Earth Vagabonds work for Ati tribe – again – during budget slow travel adventure

I’m back to working in the Philippine jungle. Sweating my ass off. Drenched in repeated torrential downpours. Attacked by bloodthirsty mosquitos.

Still, somehow if feels right. Natural. Where I’m supposed to be right now. Working along side a handful of indigenous Ati tribesmen we first met and helped during the Covid pandemic.

You can see Charlie and Ephram (Michael) and Gary and Romel in the dreamlike photo up top – taken after we completed our project.

The other pics here show what we were doing: rebuilding the protective shelter around the drinking-water collection tank and submerged pump that supplies the Ati settlement of ‘Kurong’. The remote village is located about 160 feet up a steep jungle hillside from the pictured freshwater spring source and electric pump.

I was greatly concerned about the tank and pump when I first checked it during my current (and first) revisit to Malay, Aklan, on Panay Island in the central Philippines. As you can see, the pumphouse shelter was in pretty bad condition after three years of jungle weathering. A falling coconut or tree branch could potentially strike and break the 700-liter plastic tank. Rain water could damage the electric panel. 

When we left Malay in April 2022, as the world reopened to travel, the water supply system was in good shape — operational since June 2021. Now, it still works, but needs some TLC. The pumphouse rebuild is part of that.

First thing last Sunday morning I made the hot, slippery 40-minute mountain hike up to Kurong from my seaside rental house. The Ati guys (who all live on the hilltop) were already hard at work disassembling the rotting, sagging parts of the old shelter. In my knapsack, almost a kilo of necessary nails of various sizes from the hardware store down below.

As the first of a series of heavy showers rained down, the men – with machetés – fanned out into the harsh ravine to find suitable trees to rebuild the structure. I helped drag some of the two dozen chopped timbers through the steep, soggy, leg-scratching terrain to the worksite.

After another downpour and mosquito frenzy, Ephram suggested (via charades) that I go seek shelter. My decline and reply that I was “Ati strong” drew a good laugh from the group.

Over the next couple hours we did indeed rebuild the primitive “shed” that provides some protection against the Philippine elements. 

The tank and pump are nestled into the hillside next to the spring-water source. A strong tree-trunk barrier now again guards the tank versus the steep hill. The corrugated steel roofing sheets straightened up and reused on the roof. The electrical components tucked up high and dry. I hope the construction will last another three years at least. In this land of temperature extremes and typhoons and relentless termites, it’s the best we could do.

Of course, I gave each guy a few dollars in Philippine pesos for their excellent efforts. Sunday is the only day off from their day-labor jobs where they might make $6-$7-$8. The smiles and handshakes and photos at the end left me feeling satisfied. In the coming weeks, I plan to address a few other maintenance concerns on the ‘hilltop side’ of the water distribution system.

As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails and more beer.

Life is NOW!

Thanks for reading, “Earth Vagabonds work for Ati tribe – again – during budget slow travel adventure.”

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