Friday, February 04, 2011

Laguna, 4

My relatives had many stories of firsthand encounters with wildlife in the forest. It was fascinating to listen to such stories, but I'd never want to be in a similar situation. I love the mountains, not the wildlife, particularly those that can potentially harm humans. I'm okay with non-poisonous spiders, ants and harmless little critters... Mt. Makiling has all of those and more.

Snakes, for instance. As the Filipino saying goes, lahat ng gubat ay may ahas (every jungle has snakes), which I am using literally here. Snakes are supposed to avoid people unless you startled them. That was why I made a lot of noise while walking around the forest. According to an uncle, he and a companion chanced upon a sleeping sawa (boa) coiled as high as his thighs, its head buried in the middle. It was as big as thighs too, he said. They hacked it with a machete.

One time my cousins saw a snake wrapped around the beam of our hut's ceiling. At another time, it was a big one slithering under the house. Yikes!

Then there were wild bees. My mother said that when Lola Pina was pregnant with her last child, she, my mother and their dog were outside when they heard buzzing that increasingly grew louder. Realizing a swarm of wild bees was coming their way, they ran as fast as they could. They were able to take shelter but the dog was not as fortunate. The bees mercilessly killed it. I wonder if the dog deliberately protected its masters. How can a pregnant woman outrun a dog? Or maybe it was tied and there was no time to untie it. Whatever the case may be, it saved my grandmother and mother.

Another one, the baboy damo (wild boar). My grandfather was an expert hunter of baboy damo. They cooked and served it during special occasions. It was served at the baptism of all my siblings. Apparently, this was one animal you had to kill at the first attempt or it could turn on you and injure, if not kill, you. I don't know if there are still wild boars in Mt. Makiling. I think they are protected species now.

This next one isn't wild, but I was told they chased people. Cattle. Before we began our ascent to Mt. Makiling, we had to passed by the farm where cattle grazed. We, especially the children, avoided getting near the wire fence or agitating these seemingly harmless animals. I think a relative had been chased by a cow.

Although I was wary of wildlife, I was not too scared because we always went in a group, and the men carried a bolo or itak (machete) on their waists or a hunting rifle. Kids had tirador (slingshots). I liked holding a stick not only for hiking but for self-defense, just in case... Better than nothing.

The confidence and courage of my kin sort of rubbed off on me in the jungle. I had a sense of adventure as long as I knew they were close by or within screaming distance. 

Thankfully, in all the years I went up the mountain, I never encountered any wildlife. The worst would be red ants.

With my cousins, before entering the forest

To be continued

Laguna, 3

As I said previously, my grandfather had a four-hectare homestead on the slopes of Mt. Makiling just beyond UP Los Banos Animal Husbandry. It was thickly forested and had all sorts of tropical fruit trees. Mango. Guava. Lanzones. Sampaloc (tamarind). Coconut. Langka (jackfruit). Rambutan. Guyabano. Santol. Sintones (oranges). There was a sintonesan section dedicated to oranges. There were coffee and kakaw (cocoa) trees. Then there were the non-fruit bearing trees, like mahogany and narra, that grow in tropical forests. A part was dedicated to ipil-ipil (Santa Elena). There was not a square meter of ground, apart from the area where around our hut, that was not covered with dead leaves, grass, weeds, and other vegetation.

    My cousins and I up a sintones tree. These trees do no grow very high. We could even 
just sit on the ground if the branches were low and pick some fruits.

That was a well tended piece of property. My father contributed a lot in that when he helped out my grandfather during the Japanese occupation. He helped to plant trees and till the soil for rice planting. My mother said it was difficult to plant rice upland but it was a fun time too for young people who found that opportunity to be together. The rice they planted fed many evacuees from town that sought shelter there from the fierce fighting between the Japanese and the joint Filipino and American troops after Gen. Douglas MacArthur had returned to the Philippines.

Growing up, I remember my grandparents spending a great deal of time in the mountains. They had a nipa hut there. Sometimes we had to hike up to see them, after resting for a while at my uncle's house in the town below.

My earliest memory of that place was probably the time my siblings and cousins, already in their youth, decided to spend the night there. My parents let me tag along while they stayed behind in my uncle's house. I was only four years old and still drinking milk from the bottle. Unfortunately--or not--my group forgot to bring my bottle with us. Poor little girl had no milk for the night. That was how I was weaned. Yes, at four years old!

What I remember more from that vacation was that I was really scared at night. My parents were not with me, and I heard different forest sounds that get magnified in the evening. It was also very dark because there was no electricity. I wanted to pee but there was no toilet in the hut. No outhouse either. Up there, when you felt the call of nature, you had to go to nature, if you know what I mean. Being night time, I asked someone to accompany just outside the hut by the front steps. So scary. Whoever it was who accompanied me decided to frighten me even more and pretended to leave me behind even before I was done.  I quickly ran up the bamboo stairs. Mean! There, it's out of my system, haha.

To be continued...