Going to the province at the crack of dawn gives one the opportunity to see the sunrise as the bus trawls down the almost-empty highway. Twilight moving into morning is not a gradual lightening of the sky, but rather light spilling from rips in the horizon, along with a momentary rainshower. It is a quiet adventure, making one's way across an unfamiliar landscape, where the streets are slightly different - smaller, cobblestoned, scented with rain and leaves. The movement from the city to the country is quite disjointing for someone who considers civilization to be where the nearest Jollibee is located, and yet there is also that pervading sense of quiet, of an otherworldy grace that cannot be found in the city.
Liliw is a small, unassuming town that settles at the foot of Mt. Banahaw that is best known for the amazing variety of footwear available in the area. A large, Spanish-style church dominates the horizon, and the streets are slanted and narrow. Arriving there a little before 8AM, I had the amazing privilege to be the one to wake N up and spend the entire morning just lounging around the house and helping out with the bakery. Tita Norma was cordial and kind, and gave me the opportunity to actually cook dinner for the family. Even N's god-daughter, Hazel, who is in fourth grade and consistently underfoot most of the time, is cheeky and intelligent and just amazingly fun to hang out with.
We had lunch at Anabel's, a quaint Italian cafe a couple of blocks away from the bakery which serves what might be the cheapest and most delicious chocolate milkshake I've ever had - not even Starbucks or any othe large coffee store chains in Manila can compare to a 55-peso drink that is served in a glass longer than my forearm. Afterwards, we strolled around for a bit - Liliw is a stroll-friendly town, where everyone knows everyone else - before taking a jeepney down to the next town of Nagcarlan, where we visited the palengke (wet market). Even though it was already mid-afternoon, the palengke still had several stalls with good produce, and it was definitely cleaner and friendlier than Nepa-Q-Mart (which I fear visiting in recent years and opt to go to the supermarket instead) and way WAY cheaper than what we usually get here in the city. Opting for the simple dish, we settled on adobong kangkong and porkchops for dinner. ^_^
Back home, we marinated the pork first and placed it in the fridge before following up on Tita Norma's invitation to visit their farm (more than?) a couple of kilometers into the more woodsy and farmland-y part of town. A lot of the environment reminded me of a greener version of Mintal, in Davao City: the expanse of trees and vegetation gone wild, punctuated with rice paddies and the occassional grazing carabao, the secret flower bushes. It was quite cool and peaceful as the tricycle dropped us off a vast tract of woodland that Tita Norma indicated, with her small arms stretched across to mimic length, was the land that her agricultural (?) cooperative was sub-dividing for the farmers and the laborers of the area. A large part of that land was already titled to N, and so was the farm across the rice paddies. It was quite interesting to note that he was already planning what to do with this plot of land, and that plot of land, and the hopes that the bridge between Liliw and Sta. Cruz would soon be built in order to generate traffic and hence, more people.
Getting back, N crashed into bed for a nap while I set about preparing dinner. Hazel, following me around and asking questions by the million, was a very capable assistant, and more than willing to tell me stories about her life. Dinner was quite a success - but then, I suppose, compared to the substandard food they had been buying (nobody at their house cooks, or attempts to cook, regularly), mine was quite the gourmet dish. O_o We settled down even before 9PM, but then with less than three hours of sleep, I suppose I had every right to crash after I took a bath. I was given N's room, while N and his cousin Dodong slept in the living room.
Of course, that particular arrangement never stops any hot-blooded male worth a damn, and so it was perhaps the best part of my stay there to wake up just as the sun was rising, and find N's arms wrapped around me, his body curved around mine as he breathed quietly into my hair, asleep.