Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rice-ing up the Cordillera Mountains

As a last hurrah for summer, my friend Pinky and I took a 2 day trip high up in the mountain provinces to experience rice aesthetically and gastronomically. We rode a 10 pm Autobus from Sampaloc and arrived in Banawe, Ifugao province at 8 am the following day. Our very first concern was to get breakfast. After a very long busride and a last meal of hotdog on a stick (in a stop somewhere in Nueva Ecija) we were already longing for a proper meal of hot filling rice. We got our first rice exposure in the People’s Lodge near the palengke.

Rice meal no. 1 was a traditional Filipino breakfast of longsilog. I could not even remember how it tasted but I recall enjoying because it was very nourishing. Plus the lodge gave us our very first glimpse of the world famous Banawe Rice terraces. Rice sighting no. 1 was more like a worm’s eye view as most of Banawe town is situated near the base of the famous landmark. People’s Lodge had a balcony with a long counter to eat on, while enjoying the view. It’s probably why I can’t remember how meal no. 1 tasted. I was very much overwhelmed by my first sight. The eye candy overcame my tastebuds.

Shortly after our first rice encounter in Banawe, we busied ourselves finding a ride going to upland Sagada. We found a jeep and 10 other people to share the transpo expenses. A few more minutes we were on our way to a 3 hour trip to Sagada town in the neighboring Mountain Province. But not before we could get our second peek of the Banawe Rice terraces.

Rice sighting no. 2 was a couple of kilometers uphill. Certain viewpoints were established to admire the Ifugao rice terraces at different vantage points. We got to stop at the highest view deck, giving us this time a bird’s eye view, with Banawe town at a far bottom. Here, a few women dressed in Ifugao garbs were chanting and posing away for tourist pictures. There were only a few of them but they were very animated, giving out their sweetest nganga-laced smiles to spectators. I myself could not resist having my picture taken with them against the backdrop of the terraces. Another aspect in viewing the world- reknowned Banawe, with the people and their colorful culture. After a few more snaps we were again on the high road heading for Sagada.

Rice sighting 3 and 4 were in Bayo Town and the outskirts of Bontoc, in Mountain Province. The route to Sagada was going up and down hills and mountains, through valleys and crossing rivers. The road was narrow, most of the time enough for opposite traffic. But it was heavily laden with fresh landslides and rock piles, thus at certain points, it was only passable for one car. But the views were spectacular and very breath taking. Rice terraces were everywhere. At Bayo it was smaller but also as steep as Banawe. In Bontoc, they are scattered, some very steep and some at flatter surfaces.

Rice meal no. 2 came at Sagada. After the 3 hour trip we arrived at 1 pm, barely in time for lunch. After settling in George Lodge, we immediately looked for a popular eating place in the area, Yoghurt House. We were seated again on a familar spot, a balcony with a long counter, fronting the street. On this balcony we enjoyed our second filling meal of the day. It was tuna and cheese pasta for Pinky and of course, rice with chicken curry for me. Both meals were very heavy and creamy. My curry was a little hot for my taste, but I eventually finished it off, downed with warm lemon tea and a coke. We were again rejuvenated, ready to sample the sights Sagada had to offer.

Rice Sighting No. 5 was at the outskirts of the small Sagada town. The place was on the flatter top of a high mountain and the rice terraces were gradually stepped. What made them interesting is that they were alternating with exposed limestone formations and heavy pine forests. The Sagada limestone cliffs are also famous for their hanging coffins and several were already quite visible near the town proper.

Rice meal No. 3 and 4 were at a quaint place they call the Lemon Pie house. This establishment is internet popular because of backpackers sampling their delicious and savory lemon and egg pies. I myself tried a few slices while we were there, 3 to be exact. It could have been more but the pies were already horded out by other tourists...sigh! For kicks we tried out their breakfast meal of sausage and omelet with rice (as expected) for dinner. The very next day we returned to sample their dinner meal of mixed vegetables, again with rice, for breakfast. What a mix up eh. I would have wanted to order their fried chicken with rice but every time I was discouraged as the meal was longer to prepare, as the chicken would come straight from the freezer, they said. Oh well, there is always next time.

On our way back to Banawe the following day we again took our second glance of the rice terraces. Halfway the sky turned dark and rain poured, thus filling up the terraces with rain water and creating mini-waterfalls. Eventually we got to see the Sagada outskirts, Bontoc rice fields and Bayo terraces before finding ourselves again eating our last rice meal of fried chicken (finally!) and (what else of course) rice in People’s lodge (at least for this Banawe-Sagada trip). It was here that we waited out our bus departure time, eating away rice meal no. 5 as we viewed the Banawe rice terraces one last time, till it was eaten away by darkness. A couple of hours we were again on the road, the bus going back to Manila, our tummies sastisfied with rice meals and our eyes and mind with memories of picturesque and panoramic views of rice up in the mountains.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Leaf and Leaf Patterns

Quickpost: Mike Asinas of Ayala Land called me a few days ago to give me trivia. It is a bit timely since I did go to the Pahiyas last weekend. He said that the iconic kiping of Lucban is molded after the leaves of a very nice tree they call kabal (Quezon) or malakape (Tagalog). This tree, Fagraea racemosa, is common in Laguna and Quezon. It bears very nice white pendant flowers and is also suitable as a garden specimen.

Kiping is rice mixed with paste, cooked to form the colorful leaf shaped parts of Pahiyas chandeliers and flowers. The rice mixture is spread on the kabal leaves and steamed for a few minutes. It is then let to dry, and pealed off from the kabal leaf mold. The kiping is the primary material used to adorn the wonderful household displays for the Pahiyas.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ang Pinakamagandang Bahay sa Balat ng Nayon

It is customary for the Pahiyas to hold competitions so that households will have an incentive to beautify their displays. Though you could see the design intentions of all the houses, there are a few that really went all the way in their decorations. Probably the most visited in this year's Pahiyas was a four-storey house about a few blocks from the church. I was told that the home-owner is also the proprietor of Lucban's famous chain of restaurants. The display was a paradox on its own, a juxtaposition of the big and the small.

The whole house facade was covered with pandan banig, probably from karagumoi which is abundant in the neighboring towns. The sunflower motiff, which is the identifying mark of the resto, was very prominent in the house decors. Large weaved pamaypays formed the ray-like petals of each sunflower. The building was adorned with these large sunflowers. Bamboo, tambo and the familiar kiping were shaped into trims, framing the woven banig and giant floral displays. To guard them, 2 pairs of 'higantes' were positioned flanking the building at both sides.

On the other side of the spectrum, miniature houses and other structures were lined in front of the display giants, depicting a typical Pahiyas scenery of adorned houses. The same artistry was exhibited in the detail of these miniatures, also using traditional materials. Interesting were the small kipings also adorning the small scale houses. Small kiping on small houses forming the decor of a large house with both miniature and grand displays - probably just what is needed to be called the best house in this year's festivities.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Flaunting Festival for Farmers

The Tagalogs consider San Isidro Labrador as the patron saint of farming. Once a year, in the vicinity of this saint's feast, farmers pay homage to San Isidro's generosity by celebrating festivals commemorating the bounty of the past year's harvest. In Lucban, Quezon this is evident in the town's flambouyant Pahiyas, celebrated exactly on May 15.

It has been a tradition to parade the image of the saint through the streets of Lucban. The path of this procession, particularly the facade of homes fronting the chosen street route, will be elaborately adorned with fruits, vegetables and other plant products, as welcome and gratitude to their great provider. Every year the town people would get to flaunt the richness of their produce, from forest crops to products of their industries. Lucban residents have developed this into an art, and each household would try to top the previous year's displays. The results are fascinating and very colorful, drawing tourists and visitors year after year.

This year's bounty is plentiful judging from the magnificent plant art prepared by each household. But because of technology, some other materials have found their way into the composition. But still ever present are the traditional materials like rice. kiping, coconut, buri, vegetables, fruits, etc. Pahiyas 2010 is still a festival worthy to be called a tribute to the hardships of farmers and their beloved San Isidro.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Old Trees of Manila City Hall

I exercised my right to vote today. But rather than talking about my suff'rage suffering, I would rather dwell on what I once saw in one of Manila's old seat of power...

Have you ever been inside Manila City Hall? If you have been a resident of the city, my guess is that you have at least once entered the city hall's premises, or at least have been to the nearby SM City Manila thus catching a glimpse of this famous edifice. Since I am a Quezon City resident, it is a little excusable if I only got to enter Manila City Hall just last month. And what caught my attention was not the historic detail nor the neoclassic architecture it is famous for.

What astounded me were the very old specimens of Alstonia scholaris or dita in the building's atrium. Dita is a forest species and rarely have I seen tall towering specimens except in the old buildings of Manila like U.S.T. and now the city hall. The trees were taller than the 6-storey high structure, thus making a majestic statement in such a confined space-truly a tree befitting the stately and classical style of the architecture.