The house, crudely built of incongruous slats of wood, sits in a small grove of vegetation. Chickens roam freely by a lazy dog, groggy at this early hour. You round the corner, now even more uncertain of your direction.
A thin, sinewy strap of an old man appears with a loin clothes wrapped around his waist. He grunts a grunt you take as confusion. Perhaps you just realize how ridiculous your presence is to him, sitting atop this ridge outside of Batad.
“Tappiyah Waterfall?” you stammer in between a couple forlorn puffs of oxygen. You point in the direction in front of you. “Is this the way to Tappiyah waterfall,” you repeat, this time with a hand gesture mimicking the same.
He shakes his head and points back the way you came. “Thank you,” you announce, happy to leave him in his privacy, even if you aren’t any closer.
The steps are many and at a steep grade, winding along the mountain side, ready, at any moment, to send you rolling down the fast way; some are wet with water trickling nearby, others with lose clumps of rock.
At the bottom, the stairs being you to a lookout and then back down to the bottom of Tappiyah waterfall. Not a soul about, just the signs of them: a rickety beverage stand, a makeshift bench, a crude changing booth and other such things.
The sun is just coming over the mountains behind you as you step barefoot onto the floor of rocks and into the cold water. Another several steps take you deeper until you are swimming in the crystal clear pool, the water crashing just ahead from above.
You rotate your neck towards the shore to see all the newcomers climbing over the rocks with their swimming accessories but no such people appear. You are here at Tappiyah Waterfall, all alone in nature and peace, or at least the thunderous peace a waterfall provides.
Near the top, with just several steps to go, you pass a couple with their local guide to show them the way. They will not see the wrong things like the man at his hut. Maybe the wrong things are the right experience.
Standing at the low point on two higher shoulders on top of the ridge, you look down on Batad. The sun is growing in intensity. You decide to head up towards the highest point.
A villager walks by, as your lungs look for air. Your heavy breath, having climbed out of the waterfall and now up a bunch of rice terrace levels, must seem ridiculous to him. He has a heavy load on his shoulders yet bounds upwards.
After another jaunt, you are faced with a left, which heads ever higher, or a right, which seems a well trodden path.
Taking the latter you run into a kid selling drinks from under a wood structure. You aren’t terribly thirsty but buy a drink anyways. One turns to another or four.
His name is Ervin and he is trying his hand at this new business. Sales are slow, he mentions, and the work can be intense. Due to the absence of roads into the village, he hand carries the glass bottles of soda and jugs of water from the Batad Saddle to the village (and then all the way out to where you are standing now).
He explains how each terraces area is owned by someone who must maintain it regularly. The work is real tough but the tribe has been doing it for thousands of years. There is a sense of pride here concerning the terraces, a pride not found in Banaue where the terraces are more for touristic show.
Will the new road in destroy that fabric? It sure is nice having roads back home. Is it fair to wish that this village stays like it is, which also means people like Ervin keep having to slog heavy loads of beverages around each day for little gain?
Your five minute beverage break turns into the rest of the day. He explains life as it is, and you tell him about places you’ve been. He marvels at the concept of airplane travel. It seems to be a science fiction prophecy much more than a reality for someone growing up in a small mountain village. “What do you do on board?” he asks, soon followed by “there are TVs on each seat?”
What is the right answer? To chase money and possessions and corporate salaries and have the freedom to do anything you want? Or to live in a tight knit community where people know their expected contribution and fulfill it. Is it better to lack modern medical care for that? What is progress? Your question so often pondered in such places.
He is finally wrapping up his store. He scurries away to hide some of the stuff while packing some of the more lucrative items. He is heading to a village wedding later that night but first must pick up more inventory and haul it through the woods.
It is such a special place that words cannot express but perhaps the same could be said of a airplane with televisions or even a simple delivery truck unloading cargo where its sold.
As the sun goes down, a smattering of lights dot the hillside and the air fills with a low volume hum of music.
Maybe the village will keep on keeping on after all.
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