Saturday, 31 July 2010

In July to read is to fly

Reads on the fly as July flies by... It has flown.
You can play the music CDs in the background.

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen (Economics 1998) has books translated into thirty languages. Identity and Violence is a departure from his usual topics of welfare and development economics. The book discusses issues of identity including religion, culture, globalisation, 'East' and 'West', Muslim history and multiculturalism. Sen witnessed the communal conflict that marked India's independence in 1947, and is in a position to ask his reader to rise above the narrow-mindedness of those who are not prepared to think beyond simple categories. Sen is among the great intellectuals of modern times and is worth heeding.

In Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, Paul Street chronicles the rise of Obama. He deconstructs many of the myths surrounding the President including, grassroots funding, progressive politics, stance on war and health care. The book offers a broad and well-informed understanding on the meaning of the “Obama phenomenon”. Street looks at Obama in relation to contemporary issues of class, race, war, and empire. He considers Obama in the context of America’s political history. He concludes that Obama is no exception to the electoral system and ideological culture of the true American political tradition. This book offers a balanced assessment, is deeply researched and draws from the author’s direct experience as a civil rights advocate. It remains to be seen if, as Street concludes, Obama is a “neo-liberal fraud.”

The Chomsky Effect A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower Robert F. Barsky
"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."
—Noam Chomsky (voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll)
Barsky writes about Chomsky, the inspiration, catalyst, analyst and advocate. Chomsky encourages people to become engaged—to be "dangerous" and challenge power and privilege. The actions and reactions of Chomsky supporters and detractors result in what is termed "the Chomsky effect.
he is “the most important intellectual in the world” and “the great American crackpot”; his intellectual status is “on a par with that of Darwin or Descartes,” but “everything he says is false.” These conflicting judgements cover all domains: linguistics, philosophy, literary theory, psychology ... but above all politics and international affairs.
Barsky also discusses why Noam Chomsky has come to mean so much to so many—and what he may mean to generations to come.

What’s the Hitch? Christopher Hitchens’ new book, Hitch-22, is a mixture of memoirs and essays. Hitchens was a left-wing, anti-imperialist, scourge of American hubris, erstwhile booster of Vietcong and Sandinistas, ex-Trot who ended up a drummer boy for Dubya Bush’s war in Iraq, a tub-thumper for neoconservatism, and a strident American patriot. Paul Wolfowitz became his new comrade. A reviewer notes ‘ typical of Hitch the maverick, the contrarian: another day, another prank. .. not easy to take this consummate entertainer entirely seriously’. On the serious side, Hitchens writes very sentimentally about his mother, and shows sincere devotion to his friends. All in all Hitch-22: A Memoir, like most of his books, is straight-shooting, deeply interesting, often witty.

The March of Patriots, is a book by Paul Kelly of Australian political history, of the fall of Keating, and the first two terms of the Howard government, kind of like a tale of two PMs.
The book is described thus by ‘ makes the reading of it dull but dutiful work. It’s the literary equivalent of cleaning out the garage on a grey Saturday afternoon.’
My prose is very inadequate and nowhere this height or depth. But Kelly did fail to probe the deeper traits of his subjects for context, e.g. John Howard who is aptly described by a book review as ‘a mild racial chauvinist, xenophobe and nostalgist. These two tendencies, mild in themselves, become noxious when combined, as they did in the Tampa period, producing an utter indifference and disdain for people of a different race.’ has reviewed the book and christened the author “Oracle of the obvious”. All of the 36 comments of the review of the book have rubbished not just the book but Kelly the author, who at least had the dignity not to respond to the critics. Begs the question why these critics - considering their negative comments – even bothered putting pen to paper, to comment on someone who apparently they do not rate. Maybe just a bit of envy of their oracle there.
All these detracts from my take which is that Keating, who served as PM for less than half that of Howard, has left a longer-lasting and more important legacy. Howard shamelessly exploited asylum seekers for political gain and, along with Dubya and Blair invaded Iraq.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Southern Cross University 10km run (Gold Coast)

On the weekend I was to return from Mount Mee, I got a call from my supervisor saying my trip to Gladstone, nay the port city of Gladstone, is on next week, and to confirm that I’m going. Good news, said I.
Well I was almost salivating at the thought of all that port, the sweet wine I’ll be imbibing, that I was starting to feel guilt at the excesses that I will most certainly be indulging.
To atone, i steered towards the Gold Coast which was holding its marathon festival that weekend. I signed up for the 10km run on the Saturday. I had planned to watch the marathon on the Sunday, but i had to pack for Gladstone.
The Southern Cross University 10km Run is part of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon festival. This is the first year that the 10 km run is held. I was not going to miss the occasion.

The 2010 Gold Coast Airport Marathon features events for all ages and abilities: the full 42.195km Gold Coast Airport Marathon, Half Marathon, 10km run, 5km Challenge and 4km and 2.25km Junior races for kids.
It's now Australia's largest marathon and this year's was held under glorious Gold Coast weather. A total of 23,800 competed in two days covering six distances. It was the ninth year for the event and organisers hope the change to two days will allow for more growth in the future. There were some exciting wins and new records set. The Gold Coast provided perfect running condtions and plenty of entertainment for the tens of thousands of participants.
The Marathon course is flat, fast and scenic, taking in the golden surf beaches of Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach and Burleigh Heads and glistening Southport Broadwater.The event was first staged in 1979 with just 691 runners and has grown to become one of the biggest and best holiday marathons in the world. Last year, a record 23,398 people from 42 countries took part, with that figure expected to climb in excess of 25,000 in 2010.
The route largely followed the region's stunning ocean coastline.
I ran my usual race plan. To finish the race and not embarrass myself. I was about 50 rows back from the startline. When the gun went we all surged forward. The usual pattern played out as i now recognise a familiarity to running this distance.
I tend to go my quickest at the first 2km so i go past some runners, although many more go past me. Starting the third i would settle to my normal jogging pace and maintain this until the final 2 km. In between the first and last fifth of the race i observe the runners in my pace group. Many of them are like me. Middle-aged men and women with some older (50 yrs+) and a few young kids. Sometimes i speed up, and then slow down so as not to be seeing the same pops and nans in front of me. They eventually overtake me again.
The pattern repeats a few times until the final 2 km. At this stage i would be almost exhausted and just going on muscle memory. If i feel any drop of energy left i would pick up speed and try to sustain it to the finish. Most often i would save something for the final hundred meters so i can finish on the trot and not cross the finish line walking. This time i misread the 8km as 9km and sped up only to falter the final kilometre. I jogged as best i can and pretended a sprint on the final 50 metres. The clock showed 53:odd minutes, as i crossed. With the amount of training that i do (not a lot), I can’t really complain.
At least I got to again see the views along the esplanande and the coastlines out to The Broadwater, The Spit, South Stradbroke Island and other famous landmarks of the Gold Coast. I also toured (while jogging/running) the highrise buildings, hotels, apartments and shops and residential buildings of Southport, Labrador, Biggera waters, and Runaway Bay.
After crossing the finish line, i stumbled to the sidelines to recover. Later on i walked out to the refreshments stands for something to drink.
The Japanese are into marathon and running events quite seriously. Many of them are over here in Australia not just as participants, but also as support crews and cheerers. They are also here as volunteers for the event.

One young Japanese lad was minding one of the drinks stands, and maybe he thought i was Japanese, so he said: “konichiwa. itchy? knee?” pointing at the water bottles.
I replied: “No son, just sore feet, San”. That was as much as i knew about their language - that you call them something-san, and i was being polite.
He handed me three bottles!
(lame as my legs that one, he he).
I took one water bottle saying “thanks in-san”. He smiled so he must have understood that one.

Many of the elite runners of Australia and some from overseas took part in the race. They were using the race as part of their preparation for the Commonwealth games in New Delhi later in the year.
The locals dominated the 10 km run.
In the feature race on Sunday, the marathon, internationals showed the way. Kenyans Kariuki, Cherus and Chebet blitzed the men’s field while Japanese trio Yoshida, Matsuo and Fujita did the same in the women’s race.

All finishers received a commemorative medallion and a tee shirt. Certificates marking the occasion and achievement were made available online. Photos too. If you're amongst the elites, you'll have plenty.

For some consolation, i was under the average finishing time.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

booked for mountaineering

Life is a cycle of work and rest and everything else in between. And when one is in financial dire straits, the balance is heavily weighed in favour of work, that one can only try to relax from job to job and day to day. Isang kahig isang tuka.

A couple of weeks ago at work, i was booked to deliver to Ocean View, a hamlet on Mount Mee on the Moreton region hinterland of Queensland.

On the way there, i popped in on a bookfest at the Brisbane Convention and exhibition centre. The Lifeline Bookfest raises funds for counselling services for families. The Lifeline Bookfest is divided into three sections.
Within each section, books are divided into over 20 categories: Children's; Australiana; History; Reference; Humour and Oddities; Biography; Literature and Classics; Textbooks; Travel; Health; Science Fiction; Hardback Fiction; Art and Music; Paperback Fiction; Cooking; Computers; Religion; Foreign Language; Vehicles and War Craft; Hobbies; Sport; Gardening; Animals; Penguins and Pelicans; Economics; Sociology; Philosophy; and Science.
In addition to books, each section carries a range of magazines, stationary, videos, CDs, cassettes and records.

The event started in 1989, and i try to go every few years or so. This year had over 2 million books for sale.
There were piles of books everywhere in two halls, on all sorts of topics.

Sometimes you don’t know where to start.

I snapped a couple of photos and by the time i turned back to the fiction section, the lot had almost gone.


I quickly picked out from the leftovers, a half dozen mixture to while away the time up in Mount Mee. Lessing’s ‘The Golden Notebook’ is for my retirement bookshelf. Actually so will the rest of the pile. But maybe i can discard Baez’s autobio afterwards. The others will serve for the short sojourn to Ocean View.

I am not sure if I have read the novels before, but i’ll worry about that later. With these books you’re never sure. They often have the same plot and storyline. I don’t mind reading the Cromwell books again after a decade or so. These books might also accompany me to the port city Gladstone if the job there comes through. A good read and some good port wine is always a good combo.

So with my lootful of books I headed north, past the busy suburbia of northern Brisbane. Soon after I picked up my workmate, we were zooming merrily along the Bruce Highway when i slowed down for what i thought was a mobile camera van. It was a police speed trap and I would have been booked had i not slowed down.
Now that is one booking i did not want.
We took the turnoff  into the plains of Burpengary, Narangba, then through Morayfield and Caboolture.
It wasn't long before we hit the backroads and followed the Caboolture River to where it starts below Campbells Pocket. The River is only a short one (46km), but it provides enough for fishing enthusiasts. Fishers here have caught or seen salmon, bass, catfish, cod, grunter, catfish and yabbies.

We drove up the zigzagging winding narrow mostly dirt (with bitumen seal in some sections) Campbells Pocket road up to the hilly slopes, slowing down and pausing to catch some panoramic views over the vast expanse of Moreton region stretching from the hilly ranges to the islands and the pacific ocean.
Ocean View here we come.

We topped a rise and suddenly we join the main Mount Mee road at a tee-intersection. We sped past rolling green pasturelands and eucalypt forests. The tree-lined road continued all the way to our destination in Ocean View.

The job is pleasant enough. So for a couple of days we rambled around some lush rolling hills and took in some touring on the side.

On the second day, we took the southern approach from the lazy undulating hills of Samford valley and the flat pastures of Dayboro. The scenic countryside town of Dayboro has a bit of rustic hospitality with a historic bakery. We stopped for a serving of country baked sweets and brewed coffee from this town of yesteryear .

We then ascended up the beautiful winding hilly backroads to the heights of the D’Aguilar ranges in Ocean View, gateway to Mount Mee.

The job site is a rural retreat which offers camping and cabins to city dwellers. This mountain hideaway provides the chance of staying in an unpolluted country farm environment, even if just for a bed and breakfast package that many people look forward to. The place also has a function centre and bush honey retail outlet. Business decisions are now about to transform this unique destination into acreage blocks.

While delivering around the site, we chanced on some trees near the fences, with strange marks branded on their trunks.

Another tree had a kind of benched out hollow near its base. Our records show these trees to have been blazed and cut out during the early settlement of these homesteads dating back to the 1870s. The early settlers were attracted to the timber growth in this hilly range, especially the red cedar. The timber mills have been shut down and have not operated for nearly three decades. This has enabled the forests to regenerate and are now nature preserves. Some have reverted to rainforests of mostly eucalypt and hoop pines.

There's not too much excitement in those two days up in Ocean View. We did do some trekking over hill and dale and through creeks, gullies, muddy draws and some thick lantana. We also jumped a few barbed wire fences, thus tearing up some shirts and trousers. We also collected a few tonnes of cobbler's pegs (noxious weed).
On the second day, i sent my mate John to collect some gear we left on a hillside slope. I was heading the other way when i heard the what sounded like whooping and yelling, the war cry of a band i thought. Looking around i saw John jumping 10 feet up in the air, screaming and running down the hill quicker than a hare. He was puffing and very much excited but also sounded worried and scared.
'I found a black snake!' he said.
'Oh. Did you get bitten?' i asked very concerned.
'No mate. But the little fook scared me!'
Relieved, i said 'Settle down Johnny. You know the trick with snakes is to scare them back. Where i come from we threaten them by saying we like wriggly adobo, and that scares them away.'

John didn't seem convinced. He still had to pick up the gear.
I learned later that he had a cultural fear or phobia of snakes.

Seriously the red-bellied or spotted black snake of Queensland are among the most dangerous in the world. These are common to the east coast and southeast corner of Queensland. And Mount Mee is smack bang in the middle of these places.
I cautioned Johnny about the safety considerations of the job, and to make a lot of noise when walking through the tall grass and brush. He carried a stick with him from then on. Me i put my mobile phone on full volume and was playing 'Badlands' the tribute album to Springsteen's 'Nebraska', all the time. Johnny's musical taste is different to mine, but he saw that it worked because i did not spot a snake in the two days we were in the badlands of Mount Mee.
I commented to him 'maybe the snakes don't like my music either, because they leave me alone'. He just smiled and nodded.

We did our business up there in that beautiful corner of Mount Mee, delivering for two good days.

And on the way out we drove around the tourist roads away from the main drag, looking out over towards the Pacific to the east, and around to the green dense eucalypt cover of the great dividing range on the south.

I will be visiting these beautiful rolling hills again.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

A mountain trek (Part 3)

Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.

Concentrating on a precipitous little-used trail, i thought to myself: don’t slip now, and mind the loose gravel. Minutes earlier i was backtracking, running up and down, and around in circles, before i found this trail.
Rounding a bend in the spurline I stopped, with a foot in mid-air, as i saw a huge tree laying fallen over the path. The burnt out base of its trunk tells the tale. Another majestic pine had fallen victim of the fires.
There was no way around or under it. I thought back to my younger years when i could climb such an obstacle with ease. I jumped, lunged, grabbed, hugged and clambered over the trunk of my stately tree friend. ‘Thanks mate’ i muttered as i fell on the other side.
I got to my feet and soldiered on.

A gully with denser vegetation is visible and i was hoping it had some water to wash off some of the soot and grime from my face and clothes. Short of the gully i saw some bright bluish color sticking out like a sore, out of place here, deep in nature's green nooks. A closer inpection revealed this to be the tatters of a tarp cover of a logging tent. The tent site was overgrown and I almost fell in a deep sh*thole. I could now see that again i am at a dead-end, in a camp site which had not been used for a couple of years. There’s not even a way to the gully which was only meters away. The thick buffer of vegetation and lantana, had blocked off access to and through it. I could hear the water trickling.
I thought of cutting a way through but knew i could not afford the time nor the energy. Save it for the hills.
I also knew there wasn’t a trail on the other side.

Twas then I changed my tune, tho it was not yet June.
I had sang 'homeward bound' way too soon.
yet hot and desperate i spake (tho not a poet make):

There must be some kind of way out of here...
said the hiker to the thief
there's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
And then I bellowed:
"Who's the joker now? you flaming fire you!
you stole my road, thief!"
The echoes of the cackles of the crackles
cracked out chortles and heckles
'Not funny' i thought, with raised hackles.

I checked my cell phone and water – nigh on mid-arvo, and still a liter left.
I retraced my steps back to the fallen lord of the forest, carefully clambered over again, and revisited another path. I quickly got on the main trail and followed the path to Maligcong, thinking that i’ll get on the trail to Guina-ang from there.

The shadows were deepening as i descended down a ravine. Down the steps cut out from the steeply plummeting cliff, i felt fatigue setting in my legs. The descent led to a path that led to a concrete footbridge over a creek.
I found a waterhole next to the bridge, had a drink, refilled a bottle, picked on the leftover skins of camote, and set out uphill on the other side of the creek.
The creek is noticeably drier than normal.

The shadows led me along so i knew i was heading east - still towards Maligcong. After a bit of a climb, i pass some GI piping and then some open irrigation channels. And then a pleasant sight. I saw some ricefields recently planted and luminous with the beautiful verdant hue of young rice seedlings. I haven’t met a soul all day and i was hoping to meet anyone.
Suddenly I crested a hill and emerged to the top of the ricefields of Tuvo. In Mainit!

How amazing. So i did find myself where i wanted to, albeit in a roundabout way.
I was grinning at my plight and stupid meanders and miscalculations.
I paused to take a photo of the outermost agamang (rice granaries) of Mainit.
And then I did a double take. I realised they were houses not granaries. And I was not atop the ricefields of Tuvo.

With dismay i realised that after all, i had come out over the Maligcong ricefields, not the fields of Mainit.
This time i laughed foolishly and loudly at my errant assumptions. And i to think i knew some geography, i chided myself. Checking the time, and for the nth time that day, I considered my options.
I decided the best way back is to catch a ride from Maligcong to Bontoc and maybe chance a late ride home to Mainit or Guina-ang. At the least i can trudge down to Bontoc if there be no vehicles.
The descent down the rice paddies is a wonderful way of strolling into Maligcong which now approached closer.

But somehow something did not look right in my vision. I slowed down then stopped to try and figure out what was bugging me. 'Where’s the road?' I asked aloud. Standing still I looked again down towards the village. There is no road in sight. In Maligcong there is a sweeping arcing road leading to the village, and from my vantage point up in the mountain fields, it was clear this village had no road from this northwestern approach.
A cold shudder went through me as I realised that this village, still a good 3km away, is not Maligcong.

This then is a village in Sadanga municipality, maybe Belwang. But i had given up guessing.
My legs have turned to jelly. The long downhill trek, from the jungle peaks i reached at noontime, to the fields where i am this afternoon, had caught out an inexperienced flatlander. And for the nth (+1) time i pondered what alternatives there are when i get to that village. I could text my father and ask for advice on which relatives to seek out here, or hire a vehicle to Bontoc, or anything. 'Got any ideas?' I asked myself again. Myself said to get to that village first.
Earlier I had cut off a walking stick from a branch of the fallen pine lord. Am now grateful i did as I hobbled down the ricefields, limped along the trails, then finally found myself on the outskirts of town.

Te-er or tengao is the vernacular for a village local holy day. It appears that today is te-er here in this village. I did not see that many people in the fields although I did see from afar, a solitary woman tilling the rice paddies. There was also a couple of boys frolicking in some pool. They were too far off to have a chat.

The village also appeared deserted. I have gone past a few houses and still haven’t met any of the locals.
In the middle of the village on a hill a road materialised from where i was heading towards. This road ended at a rotunda-like area circled by buildings where a group of people were milling around. There were a few parked vehicles. After saying 'gday apo', 'top of the evening kandakayo', i asked if there was an afternoon jeep to Bontoc. The friendly folk politely smiled responding with a sympathetic shake of the head. No.
A man suggested the best option is to walk down to poblacion. He said there was a political rally there that evening, and that i should be able to hitch a ride later on with the campaigners.

In these mountain villages, you do not ask people too many questions. Likewise you hope not to get asked questions especially if you’re lost hiking from a neighbouring village, and passing through their village you don't even know the name. However strangers with no known business in town may arouse curiousity and suspicion. I was wanting to rest for my sore feet, and a softdrink, but i had not a moment to spare. Neither did i have a piso on me. (Who would have thought a few pesos would be handy for a hike in the jungle - to buy softdrink?)

I mumbled thanks and proceeded down the road. The village is quiet but there’s enough dogs to announce and sometimes escort a visitor passing by. The roadway wound down in a twisting curling course and i walked and faltered and marched until i came to the lower outskirts, where i realised that "asag-en" and “id baba” are relative terms. Now i can see Poblacion Sadanga miles down the mountain, and also Belwang (?) on a distant mountain slope. My legs and feet are gone, but i had no choice but plod along.
While I laboured down the road, i texted my sister in Mainit:
"wil b hom l8r 2nyt. tel pa n ma not t wori."
That message took a lot longer to think up than to type out the longhand version.

A half-hour later I staggered up to the Sadanga national highschool compound on another hilltop only to find it deserted, and with one way in and out. Defeated once more, i retreated to a junction i passed earlier and rejoined the main road going downhill. Past a bend i can see the zigzagging course descending down to the chico river in the far distance, where it joins the Bontoc-Tabuk national road.

What’s another few miles when you’ve already done 500. Yeah right.
I was admiring the views for a bit, fatigued and getting drowsy in the late warmth of the midsummer day, until i saw the shadows creeping eastwards rather quickly. Time to get a move on Martin.

In the late afternoon i turn a bend and suddenly come to the main junction where i see signposts with arrows directing to Poblacion and Sacasacan. It’s only now that i know the name of the village which earlier i thought was the agamang of Mainit, then again mistook as Maligcong.

At the crossing I chatted briefly with some women and a man resting on their way home from the fields. They surmised that the rally in town that night will finish up around 9:00. I nodded as if i knew how these things go. I took leave of the group after asking for markers to shortcuts down the zigzags. And then overriding the protests of my bowed legs and blistered feet, slowly and gingerly made my way down to Ampawilen like an old man that i am (i look like one anyway).

And after what seemed like a very long time, i finally arrive at Ampawilen junction, just as the sun was setting. I sat my bottom on a rock beside the crowded waiting shed and texted my sister again just to make sure she got my message. (My luck had reached rock-bottom. Unbeknownst to me, my sister’s phone’s battery had gone flat. And i found out later that my father asked an uncle to keep an eye out on the mountains for me, seeing it was late and i haven’t made a peep of my whereabouts.)
It was another three hours before i got home.
While waiting for a lift, I talked to the locals at the waiting shed. These folks too were waiting for a ride back to their homes, from the way i came, up in Sadanga. I shared what was left of my water, and gave my walking stick to a woman. Someone asked if i was a candidate. 'am penniless and not pretty enough' i said sorrowfully. Their rides came and they went on their way. Be patient old man, i told myself, or you'll end up being a patient.
I waited in Ampawilen for maybe an hour before a vehicle came along going towards Bontoc. This was a gravel truck owned no less by a Mainit lad done good. The truck driver shared this information as we drove along. I told him I knew his boss when he was still a little boy 'nga agmut-muteg'. I forget his name just now. He is also half i-Maligcong, Arlen or Arnie or something like that.
We picked up a couple of ladies trekking home from work. I invited these mountain maidens to sit on my lap, but only if they were single. Staring suspiciously at my sooty snotty ugly countenance, they lied saying they were married. Actually that was very fortunate because my legs were that gone i could not have carried a ladybug on them. We squeezed in and kept trucking. A bit of mizzle was falling and the windshield wipers started slapping in time. Now i was humming to 'me and bobbie mcgee' playing softly on my cell phone. I had nothing else to lose - maybe just my sanity.
That truck only took me as far as near Tucucan, a village below Maligcong and adjacent to Betwagan. This wasn't far from Bontoc, about 7 km, but i couldn't go another 7 steps for anything.
But my luck had turned, for just as i prepared to bed down and camp by the side of the road, a car comes along and thankfully stops for a stranger hitchhiker.
I did have something to thank the political campaign for. For this was a politician's car. and driven by another lad from Maligcong. They're coming out of the woodwork, these boys from the woods. We chatted about common acquaintances, and i tried not to talk politics. I was finally out of the woods, and politics was the last thing on my mind that time, or anytime.

In Bontoc, I limped up to my uncle's house, after hollering a hello to Auntie Dee as I ambled past. I'm not sure she recognised the black-faced apparition but smiled kindly as ever. Uncle Van is a busy man but he was home that evening. He asked me where I've been and which coal mine i visited. Wiping my face, I told him I went hiking up to the mountains and got lost. He laughed and said "In Belwang?" He is sometimes funny but truly a wise man my Uncle Colin. I said "how did you guess?"
And then i told him about my adventures.

It didn't take long to relate the whole unembellished saga of my day. But now you dear reader have the whole story- three essays long!

My cell phone was ringing and buzzing. It was a cousin/niece asking where i am and if i'm alright. She said my parents are worried. I told her i was in Bontoc.
She was astounded: "Bontoc? But you went the other way, towards Abra?"
"That's right" I replied. "But sometimes miracles happen. I'll be home later tonight. Tell father and mother not to worry."
That evening i supped with my lovely and handsome cousins and their many friends, I think it's the birthday of cousin B. Afterwards they generously procured a car to take me to my backwoods home in the boondocks of Mainit.
The first part of the journey.
The name of that mossy forest/ jungle is Sir Khan, named after the progenitor of Genghis (Chinggis) Khan and Kublai Khan of the Mongolian nation, whose ancestor came from Chonglian. The Imainit spell it 'Serkan'.

The middle section of the trek. I had no food, jacket, lighter, flashlight. Had i gotten lost-

The whole route, and nothing but the route, so help me plod.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

A mountain trek (part 2)

Click here for part 1.

I was tracking a mountain trail snaking up to a burnt area but it had now sneaked away and disappeared in the ash and the soot and charcoal. Like an avenging angel, i rushed in where fools fear to tread. But like a bigger fool i stupidly and blindly stumbled through smoke and smoulder. With hardly a prayer i madly trampled on over ember and cinder

Such is the ways of mice and men. Even the sharp eyed eagle is wise not to have ventured in pursuit of the mountain mouse trying to escape - running in circles away from the fire. The mouse too is wise to go in circles as at least it keeps retracing its steps and escapes the fire. (I don’t actually know this about eagles or mice so insert smiley here. I’m just illustrating my idiocy).
The journeying man however had traced out a pattern called chaos and is now lost in the midst of a smoky and dark rainforest. In my mad rush to get through the smoke, i found myself deep in a denser darker gloomier place.

The smoke had cleared, and what I thought was thick dark smoke was, at high noon, actually the gloom from the overshadowing thick leafy cover of the rainforest blocking off the sun. And at high noon in the tropical cordillera mountains, the sun is on its zenith straight up there in the sky. In other words I am lost like a rudderless ship out at sea. Without realising it, the few minutes of blind rush had led me right into the middle of a jungle on a mountain peak of my homeland.

Not even fire can penetrate the deep jungles of the Cordillera. So in that sense, I was at least safe from one danger. But the danger now facing me is how to get out and safely. I estimate that I would have traversed 3- 4 hundred metres in the 15 minutes of wild and blind rushing through the vines, ferns, moss and undergrowth.

I took stock. My watch says the time is around 1:00 pm and i reckon i’m about 3 hours hike from home. It was no use trying to reckon directions from the sun. First because of the time of day, and secondly no sunlight can filter through the canopy hence no shadows.

You know when you get nervous you start humming. I did. I was humming something like.
I offered up my innocence
and got repaid with scorn
"Come in" she said "I’ll give you,
Shelter from the storm."
Unwittingly i was appealing to my mother the mountain for some succor.

Quietly and quite rightly reprimanding me for my foolishness, she whispered in answer to my supplications. 'The hard rain has fallen, but i’ve sheltered you my darling son, go on make back on your way.'

Thus becalmed I looked around, but every which way looked lost. The moaning and creaking of the trees induced some thought. I knew it was bright daylight above the branches and the treetops. And it came to me that i was mostly going uphill and that the gradient had lessened when i was pushing a way through. I then warily picked my way through again trying to find, to feel for the descending slopes. I backtracked a few times along the way. There was a trail through that jungle – i came across bits of its disused parts. But it cannot be tracked. And without landmarks, a first timer to these parts would get lost like I have.
After some time of despondent bumbling, i could smell smoke again. Facing what i reckoned to be a downhill direction, I surveyed in a half circle to try and see smoke. What irony. The trees have thinned out slightly and some sunlight now filter through. In a few minutes i found myself on the verge of the rainforest – coinciding with the edge of the burned area. The tail end of the disappearing trail is back in sight and immediately i gratefully stepped back on it. My watch read 1:45pm. I was lost in the jungle for all of 45 minutes. It felt like 45 hours!
My dilemma now was whether to make my way back home the way i came or try to find another trail in the charred slopes below the jungle on the mountain peak. I resolved to keep going for a bit and to backtrack if i cannot find a way around.

The steep slopes of the eastern edge of the jungle, face the mainit ricefields and the villages of maligcong and  guina-ang.

(A close-up photo of Guina-ang from miles away in the Mainit mountains. That's the recently bulldozed road to Dalican in the background.)

I struck a path through the burnt out grass and loose gravelly ground while keeping some distant hilltop in sight. At the edge of the burning I went up and then down along a draw and found what i was hoping to – a trail. So back on track. One more glance at my watch said 2:15 pm. Plenty of time to get home.
The trail runs easterly and is getting wider as it winds down about 20m parallel to and on the south side of a ridge. It goes steadily downhill for a good 2 or 3km before it merges and is one with the ridgeline. I encounter a few more smouldering/burning areas. The trail is now clearly defined and appears to be used regularly. I am concerned slightly that it keeps heading east instead of south or southwest to where i think Mainit should be beyond the hills on the south. I thought it was simply the zigzagging route.

Flitting in and out through the branches i can see houses on a hill in the far distance in Maligcong.

And so now i know i’m on track. I come across a y-shaped fork in the road where the trail splits into two - one continuing east and the other southwards. This is the main trail between Belwang and Mainit and i strike the trail south resolving to visit Maligcong to the east some other time. I checked my watch 3:00pm so I should be home in an hour or so. A few minutes down i found another gap with views to Maligcong.
I tried zooming in a couple of shots. A bit fuzzy.

Rising a small hill i found yet more smoke and another logging camp. I walked through the burnt area shaking my head at the wasted off-cuts left behind. That much reject timber would be very handy for a shed or a kalapaw shack back in Oz.

If home wasn’t a bit distant over the hills, I could have carried an 8’x6"x3" piece for firewood.

At the other edge of the burning I paused as the trail had disappeared again. It cannot be I thought, as I walked up and down along the edge of browned singed grass and fallen pine needles. I to’d and fro’d a few times, each time getting farther in search for the trail which I thought should be there. After trundling across a couple more times I went downhill on the slope which suddenly steepened into a ravine. It is thus I realised there was not another trail out from there. The trail in had only been for the logging camp, and to nowhere else.

Now I was a little worried. I paused searching for a trail and tried to think. It was the mid-afternoon and I reoriented myself by reckoning from the sun’s location. I backtracked up the hill to the fork in the road. On impulse I backtracked even farther up the way I came and found what I saw earlier – a trail branching to the southeast. It wasn’t very obvious as the recent fires had obscured its edges and some fallen undergrowth had blocked it off in some points. I looked beyond to the hills hiding Mainit from my eyes.

The homestretch.
I started humming the Paul Simon song ‘homeward bound’. I was looking forward to a big mug or takob of fine bayas after my evening bath. That will help me diarise my trek.

Part 3. Conclusion

Thursday, 1 July 2010

A mountain trek

At the height of the political campaign for the May 2010 elections, no corner of the Philippines was spared a visit by hopeful candidates looking for votes. Even the village of Mainit had its normally quiet and sleepy summer days disturbed by daily visits from jeeploads of campaigners parroting well-rehearsed lines about the supposed virtues of their candidates and promising good times for all if elected.
I can only take so much of this nonsense, and i regularly take walks and hikes around the hills and mountains surrounding my highland home to get away from the intrusion into my planned quiet holiday.
One day in mid-April I packed two water bottles and a bit of lunch (three pieces of camote) and hied off to the mountains. I intended to do a loop up and around the main ricefields of Mainit and back via Guina-ang. A good 4- or 5-hour, at most a 6-hour trek (for a resident of flatland Oz). Pretty straightforward or so i thought.
The day looked to be sunny and warm so i dug out and tied a leather slouch hat to my backpack for when the sun rose high in the sky. Waking late on the day, I started just before 9:00 am, to the mountains, commencing from the upper part of the village. A few hundred meters on and the trail suddenly steepens as I climb up the ridges next to the ricefields of Pinger. Along the trail I come across some makeshift barriers to keep cattle from entering and roaming the village. These barriers are made from tree branches and saplings and constructed in A-shaped cross-sections and stabilised with horizontal braces doubling as rungs to allow human access.

Above the Pinger ricefields are patches of pine trees providing opportune shady resting spots for feeble hikers like me. I paused to catch my breath and to take in some of the views of the village through the trees.

A spot right above the topmost part of the fields and just below the final ascent to Mt Amongao, provides spectacular views of Mainit and the road snaking out to Guina-ang and beyond to the peaks of Mt Kalawitan in the far distance.

As i was about to climb the final ascent to Mt Amongao, i reached for my hat behind my backpack as the sun is now starting to get warm. The hat was not there. oh i thought. drats. I considered my options and decided that rain or shine I will need my slouch hat or any other hat. If the weather remains sunny I’ll get sunburned and flameable, and if rainy I’ll be spurned and miserable. So I backtracked slowly for about 300 or 400 metres back downhill looking for my hat. I found it slouching at the A-framed barrier.
So having ‘warmed up’ for my hike to the mountains, i recommenced my journey. I reached Mt Amongao after a good half-hour of slow constant steep climbing.
From atop Mt Amongao the peaks of the high mountains of Sagada and Besao on the south, are now visible. Facing northwards in the mid-morning one can gaze for hours at the main ricefields of Mainit. From the heights of Tuvo around to the steep fields of Chakkang near Guina-ang, the wonders of the stonewalled rice terraces never cease to amaze.

North to Sadanga, oh north the rush is on. The northerly direction from Mainit goes towards Sadanga and beyond to Kalinga. But well before these places lies a vast forest wilderness blanketing the steep rugged and inaccessible sometimes inhospitable mountains. So onward on my journey i plod along.
Before the next mountain range is a watering hole i know well. From this spring comes the sweetest purest springwater i have known.
After a long slaking drink and topping up my water bottles i get back on the trail. I come next to the pine forests of Poklis where often in my youth i would visit to cut some firewood (often means twice a year or so he he). The tall pines are still there but now a modern adversary - more powerful and destructive than the bolo (machete) or the axe - the chainsaw had wreaked havoc amongst their midst. The mature pines have all gone, felled for timber. As if the sight of burning destruction wasn’t bad enough, now this. And with the heart getting heavier, as if on cue I pass by a few abandoned logging camps.
I continue on my odyssey. Occassionally looking back i saw that the top of the hill feeding the watering hole where I had just been was not spared by fire. It’s no surprise then that that waterhole was only trickle fed.

Oh woe to firebugs! I throw a curse knowing it may well fall on someone near and dear to my family. Even so...
Slowly and gradually the peaks come closer, and the air purer and thinner. And still the signs of human activity are all about. Way out of place here just below the peaks on a thin and treacherous spur line, i come across a barbed wire fence! I have not come this far before ever, but this was something else i did not expect to see here deep in the mountains.
After a couple of hours of hiking up the slopes, through the whispering pines and the omnipresent smoke, I pause on top of a knoll. This appears to be the penultimate peak before the summit of the still distant highest mountain in the northerly direction. I don’t know it yet but this impression will recur a few more times during the hike.
I enjoy a piece of camote, some satisfying sips nay gulps of sweet mountainwater, and big gratifying breathers while the whispering pines play their serenade in concert with the breeze.
The views are awesome. I tell you, dears, that if eyes were made for viewing, Then the majesty of the mountains is its own excuse for hiking. (I think Ralph Waldo Emerson put it better in "The Rhodora"). A poet these mountains will make of me yet (not). I thought it was wine that did the trick...

To the east, all of the western side of Guina-ang is now in sight. Farther in the distance also the upper and lower hamlets of the village of Dalican. And in the far horizon is the cloud-kissed peak of Mt Kalawitan in Sabangan.
To the south also the high mountains of the Applai towns between Banga-an in Sagada to Pide in Besao. They poke their peaks to say ‘inmali ka?’ in our mountain tongue (this is g’day in oz).
I attempted long range pictures of this incomparable panorama, but the dense pines here exact their 'tong' (toll) and teasingly block off every good angle for photos.

I settled for a one-minute 360 degree video around the mountaintop.
It was getting on towards noon, but i wasn’t feeling hot at all up there in the aerie heights of my journey. The pines kept me shaded from the heat of sol as i now tread carefully in the trails less travelled. The stench of smoke gets stronger and suddenly i find myself in the wake of a forest fire. I estimate the main fire to have burnt here about two days previously. Still the embers smoulder, the smokes linger, the grounds warmer and this traveller’s collar hotter! Ropeable is a term i hear often. Now i know what it means.