Saturday, August 02, 2008

Other side of the mountain

SHORT cuts rarely work.

When the hubby and I took an approximately 40-kilometer detour from the town of Alcoy in the southeast to Alegria in the southwest, we were trying to shave off travel time and expense. A route via Carcar or Oslob would take thrice as long, and make us late for an early afternoon appointment in Alegria.

We left the timeworn but picturesque convent near the Poblacion of Alcoy a few minutes before noon. We coasted down the slopes of Montpeller, a short distance away from the Alegria town center, before 1:30 p.m.

The trip would have been shorter had the way not been so distracting.

In the '80s, a four-wheel drive, motorbike, horse or a sturdy pair of legs brought us close enough to brush the "ceiling" in the south.

But though we could see as far as we wanted to while standing at the summit of sitio Libo in Barangay Lepanto or Barangay Nug-as in Alcoy, we were stalled then from taking an unbroken east-west sojourn across the mountains for lack of roads.

It was rumored that there was more than one trail used by those pushing the illicit trade of marijuana on both sides of the southern range. But we sought nothing more exciting than the nip of mountain air and the mystique of fogs that descend from nowhere. So the "other side of the mountain," a title of a popular romance in my youth, became a fitting name for this elusive connection.

But a recent call to the town of Alcoy and a visit to their website,, verified that Nug-as and Lepanto were now connected by a combination of asphalted and cemented strips. The family sedan made it up effortlessly, though we wished we had a new muffler to tone down the sounds of our intrusion after a huge bird, flame-crested and with dark plumage, swooped right across our path before crashing into the trees.

Years ago, I envied vegetable traders and mobile disco crews because their work brought them to these remote, unspoilt places. It did not yet sink in to wonder about the cost of intrusions.

The creation of a road is always hailed from the standpoint of travel, trade, progress. Yet this innocuous strip is hardly as black or as white as it seems. A road marks off the poor, who cannot afford habal-habal fare and balance their laundry, tools or purchases on their heads as they head for the footpaths.

A road also exposes the uplanders. Many will take off valuable slippers or shoes to make a rare visit to town, donning back the footwear only when the church or town hall is near.

As in the '80s, when the scarcity of water drove residents to harvest banana sap for drinking and washing, the slopes leading to Nug-as still show few signs of habitation: no roadside resting place, only five habal-habal (motorcycle-for-hire) ferrying passengers. The Alegria side is a stark contrast, with its modest traffic of traders and weekend commuters.

Mutely testifying to leadership and community, the Nug-as-Lepanto road reveals the other side of the mountain. We drove past a government team finishing the asphalting of an all-weather portion near the center of Lepanto. Descending to Alegria, we carefully negotiated road portions that already required extensive repair. Perhaps the barangays had to dig or maintain canals to divert water runoff. Or the layer of asphalt could be thicker so this would not flake off, specially in water-logged areas.

We broke off for lunch and drank in the silence under the pine trees of Libo. I can believe that the wind in Lepanto can blow anyone across TaƱon Strait or over that vault of clouds.

The roads made by people, though, are rarely the short cuts they seem to be. 09173226131

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