Raindrops started to fall. The reddish, muddy trail became more slippery. Umbrellas sprouted like mushrooms along a convoy of carabao-driven carts carrying sacks of rice and boxes of goods. Typhoon Onyok was moving across the country somewhere in the South. We were going to Sitio Pantol, Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines to deliver gifts to 100 families including those residing at the neighboring Sitio Pula.

In April 2013, I was greatly awed by the beauty of Mt. Pinatubo Caldera. A caldera or a crater lake is actually what has formed after the summit of a volcano was destructed due to eruption. Mt. Pinatubo erupted on June 15, 1991, throwing ashes and rocks for 9 hours. It affected thousands of indigenous people, the Aetas, living around the area that was once covered with dense forest. Thousands of people living in areas where the lahar (mudflow) and ashes reached also suffered.  Mt. Pinatubo Caldera now gives a serene and picturesque view. It was almost difficult for me to think that the crater lake was once a pool of boiling and raging water as if the volcano was so angry and ever ready to show its wrath. One has to pass by the Crow Valley on foot or by taking an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) to go to the jump off of the trail to Mt. Pinatubo caldera.

ATV vehicles at Crow Valley, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines

In December 2014, I once again crossed Crow Valley in an ATV when I joined an outreach activity held at Sitio Pula, still part of Mt. Pinatubo.

On December 19, 2015, we brought with us goods at the mouth of Crow Valley. Instead of ATV’s waiting for us, there were carabaos that looked ready and in condition to pull the seven two-wheeled bamboo carts. There were some parts of the trail going to the sitio, impassable by the ATV because of deep muddy tracks and sink holes. Now which of the two vehicles was the true all terrain vehicle?

IMG_2880

We waterproofed our things and rain-readied ourselves to prepare anytime that the rain may fall. Some in our group hitched at the carts, while the rest walked.

IMG_2882

The first terrain that we trod was a plain of alternating sand, stones and running water.

IMG_2887

Raindrops started to fall the time we reached the softer ground.

 

IMG_2891

We started the trek at around 2:30 p.m. and continuously walked along what seemed to be an endless trail. After 3 hours of walking, those familiar with the trail said that we were near  the river that we had to cross 12 times. I took it calmly, but silently thought, “twelve times?!” Portions of the river that we have to cross varied in depth, water current and riverbed texture. We were careful, looking after one another, since death incidents occurred there in the past. We also minded the goods especially the soap and rice that they should be kept least wet as much as possible.

IMG_2898

We finished the last river crossing 45 minutes after 6 p.m. and finally reached Sitio Pantol at 7 p.m. We stayed at the community’s chapel overnight. Though tired, the group still had energy to repack the goods so they will be ready the next morning. Outreach with this group had been one I considered well-organized.

Goods were grouped together. IMG_2901

IMG_2904

Rice was evenly placed in 100 pails.IMG_2903

Sanitary items that include toothpaste, toothbrush, bath soap, laundry soap and face towel were placed in 100 dippers.
IMG_2905

There was a loot bag section where candies for children were placed in plastic bags.IMG_2907

While we were busy repacking, there was a film showing outside for the Aeta kids and adults alike.IMG_2911

Others were observing us from the outside of the chapel’s window.IMG_2910

And we finally finished repacking at around 9:30 p.m. We could not help clapping our hands.IMG_2915

The residents of Sitio Pantol and Sitio Pula were already outside when we woke up at 6 a.m. After having our breakfast, some of us facilitated games (sack race, making use of the empty rice sacks, and stop dance) for the kids. Running singlets were distributed to male adults and kid underwears to mothers of little girls.
IMG_2958

There was a big plastic bag of toys for the girls,IMG_2941

and another bag of toys for the boys. Every child was given a toy even those who did not win in  the games. I saw genuine happy smile from each child’s face who got the toy that he wanted.IMG_2942

During the games, Bihon Guisado was prepared for their lunch.IMG_2960

Meanwhile inside the chapel, the pails of goods were arranged such that a representative of each family can sit or stand in front of the pail.IMG_2950

Each family’s representative from the prepared list was called one by one to go inside and to take position in front of the pail of goods to be given to them.IMG_2968

IMG_2984
raffle winner of coin bank full of coins
IMG_2989
group photo with the locals
IMG_2992
One of the oldest father of a family
Food Station
Food Station

All of them got to eat Pancit Guisado. Hotdog on stick, grapes and the loot bag were also given to the children, while orange or apple was given to adults.

Activities at Sitio Pantol were done at around 11 a.m. We needed to go since we still had  long way going back. Since the carts were already empty, all of us were able to take a super bumpy ride.

IMG_3003

We had to recount river portions to be crossed.IMG_3011

Ooops…IMG_3015

We stopped by Sitio Pula where there were 15 families. Solar panels were to be given to them so they will have solar-powered light at night. Mobile phones can be charged with it as well, but nobody owned a cellular phone. There was no  electricity in the area. There was no cellular phone signal either. It’s not even just sporadic.

IMG_3018
residents of Sitio Pula

A very short seminar and actual training was conducted on what a solar panel was, what each box contained, how to assemble the parts, how to make it work and how to take care of it.

photo frame courtesy of Ma'am Mayette
photo frame courtesy of Ma’am Mayette
IMG_3033
photo with Sitio Pula Residents holding their solar panels

Carabao feet slipped on the muddy stones when going uphill. Sometimes the cart wheel would slip and fall into deep tracks or canals, but the carabao managed to pull it up with us on the cart. There was a portion in the trail with a lot of irregularities and we needed to go down and walk until it was safe again.

Carabao power
Carabao power

Carabaos do get tired just as automobiles overheat. At times when the terrain was slippery and uphill, I heard them breathing heavily. Having them take a dip in the water for a while would re-energize them according to our cart driver. There were 2 stops for this on our way back.IMG_3048

We were all relieved when we reached the plain again for we knew that the butt-aching, bumpy ride would be over soon, we can take a good bath and finally reward ourselves with a very late lunch. We thought that the carabaos may have thought of themselves as horses because they were running fastly by then. And to punctuate the whole adventure, it rained before we could reach the 2 jeepneys waiting for us. Our journey ended at 3:15 p.m. of December 20, 2015IMG_3061

That was one amazing experience!

Tired but happy.

Experienced difficulty but learned a lot.

Gave but satisfied.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Advertisements