In the three nights of my Cagayan De Oro-Bukidnon trip, I managed to sleep in three different places. It wasn’t something I planned (not that I had any solid plans to begin with) but it turned out to be way more awesome than I expected.
The trip had an anti-climactic start: an eight-hour delay at the airport. I spent the day dozing off, reading Michael Sandel, trying out a new blog theme with a horrible color scheme, eating crappy airport food, snapping at the airline crew, and greeting everyone who comes near me with a menacing stare. It was not a good day for my I-will-try-to-be-a-better-person project. Oh, and Air Phil sucks.
I finally left Manila at 3:30pm and landed in Cagayan De Oro by five. By then I was too exhausted to take the two-hour bus ride to Bukidnon and I didn’t relish the thought of making my way to a farm in the outskirts of Malaybalay in darkness.
Thanks to a quick online search and helpful people at the airport, I found a cheap place to crash in CDO. A dorm bed in Budgetel only costs P250 per night. There are 15 beds in one room and the bathroom is communal but for that price, I’m not complaining. Anyway, there were only four of us in the room and the bathroom was clean and had multiple shower and toilet stalls.
I had a few hours to kill before hitting the sack so I ventured into the city and explored CDO’s Divisoria night café. The main street is closed off on weekends and long rows of ukay-ukay stalls and ihaw-ihaw stands are lined up in the middle of the road. I pigged out on barbecued chicken, squid, isaw and beer to cap it off.
No pictures on the night market though. I had to choose between taking photos and having my hands free for eating. Food won out easily.
Early the next day I traveled to Malaybalay on a non-aircon bus for P90. I got to taste a local delicacy called binaki, which I initially thought was a frog dish (the Visayan word for frog is baki). Binaki is actually made of coarsely ground corn mixed with sugar and milk. It tastes like cornbread but it’s slightly sweeter.
My seatmate, Nang Betty, told me about how to cook binaki. I thought she was the quiet type who didn’t like talking to strangers but the kakanin recipe proved to be a great icebreaker. She then talked about her father’s ancestral land in rural Cebu, her stay in Sarangani Province in the ’60s, the perks of working as a barangay health worker, her daughter’s job as a lady guard in Manila and her husband’s fatal heart attack nine years ago.
I got off in Kalasungay, the barangay right before the city center, and walked to the Pitcher Plant Farm. While searching online for a place to stay in Bukidnon, I stumbled on its website and the idea of staying in a farm of carnivorous plants was just too cool to resist. The owner, Volker Heinrich, is an amiable German guy who likes to put smileys and “hehe” in his emails, the complete opposite of what I first imagined: a mad plant scientist who cackles maniacally while sending hapless insects to their deaths.
I wanted to stay in the tree house at first because it was cheap, only P400, and because it’d be a cool story to brag about (Hey, I slept in a tree house in Bukidnon!). Unfortunately it’s not rain-proof and it has been a rainy summer in Bukidnon these days.
I stayed in the studio instead which, at P1,500, was a heaven of breathing space compared to the cramped bunk bed.
I was only able to spend one night in this spanking cabin though. The next day, I went to the Binahon Agroforestry Farm in Lantapan, a rural town two hours away from Malaybalay. I had a fun and educational lecture on pitcher plants in the morning courtesy of Volker and managed to leave for Lantapan at noon. It turns out that the last jeepney trip from the town to Malaybalay was at 3pm so there was no way I was going to make it back.
The farm owner, Henry Binahon, graciously offered to let me stay there for the night. I left all my stuff in Malaybalay, I didn’t even have as much as a toothbrush with me, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity of going someplace nice and doing something slightly crazy so what the hey, let’s do this. After buying a toothbrush and sachets of toothpaste and soap in the sari-sari stores along the way, I was one happy camper.
Henry and his wife, Perla, were the warmest of hosts and two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. I was a total stranger to them, we’ve only exchanged a few text messages beforehand, and yet they readily welcomed me into their home and gave me a wonderful tour of their place.
They run an eight-hectare farm that successfully combines economic productivity and environmental sustainability. They grow forest and fruit trees, cash crops, vegetables, ornamental plants, rattan, abaca and even giant ferns. All their crops are organic. They recycle wastewater, compost biodegradable waste, integrate livestock into the farm ecosystem, and employ farming techniques such as inter-cropping, contour farming and multi-story cropping. My head was spinning at one point in trying to keep up with all the things they were doing. And they also train student interns. These two are the rock stars/superheroes of sustainable farming.
The two-hour trip mostly on unpaved rough road and the farm tour left me exhausted. It was also very cold, much like Baguio in the cold months. After dinner, I crashed into yet another bunk bed. No panoramic view this time but I didn’t mind. I’ve had enough panoramic views earlier that afternoon to last me a while.
The next day, I left right after breakfast as I still had to check out of Volker’s place and catch my flight (which I didn’t but more on that later) in Cagayan De Oro in the afternoon. The jeep to Malaybalay was packed so I rode “topload,” a uniquely Pinoy term which means riding on top of a vehicle, usually a jeep or bus.
My friends thought I was insane and my parents freaked out but really, riding on top of jeeps and buses is actually very common in a lot of rural areas in the country. Only a few public utility vehicles (or any other vehicles for that matter) travel to these remote areas so they have to take in as much passengers as they can in a single trip.
For urbanites and adventure-seeking idiots like me, toploading is a thrilling experience worthy of a souvenir photo. For locals however, it’s a day-to-day ordeal with a poor transportation system that nobody is bothering to improve. *end of pompous social commentary*
My flight back to Manila was at 3:55pm. I got to Malaybalay at 11am, ran around like a headless chicken trying to pack my stuff, waited for a bus along the highway in heavy rain, and sat next to a live rooster in a cardboard box for the two-hour bus ride to CDO.
I got to the airport at 3:40 and had no hope of getting on the plane. I pleaded and begged and nearly shed tears (seriously). I also used the eight-hour delay on my Manila-CDO flight as a bargaining chip. The guy at the counter eventually determined that I was desperate and pathetic enough to warrant consideration so he got me in on a later flight of Philippine Airlines. By 8pm I was stuck in EDSA traffic, senses assaulted by the endless honking of horns, billboards of half-naked celebrities, and the familiar stink of a polluted metropolis. I had half a mind to just go back to the airport and book a one-way flight to Bukidnon.
This trip was too amazing and way too short. And I didn’t even get to do all the touristy stuff yet (Dahilayan zipline, CDO whitewater rafting, Sumalsag cave, Monastery of the Transfiguration, etc). Maybe next year, with a Mt. Dulang-Dulang climb to boot. Keeping fingers crossed.