In the mountain village of Cadiao we wind our way up the steep path to the Eupre mountain lodge site. Keeping our promise to the villagers to help rebuild a new green economy for them, clearing the ecolodge site is on the work menu for today. The typhoon was 4 weeks ago.
I come armed with a new crowbar and claw hammer. There are some last wobbly remnants of buildings that have to be taken completely down. Wombat and I agree the structures must be totally dismantled lest somebody gets the idea to build a new structure using the remains. We have seen termites chewing their way through most of the timbers here and we need to start afresh with the new buildings. A whole village of people has shown up and soon there’s banging sounds and the squeal of nails coming out of timber as we demolish the last of the wreckage and hurl the useless organic material over the cliff. One building, we actually chop down the posts with machetes until it gives way and crashes to cheers of the workers.
The landslide on the river side of the slope is now getting a good mulching with all kinds of wood, sticks and fallen branches. I toss mung bean seeds over the edge to help stabilize the slope. I spy a thick creeper vine clinging to a wrecked pole. Chopping it into chunks with my machete, I throw the bits over the edge so they regrow a mat to stabilize the landslide area. I can only work with what’s on hand.
The kids have Brittany totally tamed now. I see a bunch of them mulching all the plants on the site with the piles of leaves left over from the storm.
Somebody drags out a full bunch of ripe, fat, yellow bananas from under a fallen tree. The villager smiles and offers me one. Hungrily I grab it and strip the skin back and munch into it. Yeech! WTF? It has large bluish seeds inside and the locals all chuckle as they watch my reaction. The old seedy banana trick, eh? I figure if it worked on me it should work on Britt, but she gets suspicious when she sees all the other dudes chuckling. No banana for Britt. Seeds in a banana are a new thing for me and I realize that bananas will also stabilize the slope. I get Britt to pass the bananas out to the kids and soon we see the kids lining up along the rim of the cliff chewing and spitting seeds in unison. I’ve used some novel ways to distribute seeds before but this is the first time using seed spitting children for me. Some of the local ladies are busting a gut laughing at the funny sight.
We arrive back in Iloilo to meet with the Mountaineering Club. Rebecca shows them the films she made of us clearing the site and another of the damage inflicted around Barbaza.
Around a large oval table the team and I present our proposal to entirely build a new lodge using the fallen timbers dropped by the typhoon a month before. I have some experience using rice husks, sand and cement to make a kind of light weight strong concrete, so we present our plan to rebuild the lodge in the most eco friendly and typhoon proof manor. To do this, we need their support to get back to Barbaza and write up a full plan for 5 separate projects linked together, including the ecolodge. The mountaineers like the concept so they agree to give us their answer the next day.
We stay in a real hotel…with real beds and sheets and stuff! Yay! Hubert and I share a room looking down on to a pool. It seems surreal after a smashed world of chaos. The Internet works so we spend most of the day catching up on admin and making reports to our network. We eat emergency pizza.
I race around the city pricing equipment and vehicles we will need as does Wombat who will be in charge of the lodge construction. Hubert jumps on a plane to Manila to round up some more support options. I’m going to miss that guy.
We get an SMS from Roli, our local guide. The Mountaineers will fund us a van and support Roli to come. Yippee! Roli has become part of our team and the local people up in the mountains adore him. The second half of the recon is on so we pile in a local bus the next day heading for Barbaza. Four hours later we stretch our cramped bodies and retrieve our equipment from the bus’ luggage lockers before it tears off, air horn blaring, in a cloud of exhaust smoke. Barbaza has been waiting.
Juan, the municipality’s agriculture officer and man with many hats, picks us up in a very small Suzuki truck. Wombat cant fit into this vehicle so he stands on the back of a motorcycle side car following behind while Juan leads us to his house a kilometer from town.
On a concrete balcony facing west in the hot tropical sun, we set up our tents and drop our equipment. It’s bloody hot! Surrounding Juan’s family compound are miles of green rice paddies and the sacred mountains watching from the background. The sea is only 400 meters up the road. I sense this is a special mystical place, from the mountains to the sea. I feel welcome here.
Wombat and Britt have reconed a village called Mablad. Wombat recons this village will have the land we have been looking for to set up our training school and base for the projects. Our van arrives and soon we are on the track heading for the mountains. As we approach the road junction a group of locals stop our van and have an animated discussion with Roli. It seems the main bridge to the community has collapsed. A kilometer later we pull up at the bridge. A huge hole is gaping from the centre where a truck fell through the day before. Wombat and I climb down for a look…major rust problem. The main supports have given way due to rust and corrosion. The bridge is hanging together by cobwebs as villagers still ride their motorcycles over the timbers laid flat over the wrecked beams. I watch a motorcycle and sidecar scoot over the mess and the back end of the bridge jumps out of the ground a few feet. Crikey!
Change of plans, we need trail bikes to get to the next 2 sites. Roli negotiates with a local village and hires Wombat a new Chinese trail bike. We head back into town in the van with Wombat making a heap of noise for a small engine bike behind.
The van driver recons he has a trail bike. After a few minutes parked outside his house on the main road he emerges pushing a very old Honda 125. The front tire is so worn the inner tube is poking out through holes in the rubber. No bloody way, I tell Roli. That tire will burst in the first kilometer. Oh wait! the driver says we can change it now if you want. Ok, change it. We wait in the sun.
A while later they push the bike out for me to test ride. The new tire is almost as bad as the last. They must have torn it off a wreck. I really need to get back up the mountain for Wombat and me to measure the lodge site to create the plans for the new ones and Wombat is leaving in 2 days.
I nickname the bike “Dead bike walking” as I ride back into the hills. The front brakes are shot and if I stand hard on the rear ones a horrible screech comes from the brake drum. Wombat hangs back because of chunks of rust flying out of my exhaust each time I gun the motor.
Riding the “dead bike walking” over the dead bridge, I think to myself, this is a high-risk job! The steering head bearing is missing so the front handlebars jar with each bump. Villagers wave as we pass and smile. Please don’t run out in front of me dudes! No brakes!
Finally we get to Cadiao. Britt, Wombat and I spend a few hours measuring and scoping out the Lodge site. Yum Yum is waiting for us and cooks up some lunch in a makeshift kitchen. Nice!
We make it to Mablad after lunch. The dying bike is still operative but I’m suspicious it’s waiting to die while I’m here in the hills to get me stranded. The village chief and I chat about our project. He gets it immediately and says he knows of some land…we follow him. A few hundred meters later we pull up as a beautiful piece of land, a paradise with green rice terraces stretching down into a treed gully. Wow! I feel the hair on my neck tingle, which is a sure sign this is special land. We get off our bikes and scatter across the different parts of the landscape. We meet back in a few minutes excited and jabbering. This is the land! In my minds eye I see a permaculture field school training thousands of trainers over the next 5 years. I see all kinds of organic crops, poultry, animal systems and even aquaculture chinampas. Surveying a new piece of land is like meeting a beautiful woman. I am already totally enraptured. On a piece of land this fertile, paradise is totally possible!
The next stage for us is going to be meetings, negations, and MOU’s to lease the land and communicate our plan to the people in positions of power. Every link in the logistics and admin chain must be solid before we dig the first garden. I make a mental list of the next steps as I swing my leg over the old Honda. If I can just make it back to town…