Sagada Adventure, Day 1 (Marlboro Country)

So we were going camping.  We’d hike to this place called “Marlboro Country”, set up camp and then spend the night there.  While most Sagada trip itineraries would recommend viewing the sunrise at Mt. Kiltepan, the sunrise view at Marlboro Country promises to be just as good, if not better. The jeepney ride from Alibama Inn to the jump-off point was just around five minutes long but it took us a while to leave the town proper because we packed a lot of equipment for camping.  We already left the stuff we won’t need back at our rooms at the inn, but the jeepney was full of additional bags and boxes filled with tents, cooking equipment, food, condiments, drinking water, etc.

HIKING TO THE CAMPSITE

Cedric with Chicky (photo courtesy of Allia Donna Go)

Just before the jeep finally left, our main guide, Erwin Quiore, showed up with a live chicken and unceremoniously stuffed it into the hands of a surprised Cedric.  So all throughout the trip, Ced was trying to pacify the equally shocked chicken who was almost certainly going to be part of our dinner.  Everybody of course had a good laugh of it. The chicken was named “Chicky” and Ced was in charge of holding on to it all the way to the campsite.

Chicky turned out to be very domesticated that it didn’t even scamper away when it was placed on the ground while we were unloading all our stuff from the jeepney.  It just scratched and pecked the ground like it was a normal chicken day in chicken land to do chicken stuff.  We sort of felt sorry for it.  But we would eventually feel even more sorry for it.  (More on this later.)

The hike to the jump off point wasn’t that long or hard.  It was a kind of terrain that I was familiar with and one which I found technically easy.  However, for someone like me who hasn’t had serious exercise for a long time, it was still quite a tiring, sweat-breaking and lung-busting experience.  On the other hand, it’s amazing to see our guides lug 2-3 full backpacks at a time and they don’t seem to get tired at all.

Ironman Erwin (photo courtesy of Grace Isles)

The trail cut through woodland thick with pine trees and semi-rocky ground strewn with dried pine needles, which gave it a reddish-brown hue.  Before long, the pine trees gave way to high bushes, and which later on gave way to grassy ground, allowing us to have a sweeping view of the surrounding mountains.

(Photo courtesy of Grace Isles)

From that point, the trail went a bit downhill going to the campsite, so the trek transitioned to a more leisurely pace.  Everybody then took out their cameras and started taking pictures.  As for myself, I did this:

It’s a weird thing to do on top of a mountain, but it’s surprisingly relaxing. (photo courtesy of Deanna Bandoja)

It drizzled a bit that afternoon just when the tents were being pitched, and for a moment I got disheartened that it might turn out to be a rainy camp.  That would certainly ruin any hopes we had of having a good bonfire and camp dinner.  Luckily, the rain didn’t quite materialize and we spent a great deal of the afternoon exploring the surroundings and taking more pictures until the daylight faded into evening.

And then the cold and the fog crept into the campsite.

We breathed the fog. It was all around.

BOODLE FIGHT

Erwin preparing the “boodle”.

The whole afternoon that we were bumming around, Erwin and the other guides were busy preparing our dinner.  That means Chicky was about to be turned into a local dish called Pinikpikan – an indigenous and rather cruel way of preparing the chicken, which involves beating it with a stick while alive so that the blood clots to the surface of its skin, supposedly improving the flavor.  (Incidentally, this is the exact opposite of Kosher or Halal, where as little blood as possible should remain in the animal to be fit for consumption.)  Erwin had the good sense of hiding behind the bushes for us not to see the actual beating, but we heard Chicky’s cries anyway.  It’s a good thing that none of us were animal rights activists.

…Liempos roasting on an open fire…

Anyway, Chicky wasn’t the only thing that was on the menu.  We also had lots of liempo, which was slowly roasting by the fire nearby.  Our dinner was served “boodle fight” style.  But instead of the usual banana leaves where the food was set, we made use of heaps of local fern leaves (due mainly to the fact that there wasn’t really a profusion of banana trees up in the Cordillera mountains.)  While I’ve been to boodle fights before, this is the first time I’ve done it outdoors on a camping trip.

The remains of Chicky are in the pot.

I actually had trouble finding a spot around the “boodle” because I had to go back to the tent and safekeep my camera, as well as to get drinking water.  Eventually, I did find a spot after going around the group two times.  It’s a good thing that I distracted enough people to take pity on me and allowed me to squeeze in (between Edge and Donna)… and before all the good stuff had been eaten away.

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I couldn’t find a spot. (photo courtesy of Allia Donna Go)

By boodle fight standards though, we were quite polite with each other and there wasn’t really any “fight”.  Maybe because there was a lot of food that people didn’t see the need to compete and were more in the mood for sharing the grub.

Here’s Maggie and Jesse

We of course used our hands to eat.  I was quite surprised to see Canadian Jesse seem so comfortable about the whole thing.  But I guess Maggie gave him some pointers on how to do this… or at least properly set his expectations.  Actually, I myself couldn’t quite remember when I last used my hands to eat a rice meal.  So, in a way, it was a new, or rather, renewed experience for me.

When everyone was finished eating, Erwin simply rolled up the heap of ferns that contained our leftovers and disposed of it.  Meanwhile, each of us were busy cleaning our greasy hands.  Personally, in an environment without soap, the best way to get rid of the grease was to: (1) first wipe one’s hands with dry tissue; (2) then clean them with wet tissue; (3) rinse with water; (4) repeat steps 1 & 2; and finally (5) to get rid of the lingering food smell, apply scented alcogel or hand sanitizer.

EVENING SOCIALS

The girls roasting marshmallows.

Evening socials at first consisted of eating roasted marshmallows.  Owing to the fact that fire was far from the center of the camp and was being used to roast another set of skewered liempo, the group made do with butane stoves with which to roast all the marshmallow.  I rather enjoyed the marshmallows and so did many others.

She probably had two plastic cup fulls, overall.

As for Gracey, she has been having problems with the continuously dropping temperature since the sun went down.  So in addition to sequestering my scarf and my jacket, she’s been gulping shots of The Bar flavored vodka even before dinner.  Since she started early, it might have been the reason why she was eager to sleep soon after the marshmallows.  I had a few sips myself but didn’t really develop a liking for it at that moment.

So while half of the group retired to the “couples only” tents, the “non-couples”, on the other hand, had a more hardcore drinking session that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.  It would have been nice to join them since the weather was just perfect for it, but I didn’t really want to wake up with a hangover the next day.  (Or, worse, miss the anticipated sunrise and sea of clouds.)  And besides, I would have certainly been tempted to smoke, and I was targetting to last at least more than 5 months being nicotine-free this time around.

The Hardcore Drinking Group. L-R: Deanna, Beau, Edge, Sarah and Ivy. (Video snapshot courtesy of Cedric Valera – also part of this group) (When I grow up, I’m going to be as alcohol resistant as these guys.)

So I retired to the tent at around 10 pm.  I slept rather easily despite our tent being less than a meter away from where the hardcore group was huddled around a gas lantern.  At around midnight, I felt that I had to pee and when I got out of the tent, I see the group barely tipsy and still looking awake and alert (except Beau….and maybe Sarah – it’s hard to tell because her face was wrapped up in that thick scarf of hers.)

Peeing done.  Back to the tent.  Checked my phone’s alarm clock if it’s correctly set.  Hmmm….Erick invaded my side of the tent.  I somehow managed to lie down.  Slept again.

(Next, sunrise at Marlboro Country.)

= = = = = = = = = =
This entry is part of the Sagada series dated June 18-20, 2011:

1. Sagada Adventure (Prologue)
2. Sagada Adventure, Day 1 (Arrival)
3. Sagada Adventure, Day 1 (Marlboro Country)
4. Sagada Adventure, Day 2 (Marlboro Country)
5. Sagada Adventure, Day 2 (Cave Connection)
6. Sagada Adventure, Day 3 (Walking Tour)
7. Sagada Adventure, Epilogue (Banaue Exit)

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