Simple Living Has its Price: An Ode to Nagtaluntong of Lobó Batangas
My family and I went back to Lobó in Batangas province to have a break from the urban jungle and my dad’s inspection on the project site at one of the mountain barangays of the town. We went on to one of the most isolated towns in this part of Southern Tagalog region. Protected by rugged mountains and bordered by the Verde Island Passage, it seems that the town has been encapsulated in time by nature herself! When before, I had a brief visit to Malabrigo Lighthouse, this time I went off the beaten track and return to the placed I was enamored when I was in Grade 6 and a realization of an uphill countryside struggle for survival.
Lobó seems to be a very unfamiliar town in Batangas, partly because of its isolated location. Back at my elementary days, I find it funny that there is a town on the elementary school map named “Lobo” named after a balloon or a wolf. The town itself is situated in a coastal plain flanked with rugged mountains and a river beside it. According to the locals, the town’s name came from the Tagalog (or Spanish) word meaning “wolf.” I have doubts with its etymology although it may take some research to at least theorize a possible and more plausible origin of it.
Anyway, the town itself is a small and rustic one. Agriculture and fishing are the major economic operators here—and tourism is up and coming. Looks like its simple living that is the forte here. A small public market, a plaza, a town hall, several new and Spanish colonial houses and a church makes up the entire población or town proper. Di ka maliligaw—you’ll never get lost and looks like I have the feeling that people here know each other well, just like in my home province. Well, for such a town with a big land area, it has only around more than 35,000 as according to the latest census.
The day we went to Lobó, we went to the project site near Barangay Nagtaluntong, some few kilometers away from población. We went on a 4×4 pick-up truck of the company my dad’s working with. Traversing the river and crossing and going all the way to the steep, narrow and muddy trail to the mountains! The most thrilling was the ascent—note: narrow, muddy and steep. The cliff is just a few meters beside the road!
Besides the ride to the rugged mountains, one thing that caught my attention was the greenery all over! Isolation yet so near to Manila! Lovin’ it!
Because agriculture is the main economic driver of Lobó, Batangas, it was interesting to note on how upland products are being carried downstream. Most of the people in the upper part of the barangay prefer to take horses instead of cars to carry bananas, atis, veggies and a whole lot more.
The system of pricing also changes. Farmers sell their goods to the middlemen just located at the other side of the river for a cheap price. Then these traders or middlemen carry it all the way to población, Batangas City or even as far as Divisoria! Let’s cite an example: Manong Pilô sold his 2 baskets with only five pesos per bunch to the traders at the bagsakan. The traders there then sell these bananas with 10 pesos per bunch at Divisoria or FTI in Taguig. The traders from Divisoria or FTI then will sell it to different markets of Metro Manila for 15 pesos. Ganyan ang negosyo from the mountain farms to your table!
Going there was one tough ride, but for the residents, it’s just like a stroll at a park. I’ve talked to a resident of Nagtaluntong and said that kids manage to walk the rugged trails all the way to school just at the foot of the hill—that’s for elementary students my dear. High school students there have to cross the river – take note: NO BRIDGES! When it floods, walang pasok! When someone is sick, he or she has to be carried by foot all the way to the town proper. You’re lucky when you have a horse or a 4×4 jeep on you. As another resident would say, “magkakasakit na lang sila dito, minsan dito pa lang inaabutan na sila ng kamatayan nila.” (They’ll get sick here, sometimes death even reaches them.”)
It was only 15 years ago when electricity came into their barangay. Before that, gaseras and candles rule the night.
It has made me think that despite the tranquility and the greeneries an urban dweller like me were craving for so long, these people don’t have a decent access to the social services that we have back at the city! No wonder, my parents, both provincianos, teach us the importance of perseverance and physical work—they too were on their situation.
The family that we’ve visited was generous enough to give us two heavy-sized organically grown pumpkins and a live white chicken. For such a gesture, we thank them a lot—that I promise myself to come back in this secluded Shangri-la, at least this time bring in something in return.
From Nagtaluntong’s mountainous side we descended. I’ve longed for such simple life that they have—something that an urban dweller like me would like to have, something that I envy with those who were born at the provincia. However, I realized that these isolated pockets of our country survive by striving hard—physically. We boast that we have one of the highest literacy rates in Asia, yet the children themselves struggle to walk for more than an hour in the treacherous trails and even cross the rivers. Health is another issue that seems to be far from for these mountain dwellers.
As we went back towards the poblacion, I went back to the provincia with a sense of fulfillment, joy yet mixed with pity and the fury to do something. My message is clear—education, health and accessibility is needed by the people! And just hope that within this new administration, we make these rural countryside communities more accessible to these basic social services. I like to go back to Nagtaluntong sometime soon… Simple provinciano Filipino living has its price, just like city dwellers have—it is just the way we bargain in order to survive. Yet the Filipinos don’t just surrender, they fight, they persist and they persevere–not only to survive, but also to progress.
And so we’re off…going back to Manila on another route, beside Verde Island Passage and back to a place where I dearly remember and love. Its also another road less traveled.