Our favorite The Circle Hostel now hosts Tribes & Treks, a full-day intense tour that leads to Sitio Yangil in San Felipe, Zambales where an Aeta tribe resides. This is a regular weekend event where slots get filled up fast, so Ian and I signed up right away last November 5.

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Now, we didn’t really do any prior preps as we were thinking that this was going to be a cinch. While none of us have had any actual trekking experience that involved hours climbing a mountain (a hill in Batanes for me maybe?), the initial problem we encountered was that Ian was apparently bad with directions. The supposed 3-hour drive to Zambales extended into 4.5 hours because we were busy chatting in the car and we missed a turn.

The second problem was the trek was supposed to start at 8:00 am on a Saturday, and yet at 2:00 am we were still on the road to the hostel. You could say, Ian was terribly embarrassed and stressed out while driving while we (another passenger and I) couldn’t stop laughing about this little mishap.

The trek

I am definitely not a morning person but I had to wake up bright and early as the roundup for the tour starts at 8am. You’ll be taking a van or jeepney (in our case we brought our own car) to the meetup point before the actual trek commences.

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At 8:30 am the temperature was nearing 29 degrees, too hot that I was told carabaos are not even allowed to work or travel by 10 am because the heat becomes unbearable.

Raf Dionisio of The Circle Hostel and MAD Travel protects himself with an umbrella, a must when trekking because seriously you will burn without ample protection. Or bring a trusty cap and your reliable sunscreen, I love my VMV Armada Sport 70. Beside him is Chieftain Erese who will lead us to his tribe in Sitio Yangil.

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After an hour of trekking, we cooled down in this river while Raf explains today’s goal-driven activities: the importance of preserving the rainforest and its effects on the community.

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Did you know: 

  • Our country’s rainforests have been rapidly declining! As of 2016, only 3% of rainforests are left with most concentrated in Aurora, Quezon, Cordillera, Palawan, Bukidnon, Samar, and Surigao.
  • With rainforests, hot air during the warmer months are cooled down and then transformed into precipitation (i.e. rain) which then helps irrigate our farms, cool down overall temperature, support bodies of water, and fills our watersheds.
  • With NO rainforests, the overall temperature is undoubtedly higher, drought and the El Nino phenomenon starts happening.
  • Calamities are also manifestations of lack of trees as each tree holds about 1,000-2,000 liters of water in its roots. Without them, major flooding and landslides are bound to happen more often especially in the Philippines where we have at almost 20+ storms per year.

Most of the valleys and mountains of Zambales are barren due to Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption 25 years ago. Local trees are unable to repopulate because of the soil condition, with the drought in this area reaching 6 months. That’s 6 months of no rain, no way to grow crops or anything for that matter. The trek was in fact, a good avenue to introduce this very urgent condition to us city folk, and to make us experience first-hand how the tribes of Zambales need our help.

The Yangil Tribe

Chief Erese of the Yangil Tribe is part of one of the 9 communities in San Felipe. During this weekend, they treated us to homegrown organic food for lunch, a song & dance number, archery lessons, and old age medicinal techniques. The only way to fully empathize and understand their plight is to spend time and listen to their stories. And this is exactly what Tribes & Treks provides — the opportunity to interact with the clan whilst having fun. And oh, you won’t believe what fun we had!

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Who else tried tiyakad in high school? This contraption made of bamboo is the main sport/recreational activity of the kids. I remember trying them out in school and failing miserably.

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These beautiful kids are timid but their smiles are genuine, they were happy we visited.

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Fresh seafood, veggies, and chicken personally prepared by the tribe members, super delicious and filling!

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Having a laugh with Elder Milyang, one of the few remaining elders who can still speak pure Zambal.

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Spritely despite her old age she taught us how to dance the ancient Talipi, an energetic courtship dance that mimics animals in nature.

The solution — plant more trees!

But not just ordinary trees! Since the land is barren and the local trees are unable to grow back, Tribes & Treks have decided to plant Calliandra, a strong tree of the ipil-ipil family. It grows unbelievably fast in only 2 years, with long outstretched branches that will help provide a canopy for step 2 of the reforestation process.

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This Calliandra canopy gives shade and will help shelter the other saplings from the harsh sunlight. Its leaves also shed regularly creating mulch that brings back the nitrogen into the soil, keeping the soil moist and healthy for planting. When the soil is ready, they can employ step 2 where the team can now plant [local] prime trees that used to inhabit the area. The nursing Calliandra’s role is to protect the newer saplings while they are growing.

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How can we help?

Join the treks, bring your friends, learn more about the environment, and pitch in. If each participant in a group of 20 prepares at least 30 planter bags in an hour, then that would total 600 planter bags ready for Calliandra saplings. Our group was divided into two: planter bag preps and actual plating of the seedlings. I think we did a stellar job, whistling while we worked.

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The end goal is to reforest Zambales and replicate this method in all the other provinces around the Philippines in order to save the rainforests. This is a massive enterprise so invite your all friends to join in on the fun — we need all the help we can get!

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This was a great experience indeed and I am deliriously excited to bring in a couple of blogger friends who are flying in next year. I believe this is such a great initiative as Zambales is only about 3 hours away from Manila making the activity accessible to everyone. And the interaction with the Aetas was truly heartwarming, they were very open, friendly, and generous. And I do hope we follow suit and help them preserve their land.

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On the way back to Manila, we missed another turn and ended up back in Clark. Oh, Ian! By the way, Ian will make an appearance on my upcoming blog post on island hopping in Zambales.

If you’d like to join Tribes & Treks, please visit http://madtravel.org/ or http://zambales.thecirclehostel.com. Email zambales@thecirclehostel.com for reservations.