“Be careful!” R shouted in his thick Swiss accent as we started to make our way down into the farm. “We will,” we shouted back. He turned to continue his disagreement with one of the men working on his farm. R and T’s farm is buried in the mountains of Bukidnon, not far from the border with Cagayan de Oro. The drive up is magnificent: lush, green hillsides, trees galore, flowers too many in number to even consider learning the names, many for which there are only native names anyway, impossible to commit to memory. It really isn’t very far – 30 minutes’ drive from our place, 45 including the two stops to pick up the tuba and kids respectively. Tuba is palm wine, made from the sap of coconut trees. It’s incredible to watch it being made, equally amazing to drink…the stuff’s delicious. The kids are “sponsored” by R and T – there are twelve in total. Sponsorship has mostly to do with paying for their studies, but I suspect they also end up buying rice, shoes, and clothes from time to time as well. They generally pick up two along the way, pulling over at the side of the road and indicating to the moms how many can be brought along for the ride.
Trips to the farm are both special and regular. R and T have owned this massive spans of land for 15 years, and a lot has changed since then. For starters, what was previously monoculture (well, di-culture) bananas and coconuts is now lush forest, with so much flora there’s no way my tiny brain could take it all in during our couple of visits. On Sunday we saw a pineapple. “That shouldn’t be here,” said one of the friends of their son who had come along for the journey. But it was. Coconuts and myriad species of bananas still abound, but there is a vegetable garden that would make Masanobu Fukuoka cry tears of joy, as well as a rice paddy that sits alongside a fish pond, direct access to the river (inclusive of a small pond-like turn-out, where the rapids are teensy and one can lie about on the rocks), a few baboy – pigs – and some stray cats to keep any ilaga, or coconut-eating rats, at bay. R is a big fan of terraces, and lots of his food is grown that way. He and his wife are certain that the time is coming when food with be difficult at best to come by, and want to ensure that their family and loved ones are fed.
Typically we arrive at the farm mid-morning, between 9:30 and 10:30, although the plan is always to leave much earlier. But with one son of their own, one adopted son, and two adopted daughters, as well as any additional guests, it can take a while to get packed up. At some point along the road I couldn’t pick out if someone held a pistol to my head, R stops and backs into a small space in the forest along the side of the road that appears to be his personal parking spot, but I’m not sure that’s true. We pile out of the truck and cross the road, making our way down a small path that leads to the first house on the property, currently inhabited by three families, as the original family there has taken in two who fell on hard times. The house is comprised of a front room, a sort of communal changing room, a bedroom, and a dirty kitchen (which is a thing, not an insult), large enough to also have a small dining table. The house is constructed of bamboo and nipa, or palm leaves, and sits on four stilts…very traditional. After the hello’s and some discussion about the farm, we make our way down what is a moderately complicated path…it’s steep, and muddy, and if it’s just rained, it’s a little precarious. But the path I can manage. It’s the stone steps laid by R’s Ifugao amigo that are the most dangerous. It’s now been roughly 15 years since they first were laid, and over the years they have become seriously smoothed by rain, and mossy as all get out to boot. Along the path there are random banana trees to hold onto, but there are several places where you’re left to your own balance and good luck. I tend to ask Chris to hold my hand at these spots. So there we were, 90% of the way down, and finally the rocks evened out, and, being less covered by trees and therefore more exposed to the sun, they were a lot less slippery. I started to get my confidence back, felt my posture return to normal, and then BAM! I fell on my bum.
Never fear, Mom, nothing broke, but I am most certainly bruised. Sitting is excruciating, as is bending over, and this is 48 hours in. But I can assure you that no icy river has ever felt quite as perfect on my rear end as that one did on Sunday. The traditionally gorgeous meal, served on banana leaves and eaten by hand, inclusive of a huge grilled fish, puso ng saging salad, talong (eggplant), seaweed and red rice, was torturous to consume, sat as we were in the bamboo gazebo, on benches constructed out of those same stones laid by R’s Ifugao comrade all those years ago. Likewise, T and R’s son’s rampant jumping about in the bamboo construct above the fish pond in a hilarious attempt to scare his Americana friend was indeed successful, as well as tremendously painful. Somehow I got through the day without moaning too much (right, Chris?), and even managed to make it through the 30 minute drive home (which felt like a 2-hour journey), and the habal-habal ride from the entrance of our subdivision to our place.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the long story about my short fall.