The saddest thing is that when I first came here six years ago, the roads were in exactly the same condition. It took an hour to cover 10 meters six years ago, it took us an hour, or so, to cover 10 kilometres now. The good thing is that the place itself looked almost exactly the same as it did 6 years ago.
We arrived in Paracelis, Mt. Province, on our way to the next town, Natonin, last night after close to ten hours on the road from Baguio. We were advised by friends at our stopover not to even attempt to bring the same van we arrived in on to Natonin, there’s no way it can make it. We first thought of going against their advise, but luckily we heeded it in the end, and hired a tried and tested local jeepney to take us to our final destination.
To cover a distance of a little over 22 kilometres, it took us three hours. Four of us from our entourage of academics, artists, journalists and NGO workers sat on the roof. But of course. So in the darkness of a Mt. Province evening, we made our way, over rocks, mud, rushing waters and in the case of us on the roof, protruding branches.
I joined the trip mainly because of our NGO worker-friend, an adopted son of the town who’s been working hard to help in the town’s development, and who’s been raving about the town for the past few months. I dragged another friend to help me document the trip on video and in photos. We arrived late at night so I still had no idea what our friend has been raving about. After a hearty, albeit incongruous, dinner of paksiw na bangus, we hit the sack, hoping to wake up at the crack of dawn.
Dawn cracks rather early in these parts that by 6AM the sun was already brightly shining. I asked around for the best spot to get a panoramic view of the town, and we were accompanied by a good Samaritan to a place called To’or – a hill right in the middle of the valley. We could see that hill from where we were staying and I figured it couldn’t be that far – perhaps a 10-15 minute walk. But there are no straight lines here, so the winding uphill trek to the view deck actually took an hour or so, and this Baguio City slicker hasn’t been on a trail in a very long time – I think it took longer to catch my breath than the actual trek.
But it was worth it. Still and video cameras and tripods on our backs, we reached the top of the hill and there, in 360 degrees, the beauty of Natonin unfolded before us. It wasn’t the thought of another hour‘s trek that made me prolong this fool’s stay on top that hill but rather the golden morning rays on brilliant shades of green painted on mountain sides, rice terraces, tree tops, occasionally interrupted by huts that housed the land’s bounty. So this was Natonin, perhaps among the Cordilleras’ best kept secret havens.
The walk back to the town center was much more pleasant. The people we said good morning to on our way to the hill were still where they were on our way back: the mothers sunning their babies; the store keeper who was preparing her shop for the day earlier was now attending to the day’s first clients; the man shovelling dirt out of the way on the road was now taking his first break chewing moma under a shade. We were particularly amused by the numerous lost and found signs on the walls of several sari-sari stores: lost and found money, lost and found bag, lost and found pustiso. Yup, someone must have left his false teeth at that store the previous night.
I figured, nothing gets lost here. In Natonin, whatever it is you lost, it will find its way back to you. I would love to find my way back here some time again soon.
And I think I wouldn’t mind if things remain as they are here for the next six, or 20 years.