Breaking Loose

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March 15, 2014 by melcogger

Recovering from Typhoid in Manila was BORING! Budget constraints had forced us to stay in a backpackers near to the airport and about 10 km away from central Manila. The area was comparable to Midrand or Boksburg with absolutely nothing to do except sleep, eat and occasionally venture down the road to the KFC. We are ashamed of the last part but considering that we may have contracted typhoid from food, having something familiar was soothing to our souls. It’s funny though because rice and spaghetti at KFC were one of the menus options not available in South Africa. Perhaps the pathetic environment forced us to finally rest and make sure this effing illness left our bodies.

This did eventually happen after a week of nothing much and we cycled uptown to the bus station for an overnight bus to Banuae in the north of Philippines. Banuae is famous for the Unesco World Heritage-listed Ifugao rice terraces, hewn out of the hillsides using primitive tools and an ingenious irrigation system some 2000 years ago. Despite the short distance, taking a bus proved to be the correct choice because Melissa barely made it there. It turns out that she was not responding to the antibiotics as the fevers and delirium persisted. We therefore went to a small clinic in Banaue to confirm our fears and get a new prescription of antibiotics for Mel. We spent another 3 days chilling in the small and quaint town to ensure that Mel was fully rested. Again, all that we can account for these days was sleeping, reading and eating. Life has been reduced to the bare necessities but we’ve not complaining. We explored every nook of the town and ate at every restaurant. It’s hard not to notice a peculiar habit amongst most of the men in the town though. Everywhere we walked we noticed that not only were most of the men wearing what appeared to be bright red lipstick but they spat red saliva insistently. Dark red blotches littered the streets and gutters creating the illusion that fist fights had occurred everywhere and blood spilt in the process (or at least that was what crept into my imagination). After enquiring from a local, we were informed that men chewed on a combination of tobacco, lime and beetle nut that turned red in the mouth which firstly made the men look strangely feminine and secondly explained the ‘blood’ marks on the street.

Confidence and strength were brewing so we cycled 5km to a view point above Banuae to witness our first sights of the beautiful terraces. Coming downhill was spectacular as we weaved swiftly down the curved road back towards town. The next day we decided not to get ripped off by Jeepneys transporting eager tourists to a 3 day trek near Batad (another beautiful town located on rice terraces) and cycled uphill 15km to ‘The Saddle’, left our bicycles with a shop vendor and commenced our hike. It was an uncharacteristic call leaving our precious bicycles with a complete stranger but the owner of the guest house in Banaue said it would be safe so we trusted her. Naturally as South Africans, its taking us some time to shed our paranoia and insecurity but slowly but surely we’ll get there.

The scenery along the hike was quite amazing. Small villages, inaccessible by car or motor bike, deep within the mountains go about life as if 2000 years had not just passed by. As we strolled among the hundreds of small rice terraces along the steep hillsides, men and woman take delicate care of their crop. Many elderly woman are bent double literally from years and years of bending over to plant and rake the water-filled paddies. Because Batad was so beautiful and scenic we stayed 2 nights and made dam sure that we picked a hostel with a full view of the terraces. Feeling still slightly tender though we only managed to spend the day in open view of the hillside reading our respective books. Poor us.

The next day we broke away from our slumber and made our way towards Campulo, the next town on the hike route. We did not want to spend P1000 (R250) on a guide for 2 reasons: 1) we couldn’t afford it and perhaps more importantly 2) I think that it’s emasculating. I mean the paths seem straight forward and there were also numerous half elderly woman to whom we could ask directions: “Hi. Campulo, Campulo?” Or so we thought. Hmmm… We were so enjoying our walk along the thin terrace wall high above the valley that we completely missed the turning towards Campulo and carried along the mountain cliff. At one point the terrace wall was so thin and the cliff so steep that we wondered how they could allow tourists to go along that path. We ventured far beyond the correct path that it soon became a riddle as to which way we were supposed to go. I’d say: “yes, this seems right”, noting the smooth rock or degree of eroded path and Mel would nod in agreement. No matter which path we took however, it was either a local’s hut or a dead end. At this point we started to back track. It was not long before we happened upon a small Filipino man and Melissa stopped dead in her tracks and turned to me in fear and in a whisper exclaimed “he has a rifle and a large knife”. Without appreciating her own sense of danger I said: “ja ok, ask him for directions.” We were convinced that the pleasant terrace wall, which had maintained a constant contour would magically take us to our destination and no matter how much we tried to explain this to the man, he continuously pointed over the mountain (instead of around the mountain) and repeatedly said: “Campulo, Campulo!” We were sure he was just giving us a vague direction when he lead us to a miniature path that, true as bob went vertically up the mountain. We didn’t have a choice so we starting scaling up it. All along however I kept mumbling under my breath that this surely wasn’t the tourist path and that we had made a terrible mistake. Despite my pessimism, we eventually summited the mountain and located a path which we assumed the small Filipino man had referred to and commenced our descent. The rest of the walk was pleasant and we managed to arrive safely albiet that it took us 4 hours which ordinarily ought to have been 2 hours.

We settled in Campulo for the night and even made some friends: Pauline and Adrien from France. They were in fact the first friends we’ve made in a month and a half. Eish! It’s not that we aren’t friendly people. I think we are perfectly fine in the socializing department although perhaps slightly reserved. In other words, we don’t really enjoy the whole “I’m going to get smashed every night and be a stupid tourist” which is mostly the type of traveler we have encountered so far, especially in Boracay. Each to his own, I guess but we’re just looking for a more meaningful interaction than just being socially lubricated.

We were elated when our friends agreed to walk with us back to Batad the next day and we were also very curious to see exactly where we had gone wrong the day before. In hind sight, it was a easy mistake but one we wouldn’t have made if we had taken the services of a guide or perhaps if we had a better sense of direction. Our thoughts had occasionally wondered about our bicycles throughout the trek but more so now that we were leaving the next day so understandably we were anxious to hike back up the mountain to see our babies. This we did and thank God, they were still alive. The only thing missing was my back light and although I was eager to interrogate the shop vendor Melissa cautioned me that most importantly, our bikes were not stolen and we could get a new light, so I quickly fell back into line. These Filipina woman, geesh!

We are now back in Banaue and were supposed to head off straight away back to Manila but we decided against it as I have been experiencing some problems with my front derailer and have download copious amounts of youtube videos to assist me in this foreign terrain. Before we left I had asked a bloke at Linden Cycles to teach me how to tune gears but he said it would take years to teach me, so let’s see if I can do it in a day with the assistance of technology. In the middle of the guesthouse’s reception, Melissa watched youtube tutorials and paused to give me instructions. With a lot of trial and error, tweaking, adjusting and spinning, we turned out to be appalling mechanics, but managed to get the bike running satisfactorily again.

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