You watch the rooster walk at the fringe of the rice grasses with a handful of chickens in tow. Beside you is a roughly built shelter on the side of the road. You glance at it; aware to the fact that the wind is picking up—the air—growing heavy.
You continue along the dirt road seeking more entertainment, more chickens, more photogenic scenery or that special random event which seems to enrich travel adventures. Not more than five minutes past the shelter, you reconsider. Some experiences, like language, don’t translate perfectly abroad. Foreign weather—the a major offender—is often a tough code to crack.
There are those times when you’d be walking out of your place in Ho Chi Minh where the sun is shining and you ask the boy in the alley if it will rain. “Yes, in an hour,” he states matter-of-factly. “What does he know,” you think to yourself, and then, an hour later, you are seeking cover from the rain. Day after day, he knows, you don’t, at least until it’s typically too late.
You are scrambling back the way you came. Your pace is brisk. You watch the locals speeding by on trikes. You note the closed umbrella at the ready behind the dropped plastic sheeting serving as windows, and protection. This is the sign of the onslaught. And then there is the first blast of wet soaking through your shirt.
As your body is eclipsed by the shadow of the tin roof, giant globs of water start hurtling mercilessly into the dirt road. The rooster, still meandering in the greenery, is running for cover. You watch a line of five locals hurrying up a path towards their destination. You watch the outside world transforming amidst the thunderous cacophony and blinding precipitation. This isn’t the first time traveling you’ve been very grateful for a random hut; they don’t make random huts back home.
The roosters are screaming their morning songs as you make your way back down past the shelter that saved you from the deluge the previous day. Past the shelter, around a curve and along the road you walk until you get to a fork. The left fork looks to be the more traveled path so you head right. Past some houses, some fields, a lazy dog and some rusted out equipment, you find yourself at the end of the road.
You traverse along a narrow foot path which brings you to the top of a landscape of terraces. These are much different than the terraces of Banaue and Batad. Rather than being built into the mountain side, they spread out along relatively flat terrain, building in steps as need be.
You come to multiple junctures where decisions must be made. Do you head to the right or left? Do you climb the stairs or not? Do you cross the gentle brook or head back? Do you pass through the long grasses which seem to lead into someone’s front yard or not?
It is a green wonderland and the father you traipse, the more fun it is. You draw some stares from the few locals you pass who must assume you are confused, lost or perhaps insane. You’d probably qualify as being lost but that is the fun of it all. “What are you looking for,” one man asks. How do you tell him you are looking for what you are seeing?
After much half-aimless wandering you are back on the main road, the road that you had left at the fork previous. You are heading for a town called Balangbang if the signs are to be believed. You have done zero research on your general locale and so adventure it is.
“Good morning,” he replies. Behind bright eyes, he moves methodically with a wooden staff. “Are you looking for something?” he questions, keen to the obvious realization that a foreigner and Balangbang aren’t the likeliest of pairings.
He tells you about how the government tried to get everyone to move away from the rice terraces and locate in a central area. “They wanted to make it better for tourists,” he explains “but the people did not want to leave their homes.” Sometimes you don’t realize all the crazy things that happen behind the scenes in an effort to coax the tourist dollar. “Many people refused to leave,” he carries on.
“See the mountain top there?” He points up towards the sun at the steep hill to your right. “Back when I was younger, the Japanese took over this whole area, but up there is where all the Japanese ended up after the Americans ran them out of town.” At this point, you had no idea that the Japanese had even been in the Philippines during World War II.
“They were a nasty group. The Americans drove them up into the mountains until they were cornered on the ridge. They had control of the caves up there but eventually they were all killed and that was the end of the Japanese in the Philippines.”
Interestingly, as you later learn, this all happened right after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and a day before the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. As such, it isn’t too shocking that the battle for the ridge in Mayoyao hasn’t been talked about too much.
“I live right there,” he notes. “I take a walk every morning up to the top of this hill to this view and then I walk back home.” You explain where you are from and why you are in Mayoyao and Balangbang.
There is a brief lull in the discussion as you stare out at the scenery. “I’m sorry,” he interrupts “but I best be getting home.” He thanks you for the unexpected excitement and you thank him for the insight.
As he wanders back down the hill, you think about all the things he has seen during his life. Strangers can really make travel great.
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