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I was in Tabuk City, Kalinga, in the foothills of the Cordillera mountains, last week in answer to an invitation from the Department of Education Regional Office of the Cordillera Administrative Region that our office conduct a lecture and workshop on online writing at their Regional Schools Press Conference. We traveled for 11 hours by bus to get there; apparently buses only make about 6 runs a day one way to get there, either very early in the morning or at night. The journey took us through two other regions of the Philippines before we could reach the Cordillera region. From Quezon City in the National Capital Region, we passed through the provinces of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon, and the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela in Cagayan Valley. Although many people in Cagayan and the Cordillera speak Filipino, their lingua franca is Ilocano, so it was like stepping into a different country.

That aside, the people of Tabuk were very hospitable, and my colleague Ella and I really enjoyed our stay there. We stayed in one of the classrooms of Tabuk National High School, in which pallets had been made up for us, and had our meals at the mess hall, which was really another building converted into a dining area. Near the mess hall was another classroom that had been temporarily converted into a kitchen, presided over by teachers and other staff members of the school and the regional office.

Several things that stuck in my mind during our stay there:
(1) Kalinga bananas are sweet even when still greenish. To us city-dwellers, a green-speckled yellow banana means it's not fully ripe yet or that it was forced to ripen, and it will not taste good. Apparently that is not the case with the bananas we ate in Kalinga. Yum yum!
(2) Japonica rice! We had this fragrant, delicious rice at all our meals during our stay there. It is hard to get in Manila and quite expensive.
(3) Puto pao and banana cake. The first was a puto or rice cake with a meat filling like siopao. Yummy. Yummy. Yummy.
(4) Snake bone is for protection against bad luck and evil forces. The proprietress of the stall that sold native crafts told me a little story about snake bone jewelry. She said someone once bought a snakebone necklace from her because that person was afraid that her neighbor was a witch and she wanted protection. She said that the people in their community were continually having stomach aches and getting very sick every time they encountered the witch, who often accosted them. A week later, the buyer returned and bought out all the remaining snakebone jewelry she had in stock because, she said, if the witch had once accosted her, now the witch was avoiding her each time she wore her snakebone necklace. So she was buying the rest for all the people in their village. Yes, of course, I bought a snakebone necklace and matching earrings. Who could resist that story?
(5) The Ilocano word for "hunk" is "nataraki." That was what the school teachers taught us, amidst gales of laughter as we tried to pronounce the word correctly, when we were continually hanging around their kitchen.
(6) Ukay-ukay, or vintage clothing, shoes and accessories, are much much cheaper there than in Manila. For P500, I bought a pair of brown rhinestone-studded half-boots with stiletto heels, a pair of imitation Melissa shoes that looked like low-heeled Lady Dragons, and two simply divine dresses.
(7) Their version of "palamig" or liquid refreshment is called "caramel," and tastes like gulaman with milk in it.
(6) Kalinga brewed coffee is heavenly. We had it every day we were there. It smells somewhat like vanilla, especially with creamer. One of the male teachers, who looked to be about as old as my dad, gave us each a cup of ground beans when he learned how much we liked it. And we each went out and bought more coffee to take home, as well!

Even then, I haven't even half-begun to describe how warm the people were. If we hadn't been pressed for time, our friends in the kitchen would have given us a tour of all the tourist spots in the area. Even then, in the short two hours Ella and I had after everything had been accomplished and before the bus was due to leave, we looked through the ukay-ukay shops then wandered into this bakery / refreshment parlor, where we had halo-halo and an egg pie that was simply divine, and the elderly proprietress sat down and chatted with us.

Thanks to Mrs. Rosalinda Tavara and Dr. Virginia Lupian and everyone in the DepEd-CAR Regional Office, and to the principal, teachers, and staff of Tabuk National High School, for the wonderful, wonderful experience. Can we go back there now? Please?

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