Thursday, July 20, 2017

Maligcong, Bontoc: No iPhone, No Itinerary, No Schedules, No Stress

There's something to be said about a place you've been to a dozen times but still find fresh and novel each and every time. 

Candy, a UK-based Filipina children's books writer I befriended in Maligcong told me it must be because of the friendly dogs.  She's got a point there but that's only half-true.   Even as I agonized over the loss of my iPhone (busted on the first night of the trip) as I make my way to the jeep in Bontoc, I already see familiar faces.  Whiling away the time to 2pm when the jeepney starts plodding its way through eight or so kilometers of winding road up the mountains, I get into a chitchat with Anti Dominga, the village nurse, and Anti Juanita.  While I almost always keep to myself traveling here, I've unwittingly made some acquaintances and friends.  Halfway through the jeepney trip, the air felt a lot cooler as grey storm clouds rolled from the west.  Even in overcast conditions, the terraces, now a vivid green and ready for harvest, are breathtakingly beautiful.  I've come something like four hundred or so kilometers to get a black hole vacation on a weekday and with the untimely malfunction of my almost two-year old iPhone, I just might get one.
Brothers in paws, Tiny and Maku on Kupapey summit
Funny when I got down from the roof to pay the fare, the driver, Mang Julian was laughingly pointing to Tiny who greeted me at the gate of Suzette's Homestay and sniffed my backpack.  "May inspector, o!" ("There goes the inspector!") he said.  One by one they got up from where they were resting - Maku, and my original guide canine, Kunig.  Of course, they remember, these charming canines always do.  The rain fell down in sheets as I made my way to my assigned room (Room 1, as always) with the dogs on my tail and lying down on the floor, waiting for petting or treats (maybe both).  Hmmm, one was missing -- Misty.  I learned later from Suzette that the owner sold her after giving birth to the puppies that included Kupa.  Oh well.  So started my no-schedule, no-itinerary, no-stress week-long break.  I've been chasing after deadlines the past two months and the heck with itineraries.

It was te'er when I came over (a religious holiday prior to harvest that forbid anyone to walk on the terraces) so Anti Juanita was wondering why I came at such a time.  I told her I plan to read, eat, drink coffee, play with the dogs, look at the foggy terraces, enjoy the twittering of the birds during the morning, look for the fireflies during the evenings.  I understand that this is a busy world where doing a lot of nothing seems to be a sin or a luxury but what the hey, I get tired and weary of chasing after the clock.  One thing I've realized over the years is that I need a huge dose of nature every once in a while lest I get weary of urbanity. 

The rains always come during the mid-afternoons and last until 9 or 10 in the evening, making the air crisp and nippy.  I'd read my Bible and books or write in the mornings and afternoons, feed the dogs (and talk to them as well) in between, look at the terraces and the sky a lot, look at what's growing in the garden, and enjoy Suzette's cooking come lunch and dinner.  (I was reading leisurely but finished the two books I brought along in two days)  At times, I'll even take Kunig and put him on my lap to keep him from bothering the guests during mealtimes; he ends up enjoying it like when he was just a puppy.  Being un-tethered to my iPhone and the Net is a blessing (no calls for offers, no stressful calls for jobs needed yesterday) even if I was speculating half the time who's winning in Wimbledon (my bet, Nole retired in his match versus Berdych, it turns out); if there's a new prospective client calling; or how much it's going to cost to have the unit repaired back in Manila.  Anyway, it's also wonderful to get to meet and talk with the handful of guests coming and going on a weekday.  Ahhh, you can get used to this weather and routine.
Pangil mushrooms from Caneo, not the yellow ones we got from Kupapey trail
MUSHROOM AND TRAIL HUNTING ON KUPAPEY.  It was on Thursday when we get to go up Mount Kupapey.  Suzette was on a mission: to hunt for mushrooms.  I, on the other hand, wanted to find out some things.  Like one, if I really missed the trail the last time out when I got lost in the woods.  And two, if buying an exercise back two months ago and riding it an hour a day had any impact on my climbing/hiking fitness.   Well hiking with Suzette is always an enjoyable exercise as we'd chitchat all the way up and down the mountain.  There were only a handful of mushrooms she found, mostly the yellow, mild-flavored variety.  I retraced my steps and arrived at a supernatural conclusion -- I indeed passed a mysterious road that we can't find.  On a brighter note, this hike is most enjoyable as I hardly felt any pain on my joints.   While waiting for the fog bank to move (they hardly did on that morning), we ate our stash of egg drop biscuits and raisin-nuts trail mix, feeding Kunig, Maku and Tiny with the egg drops they chomp down with gusto.  You should see the dogs, they're really enjoying themselves.

BIRDWATCHING ON THE VERANDA.  One of the fringe benefits of staying in Suzette's Maligcong Homestay is being treated to a bird show every morning.   You can have coffee on the veranda and just enjoy the visual and audal spectacle as the birds fly about the fruit trees and feeding.  That Friday, we had a birder guest, Ma'am Alice Villa-real of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, who told us she hasn't even boarded off the jeep when she heard the call of the wild (literally).  I've spotted sunbirds and drongos, even an eagle here but to hear that Maligcong is home to some very interesting birds like Colasisi (parrot that sleeps hanging upside-down like a bat) and pygmy woodpecker, is indeed exciting news.  I've always wondered when the birder guests will come.  Maybe now, they will.
Suzette and baby Chamfil


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