Saturday morning I was ready at 7:00 am again. Steve W has departed for England and Karen (from Green Bay WI) has returned so there were two anglos once again. It was drizzling at the hotel but pouring in Cubao as Fay was leaving to pick us up. The traffic ground to a standstill until the flood subsided and it took her an extra hour to get to us. Lyn was dropped off by her husband and was accompanied by two of her sons, Adrian (age 9) and A.J. (age 3). We piled into the same compact car as last week but with 2 more people and a longer drive to Batangas. Lyn & Fay both spent long periods of time talking on thier cell phones or sending text messages. Near Tagaytay we stopped so Karen could see the Taal volcano. As we prepared to leave we discovered another car waiting in the parking lot. Judilane and Badette were apparently friends and were to follow us to Batangas.
Lyn had "explained" that we were to visit one of her clients who lived near a beach. He had invited us as his guest. While it sounded plausable it lacked in detail and I did not really get the connection, but have learned not to push some things but to wait and see.
We saw less and less of buses and jeepneys once we were halfway there. A primary mode of transportation is a motorcycle with a sidecar. The side car can carry people or some are configured with cagelike structures that can carry cargo or even full size hogs.
Some time after 11:00 am we drove through Batangas "city center" (about 2 blocks of small shops and kiosks) and started up an alley size steet away from town, after numerous twists and turns, we arrived at two story concrete building brimming with people. Aglo came out to meet us. We went inside and discovered we were at a wedding reception. A niece had been married last weekend in Manila and it was too difficult for the extended family to go there so this was her local reception. The lady of the house insisted that we have "breakfast". One must not refuse this form of traditional Filipino hospitality as it is an expression of warmth. The house was basic concrete with bamboo railings and a dirt yard., where the men sat drinking scotch and discussing the fighting cock in the cage nearby. The furniture and surroundings felt simple but the atmosphere felt rich with history and connection. A half hour later and "well, fed" we walked back to the cars
Our host was Aglo (his nickname). Aglo is a businessman in the freight forwarding business and has been quite successful. He and his family have a home in Manila where the business is, where the children are in college and where his wife teaches in an elementary school. However, Aglo was born and raised in Batangas. A child whose mother died at an early age and whose father stepped away leaving the kids to raise themselves in poverty. Kind of a rags to riches story. Well not just "kind of". One thing he never lost was his love of his birthplace and has returned to establish a home among the extended family in the old neighborhood. Here second cousins are like nuclear family and in Filipino culture the family stays quite connected.
We drove back into town and found our way to the local school. Lyn announced that we planning to spend a couple hours here I asked why and was told that "we" were administering a prequalification exam. Seems Lyn & Fay have formed a company to provide temporary workers for various firms. Combine that with Aglo being a primary benefactor for this local school. 97 young people showed up to take the test, most were local kids with university training. Judilane and Badette are also part of the placement team now I understood why they were along. Now the weekend with the client was beginning to make more sense. Jobs for the local talent. But of course Karen & I were the foreign ADB consultants along for the ride.
The area is poor but people have fertile land and mild temperatures so they can grow food and live off the land year round. What they don't have is disposable income and ways to earn enough to "get ahead" This is Aglo's mission for the future. They also have a large extended family structure to rely on in time of need.
In true Filipino form Aglo announced that the school staff had prepared lunch for us. We had had breakfast at 6:00, breakfast again at 11:00 am and now at noon were faced with a third meal. There is no such thing as a "light lunch" in the Philippines so we knew what we were in for. We delayed until after 1:00 pm then sat down to a lunch of Talipia from the Taal lake (from Aglo's fish pens) along with the usual pork and beef dishes. The green beans were cooked with large white radish roots and onions.
Mid afternoon we headed for the beach (an original intent for
this trip). Aglo's sister had beachfront property. Don't ask me
how we got there, but we did. Expecting the ocean instead we found
ourselves on the shore of the Taal volcano lake opposite where we had launched
only a week ago. The rain clouds moved in again and it started
drizzling. The wind whipped up the lake and swimming no longer looked
appealing. Aglo talked to a local man and soon his sister's traditional
Filipino house was opened and we went inside to see what tradition looked
like. The house was almost all bamboo with a thatched roof. The
rooms were small but airy and the floor was bamboo that you could see through.
It was like a trip back in history with the addition of modern appliances and
electricity. But this is today and this is where people stay
for the weekend and actually could live here. Delightful
Aglo has 40 hectacres of land on the mountaintop nearby. We decided it was time for a hike and went back to his home to change clothes. There was talk of horseback riding and hiking. After changing we were ready to go. Aglo looked at his AUV and decided on an alternate plan.
In the USA we have SUVs (Sport utility vehicles) while in Asia they have a modified version called an AUV (Asian Utility Vehicle). I have heard SUVs called UAVs (Urban Assault Vehicles) and now I was about to discover the Filipino All Terrain Vehicle commonly known as a Jeepny. Now if I had known where we were going and you had asked me if a jeepny could actually go there I would most certainly have told you "no way, impossible".
Ten of us (including Adrian & AJ) piled into the jeepney and started up the mountain. Soon we were climbing up steep inclines that looked more like horse trails than roads. We kept passing huts where Filipino families lived and worked. After crossing a one lane bridge where we had to stop and make sure the wheels lined up with the bridge planks we found even steeper terrain. The driver honked and the goat in the trail moved out of the way. The brahaman bull standing with his posterior across the road was unimpressed. Our driver eased the jeepny up until he nudged the bull who turned and looked directly at us then lowered his head. As we were perched at a 45 degree angle one good butt from him and we could be rolling down into the ravine. Fortunately he was in a noncombative mood and moved over to let us by. Shortly thereafter we arrived at a hut where a horse stood saddled and waiting nearby.
As we began hiking upward along the mountain path Aglo shared his desire to turn this area into a youth camping place some day. As we climbed higher and higher I alternately looked at my watch and the dwindling daylight. Soon we heard the neighing of Aglo's horses that were running loose in the woods. Finally we stopped so the others could catch up. Adrian had kept with us but Lyn and AJ were nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later a horse appeared with AJ and a Filipino boy perched on top. The 3 year old was getting his first horseback ride. The sunset was fading over the treetops.
We decided it was time to turn back and AJ rode with Karen downhill on the lone horse. It was pitch black and the rough trail we had carefully navigated was traversed by feel on the way down. Just before we arrived back at the hut I tripped over some coconuts that were not there when we climbed up. The area was lit by a single lightbulb hanging precariously from a tree limb with an old umbrella over the top directing the light downward. It was really there for the sow who had just given birth to twelve piglets who were snuggled in a basket while she slept.
A table was moved under the light and soon the coconuts I had tripped over were collected and a machete appeared. Now I had already tried Buko juice in Manila and did not particularly like it. The locals hacked off the tops of the coconuts and poked a small hole into the top. I lifted it awkwardly to my lips and discovered what true fresh buko (or coconut) juice really tasted like. It was sweet and refreshing. Moments later they split the coconuts in half and we took spoons and scooped out the thin layer of translucent milky white coconut flesh. Nothing i've ever had compared to the truly fresh and sweet taste that night.
After consuming more fresh coconut than I thought possible we jumped back into the jeepney for the return trip. Aside from the headlights it was absolutely pitch black. I presumed the driver knew his way as we lurched down the mountain with children and young ladies clamped to the sides of the jeepney. As we passed one of the houses a man ran out and gave Aglo a plastic bag of freshly harvested rice. Eventually we arrived back at the house. The two boys had experienced a totally new adventure in thier lives as had we.
Aglo's house had about a dozen sleeping rooms we could identify. It was three stories high and although all concrete the wood trim and painted walls radiated elegance. He hopes to run for mayor when he retires and wanted to build beforehand so the house would not appear to be based on political gains. The yard is home to over a hundred fighting cocks, wandering hens and numerous dogs and a hundred plus hogs. In spite of it's good constuction a lack of electric supply and water pressure meant that 40 gallon pink plastic drums of cool water function as your only means of showering, washing, shaving and toilet flushing. The yard had clusters of orchids of various colors.
Late night at Aglos was spent out on the porch grading the placement exams and looking at bios. One guy creatively listed color of eyes as "black and white" and another answered the essay question asking him describe himself and why he would be a good employee as "I'm handsome" Perhaps he was hoping to influence the three single women grading the exams. Of course there were others that were very articulate and quite good candidates. About half were selected for training.
Electricity was on in the morning and I emerged to the sound of someone crooning "know when to hold em know when to fold em" on the stereo. Aglo's wife and three daughters had arrived about midnight and we got to meet them at breakfast. Before long the townspeople began arriving to ask for help as if he was already the mayor. Aglo says it goes on like that all weekend. The special treat for breakfast was the freshly brewed (boiled) Batangas coffee from the nearby fields.
We said farewell preparing for the trip back to Manila. In Manila it is goodbye see ya and off you go. In the province it takes almost an hour to say goodbye. Life away from the city is lived at a different pace. I now had 2 fresh coconuts and a stash of Batangas coffee for my hotel room.