Or how a few good men conquered perhaps the hardest road they have traveled in their entire lives.
About two and a half hours drive away from Calapan, Mindoro Oriental is the municipality of Bansud. Another two and a half hours away by truck is Sitio Dyangdang in Barangay Conrazon. By truck I dont mean a passenger vehicle. What I mean is a banana and coconut truck, which also takes passengers if they happen to be going in the same direction. You stand, like unfortunate cattle, throughout the two hour ride. You could sit, if you prefer, as the locals do, but then you would miss the singular view.
There is no road to Dyangdang. But there is the river. The river is the road. Sometimes a dry bed, sometimes knee deep, the Conrazon Upland Access Road is the river that runs from the mountains adjacent to Mt. Halcon down to Conrazon, and is the only way, for now, in and out of the tiny settlement of Dyangdang. I managed to snap a few pictures just to give you an idea of what the view is during that river traverse. When it ended we realized our arms hurt even more than our legs, from holding on to the sides and the middle railing of the truck to keep from being thrown off the vehicle as it navigated the river.
But the end of our road was not at the small sari-sari store by the riverside, but another two-hour climb to the top of the mountain and a few minutes downhill to the other side.
It had rained the previous night and early this morning, which did not augur easy trekking. When I saw the beginning of the climb I told everyone within hearing range that I didn’t think i could make it.
We had guides who were also our porters. I had kept both cameras, the D7k and Cris’s Lumix LX5, in the bag because of the steep muddy climb, and two of the women guides practically pushed and pulled me up the mountain, and made me more surefooted than the tree branch walking stick that they provided me with.
I realized that together we had moved past the other members of this hiking party, Freemasons from the Jacques DeMolay Memorial Lodge No. 305 and Macario R. Ramos Memorial Lodge No. 355. I should have kept the pace, but then I decided to take a breather and let them catch up, twice. Doing so made me lose my momentum, and at the second rest stop I felt the dizziness come over me.
There was an “ambulance” which was a hammock made of woven rattan suspended from a pole both ends of which two able-bodied men carried on one bare shoulder. Midway through the climb I turned to Very Worshipful Paul Ibasco, DDGM of MD NCR-A and Mencius Lodge No. 93 and said that I was opting for the easy way out. I dont think anyone held it against me.
While the men and guides bore the ambulance with my kilos in overweight, I saw something that i may not have had I possessed enough strength to finish the walk on my own feet–I saw the mountainside revealing itself, and the clouds and the sea beyond it.
The last stretch of the ambulance run was downhill, and it took me a while to get my bearings, and standing up became even more difficult with this huge video camera pointed at my sweaty face, and GMA-7′s Kara David trying to help me up.
Which now brings us to why we were here in the first place. Just a few weeks prior, employees of VW Paul Ibasco’s company North Star Solutions contacted Kara David to set up a different kind of gift-giving activity for the company. As Kara went into preparations for the activity to benefit a community of Aetas in northern Luzon, she met with VW Paul himself, who asked her if she could set up a similar activity for his group. This group he was referring to, of course, was Masonic Disctrict National Capital Region-A, of which he is District Deputy Grand Master.
Kara always gave her potential benefactors a choice of where to direct their donations, and the opportunity to be present during the activity. She also made sure that the donors knew exactly what they were getting into. She also was no stranger to the difficulty of getting actual cash donations for her Project Malasakit endeavors. But when she told VW Paul about the remaining P50,000 that she had to raise to complete the solar power project for Dyandang, he silently took out his checkbook and wrote out the amount. He also asked her what else she needed for the project. After Kara had enumerated a few items, VW Paul said something that she did not expect. He said he wanted to go to the beneficiary community.
And go there he did, along with 10 other Freemasons from JDML 305 and Macario Ramos 355, and myself, JDML 305 “official photographer” for the past two years.
When we finally made it up to Dyangdang we discovered a friendly community guided by worship and whose members did not smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. The community of Dyangdang made its living mostly by agriculture and trade, made very difficult with its inaccessibiity. The community leader and pastor, Akas Altona, is a diminutive man, always smiling, always ready with a way to get things going and done. When we arrived the community had already been mustered for the distribution of medicines, school bags, slippers and toys for the kids.
Dr. Grig Misiona of JDML 305 stood beside Kara at the dispensing table and spoke to the adults in the community to make sure that they knew what each medicine was for.
He also did the rounds of those who could not be in line for health reasons.
In the evening Kara organized a community meal, some of the food she cooked herself.
After that, she and her crew put up a string of Christmas stars at the doorway of the community center, and we all watched as the electricity from the batteries powered by the solar panels lit the colorful lights.
When the day was over we settled on the pews at the community center to rest for the night. The next morning we were in for another uphill climb, not as far but uphill nonetheless, to the site where the school buildings are, where the tables and chairs donated by VW Paul were to be placed.
We watched as Kara did her spiel for I-Witness, after which she interviewed Past Worshipful Master Francis Blanco of JDML 305.
We left Dyangdang later that morning, admittedly more than eager to go back to the more comfortable life that we were accustomed to. But before we could do that we had to contend with the muddy trail made even more precarious with the previous night’s rain, and this time most of us had guides holding our hands left and right, and quite a few of us lost our footing but didn’t quite roll down the mountain, thanks to them.
This is the easy part downhill. Up ahead there’s what seemed like 90 degree drop. You have a choice of landing on your butt or sliding down a meter or two. I did both before they brought the ambulance for me again.
We knew that whatever little we had done to help was hardly enough, and when we got back to the truck I heard the Kuyangs discussing means of how a scholarship plan for the children could be put into action.
There was more to be done in Dyangdang, and hopefully, with the help of Kara David, a more sustainable means of assistance can be laid in place.
One thing was for sure. None of us who went up to Dyangdang could ever forget that extraordinary experience.
*for more of Kara David’s Project Malasakit for Sitio Dyangdang, watch I-Witness on 19 December 2011, Monday night after SAKSI.