Along CAR’s Country Roads

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Well now, do you happen to be the one whom  authorities in Baguio City, municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet and other Local Government Units in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) brand as “tourist” and bent on visiting some parts of the region?

And have you, by chance, bought a copy of Herald Express in some newsstand corner and is right now skimming on this column?

Then bless you, dear tourist! You arrived at the right place and right time that Mother Nature has momentarily forgotten to pout and Mr. Sun is painting castles in the sky. You, too, have gotten hold of a fine weekly newspaper in the Cordillera by buying the Herald Express.

Herald Express may offer hints where to go in this upland region.   But by all means, visit places the Department of Tourism (DOT –CAR) encourages you to see. Familiar places touted by DOT-CAR with guarantees as “tourist sites.”

On second thought, pleasant, it would be, if a visitor or tourist takes a trip on a more profound venture by taking “a road less travelled,” freeing one’s self from the conformity of others.

Heave that backpack onto the back, slap on that face mask, say “ba-bye” to your friends and if they ask you where you are off to, tell them that you are going to explore what lies ahead on Cordillera country roads.

Have the chance to re-live the forgotten trails of boyhood/girlhood coming back by plodding   the back roads of the Cordillera where the faint-hearted dare not to tread.

When on the country road, worry not about the substandard work you noticed done on the road by road contractors. Why create a headache. Also, you are not a critic. Are you?  Just enjoy the journey.

Starting along country roads of Cordillera, who knows what gives?  You may be the two-legged lucky creature with the lucky charm who will finally unlock the legend of highland folks that somewhere along those country roads is a secret opening to the lost trail of the forgotten, lonesome and whispering pine trees.

Going along country roads on foot, can give you the opportunity to associate with friendly rural folks, particularly those who engage in gardening occupation in highland Cordillera. Rural folks who care hardy, with a wry and down-to-earth humor that can split wide open even the somber of face.

A chance those vehicle-riding tourists who merely pass them by, will never get such opportunity.

These seasoned country folks with country grins can be found just as you exit municipality of La Trinidad’s borders, and their homesteads can be found stretching from the toll gate at Acop, Tublay, Benguet, all the way along the winding Halsema National Highway, towards the boundary of Mountain Province.

A tourist or visitor   can learn to grasp absorbing intricacies of these farming folks in outlook towards different things.

Term them “gardinero” or “gardinera,” or “guma-garden.” Dispute that, they won’t.

They will smile approachably, nod and answer, “Wen, apo, ag-gargarden nak lang,” they will answer with a mischievous wink.

Daily Laborer had opportunities years back when trudging along   Halsema National Highway. One time, in the part of Buguias municipality, one afternoon, he chanced upon a group with hoes hoisted at their backs like wooden rifles. Apparently, they came from the vegetable fields and were on their way home.

Daily Laborer struck a conversation with them. Obviously tired but satisfied, they happily answered   Daily Laborer’s queries.

About half kilometer of walking, one in the group began singing. The others in the group picked up the cadence and got to singing, too.

Daily Laborer did not know anything about the song but remembered   some of the lyrics which the group sang, which went this way:  “Country road, take me home, to the place where I belong . . . mountain mama, take home, country road. . .”

Daily Laborer said, “Ni mayat diay kanta yu, a!”

One in the group interposed: “Ni, apay saan mo ammo didyiay nga kanta?” Daily Laborer shook his head negatively.

Having heard Daily Laborer, the friendly farmer-singer clucked his tongue and said to him, “Tsk-tsk! Piga ka pay ay ipugaw, tay adim ammo din kanta a de-ey. Kantan John Denver di. Din title di kanta et Country Road.  Hala, addi bali ta nu dumanon tako id bebbey, ket isulok ken sika, pati gitala nay a plucking.”

(Tsk-tsk! Pity, you, earthling, for not knowing the song. That was the song of John Denver. Title of the song is country Road. Nah!  Never mind, when we reach our village, I will teach you the song using the guitar by plucking.)

Take for example weeds. Any regular fellow, either living in Baguio City, in the innermost parts of La Trinidad, Benguet, or a tourist may dismiss weeds as simply unwanted plants. And you are correct, for weeds are the most costly category of agricultural pests.

Or others may associate the word, “weed,” to a prohibited plant often sold by drug peddlers and are targets of the long arms of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Philippine National Police (PNP) the National Burreau of Investigation (NBI) and other related law enforcement authorities.

But that is not the weed we are talking here. We are talking of the weeds that overwhelm gardens.

Along country road in Cordillera, gardineros don’t hate them, but instead have this particular and peculiar   romance with weeds that try to swarm over, planted vegetables.

We, the city folks hate weeds growing on our gardens, hate it with a vengeance.

Highland gardineros, on the other hand, while they would patiently dig out weeds competing with growing vegetables liken weed as simply plants whose virtues are yet to be unraveled and put to good use.

Orville Palbinto, whose father is from the lowlands and his Mom from the highlands, and who manages a profitable vegetable homestead along Halsema National Highway, when pestered about weeds, explained about them in English, that certain day Daily laborer trudged the Cordillera highway system

Palbinto said:  “Weed is not a category of Mother Nature, but of humans. A defect of our perception about it.  If garden flowers are slaves to humans, then weeds are hallmarks of freedom and wildness. Look kindly on weeds. For weeds, are us.”

Hearing Palbinto that day, Daily Laborer kept quiet;   he wondered at the profoundness of what Palbinto meant.

It was that day trudging the  back roads of the Cordillera Daily Laborer came to realize that true enough, there was truth in the saying  highlanders  have been  acknowledged  very good in speaking English.

Many will dispute it, but the fact remains that the highlanders are probably the only regional people in the Philippines vested with the honor of being known as “people who can speak English very well.”

Just take a close study at how Palbinto explained about the weeds in his own words, one country day on a country road.

When darkeness finds you on a country road, one realizes to his astonishment how the moon shines brightly at intervals, with patches of silvery clouds racing before the wind and chasing black splotches of shadows over the sleeping highlands.

Tomorrow, upon waking, you will find out the gardineros going out to the fields would simply be a crowd of clean-hearted, clean-limbed  fellows, with eyes sunny and untroubled as a child’s, and laughs that are good to hear and uttered words sweet to dream over until your next meeting with them.

Tomorrow, there will be no hint of your long travel down the country road, or the aching muscles and the tired, smarting eyes.

Up high on the highland country  roads, with the sun warm against your face and a lazy breeze lazily wanting to flip your facemask  from your smiling lips, the world seems very good, and a jolly place to live in, and there is no such thing as trouble anywhere.

And you, as tourist or visitor, can proudly murmur to yourself, “I took on the road less travelled!”