Friday, April 8, 2016

Maligcong, Bontoc: Slowing Down After the Summer Rush, Chilling Out with My Favorite Canine, Digging My French Know-How on the Boondocks

By daybreak the light paints the sky purple and pink, the watery terraces like mirrors
You know you're getting a bit too much of the city when you yearn for a breath of fresh perspective as much as fresh air.  I know I do.  I waited until the summer long weekend exodus of vacationers (otherwise known as Lent) before heading back to my second home in the Mountain Province, Maligcong.  Even then, there's a long wait at the Victory Liner bus station on a weekday (ah, it's vacation time for the Millennials and Mosaics).  Even lacking sleep and arriving late for the first GL Lizardo bus out of Baguio because of the weekday traffic, being high up in the boondocks is always a welcome break.  Stopping over at Mountain View in Sabangan, my two favorite stopover canines I call Whitey and Brownie, gave me an excited welcome (sorry, ran out of time to snap even an iPhone picture as the bus driver was hurrying up) as if giving me a sign of (welcome) things to come.

My Condor backpack was loaded.  I begrudgingly brought my laptop hoping I would be able to work.  I mean it was fine by me to bring work just as long as I can breathe in the fresh mountain air.  The pack kept me from sleeping during the Manila - Baguio stretch as the bus departure delay kept me from moving my electronics from the main bag and stowing the Condor pack in the cargo hold; I ended up having it on my lap for half of the trip and kept me from resting fully.

I was bleary-eyed from lack of sleep that I kept eating (bingeing?) along the way-- three sticks of barbecue at Sison's, a large bowl of yummy fried rice and two pieces of chicken at Sab-Atan restaurant beside the GL station, pinakbet with rice along with oat bars at Ricken Star in Atok.  I was hungry again by the time I caught the second to the last jeepney trip of the afternoon to Maligcong from Bontoc at 4pm.  The whole jeep was buzzing with news of a mishap along the newly-constructed Favuyan - Fang-orao road and even with my limited understanding of Ifantok, I can glean there were injured parties.  I was too tired and sleepy to worry about my safety at this point anyway.

Arriving in Suzette's Homestay, there was no sign of Kunig but the resident feline, Ming-ming thought it was an opportune time to nap on my lap while I was having coffee and updating Suzette, promptly making me forget about my own lack of sleep.  After a half-hour, my favorite canine appeared with a whimper, apparently recognizing me before submitting to a belly rub.   It would be another hour before a big group arrived for an overnight stay.  By then, I've already had my coffee and cookies, settled on my bed and freshened up a bit.
Cloudy sunset over Bontoc town from the pasture land overlooking the place
GOING OUT TO PASTURE.  My motorcycle driver from a previous trip, Eric, pointed out the vantage point overlooking Bontoc and Bontoc Illi, while headed back to Manila some months back and it has since intrigued me.  On my first afternoon, we decided to check out this pasture land where a French paragliding company used to take-off (It has stopped operations as the land is on private property).   Accessible via the narrow road headed to Guina-ang, the pasture land is on rolling terrain that wouldn't look out of place in Batanes though here there were carabaos instead of cows.

Strange that considering it was the summer season, the heavy bank of grey clouds over the mountains wouldn't move, the skyscape above Bontoc looking more like a painting.  By the time dusk settled in and the town lighted up, the sky was threatening to let up.  Oh well, there's another time to explore this area.   The fun part was getting lost in the darkness as the terrain looked the same in the dark.  Thanks to a mother carabao and her two calves we remembered passing by on the way to the viewpoint, we were able to find our way back to where the motorcycle was parked by the road before it really drizzled.
Traversing the terraces with a load
SLOWING DOWN, SHARING NOTES AND DIGGING MY KNOW-HOW ON FRENCH MATTERS.  I really had no firm plans or itinerary heading to the highlands.  Not even shooting or going up either Mounts Kupapey or Fato.  Just take a break and if I can, do some of my online work if the Globe signal holds.  By my second evening, the local guests have left and in their place were a charming trio of returning French guests (we have yet to find out why the homestay is seeing a lot of French visitors), the couple Bernard and Christine from Bordeaux and a lone adventurer, Jacy, from an area near Paris (sorry, the name of the place escaped me).

Most probably owing to the French's penchant for excellent gastronomy, I ended up sharing stories with the three instead of working most of my waking hours.  It is incredible for Bernard and Christine to keep traveling (their two kids are grown up with families of their own) back to the Philippines long after their second born has repatriated back to France after a stint in Makati from way, way back.  They have no qualms about hiking for hours unlike some young locals I've met and have this insatiable sense of curiosity about things Filipino.  Christine is very well-versed with Filipino cooking (she says she cooks sinigang and adobo back in France, even brings home a bottle or two of a local 15 year old premium rum) and for hours, we would discuss about the herbs in Suzette's garden, traveling all around the Philippines, the local cuisine as well as the local culture.  

After the third day, Bernard and Christine left for Solano, leaving me and Jacy behind as the homestay's guests.  Well, it turned out Jacy is another treasure trove of stories.  A former banker who was once married to a Filipina in France, he now divides his years between the Philippines (he has a family here) and his native land.  Suzette seems amused that instead of working, I would spend hours talking to Jacy about French matters from who are the more notable players in the tennis circuit, the difference between northern and southern French cuisines, common French terms, to the impact of the French on world history.   And oh, I nearly forgot about his being enamored with Ming-ming who reminds him of his two cats back home.  
Shooting at the driveway one sleepless early morning

SLEEPLESS IN MALIGCONG The cloudy afternoons and evenings gave way to clearer, starry skies by the fourth and fifth evening.   I work the early morning shift when in Manila and try as I may to sleep early out here in the boondocks, I always end up waking up around 1:30am.  I'd alternately read some chapters of Ron McIntosh's Organic Christianity and Hugh Brody's The Other Side of Eden by the light of my headlamp, hoping to get sleepy.  Not being successful, I would then go outside and look for Kunig who would almost always be curled up on the sandy mound or on top of the table on the veranda (like clockwork, he'd be scratching on my door at 5am and curling up under my bed if we're not out of the house that early).  I'd gaze out at the stars and not being able to resist the urge to shoot, would get my camera and tripod to do some astrophotography by the gate.
Light painting under the stars using my Nitecore MH10 1000 Lumen flashlight

One evening, I decided to walk on the terrace trail midway between the homestay and school house around 4am.  Not surprisingly, Kunig was just eager to accompany me as I wait for the sunrise, every now and then trying to paint the terraces with my flashlight.   That early, occasionally there were people coming and going to the main village in Favarey, visitors to a wake and to the hospital in Bontoc where the injured people from a mishap along the newly-constructed Fang-orao - Favuyan road were confined.

From time to time, Kunig and I would just sit on the terrace trail, unmindful of the 16-17 degree cold (I left my jacket in my room).  I didn't have much luck on my astrophotography try out here but it was just incredible to be alone on the terraces so early.   There was a sliver of waning moon hanging over the school house and the stillness, the darkness was just serene.  At daybreak, the stillness was broken with birdsong, the birds welcoming the new day as the sun paints the sky with purple and pink hues.  I forgot my hunger pangs as I sat there on the terraces, contemplating.  Just me and my adopted dog, with no one else in sight for kilometers around.
Portrait of an adventurer dog


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