A walk through a vanishing Eden

March 20, 2017

Our rented kitong-kitong bounced and shook violently as it negotiated the rough road that sliced through the forest, with the driver having this unnerving habit of not slowing down even on steep bends and abrupt dips punctuated by streams. The kitong-kitong, a refurbished tricycle with an open-top sidecar, is used to transport goods but is rather uncomfortable for passenger use, and the removable wooden seat on the sidecar gives little comfort to the passenger when the vehicle is traveling over rough roads- particularly if the same vehicle is being driven by a manic driver who seemed to care less if one of his passengers gets thrown out as he swerves abruptly.

 

And so after a seemingly endless bone-jarring episode, we reached our destination- Adams. Bounded on the east by Dumalneg in Ilocos Norte and Santa Praxedes in Cagayan on its western side, it is getting more and more known by outsiders, and visitors to Pagudpud in particular. Prior to the 1990's this was a rebel stronghold, but ever since amnesty was granted, Adams became more populated, where an amalgam of tribes from northern Luzon now thrives- Apayao, Bag-o, Igorot-Ilocano, Imalod, Itneg, Kankanaey. Still, life flows here very slowly, as if shielded from the outside world. No regular public transportation plies the roads going to Adams, which only has one barangay, although from time, motorcycles can be rented from the Pagudpud-Adams junction, that is, if one chances upon someone there waiting for a potential customer.

 

From Adams, we stopped at Bolo River where a hanging bridge was installed. Actually, there is a number of similar bridges within Adams- about 9 others and dilapidated ones can still be seen, albeit already overgrown with some vegetation. Apart from being used by the locals through walking, this serves the purpose of accommodating motorcycles when the river has swollen during the monsoon season.

 The first of a number of hanging bridges within Adams.

 The river in this part is wide, with deeper parts and stronger flows.

This other hanging bridge is currently the longest in the municipality.

This is the view of the river from that second hanging bridge. Despite being shallow and narrower than on its previous sections, that body of water can rise to several times its current depth when the rains come.

 A time of innocence and confidences. 

 Water buffaloes are allowed too by the locals to cool off in the river. 

 Rows of huts dot a small settlement.

 Continuing further, we passed this ascending path that gives a good glimpse of a small section of this bucolic municipality.

 From the view deck.

 It makes me wonder if these teenagers realize how fortunate they are to live here. But with the advent of technology and outside influences infiltrating even the remotest corners in our planet, I doubt that.

A truck filled with cargoes arrives at rural Adams.

 Kaingin, or slash-and-burn farming, is the first step in taming the land for one's use. 

 Bracket fungi colonize a rotting tree stump, in an eternal cycle of growth and decay.

 The slashing and burning, as serious as it already is, is also being committed where it should not be. This plot can, as would be expected, bring forth siltation and affect the community's water supply.

 Clumps of Blechnum egregium provide brilliant splashes of pink with their new fronds.

 Seedlings and small plants of Begonia pseudolateralis on an embankment. The silver stripes contrast nicely with the dark green leaf surfaces.

 But adult plants eventually lose the leaf markings.

 This is one of the major settlements within Adams- Sinidangan. Note though that the population here is still low. Of interest is that the locals opted to maintain the original vegetation behind the community instead of using the adjoining land for agricultural purposes. And of course, they have the near-obligatory basketball court. I will have no qualms of eventually living here!

A group portrait of Apayao settlers. When we arrived, they acted as if they knew us for a long time already, and because they were getting ready for lunch, they invited us in. The man with the dark shirt, third from left, is particularly chatty, even though neither I nor my companions can understand him. He was reeking of alcohol by the time we got there.

 Tukbu, also known as tuba (Croton tiglium), is a plant cultivated by the locals around the community. Apart from its use in folk medicine, the plant, specifically the seeds but also the leaves, are used to poison fish in the river. Affected fish are however safe for human consumption, as far as I know.

Elsewhere, the forest trees are giving way to coconuts. 

 Along the trail, I noticed a preponderance of myrmecophytes, or those plants that have evolved to maintain symbiotic associations with ants. The climbing plant below is Hoya darwinii, a species named after Charles Darwin. If you look closely, there are two types of leaves: the normal ones that have an egg-shaped outline, and those that are are more rounded and fold inwards, like an imperfect ball. The latter leaf type, called a domatia, is colonized by ants who find shelter within. In turn, the plants gain nutrients from wastes and other debris deposited by its residents, who also will defend the plants from herbivores.

 And because the plants were without flowers when I saw them, I have taken the liberty to include a photo of the blooms, taken from my Facebook account. 

 And this is Dischidia major, a relative of Hoya, albeit with smaller and not-so showy flowers. The pear-like leaves are also inhabited by ants. My apologies for the poor quality of the photo.

 And on the river where tree canopies are absent grow a gelatin-like algae that according to my guides are edible.

 

 Seen here is Mael, one of my two guides, gathering algae to be relished later at home.

 Here is another myrmecophyte, Hydnophytum formicarum, which belongs to the Rubiaceae family, that also contains familiar plants such as coffee trees, Gardenia ('rosal') and Ixora ('santan'). The white flowers are tiny and self-pollinate which readily form those red-orange berries that are in turn dispersed by ants, as well as birds. That weird-shaped caudex is a modified stem with a labyrinthine interior; you can actually see the holes that serve as entrance and exit points for ants.

 And this is the most massive Hydnophytum formicarum I have ever come across.

 A spectacular example of Haplopteris, a genus of fern with ribbon-like fronds.

 The river and its rocky banks.

 Sarcandra glabra, an attractive plant with toothed leaves, found along the banks. The brightly-colored fruits are eaten by birds.

 And this is a robber fly (Family Asilidae). Despite the resemblance to house flies, these are predatory dipteran insects that can catch its prey even in flight. The beak-like proboscis is used to puncture prey and inject neurotoxins. I am fortunate to come across this one, with its prey.

 The ubiquitous Spathoglottis plicata, perhaps the most common and widespread terrestrial orchid in the Philippines.

 Here is an interesting myrmecophyte- Hoya imbricata and its shell-like, mottled leaves. Ants dwell on the concave undersides of the leaves.

 The dangling flowers of Hoya imbricata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This climbing plant is a species of Vanilla, possibly V. raabii as we already have seen examples in flower. The most economically important is the Neotropical V. planifolia, but very little is known of the potential of other species, especially Philippine ones, for flavoring and the perfume industry.

 A species of Saurauia with flowers appearing from the branches and along the trunk, a feature termed 'cauliflory'.

 Hyaline, chalice-shaped fungi on a decaying tree stump.

 A species of Cyrtandra, from the family Gesneriaceae, which includes the house plant African Violet (Saintpaulia). Cyrtandra varies greatly in plant habit, some are dangling epiphytes and a number are shrubby. And there are species too that live close to the forest floor, such as this example.

 The carnivorous plant Nepenthes alata. Along with Nepenthes ventricosa, this was was described by Spanish friar Manuel Blanco in 1837 from plants found on Vintar, also in Ilocos Norte, and were the first two species from this genus described from the country.

 Mael and Mulo respectively, admiring the traps of the pitcher plant. They were with Belgian ornithologist Herman Nuytemans when the plant described last year as Nepenthes aenigma was discovered.

 

 This part of the river is a sign that the trek is nearing its end. 

 Until finally, at 5:12 in the afternoon and with heavy clouds looming overhead, we reached Barangay Pancian and its paved roads.

 At some point during the trek, my guides informed me that many settlers clear large tracts of land that they eventually sell to outsiders. The last vestiges of paradise is on the brink.

 

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