I woke up early to the sound of pigs playing roughly and roosters welcoming the sun. I was glad to wake up still full of that magical feeling that surrounded this remote, mystical village. I stretched my somewhat sore back and headed to see the sun peek from behind the mountains to illuminate the beautiful rice terraces. Again breakfast consisted of rice cake and freshly brewed coffee. Francis wanted to get an early start and so I hugged Wang Od goodbye, to which she said "Guapo" looking straight into my eyes with her youthful expression. Before I left we took our picture together and as I was showing her the result I started to flick through some photos I had in my camera, to which slowly a small crowd gathered and hovered over me to glance at the pictures. Everyone wanted to see a picture of Cindy, they were puzzled at some of the marine creatures I had photographed and were most impressed when I showed them a picture of the temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza. "Maya Tribe" -I explained to the mesmerized crowd.
We hiked for four hours on a very steep trail without passing a single person, the views breathtaking and the sun as hot as ever. On top of a hill we met two kids next to a very small grass hut. I said hello to them and observed the simple roof they were sheltered under. Thinking it might be used to keep the harvested rice dry or something of that sort, I asked Francis what its function was.
-"For the kids -he said- it can get very hot so they go in, and for when it rains". I looked back to the kids: The girl must have been six and the boy almost a baby was not older than three.
-"But why are these babies here? It's hours away form any village and they are all by themselves all day?" -I asked incredulous.
-"Yes -said Francis- they scare away birds; that's their job. Bad birds can eat all the rice". I approached them and gave them a chocolate bar each. They shyly accepted and then without looking back at me focused all their attention to opening the package.
Hours later, after crossing some of the most amazing terraces we had seen so far, we arrived to Tulgao. Filled with chickens and pigs as the other villages, Tulgao was a town in transition, some traditional thatched houses next to more modern ones of zinc. We went straight for a traditional hut, owned by Tayaan, a ninety three year old man that was chopping wood for the fire when we arrived. With no teeth and a curved back he was still strong. He showed us into his home; there were some tobacco leaves drying on the dark kitchen roof, a couple of deer antlers hanging on the wall and a huge rat or small opossum running away on the roof beams.
We sat our bags down in the small room upstairs and came back down to have our lunch. No surprise here: it was rice. As I was eating my rice cake with my hands, as is accustomed, I watched Tayaan as he loaded his bamboo pipe with a tightly rolled tobacco leaf. I offered him a box of matches which he gladly took. He then grabbed a bamboo instrument I had never seen before and with no ceremony started playing it (I later learned it's called a farnifang). This hollow bamboo cane produced vibrant sounds as he rhythmically banged it on his palm. Again, the dark room with the fire place, eating the sacred rice with your hands, listening to this old man play a traditional instrument and slowly being enveloped by the smoke from his homemade pipe transported me to the older, more basic world I felt I was experiencing. The spell was enhanced and then interrupted when thunder announced the upcoming rain and we decided to take a nap. I excused myself and laid on the wooden floor of the loft. My body was tired and the rain made it ideal for a good rest, so I closed my eyes and then realized someone was singing. It was beautiful and mystical; it sounded far away and it wasn't loud, more like a woman singing to herself. I stood up and looked through the window. I couldn't see where the singing came from, but I figured it was from the hut next to ours. The song entered my ears and came out delicately with every note through my skin. It seemed so ancient, so holy, so peaceful... I drifted off to sleep.
"Juan, Juan!" Francis was calling my name. I had slept for two hours and the rains had ceased. "We go now to hot springs". We made our way through the rice terraces and had an amazing overview of the valley. From here I could see five huge waterfalls far away but clearly. We had to cross a big hanging bridge, and to my relief I met the first hand railing on my trip thus far. We arrived to a big waterfall. It might have been fifteen meters high but with such a huge volume you could feel its strength from far away. Close to the waterfall volcanic waters spurred from the ground, making the natural pools snug and warm in various intensities, but for some very unusual reason I wanted to jump into the cold river first. The water was ice cold but I felt it energizing me and I stayed in it for quite a while by myself as everyone was enjoying the hot springs. Francis and two local boys were taking a bath in one of them; I laid completely horizontal on the shallow waters while I watched them choosing a medium size, oval, smooth rock each. They used the rock to scrub their skin thoroughly, taking turns scrubbing the other's back. One of the boys was about thirteen and the other around seventeen, their young bodies much more defined than you would expect on a teenager, a sure sign of the heavy physical work they were used to in the fields.
Francis was on the other end, also cleaning himself meticulously with a rock. I noticed a scar on the side of his rib cage; it looked like a stab wound... I had to ask.
-"Francis, what happened here?” -I said, pointing to my own ribs.
-"Ahhh, here too!”- he answered, showing me an identical scar on the opposite side. -“Doctor cut me because body like this” -he continued, gesturing with his arms lifted in curves by his sides like a barrel and puffing out his cheeks. -“Seven years ago, jeepney fall, seventy two meters. Eight died, all very bad hurt. Doctor cut to take blood out..." Ohhh boy, I was not looking forward to my ride back on the jeepney roof!
We walked quickly back to the hut as it was getting dark. The fire was burning and a woman had come over to cook us some rice for our dinner. We all gathered close to her and watched her glow with the fire flames as she cooked our meal.
As I was preparing to go to sleep I noticed a broom on the side of the room. It was just a broom, the traditional one for this area and used as any other broom in the world, yet if I gave it to anyone I know odds are they would hang it on the wall as an ornament rather than use it for its intended purpose. So beautifully crafted, so much effort in producing an otherwise irrelevant object. These people were gifted craftsmen and everything they traditionally used to make had amazing finishings. This broom was but a remainder of a slowly disappearing culture of detail.
Laying in my sleeping back, I asked Francis about the woman that was singing earlier. I described the song and asked him about traditional songs...
-“Yes, it's tribe song. We have many songs, happy songs, victory songs, songs for when you are sad, for the seeds.. On the field you sing all together, because if you sing you don't feel tired. It makes you strong!”
Francis was tired; his face showed it, but still he laid down telling us a story (joke) about the time he had cheated a monkey into giving him the fish it was catching by the Chico river. He then told us he had guided people from many many countries, and the particularities they all had.
-"Japanese, very interesting people: they come, take photo-photo-PHOTO! And then they leave. Very busy people" -he concluded.
Now I don't know if it was because I was so tired or what but I laughed at that last statement until I had tears in my eyes! Francis was amused to see me laugh so much. Then in a more serious note he added -"They are very polite people, but before very mean people. Very mean in World War II”. Those were his last words of the day. He was asleep. I quickly followed.