When you say long weekend outing, several things come to mind like sand, water, hanging out, and bonding. In my most recent trip with Tribes and Treks Zambales, all of these were present, but not in the way you’re probably picturing in your head.
Earlier this year, my officemates and I went on a special trip. The sand came in the form of a scorching trail. The water came in the form of a dwindling stream only ankle-deep. Hanging out came in the form of learning about a completely different way of living. Bonding came in the form of doing a tribal dance for courting.
We spent a day in a small Aeta village called Yangil in Zambales. It wasn’t my first time in Zambales nor was it my first time to travel locally. However, it was definitely my most meaningful trip thus far.
A Harsh Reality
We trekked to Yangil Village through an open sandy plain in the middle of a valley. For two hours, we walked under the summer sun. Everywhere we looked, we saw mountains but it was not what you usually see when you go on a hike. It was a sad sight. The mountains were dying. A picturesque sight, but a saddening one as well.
Some locals from the village guided us during the trek. They told us about the challenges they face in their daily lives having to safeguard the natural resources around them. F0r them farming is a matter of survival as they depended on it for both their consumption and also to make a living.
They talked about how the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 still affects them. I was barely a year old when the eruption happened yet here were people still suffering from it, almost 3 decades since.
A Bastion Of Culture
When we reached Yangil Village, Raffy, our tour guide, started greeting everyone. As they toured us around, the mood changed. I saw how tightly connected everyone was, exchanging pleasantries, telling jokes, and paying respects to village elders. Raffy even teased the children like a big brother. Everyone was so accommodating and pleasant.
We had sweetened gabi and tanglad tea for snacks prepared by the village home cooks. For lunch, we had the best adobo and tinola. No kidding.
As we ate lunch, the chieftain told us about the community’s history. The people of Yangil are Aeta and are among the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. Despite the rapid changes brought by modernization, the Aeta have preserved their way of life for over thousands of years.
A Way Of Life Threatened
Remember learning about the water cycle in grade school? It was one of the first things we learned. Water evaporates, condenses into clouds, and then precipitates as rain. We also learned how it can be disrupted by soil erosion and deforestation.
We learned to explain this simple concept by heart. But then it normally ends there. For most of us, we don’t really think about the water cycle. However, for the people of Yangil, the water cycle is a life or death matter.
Standing under the blazing sun, on parched earth, in the middle of dying mountains, I realized how truly destructive deforestation is. I realized how an entire community could be wiped out by something so deceptively simple.
A Small Hope Sprouts Forth
I felt a sense of vigor and determination as we walked to the other side of the valley. We were there to plant trees. With these pioneer trees, we hoped to reverse the damage caused by deforestation so the mountain can organically revive itself.
But there were so few of us and so much mountain. 30,000 hectares, to be specific. Baby steps. When they grow, these trees will provide shade, providing protection so more vegetation can grow.
It’s a massive undertaking, but it’s not impossible. Raffy shared how they had a successful reforestation project in Cagayan De Oro and they hope to do the same here.
Many times, Raffy told us that helping required long-term thinking. It’s not just about giving to them. They do not need clothes. However, what they need is a means to buy clothes on their own. Instead of secondhand clothes or canned food, they need carabaos and farming equipment.
The people of Yangil Village need help with their livelihood so they can stand on their own. Because of this, they ask for things that will help them with farming, fishing, and raising poultry.
Our group decided to donate vermicelli worms we found on OLX. Transporting the worms definitely proved to be a challenge. They escaped the pail and wriggled around our van on the way here. Fortunately, the chieftain was very happy with it and told us how they can use it to fertilize their soil for farming. Besides this, they can sell the waste from the worms. All that trouble was worth it.
We headed back to our hostel just before sun down. One pail of worms less but with more than a pail’s worth of learnings and things that I need to reflect on.
I’m grateful I chose to forego the typical tourist’s destination for this. It was an eye-opener.
I encourage everyone to go on a trip like this every so often. You won’t come home with the perfect sun-kissed tan. However, what you take home is much more meaningful.
For those who are interested in visiting the people of Yangil, check out MAD (Make A Difference) Travel and Circle Hostel. If you’re going to take part in Tribes and Treks Zambales, MAD Travel encourages people to bring the following:
Interested in taking part in the Tribes and Treks Zambales tour? Have interesting travel destination plans for the coming long weekends? Let us know in the comments!