When HLGG undertakes a major activity, it always follows this pattern: first, the outreach; next, the mountain climbing activity; and finally, beach bumming or simply just bumming around somewhere where we could relax our aching muscles from the climb. Our trip in Occidental Mindoro followed exactly this pattern and so I will first blog about our outreach activity.
OCCIDENTAL MINDORO BY “BUS”
By now, I’ve ridden too many ro-ros to expect that this one we were about to take going to Occidental Mindoro would be a smooth ride. Ro-ros, in theory, are supposed to provide a convenient way of riding just one transport provider from point A to point B that involves a sea crossing, and that doesn’t involve the use of airplanes. The only other way is to take a bus from Manila to a port in Batangas, then board a boat from there to Occidental Mindoro, and then take a bus again to wherever you wish to go within the latter province.
The problem is that with ro-ros, one still has to deal with the fact that everybody would have to disembark at the port area to go through some government-mandated inspections and board the bus again. There’s also the fact that you can’t stay inside the bus while the ro-ro boat is moving because, well, you’ll suffocate. So you have to get off the bus again prior to it rolling into the boat, and then try to find a seat as fast as you can with hundreds of other passengers with the same thing in mind. And as any ro-ro veteran would tell you, there are never enough seats.
So to make a long story short, we reached the port of Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro just past midnight, and from that point it was a predawn drive for a few hours going to our drop-off point at Jackson’s Restaurant in the municipality of Calintaan. The restaurant was still closed when we arrived before sunrise, and I guess we made a lot of noise when we unloaded all of our stuff from the bus when everybody was still in bed on that Maundy Thursday.
Anyway, we stayed probably up to a couple of hours at the restaurant, partly because we were having difficulty in contacting the jeepney that we hired to transport us to the jump-off point (weak signal), and that we couldn’t seem to decide on which exact time to have breakfast. So we all basically ate at different times (the restaurant eventually opened), even after the jeepney already arrived and all our stuff has been loaded. We kept going in and out of the jeepney to eat or use the restroom.
The good thing about this delay is that one of our companions, Bert, actually caught up with us. He wasn’t able to join us via ro-ro the day before so he took a flight from Manila to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro and planned to meet up with us at the jump-off point of the trek. Instead, he got to join us at Jackson’s Restaurant, and we left soon enough after he arrived.
THE TREK TO SITIO TAMISAN
En route to Sitio Tamisan, we entered the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park. At that point, our jeepney could no longer continue so we had to unload and carry all our backpacks as we started the trek. Fortunately, the Barangay Captain allowed us to leave all the things we would not need for the trek at his house, and we were then able to continue on our way to Sitio Tamisan with a bit lighter loads.
Since we had a lot of boxes with us that contained the donations, we had to secure the services of a few Mangyan porters to help us transport them. What impressed me was that not only did they walk faster than us, but most of them also did so while barefoot.
The trek should have been easy enough since it was mostly in gently sloping, albeit rough, terrain. What made it hard was that even with the lighter loads, it was still very exhausting due to the heat of the mid-morning. You can view a video I posted during that part of the trek here. I tried to keep pace with the leaders of the pack and was moderately successful, at least until we reached our only stopover, which is DENR Station 1.
The stopover was actually already very near Sitio Tamisan, but since each of us had to register and sign the logbook, we took that as an opportunity to rest, rehydrate and re-energize before continuing on our way. It was at this point where I finally fell behind the pack, but it was of no huge consequence because we were so near our destination anyway.
Right before reaching our destination, we had to cross a suspension bridge that rocked up and down with each step. We did spend a lot of time here taking photos. At the end of it marked the beginning of Sitio Tamisan. We arrived to the sound of a lot of curious children milling about to see their visitors.
Sitio Tamisan is an exclusively Mangyan settlement area located near a river. (By the way, just so my non-Filipino readers know, “Mangyan” is a collective term that pertains to 8 disctinct tribes of indigenous Filipinos living in the island of Mindoro.) As mentioned before, Sitio Tamisan in its entirety is located within the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park. Upon reaching the end of the aforementioned bridge, one still has to hike up a moderately steep slope to get to the sitio. The first building that comes into view is that of the Tamisan Elementary School. From that point, one will immediately notice the effort made at gardening and landscaping the surroundings. Also, dogs, chickens and pigs freely roam around.
We proceeded to their multi-purpose “hall” in the middle of the sitio and the children, who would be the recipients, were already assembling there. Like many other indigenous Filipinos, Mangyans are comfortable barefoot and their feet tend to be calloused at a very young age. Their hair often are slightly light-colored due to sun exposure, and which also explains their dark complexion. They’re also of shorter stature on average than the less-homogenous lowlanders. But other than those, their facial features aren’t really all that different from ours, showing their Malayan stock (unlike Aetas.)
So we were there at the multi-purpose hall and just waiting for the other boxes of donations to be brought in by the Mangyan porters. The children were being grouped according to age, and there was some difficulty with this task because: (1) they spoke only very rudimentary Tagalog; and (2) they were kids, and they tended not to stay in one place for long. But eventually, a semblance of order was established, and the program was ready to begin.
Now, one funny thing about HLGG is that while our events are generally well-prepared to the very detail, everyone seems to have stage fright of some sort. It took a few moments of pointing fingers before Erwin Claver took to the stage and masterfully played the role of the emcee. Erwin, you see, has extensive experience in this sort of thing with his other social involvements, and it was a good thing that he joined us for this trip.
The program for that morning included a number of games wherein lots of treats and prizes were given away to every kid who attended. Unlike my last involvement with HLGG (in Marinduque), where I was contented to just stay in the background and snap photos, this time around I found myself playing a more active role in interacting with the kids. Part of it was because each of us in the group was pre-assigned a certain grade level that we would “handle” to keep the event as organized as possible. But when it came to the games, we weren’t sure how we were needed, so me and the other guys and girls took it upon ourselves to assist in facilitating the kids so that potential chaos could somehow be channeled to fun. I’d like to think that we succeeded in this regard. And I too had a lot of fun being more involved.
After the games, it was time to distribute the donations. Since the school year had just ended, a decision was made not to distribute the school supplies and instead just place them in the safekeeping of the school administrators. The idea was that if they were distributed right then and there, it was highly probable that they would get used up/worn out/lost during the summer vacation. It would then be better for them to just distribute it to the children at the start of the next school year when they can be better utilized.
So what else was there to be distributed? Fortunately, we brought more than school supplies. The donations also included brand new flip-flops of varying sizes. As we distributed them to the school children, they wore them on the spot. Most of them were barefoot and the flip-flops were certainly a very welcome gift. They didn’t even care about what color they got – which sort of gives one an idea that gender-specific colors is an alien concept among Mangyans.
Unfortunately, we failed to account for the fact that there would be some recipients whose feet were much larger than any of the footwear sizes that we’ve brought, and they had to content themselves with undersized flip-flops. One burly kid in particular had really large feet, even by adult standards, and we had no choce but to give him flip flops that were probably three sizes smaller than he needed, and colored pink at that.. Fortunately, he looked like he didn’t mind and looked very relieved that at least he had been given new footwear for his very calloused, working man’s feet.
As a gesture of gratitude, the children prepared and performed a song number for us. It was a Mangyan song sung in both their language and Tagalog. It was self-descriptive and very educational in the sense that it gives one an insight on how they view themselves in relation to nature, God and the wider Philippine society. I should have asked for the Tagalog lyrics from someone.
Anyway, they performed the song with their brand new flip-flops and we can’t help taking photos of them while they did. The song was well rehearsed and the Tagalog parts were clearly audible, leading me to think that this might be something that they sing regularly whenever people like us go to them and give gifts.
After the song number, we somehow had to close the event and final words needed to be said. Once again, we all had a collective bout of stage fright and it fell upon Erwin and Dario to impart some words of wisdom to the children.
And so, with the program ending, it was time for photos. Here are some of the kids who haven’t left yet at the end of the program:
And here’s us with them:
LUNCH BEFORE THE TREK
We remained at the multi-purpose “hall” when everyone had left because it was where we would stay to have lunch and rest prior to proceeding to the second part of our activity, which is the Mt. Iglit climb. By this hour the noontime sun was already scorching, and it felt hot even in the shade. We spent the next 2 hours trying our best to be as comfortable as possible.
So lunch was cooked, served and eaten, and we spent some time letting the food digest. Some of us even got to sleep in pretty unique ways, as this picture of Madz shows:
NEXT: The knee-busting Mt. Iglit climb.
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This entry is part of the Holy Week 2012 series dated April 5-8, 2012:
1. Preview: The Trail to Mt. Iglit
2. Holy Week 2012: Prologue
3. Holy Week 2012: Sitio Tamisan Outreach
4. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (unang yugto)
5. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (ikalawang yugto)
6. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (huling yugto)
7. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 1)
8. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 2) and Pandan Island