"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Don't Order The Bacon

Batad was worth the effort. It was worth the twelve hour bus journey during which we were subjected to incredibly loud movies on video inexplicably featuring boy scouts being slaughtered with pump action shotguns. It was worth jostling up the mountain in a sidecar which constantly threatened to disconnect from its motorcycle and send us cartwheeling deep into the ravine. It was worth struggling up through the humid jungle from the motorcycle drop-off point to reach the high pass above Batad. It was worth all this distress, stress and sweat because Batad is no like no place we had ever been. 

Batad is a small village on the main Philippine island of Luzon and what makes it like no place we have ever been is that it sits at the bottom of vertiginous amphitheater of ancient rice terraces, cut off from the outside world by jungle and mountains. Only footpaths lead here and there is not nearly enough flat land for even the most psychotic pilot to land on. When we finally reached the pass and pushed aside the giant wild poinsettias we looked down on a Filipino Shangri-La, a hidden world of a thousand shades of green, gentle people, absolute peace and, as it turned out, hungry pigs. But more on that in a moment.

There was only one place to stay in the Batad valley, a small guesthouse about two thirds of the way up the valley's side. There seemed no more idyllic place in the world than the guesthouse deck looking down on the village far below and out over those incredible rice terraces. Noise was limited to chickens and, well, that was pretty much it. The stillness was uncanny. As was the darkness at night. The guesthouse and a few of the houses down in the village had generators but as fuel had to be humped in over the pass on someone's back, generator use was limited to about an hour after sunset at the most. After that it was dark. Very dark. The small flickering kerosene lanterns down in the village looked so much like the stars above that one had the disorienting sense of being suspended in the middle of outer space. With chickens. 

Our accommodation was comfortable but far from luxurious, notably with respect to the washroom facilities. We did have a sink in the room but the toilet was an outhouse. And what an outhouse. I have already mentioned that the major feature of this guesthouse was its fabulous view, well apparently the owners thought that no opportunity should be passed up to enjoy this view so the outhouse had no front wall facing the valley. It was situated in a patch of jungle on stilts, suspended over the next terrace level below. You approached it from behind, gingerly picking your way along a path that skirted the edge of the terrace, and then you sat there wide open to the valley. Only birds were able to look at you as the terraced slope in front fell away so steeply.

We got oriented to this curious arrangement during the day and came to quite enjoy it. Nighttime was another matter though. Even with a flashlight in hand it was more than a little unnerving to head down the jungle outhouse path in the pitch dark. But, my digestive system being in another time zone, one night I had to made my way over there. I was just getting ready to do what I needed to do when I heard an unexpected sound. It was a sharp rustling in the bush directly below the outhouse. As I mentioned, this place was normally utterly silent, so I was surprised. 
This was no chicken. 
I strained to listen. 
After a moment's quiet there was a crashing noise immediately beneath my toilet seat so sudden and so loud that I think I must have jumped up and let out a little yelp. I couldn't imagine what was under there. And, more to the point, why it was under there. Before full scale panic could set in I heard another sound. A grunting sound. A soft guttural grunting sound. 
I knew this sound. 
I pointed my flashlight down through the toilet hole and sure enough, there it was. 
A pig's snout. 
A pig's snout pointed up. Mouth partly open. Grunting. Happily. Expectantly. Eagerly. Hungrily.  

Yes indeed, we confirmed the next day that it was true. This was how they fed their pigs. And there was bacon on the breakfast menu. We did not order any.

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