Tulgao - Where breathing is better than giving up-A A +A
Thursday, January 3, 2013
TULGAO, Tinglayan, Kalinga -- “It takes my breath away,” I have heard that from mountain trekkers and nature lovers alike several times, when viewing a spectacular landscape or scenery out in the great outdoors. I have experienced it in a different light here, as a year-end treat from nature.
Typhoon Quinta visited the Philippines in the last week of December 2012. It accompanied us in our trip to Tulgao, Tinglayan, Kalinga last December 27-28. In the afternoon of the 2th, the rain showers stopped but continued in the night. It allowed us time to trek along the community watershed and reforestation site.
The plan was to trek along the rice fields, climb up the mountain and walk down to where the mini-hydro was. Along the trail we can estimate how the newly planted pine seedlings this year survived. If there is yet time, we can climb down the base of the mountain where the river runs, watch the Palanca waterfall and bath in two hot spring tubs. Spectacular plan, really.
Well, the trail takes you to breath taking sceneries. The Tulgao rice terraces are hidden from view and it takes deliberate decision to hike with the locals to see these down below the village. The terraces have high walls and wide paddies. Some are as long as the canyons allow their construction. After walking on top of the paddies, we followed the trail to where the young pines were and growing growing robustly. I felt happy. I did not mind being led further down the steep trail towards the mini-hydro site.
Actually, I forgot I was not meant to engage with physical exertion that expands and challenges the lungs and the heart. At any rate, the downward trek did not demand too much lung output and a racing heart beat.
The mini-hydro was constructed in the 90s with community labor and financed by the Kyosato Educational Experiment Project. It gave electric lighting to Tulgao in 1994-2000 but bogged down after five years of operation. Mr. Johnny Salabao brought the mini-hydro turbine machine for repairs in La Trinidad to no avail.
A few meters from the mini-hydro site is where the Palanca falls is. It is a strong falls and I have to step back some ten meters to be able to take photos. Still I kept wiping my lens from its showers. After taking a few shots I stripped off my clothes and joined the others in the hot spring tub nearby. It was too refreshing and I stayed in the tub for about an hour.
As much as I enjoyed the hot spring bath, we need to return back to the village. After the day’s work, the villagers would be gathering in the Parish church for the agro-forestry site development review and workshop. Already, Mr. Reagan Codmos, forester and CHARM2 Project Expert was raring to return back to the village.
On our ascent to the top, I took up with the pace of my companions. About a hundred meters of steep climb to the top, I felt tired and perspired profusely. A few more steeps, I got dizzy and could hardly breathe. My breast seems to have expanded. I could not take another step and slowly sat down. I wanted to vomit but could not. I was fighting for breath. It was a mighty fight for me for about 30 minutes. All that was in my mind was to keep breathing, no matter what it takes. I kept thinking about my daughter’s sweet embrace when I left them with my wife in Tucocan, Bontoc.
In the culture of the Tulgao folks, a visitor whom they offered water to drink and accommodation is protected and honoured as one of their own. That brief moment took my companions by surprise. They moved some distance while watching me and had an emergency session far from my hearing. They considered a lot of options. In the end, they allowed me to come back on my own like a mountain man. When I came to, I stood up and they gathered around. I was even grateful when we all thought alike. I don’t have much energy and strength and we will return to the village with my pace even if we arrived late in the dark.
We had a long night as we processed the day’s events. I heard stories about visitors to Tulgao that the locals carried on their backs on blankets tied to a carrying pole. “They were sick,” I was told. All were city folks or people exposed to the rigours of the Tulgao environment. They do the same to fellow locals who are sick of course bringing them to Tinglayan town which is more than 10 kilometres away.
On the day of the graduation of the participants in the six-month on-site Farmers Field School for Agroforestry supported by the CHARM2 Project, Mr. Bal Claver, component coordinator of the project’s Community Watershed, Forest Management and Agroforestry (CWFMA), processed the local culture with the participants with reference to land and natural resources management. In their culture, the locals plant and grow trees for timber, fuel and watershed utilities. They also had ways to protect the trees from forest fire. Nobody deliberately burns or cuts trees or face penalties. “These good cultural practices,” according to Mr. Claver is being encouraged by the CHARM2 Project to be sustained by the local folks.
Life in Tulgao is hard and difficult. I agree. Every environment has its challenges. In Tulgao, life’s conditions have been endured by the local folks for centuries. Through rural development, we can help them not according to our terms but on their own and through genuine engagement. We can help them and yet they also can help us in many ways. As Bal Claver has done, we can encourage them by acknowledging their cultural practices that has work well for them and their ancestors all these years. For me, I will long treasure the preciousness of the act of breathing, like a warrior, than losing hope or giving up.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 03, 2013.