Monday, January 6, 2014

Getting High with Filipino Mummies



28 December, 2013 to 5 January, 2014 - Manila, Baguio, Kabayan, Sagada, Bontoc - (Philippines)

Manila. Well, we were bracing ourselves. We were forewarned it would be polluted, but it proved to be not quite as bad as we expected. I guess, though, being the weekend after Christmas, Monday being a national holiday, followed by the standard New Years break, it was quite calm on the roads, and I'm sure that helped immensely.

Anyway, a few good meals always helps one to ignore other problems. Food is like a masking agent ...

With all the businesses taking time off, we struggled to find information about transport, and ended up changing our plans quite last minute, as we found a bus going to a different place but sort-of in the right direction.

Crablets with Garlic and Chilli
Crablets with Garlic and Chilli
Our first meal in the Philippines, and we were dining on these fabulous beauties. Snails, goat stew, and frogs legs. A fantastic introduction to an amazing variety of Philippine cuisine.


Hitching a Lift
Hitching a Lift
On the streets of Manila.



A "Jeepney"
The roads of the Philippines are dominated by jeepneys. They are the staple of travel. Many are beat up and decrepit, while others are decorated magnificently. Some scoot through the traffic of the cities, and others ply the mountain roads between remote villages. Generally overcrowded, but efficient and quick.


After many hours travel, including an overnight stop in Baguio, we arrived in Kabayan. Here we were already well within the highlands. This is the island of Luzon, and the northern part has a magnificent mountain range (the Cordillera) which runs roughly north-south. Travel east or west is very limited, with most major routes running in parallel with this mountain spine. This means the potential for doubling back and spending an extra 8 hours in a bus is huge, so planning is important.

Then something comes from left field, and it throws all your plans, and suddenly you end up in Kabayan. Not a bad thing, as we were intending to come here anyway, but not in accordance to our timing.

So, we stepped out of the minivan, and Jo headed to the only hotel we knew about. She climbed the stairs, and found offices, and no hotel. She tried to discretely ask, but discretion got her nowhere as she quickly had the attention of all the people in those offices. Quickly it was ascertained that 300 metres up the road is a replacement hotel.

It turns out the Pine Cone Hotel was not in fact ready for guests, but had been forced into an early opening date by the premature closure of the other inn. So, all good, other than the lack of running water.

On our way, we met Richie, and he filled us in. And he introduced us to the owner of the hotel. And by the time evening came, it was apparent that we were to join them for their New Years Eve celebrations.

Here's a Heads-Up
Here's a Heads-Up
Skulls piled high in the Opdas Mass Burial Cave, Kabayan. The bones are aged between 500 and 1000 years. The cave is literally in the backyard of one of the village families.


Preparing the Feast
Preparing the Feast
As the only guests in the only hotel in Kabayan, we scored an invite to the owners' New Years Eve celebrations. Early in the evening, we sat for hours in their kitchen, laughing and exchanging all sorts of stories, while the food was prepared. As time passed, we moved to the lounge, and eventually around a large fire, where we sang songs until the fireworks filled the skies. After midnight, we ate our fill of barbecued meats and pasta.


The caves at Timbac are 1200 metres above the town of Kabayan, and they contain fantastically preserved mummies. There are many more caves, as this was once a common practice when dealing with the departed, but they are either looted, or they are kept closed to the public. You only need to see a handful, though, to get the idea. The clearly discernable tattoos, though, were amazing. On skin, hundreds of years old.

Mummies in Timbac Cave
Mummies in Timbac Cave
Most of the mummies in the Timbac caves appeared to have tortured expressions. The bodies were dried and preserved with heat, smoke, and herbal preservatives.


Mummy Toes
Mummy Toes
Detail of the feet of one of the Timbac mummies.


Mummified Child
Mummified Child
Although, the skull probably does not belong with this body, as the teeth indicate an older child. Although, the low set eyes still indicate quite a young age. Hey, we're no experts.


Tattoos
Tattoos
Tattoos on the skin of this mummy are well preserved and very easy to make out, even with just a torch.


New Years Day ended up being a very long day. We got going late; stopped at Timbac; discovered no buses were running on the highway; tried our card in every ATM for 200 kilometres; and eventually made it to Sagada. And then we partied till late, again.

New Years Day - The Party Continues
New Years Day - The Party Continues
Arriving in Sagada, we managed to get invited to yet another fire and feast. Singing and drinking, and finally eatin. Leftovers, we think, from New Years Eve, and what better way to use them up than by having a party the next day.

The singing here was a little more professional - on arrival, a man looked at me with anticipation. "Are you a tenor? We need some more tenors, because it's just me at the moment."

We sang carols. We sang more John Denver than I thought I knew. Simon and Garfunkel featured. Many other randoms in similar genres.


Did I Mention the Dancing?
Did I Mention the Dancing?
Yes, there was dancing, too.


Oh, money turned out to be a problem. Many ATMs did not accept foreign cards. Some did, but were selective in which ones worked and when. One ATM happily acceped our card, but then told us that, due to low cash levels over the extended break, our maximum withdrawal was going to be tiny (about $10!). Useless. And the ATM at Sagada had a message saying it was down for maintenance and would be working again shortly. That message had apparently been on the screen for over a week. Running dangerously low on cash, we ended up using Western Union to send money to ourselves!

Around Sagada we did some small walks.

Coffins Stacked High
Coffins Stacked High
In the entrance of the Lumiang Burial Cave, Sagada. Centuries old, the coffins are stacked in an apparently haphazard fashion.


From Bontoc, our next destination, we did a more significant walk, through Maligcong to Mainit, amongst the World Heritage Listed rice terraces.

On Her Way to Work
On Her Way to Work
Hunched over and withered, an elderly lady heads to one of her family's rice plots, in Maligcong. Looking closely, you may be able to make out some of the tattoos on the backs of her hands.


In Maligcong
In Maligcong
Some ladies gathered in the village of Maligcong. My eyes were drawn to the white "head piece", which is actually snake vertebrae.


Let's Photograph Each Other
Let's Photograph Each Other
Kids in Maligcong, one with my hat on. I wanted to take their photo, and they reciprocated.


Rice Terraces, Maligcong
Rice Terraces, Maligcong
Stone walled rice terraces were first built here around 2,000 years ago, by Chinese immigrants. Although repaired and maintained, meaning some sections are recent work, others are extremely old with many parts dating hundreds of years. These terraces, and others here high in the cordillera, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.


Maligcong Rice Terraces
Maligcong Rice Terraces
Another view of the breathtaking stone terraced rice fields of Maligcong.


Jeepney
Jeepney
A jeepney climbs a mountain road, carting locals and their belongings between a remote mountain town and an even more remote mountain village.


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