[Supposedly Long] Weekend in Ifugao
Or to be more accurate, a 14-hour stay (bus rides NOT included) in Ifugao.
Oh yes, this is another addition to my growing list of quickie vacations. Remember the 23-hour stay in Boracay and the unbelievable 6-hour comeback? How about the 24-hour stay in Coco Beach in Mindoro during the declaration of PP1017 and another 24-hour drop by for my birthday celebration (performances by Advent Call and Tropical Depression hahahaha) there last year? Hmmm I can sense a pattern here. Should I come back to Ifugao, which is highly likely to happen, I would glue my ass my next to Bulul's and pretend that time stood still.
As always, my adventure started with the feeling of guilt in my gut. I deliberately failed to inform The Unbloggable™ that I'd be off for a solo sembreak-within-the-sem in the Mountain Province. Before you judge as completely suicidal, allow me to say I was aware of the potential risk. I was scared for myself, too.
My last trek was in Batad and Sagada 2 years ago. I had the company of good friends Fris, Ina and Mark who were happy - no, ecstatic - to stop for a break when I needed one. Either that or they just can't say no to the birthday girl. That time, I was with hiking enthusiasts whom I doubt would be willing to slow down for a poor, flat-footed nuisance like me. Worse, I didn't even bother to work out in preparation for this! All I cared about was my enormous need for escape from the metro and anticipated enjoyment of the mountain air. I was blinded with positivity that I will obtain the serenity and experience adventure that I badly deserve. Worst, there was a parade of typhoons visiting the country during the time of my trip. So yeah, good thing I was far from suicidal.
ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?!
The bus ride to Kiangan, Ifugao took 10 dragging hours. I saved my drowsiness all day for this trip. Little did I know that Autobus happens to have the most uncomfortable seats and frustratingly limited legroom ever! I had no choice since no other bus company offers trip to Kiangan.
Before boarding, I met up with Cricket, the Manila-based Save The Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo) volunteer who bought my bus tickets. He introduced me to the other women who would be joining the harvest tour namely, Jena, Melai and Tina. I sat next to Melai since the others were seated together. She was not shocked to hear I was all by myself since she had her share of solo travels. In fact, she recently treated herself to a solo trip to Batanes. She was in disbelief that I'd be crawling back to Manila the following night and ensued with the lecture I was quite welcoming to hear then. I managed steer the talk back to my dream Batanes. But my excitement turned to envy as her narration progressed. Eventually, without my permission, she left me for dreamland.
The sight of fellow passengers with their eyelids squeezed shut reminded me I need all the strength that I can get for the hike. Thus, I struggled to sleep. But I kept on waking up as if I were a baby with no diapers. To top it off, I realized I was not as tolerant to the freezing cold anymore. I was this close to snatch somebody else's blanket. Where had the sleeveless-in-Sagada spirit gone? Needless to say, I didn't get satisfactory snooze which, by the way, happens all the time, and I bet I must be the first passenger to wake up at 2 hours before we even get to reach the destination. How it sucks to be Morpheus's least favorite!
SITMo volunteers Jonathan and Nilo were already wating when we bounced off the bus. Considering they have met the other women before, they welcomed me with equal warmth. We were escorted to the jeepney that took us to their office.
It was initially fascinating to hear them recall tales from their erstwhile journeys. As they went on, it became apparent they were on the move every single weekend. Much to their annoyance! I bit my tongue for a bitter retort. I would kill to achieve that kind of lifestyle!
Soon enough, my highly-trained nostrils realized that breakfast was ready. I went down with Cricket and the girls, selected food from the array of meals on the long table and found myself seated with the other tourists. I was next to a fellow solo traveler Ivana (born in USA, raised in Canada, attended school in Scotland), an Anthropology student who went there for research. I congratulated her for making it in spite of the heavy rains she endured and subsequently informed her I imagine my own thesis to have an anthropological approach. Her study was about utilizing anthropology for community development. She went on with the details but I was easily distracted by the piercing on her lipweb. (I initially mistook it as her gums.) It was my first time to see such. I was reminded of my aim to have my tongue pierced. I managed to suppress myself from staring at it and reserve my questions for later.
After breakfast, we all gathered to be introduced to one another and be informed about the activities waiting for us. I swallowed hard upon hearing the word "hiking" as the first activity of the day. Being surrounded by muscled and trigger happy souls made my tension mount, making me cross my fingers that my weekly panting spree to reach the fourth floor of Palma Hall and the consistently out-of-order escalator in MRT-Ayala station prepared me enough for this. In spite of my intimidation, I raced towards the jeep after the talk and distribution of IDs and nearly followed Ivana to topload when I realized I forgot to bring my sunblock lotion. Please don't squeal to my dermatologist.
AND THE HIKING BEGINS
The jeepney finally came into a screeching halt upon the view of male natives pounding rice in their giant mortar and female counterparts preparing ricecakes. Fellow tourists sampled on the mentioned sweets and took turns in pounding along with the natives. Nilo told me that during harvest season they are not worried about rice spilling from the mortar. Everyone is feeling generous.
Before we commenced the hike, I noticed the writing on the baranggay hall's (I assume) blackboard. It read the womenfolk proposed a liquor ban. Considering the amount of consumption and the cultural significance of rice wine, the image of sober gatherings made me scratch my scalp. Or they have a different definition of liquor ban? Must be so.
To my relief, the walk was mostly downward. I was more able to enjoy the view of the rice terraces and the rejuvenating air. The river glistened under the sunlight. The sound it made as it caressed the grey stones made me want to stop over, run my fingers through it and wash my face.
I suddenly missed my good friends. I bet they'd love this. Although it was fun and fulfilling to be on a trip alone, nothing beats the experience of sharing your thrill real-time with people that matter. For now, I'd have to keep it to myself. Soon, I'd gush about my brag-worthy tales next time we meet.
Something unexpected took place. I was taking my sweet time in crossing the lush greens and just allowed a fellow participant overtake on me when I suddenly slipped and fell flat on my butt. Jenna and the mentioned overtaker turned around to see what was going on. Jenna displayed concern, the latter was blank. Guess what I did? I stood up nearly a millisecond after my fall, dusted off the stain on my behind and flashed Jena a thumbs up and a triumphant grin. All that before I could even say, "Ouch!". I was astounded with my own action! Typically, I would verbally acknowledge the pain, blush myself to death and ask for help. In any order. All of a sudden, my mind played a montage of all the sources of resentment and disappointment I had been suffering from during that time. The fall - and the speedy rise - made my self-respect resurface and made my heart surge with hope. Things had been pretty shitty but, just as Bob Marley's immortal song said, every little thing is gonna be all right. I was so proud of myself.
The hike went on. The first stopover was to meet and greet the 100-year-old woman who was married to a US veteran. Her countenance looked younger than I expected. The next was for a quick repose and gulp of rice wine. I obliged. On the third, we were welcomed to witness an old man play an ethnic guitar and the rituals of rice wine making. We were treated to camote (dubbed as their "pan de sal") and more rice wine for refreshments. Reluctance registered in the faces of most tourists. One native explained (or at least to me) that it is not as potent if the intake includes solid food. Call me gullible or typically thirsty for such, I drank and ate away. I even took home 3 "goblets" made out of bamboo. How could I possibly turn down something free and bottomless?
The final stop was in the town of Nagacadan where throngs of natives prepared a program for us. I did not get to watch all their performances as Nilo took me to his friend's home for early lunch. Unlike the other participants of the tour, I had to leave by noon for Mongayong to experience the river wild. The others would stay together for another jeep ride to Uhaj (pronounced as Uha) for tree-planting and, possibly, bonfire and slumber party.
As soon I was bloated from the solo feast, I retraced my steps to the venue of the program. I was just in time to witness the newly-elected Governor Ted Baguilat express his gratitude for the tourists for coming over and plea to help them spread the word about Ifugao's heritage tourism. I was fortunate to interview him when he was in vacation in Quezon City about Ifugao and its tourism. He encouraged me to join the harvest tour and try river rafting in Chico River. Imagine my surprise when he came up to me and thanked me for pushing through. Shortly after, I was waving goodbyes to the fellow participants. Time to go for some water adventure!
RIVER RAFTING AMIDST THE RAIN
Nilo joined me for a bum-flattening, lump-inducing trike ride to Mongayan. The river rafting is not a part of their tour package and I was touched that he ensured I would get to the resort safe, sound and in time.
Upon getting there, I was immediately introduced to the doctor-couple who run the river rafting business and the operators Anton and Argel. I dashed to change into my swimwear in excitement. By 14:00, I, along with the doctors, their sons and two colleagues Marissa and Johann, braved the drizzle to get into the jeepney that would take us to the Mongayan Bridge.
Turned out Doc hailed from Cavite City and his family was from Digman (place in Bacoor known for halo halo and, yes, a silent witness of my post-class gimmicks in high school). His wife's mother was from Aniban (two baranggays away from mine). It was like I was back home. They were very nice to talk with and they treated me as if I were a neighbor back from a long vacation.
By the time we reached the bridge, it was already raining cats and dogs. Anton told us that, thanks to the downpour, the river, typically level 1-2, had become level 2-3. This means more turbulence awaited us. I shrieked in rapture. This is what I came for!
After some crash course how to raft, we were divided into two teams. Doc and his sons went first, followed by our group of 4. We were armed with helmets (mine was in puta red), paddle, lifevests and lots of fighting spirit. The next hour witnessed us paddle our way from the violent waters of Mongayan to Ibulao Bridge. Everything was fast and maddening: the sight of the water making a tall formation before us, the dangerous "curves" ahead and the huge rock that trapped us. Plus the mockery from Doc that, "Hala, di ka na makakauwi ng Bacoor!" There river was tranquil in some points and we, as a team, spent it high-fiving one another through our paddles or imitating Johann's frightened exterior. It was all laughs and screams. I nearly cried to see the Ibulao River and the band of men waiting to lift the rafts for deflation.
Fun can not begin to describe what I had experienced. I would definitely come back. With 18 brave souls so we can conquer Chico River.
1. Let Me Take You To The Mountain - Krush
2. Sound of Settling - Death Cab for Cutie
3. Midnight Eyes - Daydream Cycle