Monthly Archives: July 2014

Return to Catigan

Poor old me left Catigan in quite a state. I was injured from a motorbike accident as described in Crash.

Still, my own flesh and blood are in Catigan so naturally I was to return. I spent 4 months in Cavite enjoying the comfort of a bed again and water from the tap whilst I recovered. I left Cavite and moved to Valenzuela City and then back to Catigan for another four-month stint. This time, I was much more ready to learn.

Back to a familiar place

Back to a familiar place

It was nice to return to a more stable environment. Last time I came, we were not in our own place. We found our house on my last visit and it was good to return to the same place. I was promptly told of a rent increase from P300 pesos a month to the astronomical rate of P400 pesos a month (under $10).

Catigan Life

This time around, I took much more notice of the way of life here in Catigan. Unsurprisingly, it is pure farming country. Very often, land remains in family hands generation after generation and for them, that’s security. I certainly never became any kind of expert, but I got a glimpse into how these people survive. Catigan is a fruit basket with abundant land all turned over to varying vegetable crops and fruits and small scale livestock.

Some people own the land they farm and live on while others are tenants or sometimes working for the landowner, managing the land with accommodation provided. Sometimes, families build extra houses on their land to accommodate relatives. I came across quite a few places where the land is totally occupied by a family from granddad and grandma right down to great grandchildren.

Many people work often on a temporary basis as and when required and remain without work between various harvests, and others have regular daily employment. The land is utilized for sellable crops such as corn, beans, cassava, peanuts, sweet potatoes, radish and loads of tomatoes among other crops. It doesn’t seem to do so well with many root vegetables due to the soil.

Fruit trees abound but the main product is young green Coconuts (buko) as well as Jackfruit or for parts of the year the famous durian,  fruit of Mindanao for which Davao is well known. Bananas are also everywhere and each tree has an owner. Bananas are a fast crop whereas a coconut tree takes 10 years before it will give fruit good enough to sell. The payback though is many, many years of being able to utilise everything on the tree, and I do mean everything. It’s said there are 165 uses from a coconut tree. An extra one is the local intoxicant Tuba, or as many referred to it to me as coconut wine. I shall go into that in another article soon.A coconut tree will give fruit for up to eighty (80) years and longer but I don’t know at what age the fruit becomes not good enough for selling. When it has served its purpose, it is cut down for coco lumber. Throughout its life, every part of the coconut tree is utilised and one of the most lucrative uses is cutting out the meat for copra.

The meat is cut out by hand

The meat is cut out by hand

I used to worry myself to death when I was with the boys as they simply make a hole, a deep one and fire it with dried coconut casings/husks and it was like looking into the bowels of hell.

Doorway to certain death

Doorway to certain death

The twins being around that just makes you realise the horrendous possibilities as there would not be exactly a health and safety practice going down so I didn’t hang around and took the boys home. The consequences of a child falling into a burning pit like that would mean certain death. I only got glimpses into the process and didn’t see as much as I would have liked to. Copra is one of the many by-products from a coconut and it fetches a very decent price when dried. The shell casings are also dried and sold.

The Drying Process

The Drying Process

The Sweetly Rancid Durian

You will find much talk about durian online. I remember a small feature about it once on British TV many moons ago and remember it being described as disgusting smelling yet tasting wonderful. For me, it depends on the durian. I was given ones I enjoyed and others I didn’t like so much, they seem to vary a lot and freshness is essential when it comes to eating durian. They have a short shelf life and are messy to eat in the sense of sticky but people love durian. The short shelf life is probably the reason you don’t see them in the west. As for the smell, well, it’s not exactly nice but it’s not as bad as some make out. I do remember once though back in Manila, someone put one inside the refrigerator. Every time I opened the door, I nearly fell. Yes, if intensified by being in a refrigerator, it’s disgusting to smell. Other times, I’ve been riding past a street stall selling durian and the smell can even be good. I guess it depends how your nostrils are wired. The smell is quite bearable, but definitely not in your fridge.

Getting by

On regular days, the buyers turn up at the road where the fruits and vegetables have been brought up by carabao. The landowner takes his share; the caretaker gets the rest from which he pays the workers. Nobody seems to be getting too rich from it but it’s a living and that’s how life goes on in Catigan.

To supplement, many keep small amounts of livestock mainly pigs, goats and chickens. Again, nobody gets rich from it but it’s a guarantee of having food and extra income when they grow to the size that the market in Toril will buy them. They take pigs from thirty (30) kilos upwards and some are kept for breeding.

My two little friends i nicknamed Pinky and Perky

My two little friends i nicknamed Pinky and Perky

Ideally, a pig fetches its best price when it gets to around 30 kilos and is used for Lechon and when it’s that size (30 kilos), it fetches around P80 pesos (under $2) a kilo. A massive 80-kilo pig does not get such a good price per kilo as the meat is regarded as not as good.

Common sights are goats tied to stakes as you wander around. Catigan is lush. The beauty of a goat is you don’t need to buy feed. Well, from what I’ve read online goats need their diet supplementing a little but here they just seem to leave them to graze. Knowing goats are herd creatures, it was a little sad to see them always staked and out of contact with other goats.

They move them around for fresh pasture and they feed themselves. A kid can be bought for around P1,000 pesos (around $23) and sold for over P2,000 pesos. I believe it takes not much over a year before they are ready for market. I liked the idea of doubling your money without having to buy feed. I have little idea if it’s actually as simple as that but of course if it was something anyone would consider doing, they would naturally find out a few basic facts about goats first before they went on to the next level. It’s not a long wait till they are ready for market. After around a year, you can breed and you may get lucky and have 2 or more kids for the future. So, from very few goats you can self supply and again you won’t get rich but it’s worth doing.

Chickens are outside many people’s homes but I didn’t see anything on any large scale. Chickens are kept mostly for the pot and a few eggs although they are bought and sold locally but its small scale or at least on the purok I was living. I saw some less common types of livestock such as turkey and geese but when I asked the owner if it’s for market, I was answered no but just for themselves.

It would take me years to learn anything solid about their farm management techniques and four (4) months observing and asking only taught me so much. It held a quiet fascination for me and I observed its efficiency although it never fully convinced me it would be a good project for an expat with a few dollars to invest in.

That’s how it is for the majority, enough to live, not well but they get by. Advantages of living in an area like this are free water even if you have to carry it yourself, its free and far sweeter tasting than anything I’ve had from a tap. Water is provided from local springs.

Charcoal was becoming another successful venture locally and on the increase, still most people cook using wood which is just lying around everywhere including coconut tree fronds which fall to the ground with regularity. You simply dry them and after trimming you have fire accelerant great for boiling a kettle quickly and the wood is ideal for cooking.  Another thing I learnt was it is far easier to cut wood when it’s slightly wet. As time goes on, you start to enjoy the extra effort you have to put in for the most basic of needs like firewood and water but you don’t mind as there isn’t much else to do. I hardened up by the day.

I had got a lot better at managing the terrain and I learnt that it’s easier to walk through mud barefoot than on a flip flop and knowing that isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s standard everywhere to wear flip flops in the Philippines but if you get caught out in a shower, then the chances of getting home without falling on your arse a dozen times are slim in a place like this part of Catigan.

I got a lot better but noticed that locals manage the terrain much easier than I ever could even though I had got better. After falling down, slipping around on wet and muddy flip flops, I took them off. It was much easier to walk barefoot. Then came a time when my flip flops broke so I had to go around awhile without them. I got into it. My feet adapted but it’s not stones or concrete so it’s not that difficult.

Future Journeys

I just touched the edges of life here. I learnt much, but there was so much more to learn. I had probably absorbed 3% of it. I did learn enough to appreciate the way of life here but I would not be a great teacher. Catigan is just one tiny part of the Philippines. Like many places here, it has its uniqueness.  Mindanao in particular is immensely diverse.

I write these pieces aiming my sights at foreigners who are considering a visit or even planning to stay here. Catigan, and its way of life, has its negatives as well as positives. In future articles, I intend to highlight some failings and give some reasoning as to why some of the problems are here. I also want to introduce some alternative options for foreigners as regards to life in the Philippines.

Catigan for a business venture? I shall go a little more into that in the next article. The positives and the negatives seem to cancel each other out. Most likely, the same can be said about much of the Philippines for varying reasons. This is an opportunity to show some alternative ideas as to how to live here. It can also highlight how difficult it can be, too.

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