“How do you choose the places you go to?” was a question recently posed by a friend who was about to venture on her first solo trip. She was surprised to know that I had no system for these journeys, that any trip mostly involved embracing strangeness of all manners and forms, and that often, it is the places that choose me.
“Hindi ba yun nakakatakot? Wala kang plano?”, she rebutted.
It is. Traveling alone should never be suicide mission. One shouldn’t want to find danger.
Strangeness and danger though are not the same.
It is early morning in Buenavista. I sit on the patio of Ricky’s temple, his yoga spot facing the sunrise. Tantric music floats our from the living room along with the clucks of chickens and barks of dogs.
Ricky has risen hours before me, hours before the rest of Guimaras has awakened. He needs to get a head start before the noise comes in, looking for what he calls flat lines, this state of non-sensation. As practice, he goes out at dawn to hug a tree, often naked, in order to feel the connection between nature and man.
“Ang weird namin pakinggan, noh.” Ricky’s wife says self-consciously, after discussing to me the principles of Hare Krishna over breakfast. We eat leftover spaghetti with veggiemeat from the day before and pair it with fresh buko juice.
It is perhaps stranger to her own ears than to mine. Ricky’s wife is a news editor of a local periodical in Iloilo, used to validating facts rather than accepting the esoteric.
She looks at me sometimes when Ricky is explaining the principles of vegetarianism and spirituality, humming out prophetic lines like “Ang purpose naman talaga in life is to be happy.” and “Kailangan natin ng pera kasi may katawan tayo, peru hindi yan kailangan ng soul natin.” perhaps to see whether any skepticism is reflected on my face.
Wonder Oranic Farm
She may not be off there. Years of work in Advertising teaches one to profile people. Demographics. Psychographics. Target Market. Lifestyle Orientation. I realize that’s what I’ve been trying to do to Ricky ever since I arrived. Even free spirits follow a pattern.
But how do you describe water that seems to be equal parts hot and cold?
We are on the road on the way to an organic mango farm with a long line of gemelina on my left and mango trees on my right. On the road are leftover mango seeds left for the ducks. No one steals mangoes here, he says. They’re everywhere.
However that doesn’t mean that regulations here aren’t strict. They treat mango planting more as a serious artisan craft rather than commodity picking. Hefty fines are laid down when mangoes are picked prematurely prior to the mandated 120 days after germination. We pass by several plantations on the way.
Side roads in Guimaras are rough. The three of us steer our bodies to the left or right in order to help the tricycle navigate through the paths.
San Lorenzo is a residential area but it is here where Rose Grisser’s Guimaras Wonder Farm is found, isolated from the other farms that use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It serves as a model for the Department of Agriculture and Tourism, and is often visited for its sustainable practices such as vermiculture and natural pesticide. In her dog’s food bowl are piles of mangoes eaten to their core.
Rose is busy with preparations for the Manggahan Festival so it is Ricky instead who takes me around her plantation.
We trail behind Ricky’s wife who goes around examining bottles filled with honey to attract and trap aphids naturally.
“Pang-lima ko na syang asawa.”, Ricky tells me. In what he calls his past lifetime, he was constantly high on women and drugs. He eventually overdosed from the habit he picked up in 6th grade, and had a nervous breakdown for two years.
It is both easy and difficult to picture our Ricky as what he was 20 years ago, shooting up while watching Greyhoundz and Slapshock concerts. His tattoos and rockstar indifference still somehow connect him to that lifestyle, albeit now older and a bit more weathered perhaps. But he seems to be softer now as well, more averse to the extreme. Not that it’s any less difficult to stay away from the lifestyle, he said. Despite his search for balance, it is still a constant struggle for him to stay in Guimaras. The remnants of his old self will sometimes prod him to miss the city.
“From druggie to vegetarian? Parang pang-libro”, I tease him.
“Totoo nga.”, he tells me.
It was the paranoia, he said, that eventually led him to vegetarianism and yoga.
The Adrenaline Junkies
Perhaps it is also age, I prod. I am at the stage where Ricky was when he let his extremities run away with him.
Most of my decision factors are made with this premise: that if it scares you, keeps you up at night and is out of your comfort zone, jump into it. It is not so much danger but discomfort that I constantly gravitate towards. Discomfort often unlocks a part of the self you need to learn from the most.
Perhaps this is why I went for a corporate job this year after years of comfortably living a bohemian lifestyle, decided to stay still after constantly running away.
“Ganoon din ako noon. Adrenaline junkie.” says Ricky with a smile. “Parang walang bukas.”
This is where polarity and balance are interconnected perhaps.One has to understand extremities first in order to understand the relevance of the in-betweens.
In his case, Ricky just decided one day to quit and enter a yoga and wellness center. There, his training involved begging for vegetables from local market vendors in order to teach him humility. I tell him I hope I could strike the same balance in my life too.
“Okay lang yan. Mabuhay ka muna.” he tells me.
On our way back from the farm, we pass by the Guimaras Mango Research and Development Center. Usually a nest of activity, the Center today is a lull, a rest day from the aftermath of the Manggahan Festival’s culmination the day before.
We chanced upon one of the guards though, finishing his rounds from the plantation at the back. With no one else to ask, we test his knowledge about mangoes.
“Bakit sobrang sarap ng mangga ng Guimaras?”, we ask him.
He tells us this. What made Guimaras Mangoes so sweet, their scientists realized, was the land’s proximity to the ocean. With Guimaras being an island, the trees were constantly exposed to the sea breeze. The salt in the air is absorbed by the germinating mangoes. The closer the plantation is to the ocean, they realized, the sweeter it is. It is the salt then that makes the mangoes here sweeter, but not too sweet, just enough for those looking for the saccharine taste to peel another one, then another one, until the mango peels are piled on the ground to be left for the ducks.
The next morning, I wake up earlier than usual. Ricky has gone back to the city to take photos of the Governor. Before we parted the night before, he handed me a pendant, a Peace Sign, for the middle path he hoped I would find in this lifetime.
I sit on his patio, looking up at the clouds at dusk, white balls that seem to cover the whole view, wrapping my head in an unrecognizable mass of non-sensation. This must be the flat line Ricky was talking about. The sky changes from black to blue. And in the silence of his temple, I wait for the outside world to intrude.