“It is not enough for a man to learn how to ride; he must learn how to fall.” -Mexican Proverb

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Last year, I was part of an ‘expedition team’ composed of anthropologists, academicians, Dept of Tourism people, LGU officials, SMI engineers and drivers and, alalays (assistants). Our destination was Atmurok, a remote B’laan community located at the intersecting boundaries of Davao del Norte, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. Our collective mission, to immerse ourselves to an authentic B’laan culture. I was the only architect in the group and my task was to document the tribal hall and the vernacular houses in that B’laan community.

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From Davao City, we traveled the well-paved highway leading to Saranggani Province. At Malungon crossing, we turned left to travel uphill to Atmurok. We passed through several pineapple plantations and ricefields and the protected forests of Mt. Tupi. It was a hellish, rough and tumble ride because the roads were soooo bad. Like sungka to the nth level. Moreover, we had to stop several times because a couple of vehicles we brought got stuck in some quagmire. We traveled like this for at least two hours before we came upon a narrow, slippery uphill pass. We stopped because some of the drivers didnt want to force the vehicles up. Delikado daw.

Indeed, it was dangerous because hidden deceptively behind the assorted foliage covering the left side of the road was a high, steep cliff. Everyone agreed that it was not the right time to commit harakiri. Besides, we had an alternative mode of transportation – the footpower! So no problem, we’ll reach our destination. Afterall, somebody heartily swore “malapit na dito ang Atmurok.”

So we jauntily gathered are packs and continued our travel on foot. (Ha! But then, I forgot to ask how far/near ang ‘malapit’)

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There are two types of people in the world: first, people who can walk long distances without much effort and second, people who are simply not prepared to walk, the lupaypays.

The Tourism and SMI people belong to the former group. They were so used to walking that at no time, the lupaypays got left behind.

I was one of the lupaypays. Like most of my colleagues in the university, I live a fairly sedentary life — no exercise. So it was quite a challenge for me to walk that ‘malapit na lang‘ distance (Atmurok turned out to be at least two hours away). Belonging also to the group of lupaypays were Madam (she thought we’ll reach Atmurok by car, hence her malling outfit); Grounded Hunter (a fellow blogger who unfortunately was tasked to carry a bagful of bottled water, napagkamalang kasing student-alalay ni Chancey) and Mr. Lunch (who carried the lunch packs of the expedition team).We were accompanied by Mr. Vice Mayor (who doesnt act and look like a politician at all) and Mr. Congeniality (whom I thought at first was the vice mayor because of his personality).

While we plodded the winding scenic road to Atmurok, Mr. Lunch and Mr. Congeniality entertained us with anecdotes and jokes. Madam talked about her colorful life as a college administrator. Ako, tawa-tawa lang.

Inasmuch as we enjoyed the journey, we were all greatly relieved when we reached sitio i-forgot-the-name, a small community of Bisayas and Ilonggos. Its hard to believe why such a community existed in such a remote place. No jeeps, drugstore nor carenderia. Only a couple of sari-sari stores around the community basketball court. Anyways, we caught up some of the tourism people there awaiting for their rides up to Atmurok. Horses.

Yes, horses. Honest to goodness horses. The sitio folks were willing to lend us some horses. Halleluia! Di na ako maglalakad. Golly wow. Di pa ako nakasay ng kabayo. Hehehe. Chance ko na to!

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While Grounded Hunter and I were basking on the knowledge that we will be riding horses, Madam and Mr. Lunch were busy choosing horses for themselves and Mr. Congeniality was already waving us goodbye for he had sweet-talked Miss Lovely (a local tourism officer) to double ride with him. By the time we’ve both recovered from that little euphoria, only two horses were left for us to loan: a small chocolate-colored horse that bites and a big mola that kicks. Tough luck.

Imagine the scene while Madam and Mr. Lunch were waving us goodbye from the backs of their docile, placid horses: Grounded Hunter still holding that bag of bottled water looking like Little Boy Lost, a kind old woman calmly puffing smoke as the chocolate-colored horse tried to bite a chunk off his grandson’s arm; Mr. Vice Mayor dodging a couple of well-aimed kicks as he tried to tether the mola. All the while, I was seriously eyeing both horses. Yes, I was standing in the middle of what seems to be the last frontier of civilization, trying my damnedest to discern which horse will provide the least damage to my person. Kick or bite? (sabay kamot sa ulo)

If I get be nipped by that horse, will I die of tetanus? Excessive loss of blood? Loss of a precious limb? How about if I get kicked by the other horse? What is the probability of having my cranium clubbed by metal-studded horsepower? Will I die of brain hemorrhage? If not my head, then my spinal cord? A full-body paralysis?

The nearest municipal hospital was at least one-hour-walk- and- two-hours-of- rough- road away and the only thing I had with me was a year old band-aid I kept in my purse.

Then, I also realized that I do not know how to handle a horse. Will a simple ya impel a horse to canter gently or gallop like crazy? Or was it yee!? Hiyaah? What will happen if I say tsk-tsk? Should I say woowh if I want to stop? (I would like thank the silverscreen cowboys for my colorful albeit limited horsey vocabulary). What will happen if I tug the left rope? The right rope? Both ropes together? What should I do if my horse gets spooked by a snake or something along the way?

Waaaah!

The odds were against me. Sad.

Pass na lang muna ako.

But then, I was about to say a heartrending “maglalakad na lang ako” (i’ll just walk) when Mr. Vice Mayor kindly offered to handle the spirited mola for me. Suddenly, it was like “sunny day, sweeping the clouds away…” Oh my God, I am going to ride a horse afterall, a real walking-running-working horse, unlike the ones in Baguio and Tagaytay.

(fyi: Grounded Hunter rode the nipping horse… mwehehehe)

-to be continued-

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