Reflections on North Luzon


So, I have arrived in Manila after a night bus, it is 6am and to kill some time before I check in to the hotel I have a couple of hours to sort out and update the blog.


I’ve added a bunch of the best photos and some more music links and that so have a gander.


I have some reflections on the Philippines so far. So, in no particular order let’s do it!

A nice place to start is something I noticed the other day while collecting some food for lunch in the forest. We were wandering (rephrase; Jason, a local, was wandering, I was stumbling in flip flops)around picking Sayote and Camote ‘tops’, the tender shoots that can be boiled or fryed and added to any tasty lunchtime dish. It became apparent to me how the forest reflected the ideals of the permaculture forestgarden. Not being an expert it was still obvious to me the sheer abundance of food is due to wonderful growing conditions coup[led with good forest management. At first, to the passive observer things seem wild and overgrown, but become an active gatherer and swiftly the revelation jumps upon you that at every level there is something growing that is of use, either edible or for constructing or burning. This is due to a combination of knowledge of the plants coupled with the fact that over the decades many of the plants present beside the paths through the forest were planted there. They naturally occur anyway and so planting them in a useful place, and then gently harvesting means there is a constant supply, which anyone in the area can pick. Underground there is camote or sweet potato, there are other ground crops that I don’t knw about too. Above the surface you get all sorts  of leaves, camote leaves, rich in iron and good for medicinal purposes, sayote (the tasty green shoot), chilli and and many others. For food and medicine. And, of course, the ever useful banana leaf, good for cooking anything! Higher up there are hanging vegetables and fruits such as jackfruit, coconut, sayote, guava, banana and so on. Many trees are used for building, chopped for firewood and rattan, a long vine, is used for rope and as a tough long fibre good for all sorts of tasks. So the concept of the forest garden, a place where things are grown vertically as well as just horizontally on the ground, is realised in the forest in the mountains here. It looks beautiful and produces 10 times as much produce for a tenth of the effort. Gardeners take heed!

My dainty sign


There are, evidently, many culutural difference between this place and England and I’m sure it would be prudent to stick them down here, it brings both a smile to the face and some illumination to the mind. One of the things I have found not so easy to accept is the divide between male and female. Over my life it has been ingrained into my brain that men and women should not be divided in terms of roles/chores and in terms of work opportunities (I would strongly argue that we are nowhere near this in England, but at the same time certain ideologies do exist and endeavoured to be upheld by many). In the Philippines this divide is more pronounced. The manual labour is done by the men, a break might include some Gin, as I discussed animatedly in my last post. The women will not partake in this. Cooking and household chores are done by women. The line is more obvious here and a difference that I have thought about.

A mere 50kg for Gerald to carry up the mountain

Another cultural divide comes in public transport.We sit on buses and trains and read or listen to music, and occasionally talk. Here things are so different, as is evident in a lot of the developing worls. I took a jeepney bus back to where I was staying last week and on it were twenty or so women and children. The jeep was full or amused chatter, children singing, the occasional foodstuff ejected from the open window. You cannot help but be drawn in to the merriment and the vibe of Filipino life resides in places like this, a happy, relaxed and communal perspective. Half an hour into the trip and several men who were working by the road jumped ponto the side of the jeep, hanging on the outside they laughed as much, if not more, than those inside. The sun was setting and things were all good. This is transport that is a fraction of the cost but worth a lot more.

[Incidentally, a jeepney I was a passnger on the other day passed by a church with a novel and positive and ever so Filipino name, this church is called ‘The Church of Good News’. Shit, sign me up!]

On arriving back in the village the activities of the children present another glaring cultural divide. The little kids, no older than 4 or 5 climb up the 8 foot high concrete basketball post. They do it barefoot and walk all over it, hanging off the hoop for good measure. Later, while we are playing volleyball, in the school playground (school is out for the day), three or four of them, again, no older than 5 construct and light a sizable fire, enough to cook a wee pot of rice on. Now, in England….You can see the point. Our concern for the safety of our children suffocates them to the degree that a 12 year old can’t be trusted to do any number of normal things. Safety is paramount of course, but common sense is also important, I wonder if we are eradicating ours?

There are some people in the Cordilliera region who have an interesting burial ritual which must get a mention here. When a relative dies, after some days of preapring the body for burial, they then have a final meal with the dead relative. By this, they secure the body, in a sitting/squatting position, to post or something solid in the room of the house and then gather round and have a meal in the presence of the body. Later the body is carried in procession to the burial site which is chosen carefully. Much time later, in some places, there will be a return to the burial site and the bones will be excavated and taken back to the house where they will be kept, in a basket/pot.

Now, something I have wanted to convey for a while, the Filipino cuisine. It is a strange and hearty mix this fair country has. I am slowly getting used to it, and I think far too much processed sugar has passed through me in the past months. Some more rigorous exercise is needed to maintain health. A few of the sweeter delights iclude spaghetti. Odd I know, but the Filipinos like their spaghetti bolognese sauce to be sweet, very odd for me. Sweet sugar doughnut dough, baked, just like a doughnut, but in the middle is cheese! Its called a long john and something gave me a surprise when I had it! I also had fresh sour mango with chili powder added, now I thought this was one thing that should always be sweet. But it is good for hangovers and dehydration I am told. Something that also brought a cheeky grin to my face was something occurring between the varying tastebuds of me and my two WWOOFing hosts. Gerald happily gobbled down a couple of live water bugs with his rice the other week when we were eating by the river. He just picked them off the rock and popped them in the mouth with rice. Fair enough. But laater that same week he picked off the ever so slightly burned crust of some freshly baked bread we had made. It made me smile as I hated the idea of eating those bugs but relished the idea of the bread crust, for him it was reversed.

The last thing I wanted to reflect upon is Nestle. Surprise surprise the super giant corporation has its sticky tenatcles all the way out in the far reaches of the Cordilliera mountains. Beaten, I would guess, only by Coca-Cola in their quest for global capital dominance. I chatted to Geraldo Senior, my host’s father, about Nestle as we drank some of his tasty coffee. Nestle arrived in the Cordillieras around 30 years ago. Before that there were many coffee buyers and coffee was a decent crop to grow, with good returns on your labour. The best year Geraldo could remember they got 200 pesos per kilo of coffee (three pounds fifty but this was 30 years ago remember).  Nestle came in and the other buyers quickly disappeared. For a couple of decades now Nestle is the ONLY big buyer in the area. Other people do buy, but mostly it is for their families and friends, and it is not the shit that Nestle buys! Geraldo told me of one year, by the time Nestle had total monopoly, where they got 18 pesos per kilo of coffee. They had to leave their home and go and stay with family in a town 2 hours away for a whole year as they had no money. Many farmers have had to stop growing and Nestle will buy anything, they do not care for the quality of the beans. I asked if they had a union or anything to help keep their rights. He said that in 1986 there was a huge demonstration I na nearby town. Many people came and occupied offices to protest Nestle and the governments plans to divide the area into small regions, thus dividing the people. They occupied the buildings for one month and the government changed its plan, to this day the Cordilliera had kept its status as one whole region. However, Nestle did not listen to them and after a month, with no money and food, they left. One aim succeeded, the other did not. There is no way for the farmers to form a union as they have little money and are too spread out over an area with slow transport. So Nestle’s hold is maintained.

This is the same story, different place. The same thing happens all over the world with Nestle and big corporations. Abuse of local people’s rights and earnings through monopolisation and control of money.

But I can say right now in this internet café:



So, my reflections on the North of Philippines end with a political twist, lovely. Let’s see what more southern parts have to bring…

The intestine!

The 'Jeepney'. the best way to travel in the Philippines. Old World War II transport vehicles.

The fireplace in Geraldo Senior's house. For cooking, drying wood and drying rice.

A proud baker


2 responses to “Reflections on North Luzon

  1. another good post, really enjoyed reading it. Great to hear about the forest garden, less so to hear about Nestle. The male/female gender divide is very conspicuous out here too, but it’s interesting to see that for young, rich, cosmopolitan Indians it’s not much of an issue at all. Basically the hip kids are just like me and you. do you think it’s similar out there?

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