DECEMBER 14 – It was a Saturday and we scheduled a trip to visit Flor’s brother up in the hills. Flor’s brother is called Apolonio “Phonee” and their younger sister Roseann tells us a lot about him and his farm life. We also wanted to get some ubi (purple yam) for Christmas and would certainly want to know where and how they are grown. So, we hired the jeepney from Jun, the good fellow who earlier drove Trevor and Penny to Loay to buy some nipa for the roof repairs.
To get to Buenaventura, we could ride the jeepney that plies that route to Tagbilaran. It’s probably about 6 kilometers or so from our barangay San Roque. But since we were planning on buying lots of ubi from Phonee and gathering lots of rice straws from the rice fields, we decided to hire Jun and his jeepeney.
The jeepney is actually owned by someones else and it is just “rented” to Jun. Jun pays about PhP200 per day to the owner of the jeepney and Jun’s earnings come from driving passengers the Baclayon-Tagbilaran route. Jun pays for the diesel and upkeep of the jeepney, so Jun has to really take care of the jeepney. He is also a mechanic so that gives him an advantage.
Anyway, the route to Buenaventura that we take is via the road going up the hill from Albur, the municipality just after us. There’s another route via our own municipality but according to Roseann, the Albur route was much better and the road is paved.
Along the way, we stopped by some rice fields to gather some rice straws. We sometimes use rice straws for composting. I thought that I could try growing mushrooms on them. Anyway, Penny, Jun, Roseann and Trevor collected the rice straws in four sacks. It was heavy so Jun carried them to the jeepney. It was also very itchy touching the dry rice straws.
Buenaventura looks a nice rural place – lots of rice fields and coconuts, and lovely carabaos. The place used to be called “Tunga-tunga” and “tunga” in the Visayan language means “half.” So that probably means the place was a half-way point to some other place, probably Antequera. Well, Tunga-tunga now called Don Juan San Buenaventura or San Juan Buenaventura or SJB.
We got to Phonee’s place, which was just a short walk (about 50 meters) from the road. They had an unfinished a concrete house. All the other houses around them were also concrete. Behind the settlement were the vast fields of rice, coconuts, bananas and the lakes and hills where ubi and other crops are grown. It was quite a surprise to realise that such a rural environment exists just behind those little concrete houses.
While Penny was butchering and cooking two chickens for lunch, we walked to the fields with Roseann and Phonee. It was really quite beautiful seeing the fields, so many trees, coconuts, bananas, and an area fenced off where water had collected when it rains. Phonee puts tilapia fingerlings there and lots of water-lilies with small white and large pink flowers have grown.
From the fields, we decided to walk up the hill to get a good view of the area and perhaps to see the sea. It was a walk up rocks and bushes, I got a bit worried because I was wearing my old city boots. Well, it certainly wasn’t easy since it was quite a long way up – then suddenly, we saw these two tarsiers in the bushes!
Those two tarsiers were really quite a treat, a really special experience. Tarsiers are endangered animals that are truly endemic to Bohol. The only tarsiers we’re seen have been in captivity or in protected sanctuaries, but here, these tarsiers are in the wild. Knowing that these two (and Pronee said there are a total of five of them) survive here gives a feeling that this place in Buenaventura is still very much pure, pristine and unmolested by people.
The view from up the hill was really beautiful. It was quite a site, the lake with lots of water lilies floating and that lovely undulating landscape so peculiar of Bohol. There was so much green all around that one gets a sense of hope for humanity! Seeing all those different species of weeds and plants is also mind-boggling – it must be really quite a paradise for botanists!
So it was along the sides of these hills that Phonee plants ubi. Ubi is planted in March and harvested in December. It is a very special crop with lots of indigenous beliefs and practices surrounding its cultivation. Some years ago, a large ice cream company bought a large section of land in Baclayon and tried experimenting with ubi – they wanted to plant ubi and grow them all year round for their ice cream production. But the goal of the experiment showed it was not possible to cultivate ubi off-season. I thought that was good because it meant that ubi growing will not be industrialised and the land and the practice will not be taken away from its indigenous farmers.
From the hills, one can also see Bohol sea and Pamilacan Island. Towards the north one could see Antequera! Along the hills of Antequera there was large white spots which Phonee pointed out were landslides from the earthquake of October 15. How lucky that Buenaventura did not suffer such dangerous landslides! Maybe we still have good soil here, but that is being ruined by at least three quarrying activities up in the hills!
Buenaventura has about 90 households, compared to about 250 in our own barangay of San Roque. Buenaventura is certainly more rural. Phonee has about 7 cows which he sells live to the butchers when they are 5 years old. Trevor asked about milk and Phonee explained that they don’t milk the cows. Or the carabaos.
We got back down to Phonee’s house at 12 noon for lunch. I was certainly getting hungry. We could’ve walked a bit further to look at Mr Tiburcio’s old house but it was late and I was a bit worried of tiring ourselves out too much, especially we didn’t even bring any water to drink!
So when we got back, Penny was already preparing our lunch – native chicken halang-halang and boiled ubi, served with coconut palm wine or tuba! :)
Apart from the ubi, there was also red rice freshly harvested from Phonee’s rice fields. Freshly harvested rice has a very different quality – the grains are more fat and full. It is also not heavily polished so the reddish colour – which means it is much healthier to eat than commercial white rice.
Later, I got lots of ubi to take home. I bought four different types which I’ll write about later. I got plenty so I can give some to Penny and send to my mom. Bohol is very well known for the quality of their ubi. In other provinces in the Philippines, the ubi is too moist and soft, but here in Bohol, it is just perfect! :)
If you’d like to learn more about the ubi, you can visit this webpage.
Phonee explained that an area could be planted with ubi only once every three or so years. Kaingin is swidden or slash and burn farming method. It is a practice that has been given a lot of bad publicity lately. However, looking at the hills in Buenaventura where Phonee and his ancestors have planted ubi for as many generations, I don’t think the criticisms are valid. I think that critics should carefully study the context within which kaingin is practised. Additionally, slash and burn provides the nutrients needed by certain crops such as ubi – without it, ubi will not thrive. In some forests around the world, natural forest fires are a necessary condition for some seeds to germinate and grow. For sure, large-scale commercial farming is MUCH MORE dangerous and damaging to the environment than kaingin farming practised by small farmers like Phonee – and yet, such large scale mono-cropping practices are still the mainstream widespread agro-industrial practises.
It was past 2PM when we got back home and I got a large container of tuba too! I gave some tuba for Jun and was he really happy! LOL! I really love the tuba that Phonee makes, it is very different from the ones that are available here in the public market. It is sweet and fresh-tasting wine! I plan to get some more from Phonee later! :)
We plan to return to Buenaventura for fiesta in May next year, and for sure, we invited Phonee and his family for Trevor’s birthday in May too – so that would be a lot of things to celebrate. :)