Friday, February 1, 2013

What, my birthday again?!

Happy February, everyone!  Every year, as my birthday approaches I get a little panicked.  For some reason my birthday is usually a huge flop or better yet cursed.  On my 21st birthday I had pneumonia and was bed ridden to the point I could barely walk.  Another year my car was broken into and even though I had a home, most of my possessions were in my car therefore most of my possessions were stolen (I'm inclined to say it's a teenage thing, but now that I have a car again, I'm slowly noticing it filling up with random things that should be inside the house instead).  Another year, I was managing a clothing store that had no public rest rooms in Killington and when I  went to go retrieve some hangers or something from a dressing room we used as storage, right smack in the middle of that room was a large pile of human poop.  I used the birthday card to get out of cleaning that mess.  My 30th birthday was flop, no party, nothing.  Although I did enjoy a nice evening with my friend, Kerry, but I always enjoy a nice evening when I'm with her. My first year in the Philippines I suddenly came down with a stomach bug forever ruining my opportunity to go to a secret bar in my little rural town I was told was run by an American that had pool and darts.  I never did find that bar nor did I ever see another American living in my town, so the mystery will forever haunt me.  And this year, I have cancer.  The curse of the February 3rd birthday.  I've pretty much given up trying to plan anything. I don't want to deal with (never mind have the energy to deal with) the hassle of planning something, trying to coordinate the best date that the most people can come and the disappointment when someone can't come. What's funny is I like planning other people's birthday and throwing them surprises, I don't know why I can't do the same for me. Maybe I'll just move my birthday to a time when I'm feeling up to planning something. And you know what's worse than having cancer on your birthday, is having the Superbowl, a sport I can't stand, on your birthday, for like the millionth time.  Although, the Superbowl means the end of football, so I guess I'm ok with that.  Maybe I'll go out to celebrate the fact I don't have hear about football for awhile, that actually sounds like a nice evening! I know I'm really dwelling on the negative here and I do admit most of my other birthdays were probably nice birthdays, I just don't remember most of them; however, I can say my birthday last year was absolutely fabulous.

About 4 jeepneys and 6 hours away from my town of Lamut Ifugao where I was serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines I could escape to a town called Sagada, which was my sanctuary, the place I would go when I needed to feel peace and get myself grounded again.  Sagada is a tiny rural town situated high in the mountains of Luzon.  In just a matter of hours I could escape suffocating heat, be surrounded by the scent of pines trees, gaze into valleys carved with rice terraces that are thousands of years old, and soak up the calming spirit of that town.  Since it was a tourist town, but not too touristy since it was about a 14 hour bus ride from the capital city, the towns people were quite used to seeing foreigners and in fact a lot of those towns people were foreigners who never left.  Sagada was different from any other town or city in the Philippines to the point you almost forgot you were in the Philippines at all. There was a laid back, non judgmental feel to the place.  I went there so often the owner of the local weave shop would tell other volunteers passing through to let me know when he had a new product.  ( I admit, I was an addict of his weaving. I have several bags, a hat and even a pair of shoes.  And now I have a scarf thanks to some of my favorite 268 Ifugao volunteers who pooled their money together to send me a gift to cheer me up).  Sagada is filled with  a lot of rich indigenous history.  On market day you can still see old Igorot (the name of the indigenous tribe) men and women shopping in the traditional dress and loin cloth.  What attracts people to Sagada, besides it's extreme beauty, is the culture and ancient coffins that appear to be hanging off of cliffs or stacked high in burial caves along. Sagada also offers a lot for outdoor enthusiasts like spelunking in those burial caves and tons of hiking.

So last year, when my birthday approached, I announced to some of my friends I was going to spend my birthday weekend in Sagada, and thankfully many of them decided to join me.  We got up at 4 am to catch the first jeepney or bus passing through my town heading in that direction,  There was really only one main road in my province so anything going north we would take.  We would usually have to change jeepneys 2 or 3 times before we arrived in Sagada, and you never knew how the trip would end up.  I had gone so many  times before so I was pretty good at estimating what time certain jeeps or buses would pass, but in the Philippines nothing is ever certain or truly predictable.  Sometimes we would be lucky enough to catch a bus with air-conditioning and a movie that would take us only an hour away from our destination thus turning what takes usually 3 jeepney rides into one bus ride.  Other times we would be stuffed so tightly inside a jeep that your sides start to hurt from pressing so hard against your neighbor's side for several hours with rice sacks under our feet and chickens under our seats.  On my birthday weekend, we were able to catch a bus, but it only took us about an hour and a half up.  We then hopped on a jeep and waited for it to fill up with passengers, (in the Philippines, many times public transportation won't go anywhere unless it has enough passengers to justify the trip, that is one reasons what transportation is so unpredictable.)  One of the passengers sits near us and strikes up a conversation on the way up.  Turns out his parents are Filipino born and raised, but he was raised in Australia. He came to check out his roots and was solo traveling.  As the jeepney carved it's was through the mountain road, requiring us to pull out long sleeves as it get colder as it get higher, we talk about all the things we were excited to do once we get to Sagada, which mostly consisted of food.  You see, Sagada among Peace Corps volunteer is also food mecca.  Typically filipino food is, well, not exactly our favorite. Let's just say it's different.  It consists of lots of rice, and I mean lots.  A meal isn't considered a meal there unless there is rice, so yes, you eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It also consists of lots of pork, and by pork I mean pork fat. Dairy was pretty much non-existent, and if you did find fresh milk or cheese it was really expensive.  I had several months where I spend my entire living allowance on cheese and good chocolate.  In Sagada, however, there was a restaurant called Yogurt House and it had delicious homemade yogurt.  Another place called Log Cabin was operated by a French chef who settled there and then on the outer edge of town was a bakery that made the most delicious cinnamon rolls ever.  My all time favorite place was a little cafe called Gaia that served fresh vegetarian food and delicious beer.

We get to our typical stopover and the jeepney driver tells us he has to fix the jeep and takes off in a motorcycle, leaving all the passengers wondering how long this will take and if the driver intends on returning.  The other foreigners in the jeep start to look panic stricken and some even get out and start waving down passing vehicles, but we stayed calm because the locals in the jeep looked calm. We figured we'd get out and look around in the little stores while we waited.  As we were touring around, we decided to help the Phil-Aussie get in touch with his roots.  We started by having him try balut, which is a delicacy found at almost ever travel stop over.  Balut is a week old fertilized duck egg, so when you crack open that egg you see a little baby duck that often times has a beak and some feathers.  I was pretty amazed, he ate that egg like a trooper, gagging the entire time.  Next we decided to clean his palette by having him chew moma, also know as beetle-nut   Beetle-nut is, well, a nut that everyone in my province chews and it turns your mouth a deep red.  Since you can't swallow the stuff, you have to spit it out and that spit stains anything it comes in contact with.  I remember the first time i saw someone chewing momo I thought they were bleeding from the mouth.  Ifugao is the only province in the Philippines where people chew this stuff. We all chewed beetle-nut  or rather gagged beetle-nut together.  I don;t know why I kept trying it, it has a horrible taste, but it did get easier each time. And finally, just as the driver starts up the jeepney again and beeps his horn, we all grab a cold Red Horse, a Filipino beer, hop on the jeep and slurp our cans as the jeep bounces along the road.

We finally arrive in Sagada and head to our favorite lodging house, Sagada Homestay.  For about $4 a night you get comfy bed, a bathroom with hot water (sometimes), WiFi (again, sometimes) and access to an awesome outdoor fire pit, plus two cute puppies that flopped onto their backs to expose their bellies for a good rub.  Since we already did all the touristy stuff on previous visits, we basically spent the entire weekend eating our way through that town during the day and sitting around the fire pit with some beers at night and my friends we able to snag pieces of chocolate cake from the french chef to have a proper birthday celebration.

Since it isn't fire pit weather in Vermont, I guess I'm just going to have to wait to celebrate my birthday when it is a bit warmer.  :)  

Favorite weaver

Ancient coffins

a jeepney in Sagada

Me and some 2000 year old rice terraces


  1. I had no idea you had such HORRIBLE birthdays! Poor you!

    Sagada, however, is awesome... such a great place!

  2. I'm sorry you had such bad birthdays!! I would freak out if there were chickens under my seat anytime. We'll have a fire pit this summer.