We woke to our last day in Sagada and planned to make the most of it. The Caretaker of the Lodge, Romy, lived on the premises with his wife Gloria and two small children. He offered to take us for a short hike up in Marlboro Country. This is basically an area of Sagada that is low laying hills and forest. Good for hiking, camping, dirt bike and horse riding. We invited Gloria and their young daughter along too and we all set off for the morning.
Just on the outskirts of town, along the one main road into Sagada, we pulled over and were told we would be walking from here. We passed through a gate and some housing. Menacing dogs barking at us scaring the children made us move just that little bit faster. Soon we were on the other side of the houses and heading into the forest along rocky tracks.
The road was steep and very rugged. I think only a dirt bike would be successful along here. I felt sorry for any horse tasked with carrying a person and figuring out their footing. It was rough territory. Romy cut bamboo for us to use as walking sticks, much to BB’s delight and as we walked I focused on the sounds of our footsteps crunching on the ground, the wind in the trees, the chirping insects and the birds singing their symphony across the valleys. The gentle breeze keeping us cool as we relaxed into a natural rhythm.
We made our way up the rocky slope slowly with the children alternating between walking, running and being carried to rest their weary legs. As we walked we were introduced to the delicate native flowers of this area, and the native plants we could eat.
The Binor Wild Berry is a small berry that grows in bunches. It is white when unripe, and goes darker and turns almost black when ripe. It is sort of sweet to eat, and you spit out the tougher skin after sucking the flesh out. The Wild Strawberries grow in abundance in this area and the children and SB had a wonderful time collecting and eating them. Wild Strawberries are smaller than the normal kind and they are hollow on the inside.
They are very soft to touch and have a more bitter flavour to them than normal strawberries. We also tasted various leaves off trees which tasted citrusy. BB loved the idea that you could pick plants in the bush and eat them so we are now trying to teach him that this does not apply to every plant he sees. I also find it ironic that both children will willingly eat random plant life yet ask them to eat their salad or vegetables and it is a whole other situation! I was just enjoying watching their curious little minds examining everything they were given and spending the time to taste, savour and then decide what they thought. Soon enough the children were walking around carrying their own bunches of berries they delightfully picked off and ate for sustenance on our walk.
After walking for over an hour, mostly uphill the children had worn themselves out. We were told we were a short way from the top. We decided that SB would wait with the children so they could rest while.
I went on with Romy and Gloria to see the top of this mountain. The walk became steep and the ground covered in prickly berry bushes. Small pinecones had been carved down to the core and lay scattered all over this area dense with pine trees. Romy and Gloria told me the wild cats ate them. Oh what sharp teeth they must have! I walked a little faster.
When we arrived at the top there was an abundance of wild strawberries and Romy and Gloria’s daughter ran around in excitement picking every berry she could find and sharing them with me. The view from the top of the mountain was lovely as I Looked over the mountain ranges, which were fuzzy with distance and low hanging cloud. The steep valleys with little houses dotted in-between trees reminded me that there was a bustling life up here. Even though the landscape looked so wild.
It was finally time to head down the mountain and I carried FB most of the way. As we headed down we were passed by several horses riding up with young guides and riders, and other walkers. Again, I felt only pity for these rather small, and short legged creatures. Romy told me they were the wild horses that live around this area. They are shorter, and smaller. They aren’t even stockier, just little sticky legs that look like they may snap off. They were a little odd looking.
A lady spoke to Gloria in passing in the dialect they speak in Sagada (I called it Sagadanese) and she told me the lady had commented on how strong I was because I was carrying my child. I remember holding FB even closer to me, feeling her little body against mine and thinking how I will always carry my child.
Finally we made it back to the car and we took Romy, Gloria and their daughter into town to The Strawberry Café for lunch. After lunch we went back to the Lodge where we spent the afternoon resting while the children played together outside.
Late in the afternoon we heard a rhythmic thumping sound. We went to investigate and found Gloria with her brother-in-law pounding rice. This family are farmers. Primarily rice and they had a lot of it to get cleaned up. We watched and Gloria explained the process of pounding the rice and then sifting out the husks. This is done over and over until the rice is clean. The finer husks were used to feed the chickens who were very happily clucking away as they pecked the ground. We showed the children, and we watched with awe at this process we have not seen before. Not like this. Gloria gave a small laugh when I held the dried plant in my hands and exclaimed I had never seen raw rice like this before. I’ve only ever brought it in the supermarket. She gave us a small bag of freshly husked rice, sticky rice, and so on our return home to Manila I made Mango and Sticky Rice for desert. It was delicious.
The most magnificent sunset filled the sky as we looked around a little, without wanting to intrude. I really noticed here, how different our lives are. This family lived outside, yes they had a hut yet they had a kitchen set up outdoors. A large black kettle sat on open flames steaming away, waiting for use. A captured wild pig was tied up. They were raising it for food. Chickens scratched, a rabbit was in a hutch and baby chicks were protected in a woven basket. Life is simple here, but hard. These animals to us are pets. In this life they are needed for survival. Romy and his family work hard from sun up to sun down. Farming their land – their family’s land.
I sometimes wonder what the locals think about us, over-indulged, wasteful white people. Then I think, ignorance may be best.
It was late and we said goodnight and thank you before heading inside for our dinner and our last nights’ sleep here in this lovely little town.
The morning came quickly and soon enough we were packed up and on the road, heading back down the mountain. This time we took the good road back, SB got his navigation right. As we drove out of the town I felt emotional. Tears stung my eyes and I silently bade my farewell and thank you to this most gorgeous and special of retreats. We had a last night in Baguio before making the long drive home to Manila. We reached the bustle of the city again with its noise and smog. As I turned the key of our condo I thought, despite how special our holiday was, it is always nice to arrive home.