There and back again...
Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
20Trip End Mar 02, 2007
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Despite my resolve for a vengeful breakfast, my stomach was decidely uneasy after the stress I had put my body through the day before.
Instead, witch-doctor/hero Elvis gave me five bitter black seeds to grind between my teeth and swallow to settle my poor ravaged tummy. Erin sat and patted my back as I crawled back into bed, while Veronica, Cora, Georgie and Elvis took themselves off to a nearby waterfall to frollick.
After a brief spell of recovery I ventured back to the real world... and it sure was real.
The terraces were veiled with shrouds of mist, but the magnificent view still showed through. The villagers were busy at work and children raced along the terraces as if they were on solid dry earth instead of slippery rock ledges. I could see really old people climbing the giant steps of the mountain with amazing dexterity and felt incredibly embarassed about the effect my sedentary lifestyle has had on my fitness.
I ventured downstairs and found the lodge owner Emiliano and his friend cleaning the rice, shuffling it about in a shallow basket, tossing it up in the air and catching it again like the Filipino version of pizza making. They offered me some rice wine, and although it looked deliciously like murky ditchwater, I had to turn it down, citing my stomach ailment as a good excuse. Emiliano took me into his woodcarving studio and showed me the incredible works of art he made from the local ebony. He described the fascinating history of the headhunters of the indigenous tribes, who lived in a cycle of revenge killings, raiding each others villages and beheading whoever had beheaded their villager and back and forth for centuries. It was usually the honour of the most senior tribesman to do the actual chopping, but exceptions were made in extenuating circumstances, such as getting revenge on someone who murdered your father.
They'd then bring the head back to their village, stick it on a pole and feast and dance for a week to celebrate the victory - all before having to take up arms to fend of the tribe-dudes from the other village who were now invading them again to get revenge.
Sounds a little too high school for me, with the hole tit-for-tat thing going on, but whatever floats their boat. When the dastardly Spaniards arrived they all but eradicated the practice of head-hunting, thrusting bibles at everyone left right and centre and replacing their head-poles with crucifixes. The strong Catholic influence is still a huge part of the villagers everyday life, as it is in the rest of the country.
Eventually Elvis, Cora, Georgie and Veronica all returned from the waterfall - Veronica looking like she'd just had a beer and a tete-a-tete with God she was shining from so much happiness. While I was disappointed not to have made it to the waterfall, the recount of the gruelling hike was enough to make me sigh with relief, as I never could have made it there and back, as well as up the mountains to our waiting trip back down to Banaue Town.
After another hearty meal of home-grown veggies and rice, we finally set off on the vertical climb to the top of the mountain.
It was with some trepidation that I donned my backpack. It was stil damp from the climb yesterday and my legs felt like jelly as soon as I put them on the first step out of the lodge.
After nearly fainting at the sight of the climb ahead (seriously, I almost did) we set to work on the arse-clenching upward march that would take us out of the village. Emiliano told me it takes him about 45 minutes (mind you, this is a guy who carried a refrigerator and giant oak table along the path chronicled in my previous entry) but it took us about two and half hours. I take full responsibility for that, being the biggest wimp in the group.
None-the-less we eventually mounted the peak of the mountain and got to look down on the valley as dusk came running in, chilling us in our damp clothes.
We pulled our exhausted bodies into the jeep and began a hurtling slide down the mud tracks back to Banaue. One big highlight of that ride was seeing a jeep very similar to our own lying at the bottom of the cliff we were clinging to. It took a us a few seconds to realise that all of us leaning our entire weight off the dangerous side if the jeep was probably not a good idea if we wanted to experience a long and fruitful life, so we quickly flung ourselves back to the saftey of the walled side.
We slid into Banaue just as dark had truly set in and jumped straight into our van, unwashed and unrested to begin the high speed ride back to Manila. We started to give the "Beware Avalanches" signs more credence when we almost drove into one: mud and dirt had fallen from a cliff and almost completely covered the road. Georgie continued on regardless, not seemingly to be at all phased by it.
Dodging hundreds of strays dogs on the way I barely clung to the small amount of food left in my stomach: Cora didnt fare so well.
We passed more checkpoints which all looked like they had been set up by bored locals out to amuse themselves. If they were in Australia they would have been sitting on eskies with a stubby holder in hand, whistling along to a Cold Chisel tape. They had the same laid back attitude and didn't seem at all interested in actually checking anything.
We took a long-cut off the main road at about midnight to visit Georgie's family who had kindly invited us for dinner.
We were hours late (we were expected at around 6pm) but Georgie's family - everyone; his parents, sister, nephews had all turned up and waited patiently for us to arrive, their home cooked meal untouched on the table.
Georgie's parents home was a small concrete square room, very sparsely furnished but filled with decades of family memorabilia. You could tell that each item was loved dearly for it's sentimental value and placed in a certain spot so it could be enjoyed every day.
As we entered their home surrounded by excited bouncing dogs they each greeted us with great warmth, as though we were family they hadn't seen for many years.
Georgie's family were so kind and generous. They were worried that the water would upset our stomachs, so they had turned out their pockets to buy us some Pepsi for us to drink with our dinner. It was so touching that we almost cried, knowing these people had spent their very tiny income on something we all take for granted.
They urged us to sit down and watched with joy as we tucked into the delicious adobo chicken Georgie's mum had cooked for us. Everyone wanted to gather around and take our picture, so still, covered in mud and filth from the mountain and none of us smelling too fresh, exhausted and dishevelled, we posed for photos with the family, taken on Georgie's nephew's ancient wind-on camera. Georgie said we were the first foreigners they had ever met, so it would be a great thrill to be able to show the photos to their friends and neighbours.
All too soon we had to accommodate our hectic schedule and get back in the van for the final stretch back to Manila.
Five and a half hours later, we pulled into the airport, exhausted, haggard and dirty and checked ourselves in, before collapsing in the waiting area.
We passed the time talking about the important things in life, such as the different toilets one encounters around the world. It was very reminiscent of mine and Erin's conversation about shoe-laces and praying mantis at Incheon airport in Seoul. As we whinged about our exhaustion Erin put it succinctly: "Sleep is something you dream about when you're really tired on the plane."
At last, in the burgeoning dawn light, we climbed into the tiny plane that would take us to the tropical paradise of Boracay where there would be no climbing and no risk of falling off cliffs.
Before the plane's engine had even started, I pulled my hood down over my face and finally fell asleep.