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.
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?
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.
The first terrain that we trod was a plain of alternating sand, stones and running water.
Raindrops started to fall the time we reached the softer ground.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 2015
That was one amazing experience!
Tired but happy.
Experienced difficulty but learned a lot.
Gave but satisfied.