If you gotta go, go to Ifugao…

Our venerable host Gerald picking coffee in a tree

I am coming to the end of my time here in Ifugao province, North Luzon. I have learned a lot about the region and had many a relaxed day, and many an hard working day.

For several days since my last post we had constant rain. Day after day it came down and it wasn’t so good for the big ripe coffee cherries or the work rate. With so much rain the ripest cherries get nudged off the the branch and so the farmers lose out. On top of this it is harder to work. But this is the nature of things, farming has its ups and downs like everything else. More rain meant wood chopping and much bread making (a little discovery we made, you can bake bread over the fire, as long as you use the ever resilient banana leaf as a protective shield to stop it burning, a little local knowledge mixed together with outsider knowledge of bread making…And the circle is complete!). I have learned the realities of washing clotyhes by hand out here as well. Rinse once, then wash and scrub and scrub some more with the laundry soap, then rinse two or three more times. It sounded so easy when I was told how to do it, but of course, my elbow grease is puny and softened by a lifetime of trusty washing machines. Seeing the time and effort it takes to wash properly by hand, although undoubtedly more energy efficient and good for the soul, is one thing I may have to bypass in the future world of energy efficiency. Washing machines are pretty great at times eh?!

Coffee cherries drying outside the house


During this rainy period card games and chess games were played, as well as the ever trusty ‘pass the pigs’, a great travelling game, it crosses any language barrier pretty swiftly. During one of these sessions Gerald told us of the problems the area has with proper hospital treatment. One of the issues that I gathered was that traditional medicinal knowledge is now pretty low, not bereft at all, especially by our standards, but with a road (sort of!), and outside influences, it is not what it once was. (Indeed, as an aside, we were told of the cure for alcoholism here. In England we use a drug which induces vomiting and very strong reactions when taken in conjunction with alcohol. A problem drinker takes the drug and then associates bad feelings with drinking, thus helping him/her cut down or stop drinking so much. Here, they give someone, when they are drunk, Caribao saliva mixed with water. The Caribao is a water buffalo. After drinking this, the next time the person tries to drink or even smell alcohol they will vomit!) However, the nearest hospital is several hours drive away. Gerald’s grandmother had a haert attack when she was 84. She collapsed at 9am, she didn’t get to the municipal hall, all of 8-10 kilometres away til 6pm. By then of course it was too late.

We had two other WWOOFers from France stay for a week or so. Gael and Lilly were friendly and necklace making and some lessons in photography, care of Lilly and much jazz saxophone playing courtesy of Gael were both great additions to the atmosphere. They have set off for Borneo and the famed Orang-utans that reside there. I hope to one day take Gael up on staying with him in his home area in the Pyrennes (spelling?), as I have heard great things about the area.

I took a two day trip to Baguio, the main g\city of 300,000 in North Luzon in order to renew my visa and watch the Arsenal football game. No more shall be said about the football, but Baguio is an astonishing city. I loved and hated it at the same time. When rolling into the area in a little van you might think it is a small town nestled in the peaks of the Cordilliera mountains. With forest and rice terraces around it blends into the surroundings. But it is bustling and super ‘cool’ city. Filled with students and bars and shops. I loved the set up of the city, seeing the peaceful and beautiful Buddhist Temple was a highlight. As was the University of St. Louis Museum where I met Ike Picapan, the national expert on Native Peoples of North Luzon. The huge sprawling market was also incredible, with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, grilled fish and meats and anything else you’d care to buy. You could get lost in the hustle and bustle for hours. But with Baguio came big shopping malls, lots of fast food chains, KFC, McDonalds the usual suspects, and Camp John Haye. This Camp is essentially a huge Retreat on a Mansion estate, it has a golf course and many restaurants, and , of course, many armed guards, letting in only a certain kind of clientelle. Although I understand the reasons for its existence it just seemed like a piece of America, wealthy America, had been dropped into the midst of the Cordillera mountains and I couldn’t tke it seriously. All the billboards for the place had only white models in them, not a Filipino face in sight.

The Philippines, after being under colonial rule by the Spanish was occupied by the USA until the middle of the 20th century, just after World War 2. But I will update on the history of this country when I have more time, another time.

We went and helped at Gerald’s dad’s house last sunday as they are preparing for a wedding. We helped construct a structure for drying the wood they will need for the day. They expect a few thousand guests! When you have a wedding here, everyone in the area is welcome. Extended family can be in the hundreds (Gerald has 90 odd cousins) and they are all invited. 7 pigs will be butchered for the event, a big feast and dancing will be had! We had breaks in between work to eat pig intestineĀ  cooked with blood and garlic and have a couple of shot of Gin. An interesting work break if ever I had one, but it was a good one. I enjoyed this day the most of my stay here as it reflected the feeling of family and community that is ever present here. Pulling together and helping each other out.

Work on a Sunday afternoon, before the Gin and Intestine.


Building a bridge on the path up to the forest

More 'arty' bridge building

The final thing I wanted to recount was what we’ve heard about Gerald’s grandad. I saw him on sunday and I thoguht he was around 70. He is 92. (Filipino’s have a knack of looking younger than they are). Now, this 92 year old can still walk from Gerlad’s house to his own, some 40mins away (more like 50-1hour for me and you) carrying a 30kg bag of cement. I shit you not. He walks faster than Gerald in the forest (who walks faster than me). It is astonishing, utterly astonishing, and on Friday I am going to meet him!

Community work, clearing the path up to the forest, many hands...


Phew, long post, well, I will update again soon, I have added pictures but because of the connection I couldn’t pick the best ones. I will try and add a choice cut soon


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