Fighting on the (rice) terraces

Trip Start Feb 15, 2006
Trip End Feb 14, 2007

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Saturday, April 8, 2006

Welcomed again with garlands at the hotel and our names on a welcome flag outside we adjourned for a well earned kip.

The next morning we began the journey to Batad where the 2000 year old rice terraces are at their most dramatic. Our guide Robert was brilliant explaining not only about the rice growing processes and traditions but also convincing us that the medieval rituals and sacrifices were still very much part of everyday life.

He was a member of one particular tribe in this fiercely competitive part of the Philippines. Although a Catholic country, the "natural priest"(witch doctor) is much more important than the church's Father Ted! For example when a couple wish to marry, after the exchange of pigs, the families engage the natural priest to kill a chicken each night for three days and for good measure a buffalo on the third day, so that he could check the colour of the contents of the intestines to establish if the ancestors would look favourably on the match. If not, the couple would have to wait for three years and try again.

Robert's father had waited three years and again got the wrong colour bile and had to choose a new bride. Maybe the natural priest knew a thing or two because the second choice provided seventeen children (ranging now from 48 to 17 years old) to help in the rice paddies, to provide support in old age and to supply warriors for the family feuds.

As for the feuds, we first thought something was up when Robert explained that a red flower was planted at the site of any murder. Subsequently he said that his father and his fifth cousin had sworn a family war over a land dispute last year. Luckily the natural priest on both sides had inspected the chickens ( five this time) and had warned that they would not win the war. They chose to have a female negotiator from each side to meet in private to resolve the issue. Unfortunately no resolution and they are trying to decide on the next step whether to try a wrestling match or the throwing of bamboo leaves at each other. Size of the contestants or throwing practice is irrelevant because the spirits of the ancestors can make a small wrestler very strong or can guide the flight of the leaves!

We wish Robert and his family the best of luck because we don't want any more murders where the murder victim has to be dragged from his house to the burial site to wake up the spirits to avenge his death.

Apart from these jaw dropping stories, the rice terraces are absolutely splendid and well worth the "free back massage" jeepney rides and the couple of hour trek.

We had to walk along the wall of one of the terraces (Gill once again opted for the moving handrail approach - holding onto the guide's hand) which was just as well as with one false step she would either fall twenty feet down to the next terrace or owe the rice farmer a pig per footprint in the paddy field. The paddy field was obviously a safer option and I ought to go now to market to buy just two pigs.

After the market we are off to the cock fighting pit where alcohol is banned but betting is certainly not! Then with a bit of luck we have a normal seat on the return bus and will arrive in the middle of Manila at 2 am where hopefully we will be met by Clare's driver for a safe transit to fortress Shangri La.
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