I think I was delirious. Racing through my mind, incongruous thoughts; Venice, Italy, my Harley Davidson, Donald Trump, ice hockey, COVID-19, Cisco stock options, Edgewater Park in Cleveland, Ohio, cold beer… always cold beer.
Meanwhile, I’m baking in the sun and heat, completely out of breath, drenched in sweat, arms and legs aching. Try carrying cinder-blocks uphill on a loose, rocky, dirt path in the Philippines and this is how you will likely end up – or worse.
For the last two days I’ve helped deliver the building materials that we purchased and donated to the indigenous Ati tribe here in Malay, Aklan on Panay Island. The supplies were dropped off at the end of the paved road, more than a mile (as the crow flies) below the mountain-top Ati village. The only further transport: human toil.
Of course, the younger Ati tribe members didn’t seem to have much problem. A bunch of 16 to 20 year-olds went up and down repeatedly – sometimes scampering with bags of sand atop their heads. And even the older Ati leaders knew how to carry wood and hose and cement without ‘dying’, like me.
The Ati are a strong, hearty people who settled in this area of the Philippines some 30,000 years ago. Sadly, they are now marginalized and economically disadvantaged. We’ve come to know and help them while we pause our global travels due to the worldwide pandemic.
Carrying cinder blocks, and other supplies
As everywhere, the virus lockdown deprived the Ati of work and wages. And on Christmas Day, 2019, typhoon Ursula damaged various Ati community infrastructure. We are helping them rebuild.
Some materials for their water systems, electrical service, and damaged buildings were impossible to find. The COVID-19 shutdown has disrupted the supply chain from Manila. Improvisation is required.
But no matter what supplies are used, they have to be carried – by hand/foot – hundreds of meters up into the mountains on uneven, steep, winding, dirt footpaths. I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it.
Carrying just two cinder-blocks (called hollow-blocks here) was so difficult, I had to stop every 45 to 60 seconds for a rest of at least equal length. The first time, the 30 minute walk took nearly 80 minutes total. I was able to fashion ‘handles’ from wooden sticks to speed up the second haul. But the exhaustion was the same.
With the blocks, I was back to my USA weight, around 200 pounds. It made me wonder how I was able to function – lugging around 25 to 30 extra pounds? Thankfully, 45 years of playing ice hockey gave me stamina and leg strength. But I can easily imagine how obesity might impair one’s lifestyle. Wise up, America. Stop eating!
Ongoing, slow-going assistance
Finally, while the weighted hike was unpleasant, after a spring water dousing, the Ati chief and I explored a trickling stream bed and did locate a small ‘second’ spring up higher in the mountains. We’re hopeful that a second source might ease the difficulty of getting drinking water for the Ati. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, work on the other repairs and upgrades will continue. And whatever materials are necessary will be brought up ‘the hard way’ – on somebody’s back. Sitting here now typing while achy and sore, I can confidently say it won’t be mine again. That way, I won’t be subject to another episode of hallucinogenic exhaustion.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!
Reminder: this is an independent blog. Unlike other travel bloggers, we do not do this to make money. We blog to tell our American friends and families about the people who live in other countries with different cultures. Also, Earth Vagabonds strongly advocate for travel when international borders reopen.
Thanks for reading, “Carrying cinder blocks up mountain with indigenous Ati tribe.”
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