Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Maligcong, Bontoc: Of Green Holidays, Dog Tales, and Fresh Hopes

Lagalog with Kunig (or should it be dog with Lagalog?) admiring the foggy Favarey landscape
"You should come this December.  The lettuce would be ready for harvesting."

That's the text message of Suzette, owner of the Maligcong Homestay when I told her I just may be able to spend the December holidays in the highlands, away from the city's added dose of pollution come new year's eve.  So what's the big deal about fresh lettuce, right?

Well, sometime this year, I sent Suzette some packets of veggie seeds for her garden  (aside from being a self-professed dog charmer, I'm also into gardening).  During the leaner times I visited, we would trade gardening insights. I just thought it would be swell to eventually see an organic garden there where the veggies can be harvested for serving to guests.  You see, she has quite a bit of space available for growing some of her food.

A bit of explanation about the soil condition is in order.  Not because this is a mountainous area, it follows that the soil here is ideal for growing just about anything.  On the contrary, the soil here is mostly vertisol, muddy when wet during the monsoon season, brick-hard when baked by the sun during the summer months.  Needless to say, the soil needs amending to increase productivity.

FRESH GREENS. I broached the idea of raised beds to Suzette to get around this.  But coming over for the new year, we found out she had this brilliant idea of growing the veggies on recycled halved Coca Cola litro bottles hung on the veranda grilles.  Solves the problem of amending a sizable amount of soil and at the same time keeping the growing greens from the always-hungry hens free ranging around the property.   Watering would also be more efficient as the excess would trickle down to the pots underneath.  Believe me, there's nothing more gratifying than eating freshly-picked veggies like some  mighty locavore.  Suzette harvested the lettuce in front of guests which went straight to our new year's eve salad (talk about fresh) along with fresh catch of dorado (dolphin fish) as well as bagnet (double deep-fried pork) which Suzette and her hubby, Jerome, bought during their previous day's trip with the kids to Ilocos.  (Sorry, no photo of the lettuce - it was quickly wolfed down)
Graceful draping branches of Favarey's pat-patay trees overlooking the terraces
TREKKING TO FAVAREY WITH THE DOGS.  Hours before the countdown to 2016, we trekked to the village in Favarey with Kunig, the homestay's resident canine and my adopted mutt, and a black and white friendly dog (which we found out later to be among the dogs of our guide, Terence).  It's funny observing the two dogs, Kunig being the alpha dog that he is, would snap at the other canine whenever the latter would take the lead.  Both mutts would occasionally stop and taste the leftover rice stalks -- talk about stopping and smelling/tasting the landscape.  We really wanted to wander by ourselves to the nearest waterfall west of the village.  The weather, however, had other plans.  The rain clouds let go of their moisture when we reached the Baptist church and pat-patay (sacred, really old) trees overlooking the village and its surrounding environs.

The rain and fog lent the landscape an otherworldly feel, beautiful in a surreal way.  Under the draping trees and rice granary huts where we took shelter, the nearby terraces wore a dull green, the top of the slopes ghostly in the fog while the distant mountains appeared as muted layers of silhouettes.   An impatient Kunig would've wanted to go farther but we knew looking for the waterfalls would have to be deferred to another visit.  We lost sight of the other dog but later learned that he went back safely to the extension of the village.

The dark was settling early so we decided to go back around 5:25pm.  On the trail, villagers evidently newly-arrived from the afternoon's last jeepney trip were bearing foodstuff for the upcoming media noche and greeting us an advanced happy new year, some voicing concern that it might be dark before we reach the homestay.   We got back to the homestay to a half-full house. There are two mountaineers from another homestay joining our get-together as a solo-traveling fellow mountaineer was staying overnight in our place.  There's also a UK-based couple billeted in the family room, Filipina journalist and writer, Candy, with her husband, Richard, and her sister Mia.
Fog and surreal landscape
After a hearty meal (fresh veggies salad, bagnet, bagnet, more bagnet, dorado, and macaroni salad washed down with mugfuls of mountain coffee and tea), we guests got into chit-chat about travels as I multi-tasked, weaving paracord bracelets (my months-long hobby now) for Suzette and Jerome.  I originally intended to weave a collar for Kunig but seeing how he squeezes himself into the bushes got me worried about him getting entangled  wearing the collar.  It's funny that not only was he not resisting the original idea of wearing a collar, he was actually play-biting the loose paracord ends while I weaved.

It's a strange and yet wonderful way to end an old year and start a new one.  I hope and pray the next one would be, literally, a fresh start.  As fresh as the lettuce just harvested for our media noche salad.  As fresh as the nippy 10.5 degree weather we've been having the past two days.  As fresh as the new memories being made over the holidays.

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