We followed a kilometer stretch of the bed of Veto River, clambering over big rocks and balancing on mossy, slippery submerged ones as we sloshed through the shallow waters. The Ayta children were fast on this rocky trail, swimming on pools under mini-falls of crystalline water through the gaps between giant rocks when they wait for the slow trekking party.
Before we got to the river, we passed through fields thick with tall grasses, shrubs and trees. Our Ayta guides were ahead of us cutting a trail through the grasses, and overhanging branches of shrubs and trees.
The Ayta women were quick to point out plants that are beneficial to them:
|Marita shows the edible tuber of the lagyaban plant.|
- the lagyaban plant whose tuber can grow as big as singkamas (Pachyrhizus erosus, Mexican turnip). The tubers are fully grown, and thus usually gathered, in September. These are dried, grated and cooked for the eating, or as a source of 'gawgaw' (stiffening starch) for the laundry.
|Ripe alagat fruits.|
- the alagat plant whose edible red ripe fruits are sweet.
|Unripe arosip fruits.|
- the arosip, which bears clusters of round fruits, sour when green, and taste like the familiar bignay (Antidesma bunius). Probably, the plant name is derived from the similarity of the fruit clusters with the edible green ar-arosip (Tagalog lato) seaweeds.
In our first trek to the top of Palacapac Falls two months ago, Dante, the husband of the leader of the Ayta community, was apologetic that he was not able to show me the forest plant they call togatoy. We asked what was so outstanding about it, and we were stunned to hear it was viagratic.
He described this plant be like orchids or ferns anchored on tree trunks. It's the roots that are 'erectile', he said, that are cut, immersed in hot water for the stimulant drink.
The Ayta couple have eight children, and Dante attributed this to the power of togatoy. In this latest excursion to the falls, he was telling me that he and his wife each have to take a glassful of the potion for intense and prolonged lovemaking.
We will have to find the scientific identities of these plants from the National Museum botanists.
|Some kudet mushrooms gathered from the forest.|
An added feature of our mountainside excursion during this rainy season is the sighting of profusions of edible giant mushrooms under the clumps of bamboo trees. The Aytas call them kudet. The stems are tough and they have to be discarded. The cap is also a bit tough, but for easier cooking, this has to be torn into narrow strips along the gills. We found it suited for chicken broth with ampalaya leaves.
We told Dante that the next time we climb the mountainside, we will look for plants that are of value to them: for timber, medicine, or food. And he had to show me the togatoy plant for documentation purposes.
These plants and fungus are part of the life of the Ayta community. Certainly, these should be included among the cultural properties of our town when we do our cultural mapping project, which local governments are enjoined to do in partnership with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).