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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.