Mountain Heaven in Mountain Province

I'm in mountain heaven at Mountain Province. The artist who I met in Coron didn't make a mistake to tell me to live here. A tribal drum craftsman and tattoo artist, he's lived in many places, high land and low land, in the Philippines. The only place I know where NOT to live in is Metro Manila, with the exceptions of UP Diliman campus and Bonifacio Global City. Outside the city capital, Sagada, said the artist, is a perfect combination of relaxed atmosphere, chilly weather, indigenous culture, and plenty of mountains, naturescapes, and outdoor activities. Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Just like how I came and explored other locales in the country, I've arrived in Sagada alone, without any booking or hotel reservation, without knowing anybody. I just come and dive in like a boss, trusting that the universe will take care of everything else. (Which it usually does!) While I have been here for short trips several times in the past, knowing the soul of a place doesn't take two or three days. I took the advice of other long-term travelers, accustoming myself to living in one location for AT LEAST three months. (And I promise to write more now, since I have electricity!)

On the side note, I have to update my criteria on living in a new destination:

I've been here for only two days, the first day spent just sleeping and recovering from the 12-hour bus and jeep commute from Manila. As soon as I recovered, I haven't stopped wandering. The first two or three days are usually spent familiarizing myself with the town, its streets, vegetable markets, restaurants, transportation routes, and secret nooks for reading, yoga, or just breathing delicious air. And then I'd talk to a dozen people to get a glimpse of their lifestyles and views on which area is best to live in. I checked out two potential places to settle in yesterday, and the first one was just perfect.

What do I mean perfect? Thirty minutes before I set out to look for a room, studio, or apartment, I listed a couple of things in my phone. That this new home is within 15 minutes to the market (so I can prepare my herbivore food XD), has a view of the sunrise, near the forest, mountain, or stream/river, has available drinking water and electricity, has a clothesline, kitchen, and bed. And guess what? The first place I checked out had all of these.XD I don't know if my visions are creating the future or that I can foresee the future. I may have superpowers like that.

The chimney house is made of heavy hardwood on the inside and insulated with steel metal sheet from the outside. I share the six-room house with about 8 other people, mostly Igorots. Uncannily, they don't look anywhere near the Igorots found in mainstream media, but they are generally heavyset and squat (but not always!), often with bloody-looking mouths from chewing betel nut. My room is on the second floor, with two wide windows, one of which faces the sunrise, a portion of Echo Valley (where the hanging coffins are found), and steep mountains clad in pine trees. The air here is seductively clean and cool, with the faint but all-pervasive smell of pine. If I get to find a carpenter within this week I'll have a wooden table made for me to write on and finish my books, all that facing this gorgeous view. Ah, heaven!XD

Since I've already been to the hanging coffins, burial caves, and rock climbing activities in my previous visits, I went out my way to explore sites rarely visited by tourists. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning yesterday, washed up, and started trekking to Kiltepan where I would see the prettiest sunrise in Sagada. Guessing I'd get there in 30 minutes, I walked leisurely starting at 5 am, and marveled at the mist slowly rising around me. With the brightening sky, the noisy birds shooting off their headquarter trees, tall pine trees everywhere, cozy chimney houses in sight, all these united by thick fog and freezing chill, I thought I was in some page ripped off from the novel The Hobbit. All the way to Kiltepan, fog came out my breath as if I was smoking a cigarette. Turned out, I underestimated the trek as it took me at least an hour to get there (way to go, Little Miss Leisurely), the last 15 to 20 minutes entailing a gradual ascent on a dirt road towards Kiltepan Peak.

Had I known it would take me that long I could've hitchhiked instead. But the trek itself was rewarding anyway so I thought I'd just hitchhike on the way back. Kiltepan Peak had a wide clearing for car parking, surrounded by more pine trees, and an abandoned hotel and restaurant on its highest ground. From the edge of the peak was a panoramic view of mountain ranges one behind another, where the sun had risen (and I missed it, goddamnit) and was now slowly inching over two distant but still inspiring rice terraces collectively known as Kiltepan Rice Terraces. Note to self: visit this again before sunrise and hitchhike next time! On the way back down I chanced upon a middle-aged man who just emerged from a pine forest and had a motorcycle parked along the dirt road. He said he's been scouting area for mushrooms and they haven't sprouted yet. Kuya Ronny, his name, let me ride on his motorcycle on the way down and to the town.

Oh drat, I sold my iPad and no longer have anything to take pictures with, save for my analog talk and text phone that shoots photos in kilobits.XD I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after selling the iPad -- I should've done this a long time ago! I'm in love with Kindle. Reads like a regular book with soft paper. (Then again I'd still prefer a real book I can turn a page and sniff over anything else.) An iPad makes for a shitty long-term ebook reader. My eyes would hurt and water after just an hour of reading, and then there's the stripes imprint at the back of my eyeballs when I close my eyes. HIDEOUS. Good riddance.

Goddamnit, this place is too perfect. Time to make some trouble.

// Jul 2017

Vegan Kilawin

Tastiest raw vegan dish I've ever had. (Thank you, Michael!) Wild fruits and veggies in coconut milk and fresh chillies and ginger. Been transitioning to veganism since March 2016! There were MANY pitfalls but I clawed my way out every time. Oh lord, I hate meat now. Just the smell makes me retch.

// Jun 2017

A Bird Among Birds

What with the rain starting to soak everything, I'm acclimatizing myself again to living indoors. Acclimatizing to less wind and daylight, to the tiled or cemented floor, to walls and enclosed spaces, and to moving around hand-made furniture. Actually, I've been showering in the rain this morning before locking myself up in the house. Now that I think about it, staying indoors feels remote, alien, and even unnatural. Since I came back to El Nido from Coron, I've been living in a treescape with a killer bay view and been sleeping in a tent. The site sits on a hilltop bird sanctuary, where the door of my tent faces a sweeping view of the sea, the sunrise, and the moonrise. Other than waking up to the glowing sky, I'd wake up to the riotous sound of the forest, where more than a hundred species of birds live, play, and thrive. Today is the fourth day of rain, and sadly I have to relocate in the house. I have moved to sleeping in the balcony, where the owner of the place, Mike, used to sleep in. I invaded his favorite spot. It's mine now, my own little quiet and comfy space. Mike moved to the treehouse.

It's funny that I've already pictured this when I thought about moving to Palawan: that I will be living in a coastal village, and specifically, on the second floor balcony of a house, facing the sea and the sunrise. Then again, maybe it was a vision of a future, one year ahead in time. The things I pictured in my mindspace about a year ago came true. Ha. And not only did they come true, they're even better than that. Just living in a sanctuary in the shade of many trees, within an earshot to strange birds, and being 10 minutes away to the beach, just these little things make me feel really gewd. This hilltop campsite is my little Eden, my first real outdoor home. I have yet to document the hundreds of birds that live here, or fly here in passing to fertilize the soil. So far, the pretentious aviary expert in me is not familiar with all of them except for the Philippine eagle. With wings stretching longer than human arms spread wide open, the Philippine eagle would soar around the campsite in the morning as if protecting its young and scouting the forest for wild chickens or large mountain rats. After sighting the varieties of birds here, my favorite so far is colored bright aquablue. I've yet to know its name. All I know is when it flies, it flies as if it's clothed with the sea. A flying pocket of ocean.

Even when I was packing up the tent, I had to clean up its rain cover because it was painted with an artwork of bird droppings. White, cream, green, brown, black, the droppings came in a variety of hardened slingshots from the sky. I may have spent a whole afternoon wiping that shit. The owner of the campsite is a professional agriculturist, an ecclectic guy who knows everything about Palawan's local and endemic trees, fruits, plants, and flowers, and is at the same time a great cook, barman, and a drunk. Up here in the campsite, he's cleared the ground of weeds, only to retain the cashew trees, whose cashew apples serve as delectable breakfast to birds. He's also planted several other flowering and fruit-bearing trees to serve as buffet tables to year-round, migratory, and seasonal birds. Other curious residents of the campsite include a rooster, a lone skunk, and different species of squirrels, lizards, bees, butterflies, moths, termites, and ants. To date, we've cleared up some land where we'd soon plant organic brown rice and different sorts of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. We've long been waiting for the rain, and now that its season has arrived, I'll be changing my daily habits all over again.

Showering in the rain isn't so rare here, what with the lack of fresh water on site. Maybe we are nature-worshipping hippies like that, but the truth is, the communal water source is located about 15 minutes away, across the highway and the rice paddies. The rice paddies are like a maze; if you don't know the route, you'd encounter narrow trails broken away by waist-deep mud and then you'd have to retrace your steps to find a different route. I learned this the hard way: when I was feeling a bit adventurous the other day I risked taking a different route and ended up getting stuck in this rice fields out in the post-noon burn of the sun. The longer route, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes by foot and 10 minutes by motorcycle, that's where we ply on wheels to get water for the toilet and kitchen. (Fortunately, we have a toilet in the campsite!) We're drilling a deep well this year and hopefully I get to see this before I leave for Nepal. In the meantime, the daily skyshower is enough to rub the dirt off our skin.


Mike's rules in the campsite. He's a hippie and does not know it.


The tent where I used to sleep in, now birdshit-free.


Alejo, trying to be sober.


Our neighboring gecko.


The beach is just a few minutes away. This one was taken during sunrise.


Seascape from my new home.


My minimalist outdoor workspace.

// May 2017

I Wake Up Tentacular

In Coron, the weather is steadily feral and unaccommodating. Besides Mt. Tapyas, every ideal pretty place to hang out in and contemplate the apocalypse, every pretty place is a boat ride away. I've been renting a room at the foot of the mountain. Every morning, I go on a pilgrimage to hike, anticipate the sunrise, and draw the skyburn inside my eyes. To purge every molecule of shitty vibe absorbed from the day before. So I am clean for the day ahead. Then again, this is my own little religion, my everyday ritual, patterned after my sketchy vision of nature. I sweat out into poses later and climb a strangler tree to read a book, before heading back home for shower and writing work. Or I visit my favorite bar, talk to artists and musicians, and pretend to be interesting.

Every morning, I go on a pilgrimage to hike, anticipate the sunrise, and draw the skyburn inside my eyes.

So far, I've been around El Nido and Coron. I guess my only favorite spot is eastern El Nido during Amihan season. Other than that, the heat reigns supreme. I'm darkly sunbaked from staying outdoors too long I can pass off as a tree. I am a tree. Currently in a relationship with a tree. The strangler tree, or balete tree, I climb it almost everyday. I talk to it, and it me. I love touching its heavy trunk, its sinuous, crawly branches, and cooling myself in the shade of its green leaves, cracked with soft sun. Giant red ants and pointy-beaked black birds live there too. And together we make up a small ecosystem of transient animals feeding off the tree's sacred spaces.

By Tuesday, I'm having my sidebelly inked with a huge octopus tattoo. In a recurring dream I wake up an animal. I wake up a ghastly octopus, gravitating in a dark and heavy, cold place. Deaf and blind, I grasp the world merely by tentacular feeling. My choice of weapon is black ink, my only mode of expression, drawn from the ancient juice of the ocean. Maybe the octopus is my personal inner beast. If I were born an animal, I must be tentacular.

Maybe the octopus is my personal inner beast. If I were born an animal, I must be tentacular.

I met an artist in town, who is similarly a nomad. He said the best place he's ever lived in the country is in Sagada. Ideal. Maybe I will move there soon. In the meantime my quest of a writing sanctuary (and home) continues.

// Apr 2017

Hello there, Coron


I may be slowly turning into a sunworshipper. Eek.
Awesome spot to practice kriyas daily.

// Apr 2017

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