It was Friday, and it was noon, and we stretched our legs and flexed semi-numb butt muscles once we got off the bus (i had also dropped my wallet, which Whang young thankfully found. shit, what would have happened if she hadnt)
we went to the market to buy food to cook. Produce was somewhat scarce in Buscalan in between harvest seasons, dependent on what people brought up from Bontoc. Our hosts Kuya Charlie and Ate Tessie buy vegetables in Bontoc to sell among neighbors in Buscalan, and we had been advised to bring our own food to cook—and to share.
*canned food were welcome to be brought up by visitors but we decided against it because it would have weighed us down. we were not seasoned mountaineers/travelers :|
Ate Tessie met us at the market, and told us to eat lunch.
“You should eat or the climb will be very difficult.” she said. I was the only one who ordered a full meal ( :(( ) but the portions were huge so i forced my friends to eat with me. They were too exhausted to eat, managing a few mouthfuls of the bean broth with pork, and rice. Heroine bought some bread to eat on the way.
The jeep to Bugnay was not as loaded; usually there were more chickens in net bags under the seats, more sacks of vegetables and crates of beer to rest feet on. Somewhere along the ride it started to drizzle, and the toploaders quickly leapt inside. We all tried to sleep, finding ways to rest undisturbed as the vehicle shook and swerved along the path. Heroine tried to make a cradle of her scarf by tying it around the hand rail and making a loop to rest her head in.
“i saw a pic somewhere, of this guy in a jeep who wanted to sleep so badly he did this.” And so Heroine tried it—with varying levels of success.
“This is so unlike her. She isn’t always like this. I don’t know this girl!” exclaims Whang-young.
we’re all unlike ourselves when we travel, i guess.
After a brief pit stop in Bugnay, (crates and people were unloaded, dizzy chickens pulled out from under seats, new passengers got on), the jeep went on its way to the turning point before Buscalan. If you were to take the 8am bus to Tinglayan, as i had on my first trip, you would have had to wait in Bugnay, hang out by the stores and buy coke, chat with the locals, before heading off towards the turning point via motorcycle.
Ate Tessie told us to go ahead on the trek to the village because she had to wait for friends to help her carry her wares. and so we went, at a leisurely pace, standing aside every now and then to let the locals pass on and ahead, for they could do it with ease and because it might have taken them forever if we hadn’t.
i had mentioned that there was a small waterfalls and a river before the more difficult part of the climb, and we rested there a bit. teenage Buscalan girls who had been behind us on the trail caught up to us, setting their bags by the river and inviting us to swim with them
”let’s!” Heroine was first to rush towards the river. the water was cold, like relief, and we splashed around with all our clothes on before waving goodbye and moving on up. (we had also been mistaken for local girls by someone campaigning for the nearing elections; once we were spoken to in the local dialect we merely smiled and batted our collective eyelashes. the locals dealt with the awkwardness better by welcoming us formally)
“The river might have not been a good idea.” i grumbled, my wet clothes weighing down my every step. this last leg of the climb involved lots of steep stairs that, in that kind of heat and exhaustion level, seemed to go on forever. i did not appreciate that saying until those stairs. we took rest stops constantly. i was frequently asked if we were there yet, were we there yet, are we there yet. and i would reply, konti na lang, malapit lapit na, but mostly to reassure myself that those stairs had to end eventually.
“If you see a pig, it means you’re close,” was what i had been told on my first visit. somehow, there were no pigs, no beacons of hope. to cope, we teased and joked that the only pigs we were going to see were ones with wings and voices urging us to ride on their backs and off into the sunset, wherein the next day the headlines would scream: 4 female manila tourists found at bottom of ravine, feared to have jumped to their deaths. one of us would have to survive long enough of course, to tell the world about the flying pigs.
Ponyo and i went on ahead because Whang-young and Heroine had to take a long rest. we waited for them near the village entrance. above us, behind bushes of flowers, the tell-tale deep voice of a Kalinga woman greeted us over our heads, “Hello! are you visitors? Who is your guide?”
"Good afternoon po." we respond, and "wala po kaming guide."
"kendi!" chirped a child peering through the bushes, eyes twinkling. "kendi!"
we have arrived.
(note to future visitors: if pigs are absent, children happily requesting for candy will also mean that you have finally arrived at the village and that your suffering is over. but for Whang young and Heroine, their suffering ended at the sight of Ponyo’s backpack, so yellow it could be seen from neighboring mountains)