Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bataan Day 1

2/6/10 9:22 PM
We left bright and early on Friday morning. – 6 am. We had a huge, air-conditioned bus that came with a driver, his friend, a guide, and Dr. Grace Yew, our host. She studies the shoot of the rattan plant and has found it to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-cholesterol properties. She found the plant with the help of a tribe known as the Ayta.
The Ayta live in the village of Kanawan, in the hills east of Morong, Bataan. There are 411 Ayta total, with 200 children. They are known as Negritos, with short stature, dark skin and curly hair. The leader was even able to tell me how many people had curly or straight hair! They live in small huts and all the children play together.
The drive took us out of the smog and through some pretty countryside. We also got a peek at the city around us that we haven’t ventured to yet. Most of the countryside is rice paddies with handfuls of people working them and small huts scattered in the fields. We stopped for breakfast at ChowKing – a national fast food place. Now I’m a huge fan of Chinese food, and I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast, but this was a stretch even for me. The fried rice I had was good, but a little heavy for a morning on a bus. Thankfully, a Starbucks was right next to it and we all were able to get a caffeine fix. Shannon had left her swimsuit back at the hotel, so we arranged for a shopping stop in Subic. We were able to find said swimsuit, and a number of other good deals too.
The last part of the drive was a little more mountainous. Finally we turned down a private drive and got a view of our new accommodations. We were in the middle of a large inlet of Subic Bay, with only a few local fisherman living nearby. The water was gorgeous, clear and warm, and there were picturesque palms all over. Our hosts arranged for an excellent cook who made all our meals with traditional Filipino food and techniques – very good. We ate a buffet lunch and then drove to the base of the trail to get to the village.
The first part of the trail has been paved for the Ayta by the government because it becomes nearly impassable during the rainy season. We soon came to a hanging bridge which I can describe as rickety at best. The boards are barely connected to the wire infrastructure of the bridge and many have holes or are only half boards. It was an adventure – and the water buffalo laying in the river below just laughed at us.
We continued the 20 min hike to the village. Children ran up to us and were eager to wave, play tag and sing “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga for us – I guess she truly is universal! Most of the kids were still in school, so we continued up to see the jungle where the rattan shoot grows best. We were on the lookout for monkeys and lizards, as well as the ever present water buffalo. We saw mango trees and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the mountains, although there were occasional fires set by the farmers. Dr. Yew was thrilled to show us the rattan plant, and it was interesting to hear her story. She has gone so far as to grant intellectual property rights to the Aytas for their contribution to her work.
When we returned to the village there were kids everywhere! We played games with them (Apple Apple Apple Kiss, Mango Mango Mango Shake, Panda Panda Panda Ko) and taught them tag and keep away. We took blood pressures and saw a few villagers with various maladies – from a severed finger to skin lesions to high blood pressure. We left the village around 5pm and about 20 villagers rode the bus with us back to the beach.
We had another terrific buffet dinner and enjoyed a dip in the ocean while watching the amazing sunset. Then we started a bonfire and got a treat with dances by the Ayta children, songs by some amazing voices and then had our turn teaching them the Chicken Dance! Their dances were Monkey Dance, Shrimp Dance and Hunter Dance. We became fast friends with many of the kids – Abigail, Jolina, Patrick, Rico, and others. I was surprised to find out that Abigail is one of the most popular girls names in Philippines! (Abilardo is for boys.) When we said goodbye to the villagers the party continued with Karaoke and some coconut-rum drinks (in real coconuts from the nearby trees!). We slept that night on bamboo beds – it was a little chilly and we didn’t really need the mosquito netting, or the roosters, dogs, monkeys and other noises that went on all night long. It was an amazing way to spend the weekend.


  1. I'm glad to hear that you went to Starbucks at least once. Grete told me that they have a honey & orange latte at the Starbucks in China.

    I'm a little ashamed that children in the Philippines know more popular song lyrics than I do. On the other hand, it's also a point of pride that I don't know Lady Gaga songs.

  2. Well, I'm not familiar with "Poker Face", but I have to admit "Just Dance" is a little catchy.

  3. Abi, were you actually doing the chicken dance? That should have been on video. I never thought I'd see the day.