It’s hard to believe that my internship is almost done and I have less than two weeks left in the Philippines. It has been a great experience thus far, and I can feel things winding down, especially since a lot of the French interns are also getting ready to leave soon, but I am still working and finishing my work on the Need for Seed project. I’m still working on the seed saving guide to pass along to the next intern working on this project, but currently the mission is making sure there is someone who will continue this work. A good portion of the seeds I planted have sprouted, so someone will soon need to care for them. If no one is able to take on this project, I will see if someone from MAD Travel will take all the seedlings to the Aetas. This is probably the most important task on hand because I want my work to be passed on and actually aid the Aetas’ need for seeds and plants. It has also been exciting and encouraging to actually have the plants sprout after a few trials and some small frustrations. I’ve found that the seeds do the best drying out and growing in the green house, near the animal farm, which currently is not being utilized for anything. So far we’ve planted tomato, squash, cucumber and kalamansi. The squash and tomatoes have sprouted and grown the most, and none of the kalamansi have sprouted yet. I’ve been using soil from different areas, so that could be a factor. I also bought some worm castings from Tito Jun’s vermicomposting enterprise to mix with the soil for the last 40 seeds I planted, so we will see if that makes any difference.
This past weekend we traveled north to Banaue and Sagada and hiked through the mountains to see the famous rice terraces and the “sea of clouds” at Kiltepan’s Peak. It was an awesome experience and an exhausting weekend, but the landscapes were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve spent so much time on the farm or near an urban area that being so high up in the mountains, it was easy to forget I was still in the Philippines, it even got a little chilly up there! Over the last two months, it has been amazing to see the diversity of landscapes in the Philippines— and that’s just in Luzon, we didn’t even travel to the south.
The rice terraces in Banaue are more than 2,000 years old, and considered the oldest rice terraces in the world. Many Filipinos refer to them as the “eighth wonder of the world,” but I found out that was just something they say here, and I also found out that it is not an UNESCO World Heritage site, which I wrongly assumed it would be before we went. I visited Cahokia Mounds (a UNESCO site in Illinois) earlier this year, and I have to say the terraces were much more impressive, both were built long ago entirely by hand. The views were amazing, and the different hues of green were beautiful, but the natural irrigation system at the terraces was probably the most impressive. The water naturally irrigates down from the rainforests in the mountaintops above the terraces, and trickles down through each of the terraces. The terraces were all planted with rice, which was actually in the process of being harvested when we arrived. Many of the people of Ifugao, Banaue are rice farmers, but many of them also work as tour guides or other similar hospitality jobs since the area is a popular tourist destination. However, rice is still at the center of their lives, and they have many ceremonies and festivals that involve rice or special times in the year— like the rice harvest. They only have one rice planting per year, so only one harvest per year, but interestingly they don’t sell any of their rice, it is all for their own consumption. The planted rice terraces were beautiful, but I am curious what they look like when no rice is growing. Rice is so interesting because it is such a labor intensive crop, but it is so cheap. We helped clear the rice fields this week for planting (which we will do next week), and even that was hard labor. I definitely have a new respect and appreciation for farmers after this internship, having got to help do hard farm work on some occasions.
We also visited Sagada and visited Kiltepan Viewpoint to see the “Sea of Clouds,” where we saw the sun rise over the mountain tops and we were actually above the clouds. It was a breathtaking view, and hiking the mountains got me excited for my trip to Colorado next month. It was also refreshing to see the beautiful forest, which unfortunately no longer exists in many parts of the Philippines. The last part of the trip was a trip to Buscalan to visit the Butbut people and the famous Whang-od, who is a 100 year old tattoo artist. Two of the other interns wanted to visit her and get her traditional charcoal tattoo. Unfortunately, this destination was also very touristy and we were unable to actually meet her, but she has taught her granddaughters and grandnieces, who were able to give them tattoos. The process looked incredibly painful and unsanitary, but it was cool for me to see how tattoos would have been done more than a hundred years ago. Originally only headhunters— people who protected the village and brought back the heads of enemies— and women in the community were the ones to receive the traditional batok tattoo, but today, she tattoos mostly tourists who come to visit her.
Overall, it was a rice weekend, despite it being the most uncomfortable road trip I’ve ever taken…we were 16 people in a 14 person van! But I look forward to my final days in the Philippines, and I will keep you updated.
Thanks for reading.