Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Aritao, Philippines

It wasn't exactly wild-camping, but it was the closest thing I'd managed in nearly two weeks in the Philippines--being allowed to throw down my sleeping bag in a shed beside a small roadside cafe. Once again the adventure for the day in these travels was finding a place to sleep.  Rather than looking forward to an end of the day campsite of my own devising, as is the usual crowning glory of a day touring just about anywhere else, here in the Philippines I end my days with the dread of having to spend a night in a hotel and the ordeal of trying to find one.

After descending from the mountains into a vast valley of rice paddies with mountains in the distance on all sides I was on a busy main road that took me through a sizeable town every dozen miles or so, each with at least one hotel.  After three such towns I was confident that the next when the light began wanig would as well.  I wasn't all that disappointed when I was told by a police officer that it did not.  That meant I got to be creative and might be spared having to sleep inside.  I tried a gated church that had some lawn, but the caretaker couldn't countenance such an idea.  Next I stopped at a restaurant and filled my Tupperware bowl with some rice and a bean stew and asked if they knew of a place I might sleep that night, hoping they'd by sympathetic enough to say I could sleep there.  No such luck.

So down the road it was.  I had at last reached a region with some larger agricultural plots with homes not so tightly bunched, offering the possibility of setting up my tent at dark without anyone seeing me.  There was no sleeping in the rice paddies as they had all recently been planted and were filled with water. I had seen some dikes and paths between paddies that could take me some distance from the road.  Before I had to give that a try I came upon what looked like a small quarry up above the road.  I came to a level spot where I could gain access to it just past a small cafe. The woman running the cafe happened to notice me as I turned in and called out asking  if I needed some help.  There was a concerned, helpful tone to her voice so I didn't mind telling her I was looking for a place to camp since the nearby town had no hotels.  

She was thrilled to tell me she had a small shed that she had been considering turning into a room to rent and I could be her first customer.  I told her I'd be happy to just set up my tent nearby, but she reacted in horror that there were many bad people around and that wouldn't be safe.  I knew what she was talking about as someone had stolen a pair of socks from under my bungee cords earlier in the day that I had just washed. The shed would be fine with me.  It actually had a bed frame though no mattress or bedding, not that I needed any.  The bottom half of the shed was concrete and the upper half wooden slats that let in a little of the breeze.  There was electricity to I could charge my iPad.  The water came from a pump behind the shed.  She provided me a bucket for my washing.  It would be the best, or at least the most out of the ordinary, accommodations of the trip.

Her husband was equally friendly and cordial.  He had twelve acres of property, some of which he farmed.  He had plans of building a hotel at this very spot.  When I told him where I was from he told me an uncle of his was a doctor in Chicago  As we talked I was so exhausted that I had to sit on the plastic chair they had provided me.  He told me he had a motorcycle, but didn't range very far on it, never even riding it to Manila, less than 150 miles away.  He couldn't imagine doing it on a bicycle.  His wife what level of education I had achieved, something I have never been asked before, and something that was evidently a significant factor of Puilippine life.  I told her I had graduated from college, but that my girl friend had done even better.  "She has two masters degrees, one in print-making and another in literature."

"She must be very intelligent."

"She is.  She's a college professor and is writing a book."

"How old is she," she asked.  I'm frequently asked my age here from practically everyone I have a conversation with, but no one had asked the age of Janina. 

 "She's the same age as me," I said.

She told me she was a trained nurse, but now devoted herself to running their cafe, such as I see countless times a day with shiny pots out front advertising the stews on offer.

They both said they had had hard days and would be going to bed soon and hoped we could talk more in the morning.

They were the second of my benefactors for the day.  The first was a 65-year old Australian and his Filipina wife.  They pulled over in their car and waved me down.  They said they had seen me three times, the first outside of Baguio nearly a week ago and wanted to talk.  They lived in Canberra but regularly visited the Philippines.  This trip coincided with his wife's high school reunion, the 50th.  She said about half of her classmates presently lived in the US.  This was the first time they had visited the rice paddies of Banaeu and felt very guilty for never having seen them before.  They didn't realize how remarkable they would be, even more impressive than Ayers Rock.

The husband asked if I had always been so skinny, as it is a battle for him to keep off the weight, another question I'd never been asked. I told him it is a battle for me to keep the weight on and that I was constantly eating.  I showed them the snacks I was munching on in my handlebar back.  One was a mango cookie.  Neither of them had seen such a thing before and were happy to give one a try.  Then he opened the trunk of his car and offered me a handful of local cookies.  A bit later they gave me some crackers and also some raisins and nuts.  

They had been in France six months ago and saw quite a few cyclists in Provence.  He said he had a hard time passing them on the narrow roads.  On and on we talked of our various travel experiences.  I told them about bicycling across their Nullarbor and also biking for 50-miles in to Melbourne one-legged after having broken a crank.  When we parted he gave me a "Good on ya mate."  I asked his wife what the Filipino parting words for a traveler were.  It was simply "Be careful."

Though I was happy to be back on the flats, able to pedal almost on cruise control not having to shift or be overly conscious of the effort I had to give, after a week of strenuous, all-out-effort climbing in the mountains, my legs weren't as chipper as I hoped they would be.  The day before was supposed to be a rest day, and it somewhat was, but I still rode more than I intended, and my legs could feel it.  I only rode twenty-five miles, all on an unloaded bike, just requiring a seemingly minimal effort compared to carrying fifty plus pounds of gear, but still all the climbing did take some energy especially a thousand foot climb in 1.8 miles to the overlook of the World Heritage rice terraces of Batad ten miles beyond Banaeu.

I had only intended to bike to the start of the climb, but after I talked to a Frenchman and then a Swiss guy who were hiking back from just having seen them and saw how enthused they were, I couldn't resist tackling the road, even seeing how steeply it rose. At least it was recently paved, or nearly so. The Swiss guy said he had been coming to the rice terraces for ten years and he felt sad at the huge increase of visitors. At the summit of the climb were a dozen or so jeepnays.  It was only since the road was paved that a jeepney could make the climb.

At least it gave me my first opportunity to peer into the empty back of this ubiquitous form of Filipine transport.

He was also chagrined by a couple of souvenir stands at the summit.

Still it was not attracting the typical tourist yet.  This was mostly the younger, budget set.  Many were Japanese and South Korean. It hardly seemed overrun.

I only ventured to Batad because my attempt on Hapao, another World Herotage site ten miles from Banaeu  down another road had been thwarted by muddy roads.  It had rained the night before, the first rain of the trip.  It was an initial mile climb out of Banaue on a paved road and then a long descent on dirt.  After a mile my brakes and rear fender were clogged with mud and I had to turn back.

This road was too rough for the jeepnays.  Just the motorized tricycles could manage it.

They too are unique to the Philippines, a one-wheeled side car attached to a motorcyle.  Despite not reaching the rice paddies it was still great scenery all round and felt somewhat like a day of rest.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

George, it would be great to see some pictures of the food, preferably ensconced in your orange Tupperware bowl.