Thursday, March 29, 2018

Putting Life on Hold in Maligcong

Chata grassland as viewed from the school vantage point
I've really been meaning to go back to Maligcong sooner than later. December, in fact. But life intervened. My mom went into the hospital for pneumonia and sadly passed on. A much overdue project collection went unbilled, the client refusing to give me my dues even if I had all the proof of work done, studies rendered, truth expressed every step of the way.   A friend's (now former) loose lips sank my figurative ship.  Elsewhere, life isn't coming up rosy as well.  Some people take to the bottle. Some pop pills. Hey, to each his own. But times like these, I just choose to escape to the boondocks. As the book I was reading at the time when mom was in the hospital said, "Time spent in God's creation reveals the face of God," so echoes writer, Nancy Sleeth, of the Amish principles in her tome, "Almost Amish", I was hoping that maybe, the boondocks would be a balm to the soul, a light to a mind darkened with questions, a comfort to the heart that seeks solace. 

It's a kind of break where again, I held no expectations, drafted no itineraries, took zero notes of sunrise/sunset times or moonrise/moonset skeds either.   I just wanted to wander aimlessly, read books, write down my thoughts, talk to YHWH God and the universe, chitchat with the locals, hike without haste, go and finally try my hand in birding now that I'm unencumbered with my DSLR which I sold out of necessity.

I arrived in Bontoc via Coda Lines way earlier than before, 8:30am, before the usual breakfast places were open.  I ended up in Midtown where I was greeted by a rather strong tremor -- either that's a rocking welcome or a portend of things to come.  With some three hours to wait for the 12 noon jeep, I ended up chitchatting with Kat, the owner of the sporting goods/baking items shop near the jeepney terminal and befriended her cute canine, Brixie, which I think is a good sign.  Jerome, Suzette's hubby, was driving the 12 noon jeep, so I got to seat upfront instead of up on the roof as the usual case is in these parts.
Planting season is here again
It was the rice planting season for the areas near the extension village in Makonig, the fields glassy and reflective of the sky.  Suzette, my friend and owner of Suzette's Maligcong Homestay, was out in the field when I arrived before noon.  No problem really as her step-daughter, Lori, was there though the dogs were with their mom.  I was craving sleep anyway as I had on-and-off rest on the bus.
The glassy terraces look like abstract art from afar
DOING A LOT OF NOTHING.  So I dozed the afternoon off and woke up to a somewhat chilly evening (average: 14-15 degrees).  Talked to Suzette, Jerome and our guide-friend, Tina.  Met and talked wih some of the other guests. Played with the dogs, Kunig, Maku, Tuba and Tam-Tam.  I walked a bit on the terraces trail with a mom-and-son tandem of homestay guests, eager to share what I can about the sensory experience of the terraces as well as its sub-stories.   The terraces are watery, reflective of the sky and clouds, their cycle of beginnings and endings also reflecting what's going on in my life.  The last time I was here, the sunflowers were abloom and forming unmistakable bright border hedges; the fields either browning or yellowing, about to get prepared for tilling.  If you come to think about it deeper, this teaches you about living, growing, dying -- the harvest season, the old plants being allowed to go back to the soil to nourish it; the plowing and tilling of the earth; the rehydration to prepare the fields for planting come the new year.  The old giving way to the new.

So the days go by.  Exercise a bit.  Read my Bible.  Read a book from my stash (some days, I even read on the road or the terrace trail while waiting for the birds to come).  Wrote on my journal.  Had coffee. Fought off insomnia.   So that was how I spent my first three days, when I just enjoyed the atmosphere, hardly looked at my phone, didn't really mind getting online.  Life goes on with or without social media. In fact, if my friends, Ferdz and Oman, didn't arrive on my fourth day here, I really wouldn't mind putting little to no effort to shooting, trekking up the mountain, and a lot into doing nothing much at all.  Having no tripod, DSLR and gear can be unburdening -- there's little to no pressure to keep tabs of the times, of wanting to shoot that keeper.
Playing with Tiny on Kupapey • Photo by Ferdz Decena
When they did arrive on Friday, it was time to break routine and bring out the trekking pole, compression pants and hiking shorts.  We hiked up Kupapey again as it was Oman's first time to do so (the first time he was here, he was bothered by plantar fascitis).  Since the three dogs were neutered the other day, the two younger ones (the black Labs) were left behind, and it was Kunig and Maku who joined us during our trek.  At the summit, we were greeted by my other favorite dog, Tiny, who came with the other hikers earlier.  As you can see in the snap above, he's a delightful and affectionate dog despite his size.

It was very chilly up there; good thing Zehn, Suzette's firstborn, brought a thermos of local coffee to go along with Suzette's stash of bread, Oman's mixed nuts and my oat bars.  We were fortunate to get a good sunrise as it was foggy or rainy the first three mornings I spent on the break.
Me, Maku and Tiny in the homestay garden
PUPPY LOVES.  Meeting my favorite canines is therapy already.  I'm happy to see Tiny transformed from a shy, always-scared black Lab, to someone eager to come on a walk.  I must confess to spoiling the dogs whenever I'm here -- I'd let them sleep on the floor of my room come evenings when the temperature drops to 14-15 degrees.  Even Kunig was shivering, probably owing to the spaying procedure the three dogs got during the dog day celebration in the poblacion.  It's interesting to see Tuba trying to outsmart the other dogs by sequestering my bed whenever I get up in the middle of the night to pee in the outhouse restroom.  Tam-Tam would likely follow; same with Maku, who won't be outdone.  I can only goad Kunig to sleep inside the room when the two Labs are not there as they're both young with boundless energy, continuously pestering him to play.
Oman's shabu-shabu on a chilly day
FOOD TRIPPING.  Oman cooked up a storm and we happily lapped up the finished products (Pinoy-style spaghetti the first evening; curried chicken and pansit palabok the next day; shabu-shabu/hotpot on the Sunday afternoon we were set to go back to Manila).  Some afternoons, I would hike a bit down the road in search of birds though the foggy early evenings were not really conducive to birding.  We hit pay dirt on the Sunday we were leaving, repeatedly spotting and shooting a merry bevy of birds from the homestay's veranda while the aroma of the hotpot broth was simmering.  To say that I thoroughly enjoyed this relaxed pace is an understatement; the six days just rolled on unnoticed and even felt short.   Oman joked he plans an 85-day extended vacation here in the future.  I wonder how will that feel; on the other hand, I think that would be swell.

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