Thursday, March 29, 2007

Batad, Bangaan, and the Bitternut

Today I woke up early again, this time to see the much hyped terraces in Batad. I paid a guy with a motorized tricycle to take me and my guide up to the trailhead, as there are no roads going into Batad. After forty five minutes up a windy dirt road through the jungle, he dropped us off and agreed to meet us that afternoon. We began hiking at a brisk pace and soon cleared a substantially high pass to descend in upon the valley of Batad.

We descended for half an hour, and soon emerged onto a ridgeline dropping steeply into the famous "amphitheater" that is so famous. This was the rice terraces to end them all! Truly a beautiful sight to behold. He took me along a trail high above the town, and soon the rice fields were disappearing again. This next trail took us to Bangaan, another village famous for its terraces and airy views.

It was a beautiful hike, but stiflingly hot. Needless to say, I got terribly sunburned, despite all my sunscreen. I would rank it among the best hikes I've ever taken, were it not for the sticky hot weather and the sun frying my epidermis to a crisp raisin-like consistency.

We finally arrived at Bangaan, about two hours ahead of schedule. We had hiked about 20-24 kilometers, and we were exhausted (or at least I was). We hid under the porch of somebody's house/storefront for about two hours, because he had told the driver to pick us up two hours after we actually got there.

So we had two hours to kill. He promtly pulls a packet of something out of his pocket. At this point I should mention when this "guide" first found me, the fellow looked as though he had just lost a couple of teeth to the dentist. I was thinking to myself, "Did he just get out of a barfight ten minutes ago? That would explain his missing tooth and all the blood on his lips, wouldn't it? His teeth and lips were stained bright red with something bloodlike. He was kinda freaky looking actually.

After a little while, I saw him spitting something out of his mouth, and he told me it was tobacco. It didn't look to be the color of chewing tobacco, but I saw two other people spitting it on the street later that day, and indeed, it was the same red color. I saw stains all over the street from where they were spitting it.

And now, back to this afternoon, when we are waiting for our ride. He pulls out something he calls "a bitternut." About the size of a wallnut, with the consistency of a dried coconut and the taste of chalky tonic water. It was indeed bitter. He shows me how to peel the skin off (just like a coconut) and he says to chew the greyish contents. Not wanting to be rude (and being genuinely curious), I begin chewing on it.

This is when he pulls out some other kind of leaves and a white powder he calls "lime." The lime came in a tiny plastic bag. He scoops up about a quarter teaspoon of the lime powder. After my skeptical looks and his insistence that it is both completely safe (and legal) I put the lime covered leaf in my mouth and begin chewing it with the wad of bitternut. The lime tasted like hot curry powder concentrate. My tounge was now on fire. Then he gives me a tobacco leaf and tells me to add that to the mix.

After 5 minutes of chewing on this burning gunk, several things began to happen in the following order:

1. Due to my lack of skill at chewing and spitting this concoction, I dribbled nasty reddish crud all over my favorite t-shirt, shorts, and shoes. I have a feeling it won't come out.

2. I gagged on this nonsense every 2 minutes.

3. I began to get high. Really high. Not like a little buzz, but like, well... something else completely. He kind of hinted that it would make me high, but I had no idea. I sat down after my head started spinning, and focused all my remaining mental powers on not gagging and trying not to drool masticated dreck all over myself. I failed miserably.

4. I finally started to feel sick, and before barfing all over the hot, dusty road, I spit the whole mass out, drank the last of my water, and focused on not barfing.

When we finally did get back, the guide showed me the stuff in a market in town. They were selling it everywhere, so I figure it must be legal around here. They sold a little packet of the stuff for practically nothing. I almost bought some, but then I thought better of it.

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