Heading up into the mountains of the Philippines in a bus crammed with filipinos ans livestock feed I was struck by the sense of how surreal my life has become.. instead of sitting at a computer from 8:30-4:30 and dreaming of my next trip I am now bumming around foreign countries with no long term plan or answers other than a sense of acomplishment that instead of hearing of amazing travels I am now the one doing that.
The six hour bus ride north was actually pretty quick as there was beautiful scenery to keep me occupied as well as interesting discoveries such as this transport bus was also a package and newspaper delivery. The further north we got the more delight pedestrians took at seeing my white skin, as Javer (nephew of the farm owner) mentioned people were not used to foreigners in these parts. Once I got to the farm I was struck by how beautiful it was and then I was further shocked to find that instead of a small cottage with a few beds and a sink in one room that I was expecting (they mention multiple times to expect simple country living) I had a 2 bedroom cottage that sleep 4+ and a kitchen and outdoor seeting area all to myself
|My private bungalow|
First day of work was hot as he'll and the work was hard but it felt good working hard and may have been my first day of real manual labour. For the first time ever I found myself with calluses that were not frim deadlifts ir gyn related things. Within a few days I became used to the early hours and the hard work. The boiling sun still took getting used to though. At times I felt like having volunteers might even be more work for poor Noel, the person assigning tasks to us volunteers, but other times we might spend a while morning chopping sunflower stalks and rendering then into organic fertilizer or an entire day cutting bamboo trees and making them into fences. All of which was done with machetes. Yes. They let me use a machete.
|Chopping sunflower stalks into organic fertilizer|
When I started there was Eric from Manila and three Malaysian students, one who was fasting for Ramadan, something that seems nearly impossible when you realize that means 6+ hours in the hot sun with no water. After they left a Danish/Italian couple joined us (Laura and Dylan) and it was fun finally having company in my cottage AND I got them and Eric boardgaming with me!
The Layog family and the staff there were amazing. Noel, our supervisor was always smiling and wonderful to be around and Javer was an amazing cook. Flordelina, then owner of the farm was fantastic and I really enjoyed talking with her. She is from the area however she lives in Norway teaching Norwegian to immigrants and plans on moving back when she retires in 2 years. It sounds like opening the farm was hard work but she seems so passionate about it and about having younger people or the community learning about sustainable organic farms. Knowing all the things the farm has to offer is quite a lot but I really feel like I have learned a ton about organic farming, the many many plants that were growing everywhere, I even finally learnt whether dragonfruit was a bush or tree. It's a cactus. I also learned about vermicomposting, which was the fascinating process of feeding worms, harvesting their poop, aka black gold, and turning it into the best fertilizer ever. Ive even got the recipe now so I can make my own "tea".
|The amazing Noel|
Flordelina, the owner, comes for a visit every July but I was there for an extra special time because her two children, her sister Gloria and her kids, and many other family members were also visiting at the same time. The Sunday that we met them we had a large family meal with then and the Monday (sadly my last day) us volunteers spent the morning feeding worms and hiding from the rain and then in the afternoon we all piled into a van and drove to nearby Kayan to see the old house that Flordelina and her 9 siblings grew up in. The house was a large building across the small Plaza and nestled between the high school and church and it was fascinating to see the old abandoned house that still had their old posters and furniture stuffed with old letters. Afterwards we visited the church and met with the Reverend who told us about how the church has an organic garden that is cared for by the high school students learning about organic farming. It seems that people in the area are wary of organic gardening but slowly they are bringing people around to their side and the Layog farm had even supplied the church garden with some thing such as rabbits.
|Layog Family Dinner|
We had one last big family meal and as it was my last night and the last night foe all the visiting family who was leaving the next day too for Baguio it was somewhat of a festive atmosphere. Tons of food, guitar playing and singing, getting dive bombed by weird bugs, sipping on wine and blueberry wine and we even sampled some very young rice wine. Unlike sake rice wine is sweet and when I say it was young rice wine I mean it was so young that it was just fermented but oddly sweet rice that we ate. After saying goodnight Dylan, Laura and Flordelina's son and nephew Glen and Kris came back to the cottage and played some games. My mission to convert people across the world to games other than Monopoly/Risk has so far been successful! It was an early morning catching the van and jeepney to Bontoc but luckily Aunty Lina, Dante and June were awake so I could say my final goodbyes.
|Making bamboo fences to protect the gardens|
Things I can cross off 'the list': Cultivated plants, fed worms (vermicomposting), washed my laundry by hand, finally discovered what a dragonfruit plant looks like (kind of a cactus vine almost), went a week without Internet -and didn't mind it!, spent several days carrying around a machete....and didn't injure anyone.
Lessons learned: Organic farming can be hard work but it can also be so rewarding knowing that in the longterm is ensures sustainability and in the short term you get to enjoy incredibly fresh organic produce.
|Malaysian volunteers Jen and Meera|
|Volunteers Eric, Laura, Dylan and myself|
|Another spectacular view at Layog Country Farm|