We were scheduled for a forum on human rights and mining in Brgy. Pao in Nueva Vizcaya, one among several government-neglected communities large scale mining companies so eagerly want “explored” for minerals, and predictably later, exploited.

So I spent a good part of my cherished weekend at work choosing the appropriate photos, slide designs and animations that I thought would make learning human rights concepts, perspective, and analysis fun and easy. And…well, I had so much fun with Powerpoint I’d never been so engrossed! Didn’t even mind that the preparations extended until Monday night, giving me just enough time go home, pack my stuff, pick up my officemate, and head off to the terminal of the bus company whose name contributed to making me feel..hmmm, victorious.

Just before midnight, we were on a seven-hour road trip to Bayombong. Anticipating the cold weather of the mountains, I had brought a thick red sweater which I had donned upon our departure as I settled in my seat for a comfortable long snooze. But as the aircon’s coldness seeped in, I thought frozen chickens were luckier for being absolutely dead and dressed down. I was twisting and turning trying out all conceivable positions to stop the shivers. Why do busliners subject their customers to such sheer cruelty?????? They must have read my mind (or suffered innumerable passenger rants), they finally switched off the aircon whose lowest temp had wrinkled even our toes.

We arrived on schedule and rested for a few hours in Ate Emi’s house. Before lunch, we were off to the next town, Bambang, where we had a quick meal before boarding another passenger jeepney that would take us on a three-hour drive to Pacquet.

We got off right across Manong Dony’s doorstep. Along with Manong “Bise”, whose nickname was derived from the position he holds in the local people’s organization (PO), Mang Dony warmly received us into his home. After an hour of rest, we were ready for the trek to Brgy. Pao – our final destination.

Our hosts candidly informed us that Brgy. Pao was a mountain away. They also said it only takes one hour by foot to get there. What’s one hour? We were undaunted. One hour under the scorching heat of midday sun? Nah, chickenshit!

Knapsack and sling bag on my determined pulsating bodymass, I trudged forward, getting ahead of the pack. Sweating profusely as I put into good use what I know of yogic breathing, I motivated myself with the thought that heat and steep will make me fit.

Half an hour later, our staccato breaths and cramped muscles were thankful for the brief break in the shady spot where a small hut of Manong Dony stands. We were served with a bowl of seedless citrus, the province’s main agricultural produce ad arguably the juiciest I’ve ever tasted. Citrusatiated, we posed for a group pic.

We resumed our trek and tried to take everything in stride, so to speak. Later, later.. Drizzle. Uh-oh. Here comes that rain. That daily afternoon shower that has made the dirt road to PAO impassable. Good thing there was a nearby sari-sari store. We sat in the bench among the other stranded locales, took shelter from the unrelenting rain, and sang along to the oh-so-familiar videoke tunes that rang out from the store’s basement.

One and a half hours later, we braved the mild drizzle concerned that dark might come before we reach our destination. What followed was, by far, the most challenging trek any one of us officemates has experienced.

Wet, sticky, muddy, pebbled road proved to be very tricky for our tsinelas-clad feet! I knew beforehand that tsinelas in Ilonggo were referred to as “smagol” precisely because in earlier times they were among those “smuggled” goods. But only then did it occur to me that the English names of tsinelas may have been legitimately based on dangerous but highly probable incidents. I had to be extra careful (read: sloooow and suuuuuure) lest I slip, flip and flop on my face!

It was nearly seven o’clock in the evening when we finally reached the school clinic, where we were to be lodged for the next two days. It seemed however that the heavens were not about to shortchange us on our grueling experience. Some fifteen minutes away from the finish line, another downpour! Ahhh. We’ve officially earned and deserved our bragging rights! bragging rights!The lack of electricity isn’t even worth mentioning.

The entire travel and hike experience gave us a natural high. Nothing could have made us more prepared and inspired for next day’s work.