Road to Tinglayen

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
On a bus roof in the Central Cordilleras (Phillipines) with a crowd of locals and a dog - life's pretty funny! Travel's a blast!

Submitted: February 18, 2009

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Submitted: February 18, 2009

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Road to Tinglayen
 
The alarm goes off at 6.30 though I’d set it for 7. A few minutes more sleep but I’m not sure about the bus or the journey or how many or what time.
Room 208 is a Private Room (150 peso, about $3.50, instead of 90p) meaning I have an ensuite. A toilet with no seat and a bucket under a tap with a plastic ladle floating happily. I tip one ladle, then another, of cold water over my head. Refreshing, after a sticky night.
Breakfast in the restaurant downstairs is ham, fried egg and rice. Chilli vinegar, soy sauce and salt spice it up nicely. Small sour birds-eye chillis add quite a kick. Home-brewed mountain coffee is part of the deal – 45p total, just over a dollar. Quite a few locals are breakfasting there too, most eating a kind of battered fried chicken and rice and drinking coke. It’s just 7am but already some American B-grade sci-fi video is almost done – Seth, the evil genius, has been foiled by the forces of justice in his attempt to take over our world of the future.
I shoulder my packs and walk to the market. The Bantoc/Tinglayen/Tabuk buses and jeepneys leave from here. 7.30, but it’s hot already. Most shops are just rolling back the security gates to open for business.
A bus for Bagio, jeepneys to Sagada and, to one side, the Tabuk bus, full already with elderly tattooed ladies, stooped old farming men, women with children and chickens.
One of the men standing and waiting points to the roof. “You can ride up-stairs. Just wait. By and by.” So we stand around and chat. He’s a government employee heading home to Tabuk after visiting family in Bantoc. His English is good.
“Ah yes…from Australia. Very nice country! It’s good of you to share your money with the Phillipines by coming here for tourism. Thankyou.”
“What is your job? You said you work for the government in Tabuk. So what work do you do? What job?”
“Yes.”
Eventually they throw my main bag up to the baggage stackers on the roof.
“They are just placing your bag now.”
“Thankyou.”
A few more men clamber up and settle in among the luggage. An excited brown puppy, licking hands, is passed up and chained to the roof rack amid well-sealed and labelled cartons, bags of pig-food and my green overnighter. A few more elderly farmers shuffle to the door and press themselves inside.
“Should I get up now?”
“By and by. You can follow him.”
He points to a young man who has the look of a hill-tribe farmer and a purple Sagada backpack.
“Around the back.”
“Yes…yes…go with him!”
Uncertain I follow the farmer behind the bus, out of the bus station and down the street for a hundred metres.
“Are you going to Tinglayen?” I ask. He half-turns and nods unconvincingly.
It’s difficult to tell if he speaks any English or is just trying to be reassuring.
Opposite the Technical College we cross the street and take a seat on the kerb. Two men are welding a steel handrail in preparation for the new school year. From the second floor of the college I can hear a teacher giving instructions for an exam about to commence.
“You must not look at your fellow’s paper. You must finish in the allowable time…”
I wonder what the allowable time for the bus to come is and if this is just another ruse to check the Ilocano’s bag and steal his money.
Surreptitiously I check my guide’s face and the two or three others who appear to be waiting. No-one seems concerned. Anyway, there’s nothing of value in the bag so why worry? I pass the time dictating Travel Tips to my imaginary personal assistant for a 2006 Travel Guide to The Cordilleras.
1. Never keep anything of value in your main bag.
2. When packing, always put dirty laundry in last (i.e. on top) to deter and mislead potential thieves.
3. Unless absolutely certain, never let the bus out of your sight.
After ten minutes the bus finally trundles down the road, jam-packed inside and exhibiting a worrying tilt to the right.
We climb up and a few more guys jog from nearby alleys and swing up the 4-runged ladder. Ten men, lots of boxes and bags and a dog.
The bus starts off again and I realise why they had preferred to load the rooftop passengers most of the way out of town. For the next two minutes we are ducking and dodging low-slung power cables and phone-lines til at last we are on the open road.
“Thwack!” a protruding piece of bamboo slaps me in the face. Out of town maybe but no cause to stop watching the road ahead.
The highway is little more than a single-lane dirt track, clinging to sheer cliffs and perched high above the rugged Chico River valley. Stone-pitched embankments and ramparts shore-up the mountains on the left (in a perpetual state of slippage) and the overhanging road’s edge on the right, threatening to collapse at almost every bend.
Tree branches, adventurous bamboo and protruding boulders ensure the top-deck passengers keep a sharp eye on the road ahead. No-one sits on the boxes…we’re all comfortably seated to sway right, duck, lean back…
The Chico River, at times close to a thousand feet below, looks good for canoeing. Or white-water rafting. Ironically, as this thought crosses my mind, I note it’s dirty brown character – sediment-rich. Huge boulders with a narrow rivulet snaking between them at times, in other places a broad turbulent wash. It’s May – the river’s low at this time of year. In flood it would be awesome!
Occasional small villages on the other side are connected with narrow, steel suspension bridges. Single file. Luminous green rice terraces chiselled into hillsides which once grew rainforests – and are now devoid of trees entirely. Who logged them so unrelentingly? The Spanish? The Americans? The locals themselves?
Then suddenly the dog’s sick. I notice its eyes begin to roll. Hope it’s not about to die, I think. And, as if in answer to my premonition, it begins to froth at the mouth, gasp for air. I’m about to alert the Butbut farmer when it begins heaving, choking. I tap his shoulder and at the same moment the dog vomits a mess of rice and mucous over his bag.
“Ohhh Ohhh La! It’s a bad dog!!” he announces loudly, trying to brush off his Sagada pack without touching the steaming gruel. But his eyes have only humour and a touch of sympathy. The poor dog crouches even lower and tries to nuzzle into a thin patch of shade between the roof-rack and the bus roof.
It’s getting hotter. We stop at the Sadanga Police Community Protection building. Poured concrete. Flat roof. The Chico River meanders below. Bitwagen and its’ rice terraces colonise the gentle slopes cross-river. Another suspension bridge.
Men disappear around the corner, off into lantana thickets behind the building. None of the women leave the bus. Those on the roof without hats tie scarves neatly over their heads. I’ve got a Khmer sarong – head and neck protection. Cigarettes get shared around. Jokes. The driver climbs up to collect the fares. Tabuk is 80p. Tinglayen 55p. He charges me 80 and I protest but I’m not positive about the price. Earlier the government worker had told me 70.
“It should be 70 peso!”
“Price is more –fuel has increased. Everyday is more costly!”
I pay the 80 peso and after he’s gone another rooftop passenger asks how much I paid.
“Tch Tch…50 is correct!”
“Tourist price –First Class on the roof” I reply. We both smile.
The bus starts off again and within minutes the dog has shit itself. It cowers while trying to find a small space between the feet and bags to hide from its own mess.
There’s not just a turd or two. Somehow he’s managed to spread it far and wide.
There’s a general exodus from the middle of the roof. “Thwack!!” And… Keep watching ahead while finding a new seating arrangement. Most of the guys crowd forward. One climbs over the boxes to recline at the very back on the pig food, his own personal armchair. Two other guys are left with the Butbut farmer and me in the middle. There’s dogshit on the grey plastic carry-all and a green case. Muttering they grasp at leaves from overhead branches and try to wipe the biggest smears away. The dog squeezes further under the roof-rack in disgrace.
I’ve got a packet of tissues in my daypack. I hand them a few and they smile thanks. It’s my emergency supply for urgent unexpected toilet stops. Apart from the lingering anxiety of a bus wheel going a little too close, the edge beginning to collapse, the bus leaning perilously, beginning to topple…anyway, apart from that, it’s my only real fear.
That sharp sudden pain in the abdomen. Belly begins to bubble. Not safe to fart now but something’s got to happen. How long can you last? Will it perhaps stay on hold, go away or...? It’s a big risk. No – it’s too late for all that! “Para…Para!!” The bus stops. You climb carefully down. It’s already too late! Hobbling, so as not to make even more mess, you hide behind a tree or a rock, the buses’ eyes all concentrated on the one huge joke. Yes – emergency supplies are very reassuring! Thankfully this time it’s just the dog, poor thing.
We stop at another small village. It’s actually just a bus-shelter and a few houses. Bugnay is across the river – another ancient suspension bridge.
“Buscalan. ..Butbut…” another rooftop passenger points out to me. Two small towns, corrugated iron roofs and wood clinging to the ridges high high above us. Why would people choose to live way up there, I wonder. So far from the river too. But it looks like there’s flat land between them. Perhaps a high plain. Something there’s not much of down here.
A few of the old men and women tiredly ease themselves off the bus. The Butbut farmer stays on the roof – waves to one. He’s getting down at Tinglayen.
A few more miles of pot-holed tracks. One more village, then the terraces of Tinglayen glint from around a distant corner of the Chiko River.
The Good Samaritan Inn and Restaurant is right opposite a large, white-washed Catholic school. The bus stops and almost all the remaining passengers go inside to eat. The food looks good. Chicken or pork and local spinach in a bowl with a good plate of rice for 40p. These women are organised. They chat and laugh as they serve the passengers. Rooms are 150p per person. Share C.R.
They show me a room. Single bed, window with Happy Plants outside.
“Where is the Comfort Room?”
“Oh – here…this one is for you.” It’s labelled ‘Guest C.R.’
All the doors have typeset names taped to them. Matthew…Luke…John…Paul…
“Where is Matthew?” I ask.
“Matthew? Not here now. Another place” she replies cryptically.
When I return from my stroll along the river and over the bridge to Ambuto, Mark has been assigned to my room.
And then the 3 o’clock rain begins.
 
 
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