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 thiefthere's too much confusionI can't get no relief
"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.
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.
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.