#8 Philippines, Feb. 25, 2010

Dear Everybody,

I flew back to Manila and taxied to Elana’s house. She had made wonderful paella for our dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

The next day she took me to see the Jesus Nazarene statue that had been the center of the special day on January 9th with the million and a half people who wanted to touch it. Elana explained that they bring the statue out of the church every Friday and people can see and touch it then, without the crowds, which we did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After shopping at a craft store, we three went to lunch enjoying Peking Duck in a spiffy Chinese restaurant in a spiffy shopping mall in the spiffy financial district.

In the market in Chinatown near the Jesus Nazarene church, Elana bought some banana leaf-wrapped carabao cheese from a vendor, for us to have that night before the long-awaited Bamboo Organ Recital.

 

The concert was sponsored by the Swiss Embassey and Nestles. We got there early and it turned out that some Swiss women that my friends knew were at the event and invited us to the VIP cocktail party preceding the concert.

The concert was magical—the organ definitely has an unusual tone. The organist (Guy Bovet from Switzerland) chose mostly 16th and 17th century Spanish music. The organ doesn’t have a pedal board (the pedals that are bass notes played with the feet) which is probably why he chose very old music. After an hour we dismissed for 10 minutes to be reseated in an auditorium across a courtyard to hear the remainder of the program consisting of J.S.Bach and Robert Shuman compositions, on a more modern conventional organ. It was fun to hear the contrast of the two organs. And his footwork on the pedals was like nothing I had ever seen before—really rapid fire!

On the way home Elana decided that this was the evening that I should try balut so they stopped and picked some up from a vendor. Balut are fertile eggs in which the chick embryo has developed for exactly 15 days. The eggs are then boiled and sold hot, only in evening time. To eat it, one cracks the shell on one end of the egg and drinks the liquid before peeling the whole egg and eating the contents, embryo and all. My friends felt that these were especially good balut (which they love)—“very fresh!” they exclaimed. I thought it was pretty much like eating any hard boiled egg although kind of strange looking—mottled with gray/black stuff. To tell the truth, I didn’t notice which piece of the egg contained the embryo—a new experience!

The next day I got the bus to Baguio (baag’-ee-oh) a beautiful mountain town in northern Luzon. Actually the town isn’t so pretty but the setting is wonderful—and at 4500 feet elevation it’s cool here—highs must be about 78 F.

Sunday I took a jeepney to Tam-Awan Village, an artistic center that teaches and preserves Ifugao art. They had dismantled and reassembled several original thatched roofed huts. Later I splurged on dinner at the Cafe By The Ruins, an outdoor cafe that serves Cordillera food—the mountainous area is called the Cordellera. I had some Tapuey (rice brew) to drink, followed by the set meal of Pancit Molo Soup (broth with ravioli-like noodles), Baked Sugpo (three huge prawns with lots of garlic), Mountain Rice (it was white with maroon flecks), and Camote Tops Salad (Camotes are sweet potatoes so the greens?), with ice cream and cookies for dessert.

Later I walked a million miles up and down hill to find a particular craft store. In Dumaguete in the hotel where I stayed there were gorgeous wood carvings that I would love to buy. That morning I took another jeepney way out to a wood-carvers’ area but could not find the ones I had in mind. The craft store didn’t have them either—I guess I’ll have to give up on these. It’s probably just as well as I’ve got too much stuff already!

The next day I went north to Bell Church. This is apparently a Christian church but bears no resemblance to one—it’s Chinese-Taoist-looking with lots of dragons on the roofs, lotus ponds, and burning incense sticks.

Later I was going to visit a museum but it was closed because of a holiday, I was told. I guess this was my ‘wild goose chase’ day as at lunchtime I took a jeepney and then walked a long ways looking for the Korean Palace Restaurant, getting conflicting directions from people whom I asked, but finally I found it. It was closed. They had moved five km away and the building was being torn down!

Plan B was a good dim sum restaurant that I stumbled upon. The restaurants that are REALLY busy, though, are McDonalds and there are several in this town. Some are two-storey and are packed all the time. What a howling success!

The following day I got the bus to Sagada, way up north. The ride was one of the most beautiful ever! Rugged mountains with crop terraces everywhere. 2000 foot drops from the road, which was narrow but paved. The last hour was gravel and only one lane wide. When we met oncoming traffic, one of us would need to stop at the widest place and pull over as far as possible, allowing the other to inch past. (Keep in mind the 2000 foot drops!) After six hours we arrived in Sagada, a small rustic mountain town.

I got a room at Alfredos but couldn’t wash up (pretty dusty!) until they fixed the water system. However, they did have hot showers (in this brisk mountain air) which the guidebook said they didn’t. Yay!

The next morning I hired a guide at the Tourist Bureau and we mapped out where we should hike that wouldn’t be too difficult for me. When we set out on this two-hour trek, the temp was perfect, with blue sky overhead as we walked on a path through a beautiful pine forest. At times I could see (and photograph) people working in their rice fields, terraced on the hills.

 

 

 

 

I visited four different sites, one of which had coffins piled up in a cave entrance, and three that had hanging coffins high up on limestone karst mountains. Some of these coffins are 500 years old and some are as new as 20 years old. Apparently the Animistic Applai elders continue this practice but it is expensive—at least 20 pigs and 60 chickens must be sacrificed for this privilege.

My guide asked my age and when I told him, “74” he laughed out loud and said that he was 24. He told me that I was not the oldest person he had ever guided. “Once I had a man that was 78, but you’re the second oldest,” he assured me. The area around Sagada is superlatively beautiful. No wonder so many backpackers come here to hike.

In Sagada a local woman, Christina, has made a museum collection of old Kankanay artifacts. When I visited she gave me a very interesting commentary on all the jewellry, sculpture, weapons, clothing, household items, pipes, and ceremonial things that she has collected. I told her that I was going to Besao on Saturday to see the fiesta with the Kankanay people wearing traditional clothes and dancing the ancient dances. She invited me to check with her on Friday evening as possibly her son would be driving her there, and I could go with them—Filippino hospitality!

Today I got a jeepney to Bontoc which is another, somewhat bigger, mountain town. The road was the usual part paved, part gravel with remnants of landslides and repair. But what stellar scenery! The roadsigns were interesting: “Caution Road Slip,” and “Check Brakes,” and “Light Vehicles Only”—we were 23 people in the jeepney but I guess that’s a “light vehicle.” People and their produce were taking the jeepney to market. One woman had a big tub of green tomatoes squeezing against my knees and a large bundle of Japanese eggplant.

I will be going back to Sagada tomorrow afternoon for the Saturday Besao celebration.

Carol

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