Saturday, August 13, 2016

Maligcong, Bontoc: Back to the Boondocks to Pay Respect and Find Some Comfort and Solace

After a whole day at school, the kids march back home through the terraces
It was on the heels of a coming tropical depression that I came back to Maligcong.  Along with my backpack I brought thoughts to ponder upon.  Oh there was much on my head -- a sibling suffered a third stroke, my best buddy left for overseas, a farmer-friend passed away.  There I was, avoiding going on Facebook as it seems strange that people I know all seems to be having a wonderful time and there I was, lost in a daze.  It seems a wrong time to take a trip.  But on the other hand, I believe nature is a balm to the soul.  Besides, I think (or I feel) my surrogate dogs, Maku and Kunig, can use my presence (or should it be I can use their presence?).  So what was supposed to be a three day break stretched to six, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

I packed an hour before I left for the bus station, even going to the store to buy a new neck pillow and some stuff for the dogs.  For the first time in many years, I took the Victory deluxe bus, foregoing the chance to taste my favorite Sison's barbecue.  It was too quick a trip to Baguio for me, arriving at a little past 4am -- way way too early even if I was to catch the earliest GL bus to Sagada.  It wasn't that chilly and if not for the drizzle, I wouldn't even consider donning a jacket.  As if a sign of good things to come, by the time we stopped at Mountain View in Sabangan, I was greeted by Blackie and Whitey, the friendly dogs there at the gas station.  The owner of the hardware may not remember me from two months back but the dogs surely did.  If I have my own vehicle, I would have gladly lingered and bonded more with the dogs.
Maku and his stuffed toys (the purple one I bought in the Bontoc palengke)
The abbreviated stopover at Ricken Star earlier plus the slow service at the eatery made me hungry by the time I came to Bontoc at 12:45 noon.  Too late for the 12:30 jeep to Maligcong and a tad too early for the next one at 2:30 so I came over to Pizzeria and had a medium pizza all to myself.  I got to a chit-chat with the people there who turned out to be from Mainit.  Learning that I was helping promote Maligcong, they said why I can't do the same for Mainit so it can be cleaned up.  I retorted that isn't it supposed to be the other way around -- clean up first and expect guests second?

When I got into Suzette's Maligcong Homestay, it was still raining.   Kunig was hiding somewhere in the house (he's scared of thunder) but Maku didn't seem to recognize me at first but then quickly warmed up when he sniffed and probably recognized I was the guest who gave him a bath two months prior.  He took the purple teddy I bought from the Bontoc palengke and promptly added it to his collection of stuffed toys.  The next few days would alternate between sunny mornings and rainy afternoons and evenings.   I would be joined by a Pinoy and French couple the following days, the latter staying almost as long as I did but as always, I never find myself alone here as the Che-es brood are already family.
Some of the bounty from Tala Farms
PAYING OUR RESPECTS.  One of the reasons why I came back so soon was to pay my respects to a farmer I befriended, Joel Fagsao of Tala Farms.  I wrote about his organic enterprise over year ago and saw the wonderful potential of farm tourism in the area.  Shortly after that first meeting, I looked forward to revisiting the farm but never got to do so because Joel was diagnosed with cancer.  Still, we communicated via email and FB.   A few months ago, I sent him my regards and prayers for healing along with PDF copies of the herbs and companion gardening ebooks I designed.  He told me he missed gardening and hopes to one day put the ebooks to use.  He also told me that he would personally accompany me to the Japanese garden next to Tala Farm when he gets well.   It is with sadness that I write that I will have to find the Japanese garden myself as he was laid to rest on the farm he misses most.
On my third day in Maligcong, I joined Suzette and Tina to pay our respects to Joel and his grieving family.   I don't know what prompted me to tell my story to Joel's wife since she didn't know me.  But I felt it had to be told.  To stave off the sadness and tears, Tina recalled the funny incident when I chased Joel's dogs at Tala Farms and fell from the raised path leading to the main road entrance, my back to the ground.  I didn't know what hit me.  

In any case, it would be a comforting thought that Joel is rejoined to the earth he treasures. In his passing, one can only hope that his dream of bringing back pride into farming among the younger generation will continue to live on.
All suited up on the greens
NO URGE TO SHOOT.  OR HURRY.  On my fourth day, I was supposed to join our Pinoy guests back to Kupapey with Tina guiding.  I never got to do so because of insomnia.  I brought my camera and tripod with me on the trip but didn't really feel the strong urge to shoot.  No regrets really as I just want to take a break, work online if the signal holds.  I got into a rather funny regimen -- try to sleep at 1am, get roused from my shallow sleep by the friendly white dog who scratches at my door and plays with me at 1:30 in the morning, end up sleeping at 3 or 4am; wake up at 10-10:30, play with Maku and Kunig if he's around, work online, chat with Suzette, look around in the garden, work some more, chat with Sophie and Pascal, the couple from Lyon, France, when they get back in the late afternoon from their walk or trips to Bontoc; talk with Jerome, Suzette's hubby when he's also home.  One day, I even get to give Kunig a bath (good thing he already trusts me or else, it would've been a ruckus in the bathroom).

On my recent visits here, I had a wonderful time talking and learning from the French guests and this visit is no different.  The couple, I feel, has a deep interest in the local culture.  One time, Pascal and I had this talk on the local language as compared to French.  This would progress to the local Bontoc and Maligcong culture, customs and traditions.  It's not the usual tourist bragging tete-a-tete or intellectual exchanges, just a sharing of minds. Bittersweet to note that it takes visitors from thousands of miles away to express an interest in these things, going beyond the beauty of the terraces and into the cultural fabric itself.
The rice plants are heavy with grains and ready for harvesting
A NEW ROAD.  One afternoon after te-er, (a ritual by the elders before the harvest to bless it; nobody is allowed to walk the fields for a week), I felt the urge to see the terraces, in varying hues of green and differing stages of growth.  Under the threat of grey clouds, I ventured to the school.  Along the way, there were locals harvesting the palay.  I followed a lolo and his apo carrying their harvest to the nearby houses and sighted the new road.  The new paved road that forks from the old one, I decided to find my way back to the homestay under the rain.  Interesting to note that I bumped into the driver of the jeepney I took coming here.  He recognized and greeted me (oh maybe I'm here that often already), his dog who growled approaching me turned out to only want to be petted on the head.

EATING FROM THE GARDEN.   I'm a frustrated locavore since I live in a building and even with a green thumb, I don't have the space and wherewithal to grow what I want.  Suzette's Homestay is like my outlet for being a locavore even only for a few days as Suzette has managed to grow a variety of edibles.  I don't know how Suzette manages to multitask and squeeze in gardening in between rearing five kids, and taking care of us guests but her garden is a wonderful testimony to the effort she and Jerome puts into it.  The eggplant and bitter gourds were ready for harvesting so one afternoon, I picked the eggplants and she simply fried them, served with longganisa fried rice and bagoong.  Simple joys, really.
A cosmic sight just staring at the night sky
PAINT THE SKY WITH STARS.  Apologies to Enya for borrowing the title of one of her albums but it succinctly describes the night sky the evening before I was set to return to the city (well, isn't it a running joke that the weather improves exponentially when you're set to leave a place?).  The rains washed the sky and scrubbed it clean so much so that every nook and cranny seems crammed with stars.  When I got back to my room, there were three fireflies that ventured away from the bamboo thickets to my ceiling, lighting up the blackness with a surreal but wonderful glow.

These are again simple joys I must say at the risk of repeating myself.  I know some people, even some friends wonder why I keep coming back here often with not much pictures to show for it.  All I can say is that some of the most wonderful pictures I take, I take with my own eyes and keep in my head.  And that some of my most wonderful experiences I don't get to share on social media but keep in my heart.


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