Chapter 24: Our Second Trip to Abra, Part 1

When we returned to Manila, rejoicing in having found our tribe, we received word that our visa status had been upgraded from visitor to 9-G Pre-arranged Employment, exactly what we had been praying for. Quite a present for our July 19th 25th wedding anniversary! We celebrated by having dinner at a fancy restaurant which had a floor show of Philippine folk dances. We appreciated all of those who had faithfully persevered in praying for this visa change as well as finding the tribe we would be working with.

A translation orientation workshop sponsored by SIL was next on the agenda. It was held at SIL’s southern base at Nasuli, on Mindanao, the southern large island of the Philippines. There, experienced translators gave us and other new translators all kinds of helpful information to prepare us for going into a new tribe.

Following the workshop, with the information we had gained, we went back to Manila and bought groceries the first part of August. We expected to go to Tineg in a week or two. We considered the possibility that, because of the rains, we might not get back out to civilization till February, so we bought enough groceries to last for six months, according to our estimation of needs. We shipped about 40 cartons to Marcopper Mining Company in Bangued, Abra where the American in charge had told us we could use their facilities. We went back up to Aparri to get things we needed to take with us to Abra. One thing we felt we needed to have in our home in Abra was a chest of drawers, so we had that made in Aparri. When that and all else was ready, it was Monday, August 26th, so we left Aparri with 26 pieces, including suitcases, footlocker, duffle bags, small hand bags, cartons, and the chest of drawers.

All went well until we came upon a terrible landslide at the northern tip of Luzon that made it impossible for the bus to get through. Was this something Satan had caused to happen so we wouldn’t be able to get to Abra? Or was it the Lord, trying to tell us not to go there? We decided to go ahead if there was a way. Eventually, we would learn the reason for this thing.

We got out of the bus to see what we should do about our cargo. Would it be possible to get it across the barrier? As we looked down the place where the landslide had gone, we could see the ocean quite a ways down below us. It would be scary to attempt to cross this area on foot, let alone to carry our luggage and all the stuff we had across it. However, although we had to pay en exorbitant price, P50/$7.50, to have our cargo carried, we had it done. It was about onehalf mile, or maybe a little less, over the slide to a bus on the other side, a minibus, which also charged P50 to carry it the rest of the way to the town of Laoag in the province of Ilocos Norte, the next main stop. The distance from Aparri to the landslide was about half the distance from Aparri to Laoag, and the first bus, a Philippine Rabbit, had charged about P10 to carry it the whole anticipated distance from Aparri to Laoag. Instead of P10, we ended up paying P110.

The road we went on to get to Laoag was the same we had taken before to go to Abra. It went around the perimeter of the northern edge of the island of Luzon. The ocean was on our right most of the time. I did not mention before that sometimes we would go inland and leave the ocean for a while and see beautiful mountains on every hand. The trees were lovely, and we marveled again at such lovely scenery.

When we reached the bus station in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, it was late in the evening, but we decided to take another bus on to Bangued later that same night. Between waiting for that bus and the bus ride itself, the whole night was spent. The next day, we again had the ocean to our right most of the time, and finally came to the Abra River where there was a tall cliff on one side. The river was a deep blue-green color and very beautiful. The road went to the right as we crossed the tall bridge there, and a few miles later, we got to the road that went to Abra. Following that road finally brought us to the city of Bangued, the capital of Abra.

Bangued was not a very large town, but it was the largest town in Abra, and it was there the people went to get their groceries for carrying to their homes in the mountains. It was also there we would stay until we could meet with the mayor of Tineg and make arrangements to transport our stuff up to the mountains. There was only one hotel we knew of, so we stayed there at first. It was on the main plaza of Bangued, the plaza being a park around which the main buildings and businesses of the town were set up. The Municipal building was at one end, as well as other government offices. A large Catholic church was at the other end of the park.

The hotel was not large, and the beds smelled quite musty. At night, music played loudly from a nearby disco, and it was hard to sleep unless we were really too tired to care. Somehow we became
acquainted with the Marcopper Mining Company executives, and they invited us to come and stay at their office whenever there was room. The Marcopper complex was in a quieter area of Bangued and the bedding was nice and fresh, so we took them up on it and appreciated their thoughtfulness.

We went to the municipal building to get a map of the province so we could know the lay of the land in Abra, and know where to go. We asked lots of questions regarding anything we wanted to do, and learned a wealth of information about the places we were to visit.

We had already been to Agsimao, the poblacion of Tineg to investigate the place, and now we were coming back to actually live there, or at least make the attempt to get our cargo up there in order to live there. We had a house promised to us to live in when we got there, and planned that after living there during the rainy season, we would build our own home. We would even build an airstrip so we could have an SIL plane fly us in and out so we wouldn’t have to hike in and out every time.

The mayor of Tineg was in Bangued when we got there, so we met him and talked to him about going up to Agsimao. We asked him how much it would cost per kilo to have our cargo carried from Bitwen to Agsimao. Bitwen was the location of the Reforestation Agency station, where people get off the bus to hike to Tineg. The men there were especially kind and helpful, letting us use their warehouse to store our cargo and letting us use their beds to sleep in when we were there. The mayor said he did not know, but would go to Tineg, call a meeting of the men, discuss it with them, and arrive at a price that would be fair to all. Then each man could carry as much as he wanted to carry at that rate. The mayor himself had to go to Manila on business, so the Vice Mayor carried the message to Tineg.

Chuck made a special trip to Manila to withdraw all the money we had in our bank accounts, mission and personal. We wanted to be sure we had the maximum amount of money available to finance the move. He left a few pesos in the accounts so they wouldn’t be closed. A few days later when he returned, we bought a few more items in Bangued we thought we would need for housekeeping. That left about P1,000 when we started to move, which we felt would be enough.

On Monday, September 2, using the jeep of Mayor Benwaren and a trailer borrowed by his driver, we took most of our cargo to Bitwen, 44 kilometers east of Bangued. It was 19 kilometers of paved road to Lagangilang, the last lowland town, then 25 kilometers into the mountains over a BAD road to Bitwen. A kilometer is 5/8 of a mile.

On this trip, in the mayor’s jeep, the cover we had put over our cargo to keep it inside the trailer came loose, and seven cartons fell off. We didn’t notice at the time. Probably they fell over the cliffs, because if they had fallen where there were no cliffs, we would have seen where they fell. The next day, the guys bringing the rest of our stuff found one of our missing cartons along side of the road. We never heard anything of the rest, and from time to time, we missed certain things, and we always thought these things must have been in the cartons that were lost at that time. When I said the road was BAD after Lagangilang, I mean it was VERY BAD. It was not paved but was a dirt road. On a later trip we made in the rainy season, we rode in a military vehicle. The road was so muddy, the ruts so deep, even that truck got stuck. When that happened, we had to wait until a tractor came along and pulled us out.

On Monday morning before we left Bangued, we had an announcement put on the radio to the Vice Mayor saying we were going to Bitwen with our cargo. Because of the distances, inaccessibility, and lack of communications in most of Abra, the radio station made public service announcements for groups and individuals. In Bitwen we learned there is an established rate for carrying cargo from Bitwen to Lacub, the town about halfway to Tineg, of 30 centavos per kilo. A kilo is 2.2 lbs., so we figured that 50 centavos per kilo to Tineg would be fair, and 60 centavos per kilo would be generous. On Wednesday morning, two people arrived, an old man and a boy. Through a translator we asked how much they wanted to carry.

The man, the spokesman, didn’t know. We got out four cartons of different sizes. He selected one weighing 12 kilos (26 pounds) and offered to carry it for P20. We offered P6 (50 centavos per kilo), then P7. We told the translator to tell him his price was too high, and he knew it, and so did we. I don’t know what he told him. The old man said no more but turned and left, and they went back to Tineg empty-handed. Chuck and I held a quick conference and concluded two things:

1) There had been a complete misunderstanding of the message the mayor sent to Agsimao regarding the payment of cargo carriers. Our statement to the mayor, “They can carry as much as they want at the agreed rate,” had gotten through to the people as something like, “You can carry as much as you want and get as much as you want for it.” (Weeks later, another non-SIL translator, Chuck Alianza, suggested another explanation: That man never intended to carry cargo; he was only a contact man who had come to see what our best offer was.)

2) The old man would go back and tell everyone there was a misunderstanding that they couldn’t get what they wanted, and no one else would come.

So we decided to return to Bangued and talk to Mayor Benwaren, who was due back from Manila that day. We got there, but he didn’t. He arrived Friday morning. He had gotten sick in Manila, he thought with the flu, and was still not well. We decided to wait until he was stronger before talking with him.

Saturday afternoon a girl arrived from Bitwen and said fifteen men were waiting for us. We couldn’t understand why they were there. (Chuck Alianza later told us it meant that they had accepted our offer and were willing to carry cargo at that rate.) After we got back up to Bitwen, the translator between Chuck and the old man told Chuck that he had found out that the old man thought Chuck was offering P60 per carton. Chuck wondered who was responsible for that, seeing that he was the one who had translated for us.

Then we talked with the mayor, and he said that we must go to meet them. He would let us use his jeep and driver for the cost of the gas. It was then 5 P.M. and too late to go that day (almost nothing moves after dark). We went to the market and bought rice, vegetables, and fish to take to them, and agreed to leave the following morning at 4:30. At 5:00 the jeep hadn’t come for us, so Chuck went to see why. They were just returning from taking the mayor to the hospital. He had gotten worse during the night. He was diagnosed as having hepatitis. It was 5:30 A.M. when we got started, and 7:20 A.M. when we reached Bitwen. Only four cargadors were still there; the rest had already headed back. These four selected their loads and left, having agreed on a price of 60 centavos per kilo. We decided that I should stay at Bitwen and consign items to the men as they came. Chuck went on to Tineg, though he didn’t attempt to stay with the cargadors.

While I was at Bitwen waiting for cargadors to come and carry our cargo, the men at the Reforestation Agency said I could use their bedroom. That was great. It had a bed in it and a mirror, and a small table. The bed had a mosquito net on it, too, so that was good. The weather was quite cool, so I was very thankful for that.

However, there were little tiny insects that flew around. They were called “No-See-ums” and they used the mosquito net for flying practice to get through and land on my hands and face. I had covered the rest of my body with my pants, long-sleeved blouse, socks and heavy-duty boots, but my hands and face were still exposed to the air. These tiny insects were about the size of a pin point, so they were very difficult to see, and when they bit me, their bite was extremely itchy. I put on Caladryl Lotion to stop the itching, but it wasn’t enough to do the job. I asked the men there what they did to stop these insects from biting, but they just laughed and said they were used to them and they didn’t bother them anymore.

Someone suggested I get some wood and burn it in the room and let the smoke come my way, and the insects would go away. They let me use a large frying pan to put the wood in, and I started a fire at the foot of my bed. Well, that was a good idea, and it did the job, but eventually, the smoke was worse than the bites, so I gave up on that. I now had bites all over my hands and face, and when Chuck finally came to get me, he said he couldn’t find a place to put the tip of his finger on my face without hitting at least one of those bites. And that’s when I told him, “The Lord has shown me there are some things worse than heat.”

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