Three months ago, I told my housemate, as if patting myself on the back, how I loved the fact that I was able to keep blogging regularly. Well, if you know the Filipino word “nabati” which means “jinxed,” that was what actually happened in the next three months. Some Filipinos say “nabati” whenever something opposite to what has been noticed has happened, like when someone gleefully mentioned about the clear sky and rainless day and all of sudden the sky turned overcast and rain started to pour hard. After I praised myself, I ended up delaying my writing until the topics in my mind were overtaken by various events. So many exciting things have happened in the last three months and I wasn’t able to devote a blog post for each of them. Here is a rundown of what happened in the last three months. 1. Rockclimbing in Norzagaray, Bulacan My friend Jaymee and I thought about an all-girl climb since it was March 8, the International Women’s Day and it was just befitting to show our prowess without the slightest help from our good male friends. We chose these two limestone rock formations in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which climbers before us had baptized as the Lioness and Rhino Rock mainly because they amazingly resemble a female lion and a rhinoceros. But it turned out we would rely on a teenage boy as our guide. Without him, we wouldn’t be able to make it to the top nor to scale it down. It was crazy we thought we could do it on our own. We made it to the peaks of the two rockies, but not without scratches, and bruises. Those rocks were so hard on us. My major mistake at the time was I chose to wear shorts and let my legs go bare instead of wearing usual tight pants. Good thing J had an extra pair of tights in her bag, so I was good while climbing Rhino rock. You would need gloves to protect your hands from the harshness of the rocks. But like any other climbs, it was all worth it. We felt accomplished in the end, having spent only less than P700 for the transpo and the guide fees, including a giant pizza I bought from a kiosk before we headed home.
J made a beautiful video which actually summed up the whole thing.
2. Inked by the last Kalinga tattoo artist in Buscalan
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were the only days the newspaper shuts its operations and allows its employees to be normal human beings who can enjoy the very concept of public holidays. J and I took advantage of this annual small miracle and headed to Luzon’s northernmost part. We were just lucky that a stranger offered us two roundtrip bus tickets to Tabuk, otherwise we would probably be satisfied doing planking in the middle of our beloved Edsa, which isn’t a bad idea for the sake of an excellent photo-op. We took the Manila-Tabuk route, enduring the 12-hour bus ride. I managed to get intermittent sleep on the bus but my neck and back were complaining afterwards. In Tabuk, after breakfast, we transferred to a jeepney going to Buscalan past noontime. I suggest you go top-loading at some point during the jeepney ride. You would want an unobstructed view of the rolling mountains, rice terraces and the Chico River snaking through. We arrived past noon time at the Bugnay Junction where we were fetched by our guide, whom we hired through Charlie, one of the locals in Buscalan Village. We rode a habal-habal to the jump-off point where we would start to walk. Riding a habal-habal going up along the unpaved hilly edges of Kalinga was truly an adventure itself. The trek, about 20 minutes, was a walk in the park. But we were screaming silently because of the scorching noontime heat. Buscalan village is a laid-back community tucked against the lush green mountains and terraces of the town of Tinglayan. Charlie is the caretaker of houses in Buscalan so he’s also the best person to ask about the accommodation. We saw a lot of friendly kids smiling and badgering us for candies all the time. They have become used to tourists giving them food so it would be better to bring some for them and for Whang-Od who we learned later liked chocolates. I asked a teenage girl if there was a word freedom in Kalinga as they have “fain” for mindfulness. It shouldn’t be a far-fetched idea as children played around and domesticated animals- dogs, native chickens and pigs wandered unleashed. She said yes, even the animals enjoy freedom in the village. But there was no word for it, probably because there was also no available concept and experience for its absence. Here owners need not to know which pigs are his and not. I guess that’s the example of a community where some resources are shared. In the afternoon, after a short power nap, we went to see Whang-Od, the 96-year-old “mambabatok” in Kalinga. She was there sitting idly in the hut and chatting with other locals just after giving a huge tribal tattoo to a professor. The prof later told us the meanings of the the Kalinga tattoo designs. The sight led us to a slight fear: there was no one being tattooed to take a photograph of and we should get the tattoo J and I had no earlier plans of getting a tattoo. We just wanted to see Whang-Od and have a little chat. (That was the lame reason we wrote on the visitors’ logbook). Jaymee decided to get one, a small fern, on her arm. I was hesitant at first because I had no idea about the pain. A guy before told me it was like giving birth. But I immediately found his metaphor flawed. I asked him: “When did you experience the labor of maternity?” From Jaymee’s face, it looks like there was no pain at all. “Mas masakit pa ang mabigo sa pag-ibig,” (It’s even more painful get your heart broken) a female tourist quipped. I eventually picked the crab sign, convinced by the idea behind it. The professor we met said it was the sign of Lumawig, the local Zeus of the Kalinga tribe, who goes down to the mortal world to find wives to make love with. He said some would say it’s a traveler’s sign. We weren’t really sure and maybe the professor was making them up. Jaymee said I chose it because I liked the idea of a flirtatious travelling God. I replied: “It chose me.” Some things to note: elders of the tribe associate tattoo with prestige and beauty. Women used it as adornment, the headhunting warriors as marks of their victories in wars and conflict. But the tradition is dying amongst the tribe’s descendants. I asked Charlie’s daughter, a descendant of Whang-Od if she had one. She said she refused to have it because the prospect of finding a job would be dimmer if she had a tattoo. For the locals, having a tattoo is no longer seen as a practical thing to do. Only the amused tourists coming to see Whang-Od, however, could be the only reason the tradition is still flourishing in this tiny village. I was happy with my tattoo, looking at it as a priceless artifact. But my brother, after seeing my bare right arm, called me “Siga” (Gangster). 3. Trek to Mt Pinatubo My friend Andrew who was in town then sent me an emergency invitation. “Let’s trek Mt Pinatubo!” Since I had just cancelled a trip and I had nothing planned, my kaladkarin (up-for-anything) self was game. We did our research for itinerary, budget and tips. (This was my second time in Mt Pinatubo and the first time was about six years ago.) Still, I cannot fathom how a violent natural event such as a volcanic eruption can create something magically beautiful. I guess this fact is in agreement with my almost perennial optimism in life. 4. 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur Sometimes my work brings me to places and it will always be fun however brief and still loaded with work the assignment will be. But last May 6 was my first time to stay overseas for 24 hours. I arrived KL at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday and left the city for Manila at 6:30 p.m. the following day. A quick working visit it was and I felt I was just traveling to my hometown in the province, which is about 20 kilometers south of Manila. Or I can actually say I was like a President swinging by an international conference. But the trip was interesting for I met diplomats and experts from the EU and the Asean who gave me insightful thoughts about the hot issue in the region, the South China Sea. Well, I was there to work and not to travel anyway. But catching a glimpse of the Petronas Tower again and taking a stroll along the streets of KL are awesome too. 5. Apec in Boracay To tell you the truth, I have never been to Boracay until last May when the office asked me to cover the meeting of APEC’s senior officials. I have never really fancied going there with the impression that the place had been exploited through time. To me, there were other places in the Philippines worth my time and my money. But I would never turn down an assignment, be it a disaster coverage in a far-flung area or like that, a coverage of the APEC meetings in preparation for the upcoming big party in November where the likes of US President Barack Obama, Russian President Validmir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping are coming over. My female boss then told me in jest: “Get a bikini.” Still I can say that Boracay is among the Philippines’ best, having those long powdery white beaches and the turquoise waters. (Although I noticed the algae bloom on the other side of Station 1). I won’t mind including it in my travel lists and going back on my own.