D116 . Dec 25 . Christmas in Banaue, people I met

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Hubert, 29, born and raised in Batad. Chewing a bethel nut makes his lips ochre.
Appetite suppressant and stimulating, Betel has also a heady effect on brain. Indeed, yesterday, all the young men we met seemed to be high ! A double dose for Christmas ?

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We met those two when we were walking across the Batad rice terraces. I was intrigued that they were speaking English together, so I asked them why. They are Malaysians and were raised when Malaysia was still a British colony. Even today they are still more comfortable speaking English than their local language, which was only reintroduced in Malaysian schools in the 1970′.
They have moved in the Philippines seven years ago but she misses her culture and food :
“The food here is sweet, even the Spaghetti sauce is sweet, what food is that ?” did she explain.
She works for the Adventist church. At the beginning, I though she was working for Aventis, the pharmaceutical lab, so of course it resulted in some misunderstanding. As I was asking questions about the adventist practices, she wanted to know to what religion I was belonging. But i know from experience that people here do not understand that you can have none. The risk of saying I am a catholic would have been that she could have asked questions on the catholic Christmas, whereas I don’t know much beyond Santa Claus. So I said I was a Jew.
the husband reaction – a teacher in Junior High – was kind of surprising :
“Oh, you are the chosen ones, how lucky you are”. He was amazingly excited. I guess they don’t meet many Jews in that part of the world. “You know, all religions come from yours, you must be very proud, I wish i could go to Jerusalem once”…

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This is Candida. Back to Banaue, we visited a museum dedicated to the Ifugao culture, the people from North Luzon (Luzon being the Manilla island). After this fascinating visit, we were kind of hungry, and went directly to the nice terrace behind the museum, with many tables and Christmas lights.
But it was somebody’s  place ! Two ladies were storing spare food from Christmas into tupperwares and aluminium foil. “Come and have some food” one of them said. “At least have some coffee”. And so we did.
I had pork ribs, stuffed turkey, ratatouille, sweet potato salad, cinnamon cake, and a cappuccino. This was so unexpected !!! a family christmas turkey here !!!

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While I was refilling my plate again and again, I still found the time to question her about her life. Last year, she was still living in Samar, one of the island the most hit my the recent typhoon. So she had to leave her island and settled here. A few months after the disaster, she drove 64 hours to go back to samar. “But even with money”, did she explain, “you couldn’t buy a damn thing. So I left for ever”.
But why did she choose to settle in Banaue ? “We had our museum here”, so we erected an house next to it”.
Their museum ??? Yes. In Manilla, her husband was selling antics. When he retired, he created a museum with left pieces. When their Manilla lease expired, they decided to move their Ifugao museum to Banaue.
Then I tried to know why she was speaking so good English. “I lived 31 years in Vancouver, I was a nurse. My husband is American, he is a doctor”. So. They worked in Canada and then moved to Manilla and opened their antics shop. Waouh.

I invited us to Paris, where she has already been, of course. She invited me to come to visit her in Vancouver next time. So I guess the couple is now splitting time between the two countries. “Give me five” I said, “we have a deal”.

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D115 . Dec 24 . Jeepneys in the Mud

I arrived in the Philippines on Sunday, met with Véronique & Guy on Monday, took a night train for the famous Banaue rice terraces, and on Tuesday morning we were there… Then, we needed to catch a Jeepney to bring us to Batad, right in the middle in the terraces.

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Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. known for their crowded seating and flamboyant decorations, which have become a ubiquitous symbol of the archipelago.

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The word jeepney comes from the combination of the words jeep and jitney a small bus that carries passengers on a regular route with flexible schedule.

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When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of World War II, hundreds of surplus jeeps were sold or given to the Filipinos. The jeeps were stripped down and altered by the locals; metal roofs were added for shade; and they decorated the vehicles with vibrant colors with chrome ornaments.

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They reconfigured the back seat into two long parallel benches with passengers facing each other to accommodate more passengers. Its size, length and passenger capacity had increased as it evolved though the years.

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The original jeepneys were refurbished military jeeps by Willys and Ford. Modern jeepneys are now produced with surplus engines and parts coming from Japan.

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On our way to Batad, we passed by this magnificent yellow jeepney, here. Classy isn’t it ?
Well, a few kilometers later, it wasn’t the case anymore…

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After a few days of heavy rain, the mountain’ side had collapsed on the road.
A mechanical digger came to rescue us, so that we can use the road again.
There was nothing to do but watching, and waiting, and watching… and waiting…

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Then, some thought they could go through. Like the above yellow jeepney. Like the white jeep below. Like this side car.

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And the rescue episode of the side car is worth watching :

So, finally, the mechanical digger came back, picking rocks from the mountain to fill the mud holes of the road. Hum. So we waited, and watched, and waited, and watched…

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Overall, three hours of jeepney to cross 25 km.
Then the road stops for real and we have make it through the forest by feet, ’til we reach Batad. We will sleep at Rita’s. No electricity. Basic shower. Mosquitos. But when you wake up, the view is just absolutely breathtaking.

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