Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Show Bloomer

Rhynchostylis violacea
Bloom close-up
Quick Post: Saw this orchid with a very nice bloom at the Philippine Horticulture Society garden show.  We can't help ourselves marvel at its nice delicate looking flowers. Ernie Alvaran says it is Rhynchostylis violacea, a Philippine native. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ifugao Life for a Day

Kuya Donato hanging the ladder of the hut
Hut no. 3 in Ramon's Home-stay
Ever since I studied history of architecture back in college, I have been intrigued by mountain culture. The Ifugao house stood out for me among the Philippine houses discussed by our professors. There were certain occasions when I came across replicas.  And even though I have a standing fascination for the simple architecture I did not fully appreciate the intention of its design till I actually slept in one.

Some houses have eye-sore GI metal roof
Student Faye in Igorot costume
The last time I was in Banawe, I did not get the chance to stand even near an authentic Ifugao hut. So this time, even if our Batad stint was short, I did not pass on the opportunity to stay in a real Ifugao household. We were luckily hosted in Mang Ramon's homestay which had 4 authentic Ifugao houses. It will be the Miriam college ladies' home for the day. All of us teachers were assigned to another house four flights of stairs away from Mang Ramon's. I was already excited by the prospects of sleeping - Ifugao style.

You could keep poultry below house
Pounding rice at ground level
A typical Ifugao house is simple.  What you instantly see is a pyramidal roof made of cogon.  The house frame, built entirely of natural materials, is hidden underneath the thick cogon pile, stilted on four wooden posts.  Elevating on stilts creates an open space below the house where the owner could do chores and receive guests.  A detachable ladder is the only access to the raised areas.  The ladder would have to be hung at night time to prevent vermin from entering the upper levels.  The posts also have disc-like parts which deter rats and mice from climbing the posts and entering the upper level. The raised room is simply an open area used for sleeping and cooking.  On top of a small fire place is a storage level where they stack sacks of their harvested rice (because most Ifugaos are farmers, farming the rice terraces). The heat from the cooking area warms up the whole room and at the same time dries up the rice for longer life. 
The collected skulls of animals underneath the eaves of the antique Ifugao house
The ladder to the enclosed room 
The cozy sleeping area with small fire place
One of the houses where the Miriam ladies slept in could be considered an antique.  Mang Ramon bought it from another Ifugao family and transferred it to his lot.  It was adorned with a lot of items, including the skulls and bones of different animals killed and hunted by the clan.  Mang Ramon said the bones are traditionally hung to signify the wealth of a particular family and to drive away evil spirits wanting to enter the premises.  

Prof. Rosel with Mang Ramon
The house I stayed in is owned by Mang Ramon's cousin, Kuya Donato.  He is a skillful craftsman who constructs other Ifugao houses.  His hut is lovely and cozy, adorned with a lot of carvings and wood items, all made by him. The house fitted 3 sleeping areas and a fireplace where Mang Donato created a small fire in the cold morning. The bulol and other sculptures were finer and different from the ones sold at Banawe souvenir shops.
The Miriam college profs' breakfast with a view
Biko and omelet - Ifugao style
Sugar jar is even authentic
Our stay in the huts was very pleasant, especially because we woke up to fresh cool mountain air and a breakfast of fresh brewed Ifugao coffee, rice biko and omelet. The sleep was truly rejuvenating, much more  because I got a soothing massage from a local named Mang Vincent the previous night. The memorable breakfast was heightened with the dynamic sunrise view of the Batad rice terraces - 20 years of wait made well worth the short experience. It is official, I am enamored with this mountain culture!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tarlac is Named After a Weed

The reeds of the weed tarlak
Tarlak along with other materials
Tarlak fashioned as wall covering
Quick Post: The province of Tarlac, which was previously part of Pangasinan and Pampanga, was named after a plant. For the longest I have thought it was named after a small bamboo but turns out its namesake is actually a grass called malatarlak or matarlak.  Sources say that the word is Ilokano, but others state that the origin is Aeta, which literally means weed. Eventually the first syllable was dropped and tarlac remained. I am not sure what is the botanic name of tarlak or even if it only refers to one species.

Minnie Rosel against the backdrop of tarlak reeds
Aetas have long been using tarlak reeds as temporary construction material for walls or fences. In the mountain provinces, it seems the use of tarlac is also quite popular.  The Igorot people use the stick-like reeds in their farms as climbing frames for creeping vegetable plants.  Some Ifugaos even incorporate them in the construction of their famous houses.  And even as far as Manila, tarlak is popularly being used to add an ethnic flair to some modern Filipino interiors. So weed which is referred to as ugly can actually be used to beautify.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Surviving the Trail Leading to Batad

The early morning sun on the famous Banawe rice terraces
The Miriam ladies' quick breakfast
The ladies sampled riding on the jeepney's roof
It is almost two years since I first went up the the mountain provinces.  My last trip was my first time to Banawe and Sagada towns. We went there to enjoy the sites and the cuisine, at a leisurely pace. Last weekend I was asked to join a group of ladies, 2 teachers and 19 students from the Environmental Planning Department of Miriam College.  They want to conquer Batad.

Smaller terraces outside of Banawe
I immediately said yes without knowing what I was up against. I googled Batad and found pictures of a high rice terraces cluster hovering over a small town at the base. I thought it was different compared to both Sagada and Banawe.  I am intrigued and willing to personally take a look.  Prof. Pinky Gendrano told me it involved going down to the terraces site which may be gruelling.  I glanced again at the picture of the Batad terraces and thought, how could going down this flight of rice terraces be hard.  I figured at the worst, I could make it, at my own slow speed.
Narrow roads and precarious structures
The Miriam College group with Mang Ramon
Prof. Rosel with her wards
We arrived at Banawe the morning of Saturday and were met by our host and guide, Mang Ramon and his cousin Kuya Donato. We made a quick breakfast at the Stairway lodge and hired a typical mountain jeepney to tackle the rough roads  leading to our goal place.  It required a few of the nimbler girls to ride open air, on top of the jeep. The travel was about an hour snaking through the mountains. It gave the girls their first glimpse of the mountain rice fields after Banawe. We made two stops, everytime the students alight the jeep, taking snaps of awesome sights and scrutinizing the merchandise at souvenir shops. They were excited, shouting and screaming on top of their shrieky voices. Locals were courteously smiling and laughing at the commotion they create.  We made a couple of small stops and the girls were taking pictures of almost everything.
The start point is the Batad saddle
View of Batad from saddle
Prof. Gendrano sweeps the group 
Our third stop was already the Batad saddle, nestled between the valley of two adjoining peaks. This was the farthest the jeepney could go.  from then on, we had to continue our way down to the Batad town proper by foot.  I was anxiously trying to spot the town from the saddle while worriedly grasping my two heavy bags. The view had a wide and awesome vista - but all I could see was the endless slope of the mountain and forest with a small and vague image of what resembles a glassy part of a rice field and hints of small houses.  I cannot discern my googled image of Batad. 

Further down the road
We were told we could hire porters for 100 pesos a bag.  I mutteredf that it solves one problem and decided to trust my heavier messenger bag to a young lad, retaining only a small backpack and my camera. We were also presented with a choice of a difficult-but-short route against a longer-but-manageable one.  Of course I took the longer-and-easy choice. After a few minutes of haggling with porters for the group and again perusing through the same wood craft souvenirs, we began the claimed hour-long trek from saddle to town proper. Minnie Rosel took an elevation reading from the GPS apparatus lent out by Miriam college.  It read 1100 masl. 
There were a lot of tree ferns on the trail.
Through the greens
Edible fruits of a ginger
High elevation blooms
The first part, the girls were all excited, picking grasslike dandelion flowers and taking pictures with the view and almost anything. They were still noisy and giggly.  It was all our first time to this part of the mountains thus we were curious.  After a minutes, we were joined by our porters who started late but tackled the harder shortcut.  They glided with ease through the steep and large steps even if they were burdened with our bags.  For the rest of the way, they chose to stay with the group, even if we knew they could easily overtake us. 

I was taking every stride carefully, also leisurely because, as expected, I was enjoying looking and taking pictures of the flora.  I saw tree ferns, ground orchids, flowering weeds, trees and especially flowering Rhododendrons, which you won't usually see in hot Manila. There was rich vegetation to see in the rock crevices, in every bend and turn.

Still a mountain to go...
Souvenir shacks
Dwarfed by the mountains
Before halfway point, souvenir shacks provide shelter but at the same time taking advantage of resting tourists.  It was almost an hour of walk and we are only half through.  The souvenir shops were in reality a welcome part of the trek, providing a diversion for the company.  The girls seemed to still have spirit, scrutinizing what they could and ordering what they want.  They were also probably stalling for a few more minutes of rest time.  It was also a relieve that it was cloudy - at least we did not have to have the hot sun adding to our agony. About two or three more shops were dispersed in the extent of the saddle-to-town trek and our group made stops in all of them.

One third to go
When we reached the last souvenir shop, we were told it was the two thirds trail marker. Walking, and resting a lot, already took us more than an hour but still no view of Batad and its famed rice terraces. But after making a last turn at the next bend, we were given motivation as hints of the rice terraces came clearer. I anxiously went ahead of the pack with our guide Kuya Donato accompanying me. The strides became manageable because of the promise of nearness.  One by one, traditional structures were appearing.  A few more steps and after almost an hour and a half, the famous image I googled came to full view.  It was simply beautiful!  Looking at it made me forget the about the the efforts of the descent. After we finished, Minnie took another GPS reading.  It read 890 masl.  We walked down a total of 210 meters vertically.

The Batad town at the base of the rice terraces
We spent the next few days in Batad, and immersed ourselves in true Ifugao culture. The hour long effort descending from the saddle into the valley made us literally captives in the town, but the detention was pleasant.   I could not at all say it is restful as most of the Batad attractions are literally a hill and a mountain away from each other.  Though most of the Miriam college ladies chose to partake in the trek to the View point and the Falls, I heard one of them say the descent to the valley was the easiest.  I could not agree more because personally I chose to stay put in Mang Ramon's homestay, just to conserve energy for the trip back, which was a whole different and much more challenging tale to tell.
The iconic Batad view
Batad is no walk in the park. It is indeed a challenge to conquer, which gives much credibility to what is printed in the souvenir shirts they sell 'I survived Batad!'.  But don't get me wrong that I did not enjoy my experience, because I truly did.  Just the glimpse of the hidden valley was prize enough for me for doing the trek.  Staying in an Ifugao house and the  lifestyle immersion was an added bonus.  The Batad massage was pure heaven. 
The ladies conquering Batad
To Mang Ramon, his family and staff, thank you for making our Batad stay the most pleasant and extraordinarily memorable! I will hopefully return, stay longer, see the sights and hopefully shed more of the pounds in the process.      

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dipterocarp Station

Dipterocarps in the landscape of a gas station.
Probably a white lauan
I have been meaning to take pictures of the dipterocarp trees in the gas station over at the Subic Highway.  But I never got the chance to stop there.  Last week I was in the company of botanists and plant enthusiasts and I finally got a look at the towering trees. It was a little dark and gloomy as it was nearing dusk. But the light was enough for some of my botanist friends to say that it might be specimens of Shorea contorta or white lauan.

More white lauan specimens
The  lot was cut out from the surrounding forest but they managed to retain a few of these precious white lauan specimens and integrate them into the landscape.  It is rather peculiar to see them isolated and bare, without the thick undergrowth.  Even if they stand lonely in concrete, the trees still look humongous and majestic. But a stand of them in the rainforest is better a million folds.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pawi-pawikan, Pagung-pagungan

Believe it or not these are plants, Dischidia platyphylla.
Pawi-pawikan or pagung-pagungan?
They grow imbricate on tree trunks.
Leaves are in pairs
Quick Post: I stopped by a garden shop and saw these epiphytes on display.  They looked nice and at the same time weird. They were just tied into excess wood pieces.  They are hoped to cling onto the surface eventually.

These are specimens of Dischidia probably platyphylla.   I forgot if they are called pawi-pawikan or pagung-pagungan (in English - turtle-like). But I am sure you get the drift why they are called such.  They grow imbricate on  the trunks of trees or coconut palms. They are a common fixture in a lot of our forests and even some tree plantations and farms.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bernardo Carpio's Lair

Wawa Dam
My able guide companions
View of Mt. Pamitinan 
My mom used to tell me stories that in the past, they often go on excursions to Montalban in Rizal.   My sisters could recall going there but personally I could not remember ever setting foot in the waters of the famous Wawa dam, so it has always been a puzzle to me what it looks like. Last Thursday night I was asked by a few friends to join them on a trip to see the vegetation growing in the vicinity of Pamitinan Cave near Wawa Dam.  I said yes because I was curious of the place.

The white limestone geology of the Montalban gorge
On a Saturday morning we braved going to Rodriguez, formerly Montalban, in Rizal, to check out Wawa. I was with fellow plant enthusiasts Noel, Anthony and ace botanist Ulysses Ferreras.  Among us four, I was the only first timer to the place.  My companions gave me a quick tour of the area with Uly, a Rodriguez resident, serving as guide.  He gave a run down of sights in the site, starting from the rock quarries to of course the Wawa valley. He pointed out that this is legendary place where Bernardo Carpio stood in between two great rocks.

The Montalban gorge
The banks flanked by large acacia trees
Native Begonia
There are many versions of the legend.  I am not sure which is the true and most accurate.  What is relatively in all of them is that Bernardo Carpio, possessing great strength, stood in the Montalban gorge to prevent the two great rocks from crashing into each other. Uly was pointing out that there is a stone on the valley which is proof where Bernardo stood.  The hero even left his mark, his footprint.  I did not get the opportunity to go down at water level to see the rock bearing Bernardo Carpio's print.

Flowering Sterculia symbolizes hope for old flora
Impatiens montalbanica id'd by Uly
Leea sp.

The famous legend aside, it is refreshing to see that years after the story's time frame, the two rocks - which are actually two mountains - is a stronghold of greenery in the area. The geology of the surrounding peaks, Uly says, is limestone.  It means that the area was thousands of years ago was once under water. Like any limestone formation, trees would have a harder time to get a foothold. Thus if you cut the trees growing in the limestone forest, it will be harder to regenerate them. Another dilemma is that foreign species like Samanea saman (acacia), Leucaena leucocephala (ipil-ipil) and Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany) are becoming common in the area, replacing the old natives.

Hypoestes also id'd by Uly
But in the fringes,we found some natives surviving. They grow in between the newcomers, but quite healthy and even flowering. There were even reports that rare birds species still frequent the area tucked in the remaining native vegetation. Uly talked with PASU Susie de Belen to propagate more of the natives.  She promised to do so if she could get hold of native seedlings.