Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 11th: The Long Roadtrip from Manila to Nueva Ecija

Various shops and restaurants inside the NLEX pit stop provides modern
Filipino road travelers with convenient, clean and quality food, gas and
bathroom services. 
Starbucks are now everywhere in the country. This one caters to regular
travelers on long bus trips. It's also a great place to get free wifi and check
emails on-the-go.

Today, we are heading north towards to Nueva Ecija. Along the way, we will be passing through the central plains of Luzon -- the rice granary of the Philippines. As we depart Manila, the scenery changed from urban to agricultural. To shorten the travel time, we took the NLEX (Northern Luzon Express Way). After about an hour, we made a pit stop at a highway rest stop, where the kids took a bathroom break and looked around the different shops, like Starbucks, Jollibee, Chow King, etc. We ordered coffee and chocolates from Starbucks, together with some other knick-knacks. My dad told me that this was a great improvement over previous pit stops that use to be a hodgepodge of sari-sari stores and open-air bathrooms (for those of you who've been to the Philippines, you know what I mean).

After 30 minutes, we proceeded again on our 4 hour trip to Central Luzon State University (CLSU). Along the way, we saw lots of rice paddies being prepared for planting. Since this is the start of the rainy season, some of the farmers are plowing the fields with their carabaos or motorized mini-tractors while some are sowing the land to make the soil ready for rice planting. We also saw a number of rice nursery plots and some of the men planting rice in neat rows. This reminds me of the traditional song "Planting Rice is Never Fun" and it sure is a back-breaking labor of love. That's what you get for having a father who knows how to plant rice.

A lahar field covered with lush cogon grass vegetation. This is a common
sight along the central plains of Luzon due to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo
that buried a number of towns in 10 to 30 meters of volcanic sand and silt.
Once in a while, we saw large tracts of land that seem to be covered in sand. My dad explained that these lahar fields, which are basically thick layers (up to 10-30 meters deep) of fine sand and silt that were spewed out during Mt. Pinatubo's eruption some 20 years ago. Most of these fields use to be towns. Now, they are blanketed with cogon grass. (Cogon are tall grasses used by Filipinos to make thatched roofs; they also burn bright but die quickly, which gave rise to the Filipino saying "Ningas kogon" --  referring to projects that start grand but fizzle off quickly.)

Aside from being the rice granary of the Philippines, the central plains of Luzon features prominently in Philippine history because the provinces comprising this region were among the first to revolt against Spain. (Remember the eight rays in the Philippine flag?) This region is also the site of most battles between the Filipinos and Americans at the turn of the 19th century.

Last but not least, hmm...let me see...I don't remember anything else that my dad said afterwards, since most of us fell soundly asleep. (Actually, I got this information from the parents and Karina, who stayed awake for most of my dad's speech...)


Sierra Jamir

Farmers transplanting rice in the field. Notice the long, straight rows of rice stalks. As the popular Filipino song goes,
"Magtanim ay 'di biro..." (Planting rice is never fun)...in fact it involves back-breaking work under the tropical sun. 

In the foreground is a farmer plowing the rice field ("bukid") using a small, hand-operated mechanized tractor. At the
background are other farmers tending to the young rice shoots inside the nursery plots ("pitak"). 

An idyllic picture of a nipa hut amidst the lush, green rice fields.
"Bahay kubo, kahit munti, ang halaman doon, ay sari-sari."

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