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Ang tikbalang

BEDDING for a Holy Thursday night atop Mount Makiling: a rice sack was spread over an embedded boulder on the river bed. The spartan spread barely covered one’s shoulders down to the hinnies. Knapsacks stuffed with a change of clothes, two pocketbooks, jungle bolo, a knife or two, some bread and writing materials became comfy pillows.

After a noon-to-dusk trudge through a terrain trenchant with thickets and thorns, saying grace before a meal of crusty monay, rock salt (for body water retention) and roasted chicken took a tad longer than wolfing such frugal chow for my 20-year old kid Kukudyu and I. We’re like that manga characters “Lone Wolf and Cub” out to learn on-site in the wilderness. ‘Twas Holy Thursday anyway. Days off can be spent in father-son bonding.

Bonding milieu is an inactive volcano rising some 1,109 meters above sea level covered with around 2,048 different plant species. The slopes of Mt. Makiling are shaped to resemble a woman reclining, hence, the air of sexy mysticism that surrounds the mountain. Legend has it that it is the profile of the sleeping Maria Makiling, a mythical goddess.

The meal was washed down with copious gulps of water gurgling off a natural spring nearby. Cool. The gurgle’s a tone too close to an infant’s titter, merry and mirthful and carefree. That sounded too fond and doting of kids.

So after a skinny dip to wash the smell of herbs and dust off our bodies, our scant beddings were made on that sloping boulder within sneezing distance off the water supply. Rise up anytime, do three or five lambada steps on mossy carpet and slake thirst with laughter-steeped water. Or have it as water-soaked laughter. Anyway, we’re not too keen on Spanish poet-mystic Miguel de Unamuno who turned up rhapsodies on languid water flowing as time.

Unamuno’s limpid verses aside, our proximity to water was meant to ward off treachery of hypothermia and thirst as we spend the night, hopefully in restful sleep. Darkness had poured in like floodwaters. That made the bonfire of fallen boughs we built more conspicuous, tossing some warmth and light. Ah, to sleep perchance to dream…

Here’s the rub. The arrangement turned out: to sleep perchance to slip.

So we tossed and turned. And we kept slipping off the bedrock. In previous camp-ins on the same site, we had ample time to cushion the bedrock—we grew fond of sleeping on that over the years of study forays in Makiling– with piles of palm leaves to be topped with sackcloth. The rock juts out like a playground slide off the damp-soggy riverbed at something like 30 degrees—acute angle, but it isn’t cute enough for sleeping in.

It seemed fun sleeping on a slide than meditation on a fakir’s bed of nails. Why, flighty Jacob—before he was called Israel-- had his robes when he plopped down the desert sand to sleep, even rested his head on probably a not-so-smooth stone as pillow. Thoughts like that made the prospects of sleeping and slipping a whit restful.

As night wore on, the steady plunge of ambient temperature down to a nippy 10 degrees Celsius compounded our discomforts. Yeah, we were not shivering. Not at all. My teeth – I’m dentally deranged, by the way-- weren’t chattering from the mid-summer chill. There was hardly a breeze browsing among the trees and bushes—no steady wind blast that can touch off hypothermia. Besides, there was the reassuring warmth off the nearby bonfire. Too, there was an awe-full shower of fireflies from the trees, set to raucous music of sorts from a croaking choir of frogs. Sights, sounds too wonderful to soak in.

And before restful sleep could set in on us, we kept slipping as we tried to latch ourselves lichen-like upon the bedrock.

Such circumstances forced us to keep vigil, not really falling asleep but slipping again and again on the rock-slide. That means Kukudyu wasn’t pulling my leg when he told me about an upright equine figure among the trees that kept watch over us through the night.

Upright equine figure? That can only be a tikbalang.


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It’s likely that no river has lain in sleep for months on that moss-grown, boulder-strewn bed—except my 20-year old kid Kukudyu and I. We were out to spend the night, do on-site learning sessions by the next day. Usual father-and-son bonding. As the late Benjamin Franklin once begged: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

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