So I accompanied Ron and his family back to Iba that Sunday morning. We left Manila past 9 am and with the recent road developments from Clark to Subic and eventually Zambales proper, we reached iba at around 130 pm. Shortly we set for botolan to arrange the next morning's impending hike.
Botolan was then celebrating its town fiesta. I was lucky to see and experience the parades and street dancing, not to mention the chance to take pictures of the sta monica church. The main road had a makeshift tiangge with a lot of natives and aetas selling different merchandise.
As early as then we got an early encounter with our plant goal. An old aeta woman was at an obscure corner selling a sack of the zambal pitogos. we checked out the specimens which were off-shoot plantlets which the lady was selling for a few pesos. we asked her the location where she got the plants.
We were excited about the new found knowledge aswe arranged for an aeta guide the next day. Before we called it a night to get some sleep for the long next day journey, Ron took me to the Botolan Wildlife Park owned by a Swiss, Martin Zoller. Martin is a resident of Botolan since 1988. He has established himself a nice home with a large garden (which eventually became the wildlife park) housing a few of his wildlife collections as well as some native zambales flora.
It was in martin's garden that they discovered that cycas zambalensis is a distinct species from the Pampanga pitogo, Cycas chamberlainii (the Philippines is said to have more than 10 pitogo species and Central Luzon is fortunate to have at least two). From what I gathered, Professor Maribel Agoo was researching on C. chamberlainii when she stumbled upon Martin’s large specimens of pitogo thus the find. Martin had been growing the cycad in his garden for the longest and was already having plant propagations.
At 530 am the next day, we were at the river looking for our aeta guide. We were to cross the bed by renting a carabao cart but turned out they were more expensive than what we bargained for the previous day. Natives advised us to cross on foot instead (the water is supposed to be ankle deep) and opted to get 2 more porters to carry our backpacks. Plus they told of us of another pitogo population, nearer to what our guide knows. So we set on foot to cross the very wide (really very wide, open and wet mind you though it seems dry) lahar-stricken river basin.
Looking at our native guides we were quite sure the water was ankle deep. Our aeta counterparts were gliding over the surface but Ronald and I kept on sinking knee deep into the lahar (it was very tiring ). Crossing this wet part of the river stretch took about an hour for us to traverse. The latter two thirds of width is dry lahar bed. At a distance we spotted a solitary bamboo patch. We referred to this bamboo patch as measure of distance but it never seemed to get near.
Finally after an hour and a half of river crossing, we got to a patch of agohos at the other side. Plants abound so it was pictures galore. We entered the greens beyond the lahar clearing. After some instance the trail became rocky and inclined - again I was falling behind everyone. Halfway up the slopes I was already short of breathe and running out of drinking water. So I decided to continue on with them in spirit- hehehe - which meant sit it out at the slope till they came down. I contented myself sketching the balinghay tree under which I took shelter from the sun’s heat. It was a full hour after that Ronald and our companions came back. My only consolation is that they got me a handful of seeds and a chipload of pitogo pictures.
As we made our descent, we had the opportunity to examine the other flora of the Zambales foothills. There were Canariums, Dioscoreas, banabas, ground orchids, Ardisias, Melastomas, etc. The lowland woods of Zambales were still interesting in terms of plant finds. We found a shrub with small cashew like fruits and succulent leaves. We showed pics to other plant enthusiasts and till now we have not gotten any confirmation on its identity.
I didn’t get to see the cycads up close. But Ronald took pictures of the wild pitogos. The small patch we saw from afar turned out to be about a hundred full grown individuals. Thus it is reassuring that the pitogo population is not restricted to two finite patches. But even all this could be all gone if they are not to be protected responsibly by the locals.