North Luzon

Today I’m writing from Lagawe, the provincial capital of Ifugao, in the Cordilliera mountain range. I am staying and WWOOFing at Julia Campbell’s Agroforest Memorial Park (a bit of a mouthful) where Gerald and Vanessa Puguon and family harvest Arrabica, Robusta and Civet coffee.

We (myself, Claire and Bastien from Switzerland and Katie from Toronto) are WWOOFing in Pula, a sprawling village up in the mountains, a picturesque place. The air is cool and rains come for short, mild bursts throughout the week. Gerald and his wife Vanessa look after us very well and feed us unerringly with large platefuls of rice and assorted vegetable dishes. The day starts early, too early most mornings, as the cockerals like to crow before the dawn light etches over the mountains, a 4am call is standard and, of course, as soon as one kicks off, they all have to have a go!

We actually get up at about 8am and have a hearty breakfast. Work consists of several activities. The main ones being harvesting the green and red coffee cherries in the forest and then sorting it. The farm is set up so the coffee trees are growing within the forest. The coffee trees blend seemlessly with the surrounding bamboo, beetlenut, coconut, pine and countless other species  I shall never be able to learn. Harvesting the coffee is not easy work as the berries often sit high up. Gerald scampers up the trees with ease but for us, clambouring and wobbling might be more appropriate words, I mostly stay put on the ground. The bunches of berries often have little ants nests in them, it took a morning for me to get over the novel concept of plunging my hand headlong into said nests, but once you get over this hurdle, it is no problem. There are lots of ants here, lots.

We sort the coffee cherries as well, this simply involves seperating red from green. Although not overly stimulating, the work is paced and can be meditative if approached openly. The other common work involves shelling the civet coffee beans. These are beans that have been eaten by the native civet, a sort of cat/fox/possum cross. It shits out the coffee beans and they shell it, roast it and sell it. In the USA it fetches $50 a cup! Out here I tried some, I am no coffee expert or afficionado, it was tasty for sure, but not 50 bucks tasty. Gerald has made me understand the joy of drinking coffee, but I think it is something I will leave here in Luzon. I don’t think I will ever find better or fresher coffee. He says that when he tried instant coffee when he went to University, it gave him chest pains. A warning to any instant drinkers out there! The forest and park are a testament to farming in a sustainable manner. Gerald and his family understand the import of maintaining the biodiversity of the forest. Of keeping the civet habitat alive, so they can support future generations of their family and so they live of the money they make for a long time. Other farmers here don’t understand as well, Gerald says, as he point out to us a farmer on the opposite rice terrace, spraying his land with Monsanto pesticide. It used to take 1 barrel of pesticide to spray a half hectare patch, it now takes 3. Soon that will increase as the productivity of the soil decreases. A common problem across the world, one which Monsanto profits off greatly.

Wood chopping, dish washing, clothes washing and trench digging are all things that need doing here. As well, playing with the local children takes up some time, time well spent. Basketball, unfortunately not football, is the sport of choice here and so I have played. It is a better sport than I remember and I am slowly getting better, though I cannot shoot for shit. I hope to improve before the April fiestas so I can shoot 3 points from downtown (somehow I doubt it).

So as the days roll into weeks, I will update in another week, with a profile on Gerald in the ‘People’ section and some pics uploaded.

Asipulo Pula provides, more than anything, an abundance of life and sound. Crickets sing, chickens crow, dogs bark, goats bleet, children laugh, civets screech, birds warble, motorbikes blare, pigs oink, a cow groans, and each dusk and dawn an entire choir accompanied by full orchestra of bugs and insects play to the hills. Oh and occasionally you hear me playing the guitar poorly, or Gerald playing it well. Man this guy is a jack of all trades.


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