a bit of a letdown. Modernization has brought about damage to what would otherwise be an awesome piece of nature art. Shanties of corrugated iron and wood scraps speckled the otherwise green and amazing scenery. Time has diminished its beauty, and the artists who created the original are no longer here to care to save it. It is on the list of endangered World Heritage sites and that at least is helpful.

And then we saw Charlie’s Angels. These are the 3 Ifugao women clad in full regalia, faded feathers on their hair, clad in hand woven costumes, standing by the road to have their photos taken with the tourists for a little forced "tip."

Afterwards, we went to the market place to look for local craft and interesting produce. We (meaning Tuks) just spent a small fortune the day before on my car A/C repair so a shopping spree was out of the question. I used all my will power not to buy anything. Okay, so it wasn’t will power. I just did not bring any cash with me. At the end of the market trip, all I bought were two hand woven sashes that I used as a bow to bind the photo album. The photo album turned out so pretty, with pictures (took 5 rolls of film) and illustrations.

We lunched at this hole in the wall place called Las Vegas Inn. Nothing Vegas about it thought. Rustic meets tacky. With a great view of the terraces. We had curry rice; igado, a local meat stew dish; something with lettuce and cucumber they call Israel Salad, which tasted really good; and fried milkfish.

We went back to Kiangan back to the Shrine where we were checked in. Showered. Walked towards the house of the bride, Lenore.

Lenore was a social worker working for the Child Protection Unit where Yella also works. She is a 40ish single mom, and was about to marry Paul, a 50ish American divorcee. They met 20 years ago, as maid of honor and bestman to Lenore’s cousin, and Paul’s brother’s wedding. No sparks, but they met again after 20 years, fell in love, and was about to marry. Their wedding was actually our pretext to having ourselves a grand vacation.
An Ifugao wedding is more than just interesting. It is such a memorable, astounding experience. It is steeped in tradition, and very rich with symbolistic rituals. There are pre-wedding and post-wedding rituals that involve the slaughter of pigs, cows, carabaos and chickens. I do not think I will get into detail with this because it requires much cultural tolerance to appreciate. Some parts are gruesome but we had to respect the cultural differences.

During the eve of the wedding, we were at Lenore’s house. There were some rituals done. We did not understand the dialect used so mainly we just watched. There were gongs playing, dancing, chanting, and lots of ground stomping. Ancestors were called, gods were invoked. Afterward, the priests and the couple, who were forbidden to touch each other, walked to a neighbor’s house to drink rice wine brewed specifically for the occasion. The wine tasted good. We continued to just watch and take photos because the people were conversing in their dialect and we could only guess what they were talking about. Poor groom, of course, was hopelessly lost.

We went back to the house for the highlight of the evening – the “poor piggy should have stayed at home” scene. The main ritual involved the sacrifice of a native pig and the extraction of its liver as an unusual alternative for tea leaves. The chief priest looked at the state of the liver and the bile sack to determine if the union was to be blessed by the gods. The liver seemed to have passed merit, and the shaman foretold that the coupling would be successful and fruitful. Offspring will be many despite them being 40ish and 50ish old already.
The ceremony went on till dawn. Chanting and dancing mostly. But we left right after dinner. Which was merely choked down out of respect. Nothing like witnessing a pig execution to ruin the appetite.

The next morning was the Catholic wedding, which we decided to skip. We instead went to the market where we did not find anything of interest. They were selling city stuff – plastics, fake jeans, etc.

We then drove to Bae, a valley of rice fields and amazing beauty. Nothing, not the photos, not my wordy descriptions can ever do justice for the spectacular sight of rolling fields, and mountains, and wild flowers, and vines, and more rice terraces and the locals doing their farming. It’s just so awesome, so incredibly beautiful it can make an atheist thank God. The road was a single lane concrete path winding over the fields and so you get this feeling that you are rolling in clouds of green. It is just beautiful. Spectacular. Priceless. Again, God and man conspired to draw out ooohs and aaaahs and OMG’s from us gaping, drooling spectators.

We parked the car and walked 283 million steps down a hill. My legs were trembling at the exertion; muscles left dormant struggled to keep up. At the bottom of the steps was a rusty bridge spanning a river. It was summer, and the water was barely ankle high. We followed the river downstream where they said there was a waterfall up ahead. Up ahead might be a short distance to the locals, but for us used to cars, escalators and walkalators, it was quite a walk. There was no clear path so we had to walk on mossy rocks and pebbles, hold on to vines, dip our teva’ed sandals on cool water. I slipped twice, once breaking 3 nails on my right foot. We did not even see the waterfall because getting there seemed too dangerous for our old cranky bones to survive. So we just sat and marveled at the view.

On the way back, we stopped by the bridge. A part of the river was deep enough for swimming and a lot of pre-teen boys were happily playing, diving from the cliff onto the water. We wished we brought a change of clothes so we too could take a dip in the cool water.

Walking back up the 283 steps was more difficult than going down. We had to take a lot of “nature appreciation” stops just to catch our breath. Gasping, panting or not, I would have stopped too. It is an awesome feeling sitting down alone just allowing nature to beguile me with its spellbinding magic. Basking. Praying thanksgiving for being so privileged to be where I was. Composing snippets of poetry in my head. Inhaling the strange, rare scent of fresh air. I would sit and observe insects sucking pollen from wildflowers, watch a butterfly color coordinate itself with the flower petals it lands on, look at trees and notice how their branches serve as picture frames for nature, highlighting portions of the vast scenery. A few seconds of rest and I had the time to notice the lone tropical palm tree seeming out of place and yet looking strikingly beautiful, standing defiant in a forest of hardwood trees. Leafless Jemilina trees with their white trunks serving as accents to the dark verdant background.

A leaf fell and I was there to hear it drop. And then another leaf fell, and another leaf, and another, and another. And soon it was raining leaves. I likened them to little children running home screaming, the rain is here, the rain is here for the leaves falling occurrence was followed by a drizzle. I was praying for it to pour just to complete the nature experience.
Who said words were necessary for poetry? What I was so privileged to see was poetry for the eyes.

And as if God knew the climbing, wading, trekking exercise was going to knock the breath out of us, there was a halo-halo stand waiting for us near where we parked. Halo-halo is a dessert concoction of sweetened fruits mixed together with crushed ice and milk. It was heavenly, especially because we forgot to bring any water with us and we were really thirsty from the trek. In the halo-halo stand, the lady who minded the store had an infant covered in homemade comforters. He had a name that sounded like medicine, benadryl or something like that. He had the cutest smile. And he was unaware of how lucky he was to grow up in a place of such beauty.

From where we were we could hear the gongs of the wedding reminding us to drive back for the tribal wedding ceremonies. It was the most difficult task to pull ourselves out of that huge slice of heaven. After a quick trip to buy more film, we went to Lenore’s house. Lunch was being served. Now, this you’ve got to imagine. There is no such thing as a small private wedding for the Ifugaos. At least 17 pigs were killed to feed all the townsfolk. No RSVP customs here. Everyone can just drop by, queue for the meal, which they ate on de-layered banana trunks. After lunch, they had the Ifugao wedding ceremony. Even more ceremonious than the previous activities.

The bride, the groom, the priests and the entourage were in full regalia. There were so many rituals. More of the gongs, the chanting, and the ground stomping. Bride and groom were given beads for their hair, fertility necklaces, intricate headpieces. More ground stomping and chanting. The other shaman’s feet must have withstood a million stomping. They were the widest feet I’ve ever seen, spread out like a fan, contorted, and twisted, and sturdy. Wine was poured on the couple’s feet.

Then the entourage was led out into the streets. Like a line following the pied piper, they walked and danced with the groom and the men striking the gongs in an unusual beat.
We did not follow them, but from what we heard, they went to another place and a dozen chickens were choked to death; one of the unfortunate fowl was tied to the groom’s waist. The standing joke was that there was a new definition of love. Real love is dancing out in the streets in a g-string with a dead chicken on your hip just to marry the woman you love.

We left the bride’s home and went to check out of the inn. We were supposed to stay and maybe view the post-wedding ceremonies the next day, but we were all overwhelmed with ceremony and decided to cut short our stay and drive back to the next province to make our trip back to the city the next day a little shorter.

We ended up at Solano, a bustling town in Nueva Ecija, which boasted of no major tourist attraction. The board, lodging and food costs were double of that in Kiangan. On the way to Governor’s Hotel, we stopped at the Dutch Pancake Restaurant. I went out of the car to ask the Dutch owner what time they opened in the morning. We were planning to have breakfast there. After checking into the hotel, we decided to have dinner at the Dutch restaurant also.

The T-bone was highly recommended, but I found it a bit tough. The scalloped potatoes were very good though. The pancake desert was also good. And it was fine service for the owner to run and get us wine even if it wasn’t offered in the menu. On our way out, he mentioned a little girl who went up to him earlier in the evening asking about what time they opened in the morning. It turned out that I was that girl, but he said I looked much younger a couple of hours ago. He said I looked no more than 14 then. I didn’t know if I would be thrilled to be mistaken for a teenager or aghast that I aged so quickly.
Nonetheless, he was a nice host and we had breakfast there the next day. He mentioned wanting to expand his restaurant as a franchise and was willing to give the first franchise for free just to break into the market. Mental note to remember this when we are looking for business ventures.

On the drive back to the city, we stopped for lunch at this charming restaurant called Vicentico’s Grill. Food was excellent and the local antique décor was lovely. A couple of stopovers to buy goodies for the folks back home.
Tuks dropped me off at my Dad’s place so that I can say goodbye to him before his trip to Europe. I stayed the night there. The next day, Monday, I had my practice round of being a woman of leisure. Woke up late. Breakfasted leisurely. Spent the good part of the morning creating a roller coaster park in the computer. Dragged my nephew and my niece to have my nephew’s tuition fee assessed. Went to see Spider Man. Hohum. Try as I might, I just can not find Kirstn Dunst pretty. Had popcorn, soda and fries for the movie. Mc Donald’s ice cream cones, chicken poppers, mashed potatoes and fries for after the movie. Back home, more computer games, dinner and Tuks finally picked me up to go back to real life. My greatest learning out of the whole experience is that I really should not worry about my Islandhopper business venture. Seeing the places I saw, falling in love with my own country, experiencing so much pride to call this land home, I know now that whether I succeed or fail in this venture, I would have had the time of my life traveling and seeing all these wonderful places and getting to know my country. Aaaah. God is good!