I'm currently enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a tall Americano at the Starbucks near our hotel in Manila. Luke has just called Rafe from the town of Solano (about seven hours north of Manila). The boys were supposed to head up to the first site and establish camp at Mt. Palai, but only seven of the 30 porters that they hired yesterday have shown up.
The boys had left ahead of me as part of the advance team yesterday. At the market in Solano, they bought our food supply, hired porters, and a local guide. Today, Rafe, Arvin, Aloy, and I are driving up to Solano. Tomorrow we were planning on making a courtesy call to the mayor of the region and then hike up to join up with the boys. Plans might change now due to the porter shortage. The decision has been made to have the boys and the 7 porters take what they can and head up the mountain. Perry, an entomology student from the Philippines, will stay behind in Solano with the rest of the gear. Rafe and Arvin will hopefully straighten out the porter situation when we arrive later today. We also have a request to bring rum, cigarettes, sharpening stones, and rubber boots. And the blowpipes that they left at the bus stop yesterday.
One of my favorite aspects of doing fieldwork in the Philippines is learning about the local folklore and beliefs. The Philippines actually has a strong history of believing in spirits and forest-dwelling creatures, and adhering to superstitious beliefs. They even have an island in the central Philippines (Siquijor Island), which is famous for its sorcerers and witchcraft. The island celebrates an annual witch festival where you can buy all sorts of potions. I am sure that at one point in time, many of these creatures were made up to keep children (and possibly husbands) from wondering from home at night. Regardless of how they originated, they are all part of the local folklore here, and so we might as well bring you up to speed on a few of the common creatures you hear about. The White Lady—She is often seen late at night roaming dark hallways in buildings. I have heard from some that she dances around in the darkness, and from others that she simply floats across the floor.
Aswang—This is one of the many mythical forest creatures. I guess that it is similar to a vampire, with some stories describing the creature as half vampire, half beautiful woman. Often I have heard that she attracts men into the forest with her beauty only to prey. Duende—Little dwarfs. I actually don’t know much about these fantastic little creatures, but what a cool name. I do know that they are sometimes blamed for small problems that arise around the home or at work. Sigbin—I am not sure if I am even spelling this correctly, but this creature is commonly heard of in the central Philippine islands. It resides deep in the forest, and feeds on humans, leaving only a pile of coal as evidence. There have been multiple instances where I have had difficultly hiring local guides to assist me in the forest surveys because of fear of becoming a pile of coal. They have what doctors diagnose as creaturecolificationobia. If you are interested in reading more about some of the many mystical creatures of the Philippines, there is a great Wikipedia entry covering many of them.