While Fog Drapes the
The Swamp is not the
site of simple production force anymore. Against a backdrop of aging
mountains, hills and a fair summer sky, I was rather perplexed by the
string (quite a length) of souvenir shops. There is a makeshift corral at
the entrance of the Swamp. A modest hotel waits at the end of the string
of shops for tourists who would like to wake up to a fog-charmed morning.
Indeed, the makings of a rural struggle, manifested by the encroachment of
BY ABI TAGUBA
Posted by Bulatlat
BAGUIO CITY -- It was a dry February
morning, when it was at once suddenly hot and cold, when I was reminded of
strawberries. I was also reminded of a possible headache come nighttime,
with this undecided weather.
That, for you is La Trinidad, in this
northern province of Benguet. Another writer called it the “valley of a
thousand strawberries and one people” in an essay on our grandmother
Herminia some years ago. Yes, we still see the red berries dotting the
gardens at this time of the year. Thousands, perhaps. But “one people”?
Well, there still is something to hope for.
Ibaloi strawberry picker
in La Trinidad,
With strawberries still on my mind, I
trekked to the Swamp Area or simply Swamp to us valley dwellers
(strawberry fields for you, if you please). It was literally a swamp eons
ago, with odds and ends of swamp lifeforms about, which eventually made it
suitable for planting.
There, the strawberries were not
alone. Patches of spring onions, lettuce, and broccoli created several
shades of green. Rows of mums – pink, golden yellow, maroon, and peach –
broke the monotony of green. And gardeners, men and women, young and old,
worked the Swamp like a natural appendage.
But the Swamp is not the site of
simple production force anymore. Against a backdrop of aging mountains,
hills and a fair summer sky, I was rather perplexed by the string (quite a
length) of souvenir shops. There is a makeshift corral at the entrance of
the Swamp. A modest hotel waits at the end of the string of shops for
tourists who would like to wake up to a fog-charmed morning.
Indeed, the makings of a rural
struggle, manifested by the encroachment of tourism. While panagbenga
kicks off in this acclaimed City of Pines, the Adivay Festival was
also conjured here, in the same spirit of promoting, enticing, and
perhaps, generating income.
I wonder if all valley dwellers are
keen on buying strawberries for the sheer consumption of it. Not to make
business out of jams and jellies really. So I bought one kilo.
Some tourists, meanwhile, prefer to
buy strawberries at the Swamp instead of the City Market, and pick them
personally – the feel of mud in your shoes and all. And usually, they look
up at trees, straining their eyes in search of strawberries. And they are
more awe-stricken when gardeners point to the ground at them runners.
“Ay, hindi pala puno!”
This month, City Market strawberries
are sold at P35 a kilo. The Swamp people sell them at P40. I asked why.
While unloading crates of fresh (I was
assured and I believed) berries, one manong (brother, out of
respect to an elderly male) said the price was precisely because of the
“freshness.” A younger woman packing the berries said that bulbs are even
lit and placed close to the palengke (market) berries to make them
appear shiny. Business is still good, she said, despite the
meningococcemia occurrence. “Malako pay lang met” (They still
sell), she said.
The Chrysanthemum Lady, however, did
not share the same situation. A tacky sign reading “flowers for sale” was
perched amid the flowers. A sight to behold, yes, but again our pages are
“Manu ngay ti maysa dozen?”
(How much does a dozen cost?), I asked.
“Ochenta, ngem uray ited ko ti P70”
(Eighty pesos per dozen, but I will sell them to you at P70), she replied,
smiling. It appeared I was the first customer. At the City Market (my only
intention was to compare the prices, implications are inevitable), a dozen
of these mums were sold at P100 to P120, she told me while picking the
Business was not so good after the
meningococcemia scare, she said, quite upset with how the whole issue was
handled by concerned authorities. I knew I look good with a bundle of
flowers under either arm, so I took home a dozen.
Strawberries in one hand and the mums
in the other, I walked back to the entrance. On the way, I met two elderly
Bontoc women, heaps of tapis atop their heads. They need not
balance the goods for these are relatively light, aside form the fact that
they have carried heavier things on their heads. This is a practical way
of carrying load for indigenous peoples, especially women, in the
Cordillera countryside, for carrying vegetables, rootcrops, ubbak
(foliage for swine feed), firewood, among others. This is practiced even
among women workers in the urban areas, such as the knitters with their
sacks of yarn and by-products, the newspaper and bottle buyers. It is not
easy to balance a sack of empty bottles. Or heaps of jaryo (old
Now, these beautiful old women were
already displaying their goods before I could say I was not buying. “Daytoy
tres, daytoy kwatro” (This one costs P300, this is P400), one said,
pointing to the sinakwit then the kolibangbang. Sinakwit
and kolibangbang are abel or designs woven into the Bontoc
tapis. The local hotel orders from them, and so do several of the
shops. Business is good, they say.
The Adivay Festival poster shows
Benguet cowboys riding their horses, lassoing the cattle, dust all over
the place. At least this one I saw at the Benguet State University. Horses
really abound their, for practical use. The Ibalois (Benguet ethnic
minorities) used to have loads of cattle in their confines. If I am not
mistaken, Dr. Patricia Afable wrote a book, launched just last year, on
Benguet history. I will probably do a sequel once I find the book.
Perhaps in the spirit of projecting
this image, several horses were tied to the makeshift corral near the
entrance. A driver nearby called out to the watchers on the state of the
“Matay met a dayta kabalyo dita ti
pudut. Awan pay kanen da (Those horses could die in this heat. There’s
no food to keep them up),” he said. Indeed, there was no grass to graze or
shade to cool off. An hour’s ride costs P200, half of it for half an
hour. In Pacdal, an hour’s ride costs around P150. This one at the Swamp
just opened last December.
Back home, I wondered what other
things, situations will take shape in this glen. I washed the strawberries
in saline solution and arranged the mums in several vases (which my mother
later rearranged, with my permission).
Can tourism sustain the life of old La
Trinidad? I only hope that changes, in whatever expression, will sustain
the lives of the Swamp people and the rest of the valley dwellers in a
good, simple way. Nordis/Bulatlat
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