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The wonders of Ilayang Ilog

Unlike my regular visits during my youth to barrios Banabahin Ibaba and Buenavista, both in the municipality of Lopez, Quezon, my going to barrio Ilayang Ilog was just once in a blue moon.

Banabahin is from the word banaba—a kind of tree which from the botanical table would classify as Lagerstroemia speciosa, also known as Crape Myrtle and it was named as such because banaba trees abound in the area while Ibaba means directional south.

Meanwhile, Buenavista has another name Tigas (hard) which I’ve known since I was a kid because the latter is an original unofficial name even older than me.

On the other hand, Ilayang Ilog means Southern River.

These three barrios are poles apart. Banabahin Ibaba and Buenavista are situated in the southeast while Ilayang Ilog is located in the southwest of the town.

Let me recall my fondest memories of Ilayang Ilog during the time I would tag along with my father on weekends to see our property which was just a small piece of land but very fertile and productive especially with coconut trees, the main sources of products for sale as our livelihood. Copra (the dried coconut meat) being the chief product of our plantation.

But I remember when my dad was still young and able to farm in the boondocks. Ilayang Ilog is a hilly place. He would plant corns and harvest them after about two to three months. He would also plant rice in the kaingin although it was banned after a few years. Kaingin was your clearing the underbrush and trees by setting them on fire. Then you plowed the ashes and later planted them with seedlings. Even if it wasn’t declared unlawful yet by the government, my father would just burn the bushes and spared the trees so he wouldn’t be accused of deforestation as a crime these days.

I also remember the pristine stream water in Ilayang Ilog—a cool spring which still exists until now. It’s within the boundary zones of our land.

What amazed me when I passed by the rivers was the crystalline water running in between mossy rocks and overflowing in the pathways as I crossed and walked on the pebbles of the trails.

I could drink straight up the cool mineral water to quench my thirst especially in summertime.

Oh! Summers were celebrations of life and thanksgiving to the abundance of nature. Women, one of them was my mom, would come together, boil sticky rice for a local delicacy called senukmani (a sweetened rice mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar or pakaskas—your residue of milled sugarcane) to be served during the baylehan (from the Spanish word bayle which means dance) party at night in the barrio hall. 

A barangay captain at the time was called Kapitan del Barrio who led all social and political activities of the place.

As a young boy, I would be stationed together with others kids, male and female, in a separate room adjacent to the dance hall. I would be awake during the entire party listening to the music being played on a decrepit sound system rented from the town. Most of the music at the time was waltz which set the mood of the party. I would peep in the hole from the anteroom and would see my parents dancing to the tune of “The Blue Danube,” the very famous waltz even the children could sing and hum with. Of course, there would be sweet music in the air like “Summer Love” which would be the dancing spree of romantic couples, married or just boyfriends and girlfriends or of girls being wooed by boys.

What would spoil the party, though, were the killjoys who would burn a pepper in cotton in the most unexpected turn when the party was in its euphoric high. Oh! The smell of it was like a pepper spray to ward off intruders or I would figure it out now like Molotov cocktails or tear gas to disperse a rally. There would be commotion. Then the security of the barrio council would start apprehending the initiators of the pepper spray and would reprimand them if not send them home in no time at all. After the jerks were pacified, the party went on in its most ecstatic mood.

During the dance party in the hall, there would be dangling several lantern-like pinuso (a heart-shaped adornment of local agricultural produce to signify a bountiful harvest) on the ceiling. Each family was assigned to make a pinuso and to hang it in the air for visual delight. When the party over, a pinuso was brought home by select maidens who attended the party as hosts or guests from other barrios or from the town.

I was also amazed by the presence of the splendid herd of deer. They would just wander around but I wouldn’t know if there would be cruel men who would shoot or trap them later for meal or for (tapang usa) dried deer meat. I would just look at them and be bewildered. 

I would also see playful monkeys climbing up trees on my way up or down the wilds. They would want to make fun with humans but I wouldn’t touch or trick them. I just let them be. 

After seeing these bunches of deer and monkeys I didn’t know what happened to them years after.

All I know was that they disappeared from view when I asked my parents what had happened to them.

To think that Ilayang Ilog, after all these years, is only seven kilometers from the main National Highway or the Maharlika Highway and another one kilometer to the town proper and I thought it was a far-off, hermit’s land.

It’s still like eternity going to and going out from Ilayang Ilog, would you believe because of the bad roads—or if you call them bumpy trails—since the 1960s? 

Oh! Rainy days would lend muddy, slippery moments to Ilayang Ilog but they make the trek more exciting and meaningful to a real countryside although development of the stiff roads can ease up the heavy toll on the farmers and the travelers. (To be continued)     

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