We Went To Malaybalay

This is long.  You have been warned.
Malaybalay: ‘ay’ is always pronounced like ‘eye’.  The accent is more often than not on the second to last syllable or not on any syllable, hardly ever on the first in a 3 or more syllable word.
Bukidnon- Boo-kid-known, accent on the second syllable, and the known sound is kind of a cross between the o in groan and gon.  The school had a spring break, we so we did, too.  It was much needed- I don’t and won’t post about the details,  but my husband is on multiple working groups at the school and one of them has been particularly stressful and time consuming for him.  To free up some time for him, I spent a couple weeks pinch hitting for him at a daily two hour tutoring session he has with a young student, and after that, since I was already in the vicinity, I followed up with English conversation meetings with a couple different Korean missionaries for 1 to 2 hours each day.  Meanwhile, he’s been putting in 12 hour days and most of his Saturdays.

One of the single teachers at school told us that the parent of two of her students has been inviting her to come stay at a seminary he directs in the Bukidnon province and to bring friends- the stay and the food were free, although, he said, the food wasn’t very good.   She asked us to come with her, so we did.  I set up several posts in advance, but then didn’t get back in the blogging saddle when we returned because my schedule was too erratic for me to focus- some days I go help at the school at 7 a.m. and some days I don’t go until 3 and some days I don’t go at all, and I kind of find out the night before.  I enjoy the tutoring and English conversation, but it makes me distracted at home, and combined with the usual internet/erratic wifi problems at home, I have started and stopped this post in frustration multiple times as I couldn’t get pictures to load, and this is a post that just have to have pictures.

So here’s my report on What I Did On Spring Vacation, at times repetitive, in no particular order, and more like a rough draft than a finished product.  I’ll lose points on organization and I’ll have too many typos, but then again, it was a pretty amazing location so that makes up for the shortcomings, right?

Bukid means mountains, and we saw plenty of them.  It was gorgeous.  See the above picture. Here’s a basic map: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=bukidnon&atb=v93-7_g&ia=maps&iaxm=maps

We went by bus. The bus tickets were 8 dollars each.  We also had to pay for suitcase porters and that wasn’t our plan. We asked the taxi driver to drop us off at the terminal, but he insisted he couldn’t (we saw others being dropped there) and drove to the next corner where a crowd of porters with furniture dollies waited and had out luggage out of the trunk and onto the dollies before we had our doors opened.  That is because the taxi driver popped the trunk for them while taking his time counting out the right amount of change for us so they could be sure to have it all unloaded before we got out.  They wheeled everything over to the terminal.  We had three small suitcases, all wheeled, so we could have managed this ourselves.  They charged 4 dollars for it, which is half a day’s wages.   On the return trip we took charge of our own luggage and managed to walk over a block to the taxis without the assistance.   I admire the entrepreneurial spirit while at the same time preferring not to be seen as targets.

The bus terminals were open air places, with a roof because of the rains, with a row of sari sari stores bordering the terminal, and an army of roving vendors carrying snacks of fruit, boiled eggs, and bags of chips processed in a factory or chicharron processed who knows where, as well as bottled drinks, sunglasses, and portable chargers they’d rent out so you could charge your phones.  They were quite insistent with us at the first terminal.  It was extremely uncomfortable, for me mainly because I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being the center of attention, and I don’t like having to keep telling people no.  At one point about five vendors stood in a semicircle barely a foot away, smiling and hawking their wares directly at us until in sheer self-defense I took some of our own snacks out of my backpack and handed them out- a banana for the cherub, some baked, steamed, and salted tiny potatoes I’d made at home (unpeeled, because I don’t peel potatoes) for the rest of us, cucumber sticks and some quail eggs I’d pickled.  I didn’t pick the potatoes on purpose, they were just at the top of the backpack. The thing is,  the tiny seasoned potatoes are a common snack for us, but mostly, people peel potatoes here. When I’ve served them as snacks to guests, they peel them first and tell me kindly but firmly that Filipinos peel potatoes.  These (and steamed sweet potatoes, which I also had) are seen as kind of a poor people’s food, something you do when you don’t want to spend money.  All the snacks I pulled out were home-made, obviously home-packed, and cheap, so the vendors left us alone after that.
Tips:  Don’t make eye-contact.  Don’t acknowledge that you hear or see them.  Talk to your companions, hum to yourself if you have to.  Do NOT pull out your wallet and count your money- not even if you keep the money in the wallet.  My husband started doing this to make sure he had the right denominations for tickets and one of the vendors stood right behind him and visibly counted the money right along with him.  Personally, I keep my money in the same kind of make-up/toiletries bag that other people keep their toilet paper and so forth in (remember, most bathrooms don’t have toilet paper. Or soap. Or paper towels. Or toilet seats….)

It was a surprisingly nice bus with air conditioning.  On the bus going up the air con was grand. Coming back down half the vents were broken but it was still reasonably comfortable.  It also played movies, American mostly, with one Chinese starring Jackie Chan.  I mostly just looked out the window or read my Kindle.  There was plenty of room.  I understand there are buses without air con and possibly they are cheaper. The 8 dollars is worth it to me, and the view along the way is better than any movie.

Buses to Malaybalay are advertised as a five stop, or two stop, or even a no stop or a 7 stop bus- but this means nothing. The bus stops at the scheduled terminals, but it also  lets passengers on and off wherever, anywhere. This was nice for us as the seminary where we stayed is actually just on the highway in the country in between two cities with terminals.  At the previous terminal we just told them where we wanted to stop and they discussed where it was amongst each other (there’s a driver, and a couple ticket collectors) and somebody recognized it, so they stopped right across the highway from the school to let us off and unload our luggage and then race across the highway.

This means your bus ride could take anywhere from 5-8 hours regardless of traffic, and you have no way of knowing how long it will be. There might be a bathroom stop, or might not. You will probably have to pay 3-5 pesos to use the bathroom and the more you pay or have to pay, the worse it will be and that is pretty awful. I’d rather have used an outhouse and I loathe outhouses. I did plan ahead, though, and wore my fake crocs.  They have a two to three inch rubber sole to keep my feet out of the muck on the floor of these bathrooms, and I have been practicing my squatting and hovering 18 inches above the ground, but that squat still could use some work.  I also drank very little before or during the trip so I wouldn’t have to use the ‘comfort room.’  I had to use one anyway on the way up and it was grim.  I travel with disposable toilet seat covers, but the toilets often have no seat to cover. The floors are nearly always dirty and wet so I roll up my pant legs (if I’m wearing pants, which I was because I was also wearing compression socks for the ride)  before squatting. IT would be easier if this was a Japanese version of a toilet which looks like a urinal embedded in the ground, but it’s just a very filthy toilet without a lid about a foot above the ground so you hover rather than actually squat. I do not know how they manage it and I haven’t asked.  I just generally try very hard to never, ever need to use a toilet away from home, the school or a trusted location.  I also travel with hand sanitizer, diaper wipes, plastic gloves, and a small atomizer of rubbing alcohol.  I used the hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol liberally.

But let us not dwell on one of the few downsides of living in the Philippines. Instead, let’s look at the view: Known for its beautiful plants, all along the highway are plant nurseries. This was one of the largest, but there were dozens of small, family businesses selling plants in pots, lined up on make shift wood stands in the two feet of space between the mountainside and the shoulder of the road, on the road shoulder, in postage stamp yards where little house made of sticks like the second little piggies stood, rickety and frail, all of them probably with more people livng in them than you could imagine.  One of the houses I passed had a tent set up on what I would call the porch, tied down for sturdiness, and I wondered if it was where additional family members slept or if it was a visiting friend’s.  I wondered about all kinds of things as we drove back down, imagining the stories of the strangers we passed, the people I saw for 30 seconds before they were long out of sight.

On the trip back down, some of those little stick houses were collapsed piles of sticks on the ground because there had been an earthquake (5.0) and they were not really built to sustain a strong wind or a bump, let alone an earthquake or tremor.  So far as I know, no lives were lost, but we also passed two or three places where a pile of dirt had been shaken loose from the steep hillsides on the side of the road, totally blocking one lane of the highway. I loved the colours of this house, and wish I knew more about it.

I tried dozens of times to get a good picture of this domed green mountain and nothing I shot did it justice.

At the places where the bus might stop officially or otherwise, there are vendors standing around outside waving their snacks and drinks. However, again, the bus will also stop at random, unscheduled places for passengers who ask a bit in advance.

Others carried their goods on portable racks they held in their hands- a sort of small tree made of metal tubes hung with clips holding their snacks.  Portable sari-sari stores, really.

We finally arrived, and this was our room for the next several days- 3 foam mattresses on the floor, a rack to hang clothes, and a metal chair.  It was quiet, clean, comfortable, and restful. Our rooms were in a building normally reserved for Korean missionaries (the school is a Korean sponsored school) so it was very clean, no shoes allowed, the bathrooms were pristine and the toilets had seats, and there were bathroom shoes to wear provided, and we had a foam mattress on the floor each to sleep on.


There was a large shaded tile porch at the back of the building.  This was the view to the north every morning at around 5:30.  Those are sugar cane fields.  At night about 5:30 you could see them coming from the other direction. 



I spent a lot of time here, as you can see.  It was productive time. I read. I listened to the Bible in Visaya on an audio Bible. I listened to the birds, an occasional oxen lowing, and the buzz of insects.  In inhaled fresh, clean air and absorbed silence.


There was a row of pinetrees and then a cornfield right behind the building, the direction I susually faced from my spot on the porch.  You could see the mountains through the pines.  It was my first time seeing pines since we arrived here, btw.  I don’t see any in Davao.  there is a bit of a cognitive disconnect at seeing a banana tree right at the end of a cornfield, just so you know.


I spent some of my time out on the porch adjusting my camera settings to capture the mountains- the eye could see them easily, but the phone cam kept missing them (it often also washes out the sky in my pictures).

If those mountains look mysterious, entrancing, and that kind of beautiful that gives you a twinge, a sort of an ache, then I captured what I wanted to capture.  That’s how I felt while gazing at them.


Here’s the porch- and a fuzzy shot of the oxen and ox-cart.

The first two meals they carried food to us like we were visiting dignitaries and not an imposition, but we asked them to please let us eat with the staff and students so they did, with, I think, some relief.  The dining hall had two rows of tables, one for the students, the other row for staff and visitors like us.  The food was set family style in the middle of the table and we served ourselves from that.  A large platter of rice accompanied all 3 meals, and we generally had a dish of stewed vegetables, including bitter melon (ampalaya) and eggplant, and often fish, and fruit. Once there were also steamed baby sweet potatoes, unbelievably sweet and moist. Once we had a special plate of fish cutlets just for us, assuming that we wouldn’t want the regular course that night- bulad, or fried, dried fish.  The staff intended to eat theirs at another table so the smell wouldn’t bother us, but we insisted it was fine, so they ate with us. My husband had the bulad, but I had already stuffed myself with the cutlets.
Breakfast: Mango, fish, rice, longanissa (a sausage, sweet), lumpia.  There was a huge platter of fruit behind us, too.

There was, as mentioned,  a marble and tile porch at the back of our building overlooking sugarcane fields, pine trees, and some fruit trees. If you happened to be out there at 5:30 in the morning to study your Bible you could see the neighbouring farmer driving his oxcart down the field to somewhere in the distant back, with the mama ox in the yoke in front and an ox calf tethered to the back.

We didn’t mind the food at all, and, in fact, found all but a couple dishes quite delicious. OTOH, I also know that most of our missionary friends do not love Filipino food, and I’m not just talking about the Americans.  Anytime we go out with Americans they are anxious to visit somewhere that serves American style food in an American style restaurant, and we just haven’t been here long enough for that to appeal to us yet- except when it comes to bathrooms.  I know I keep harping on that, but I’ve been traumatized.
Quite often the American food we are offered as a treat is also food we don’t really prefer even when we are in the U.S (I discovered there is an Applebys in Manila, and I was the only member of our party who was not at all thrilled by that).   Well, the HM does miss steaks, so he is usually glad of the chance to have one, but it’s not my favourite and never has been.   The Koreans are generally just as devoted to their own cuisine as the most hardened steak and potatoes American, but the difference to me is I love Korean food more than steak and potatoes.  What I mainly miss here is good Mexican food. There was one that was very nearly perfect, but it closed.

But back to Bukidnon.

Because it’s inland and a higher elevation the temperatures are lower and the humidity is significantly lower.  It was hot for about 2 hours in the afternoon, and I read and napped on the bare floor where it’s cooler during those hours. But at night I wore socks and long pants, to bed and used a blanket instead of a sheet for the first time in forever- and we had no air con or fans.  It was a light blanket, but still, a real blanket.

It was getting out of them that was a bit of a process, but when I am home in the afternoons I generally will be found on the tile floor of my living room because it’s the coolest place in the house at that time.  This means I am better at getting up from the floor than I was two years ago, although it’s still not a graceful process.

Some shots taken from the bus (coming and going)

I wish I’d managed to catch a photo of all the basketball games on dirt lots with makeshift hoops, as well as the ones in small villages like the one above. I am pretty pleased with the one I did get, though.


I wish I had managed to snatch a few photographs of  the small children balancing gracefully on a 2 inch wide ‘board’ precariously balanced over a ditch… or the men squatting equally carelessly on a slightly wider board laid over a precipice, smoking and chatting with their neighbours, or the small children trotting down the highway to a construction site to fill household water bottles half their size.

Checkpoints Armed guards and soldiers Houses on stilts Shops in bamboo huts right on the shoulder of the highway- not *by* the highway shoulder, but *on* it. Huge and beautiful houses a few yards from hovels. Rusted, puttering piecemeal transportation vehicles sharing the road with expensive, latest model shining cars with black boxes and computers And an elevator in the mall that apologizes to occupants for delays because even the elevators are polite here. We passed many places with these small wooden discs, or so it looked like, out drying. Most of them were on tarps in people’s yards, but a few were like this- right on the shoulder of the road. A local friend tells me they are probably coconut slices drying.  I couldnt help but think of the fumes and dirt from the passing vehicles. Flowers, flowers everywhere. 
This was a moving vehicle.  I saw passengers on rooves of vehicles, on bumpers and fenders, hanging off the sides.
This next picture is too out of focus, but I need you to use your imagination here and think about the description that follows.
I couldn’t get as clear a shot of one of these as I wanted, so I need to describe this as best I can.  In many places on the mountain roads, the houses are on stilts- the road has a drop off at the edge.  So the houses are on stilts to bring them level to the high way, and then they have a platform or bridge of planks from bamboo or other wood which connects them to the high way.  The shoulder of the highway is basically the sidewalk in some cases.  Those houses or shanties don’t have running water or electricity.
And then there are other quite substantial houses.
And then the others. 

On the way up I snapped pictures, dozens of them, deliberately.  That means I missed a lot of things I wanted pictures of because the bus was going really fast- it was the fastest vehicle I’d been in since we arrived here over a year ago.  Everything I have learned about being a pedestrian in Davao would get me killed in Malaybalay.  They speed. They don’t stop for pedestrians.  They do honk at them.  You watch the road with fear and a willingness to die in your eyes and when you see a big enough gap you just run as though your life depends on it, because it does. You can imagine how fun this was with the Cherub. Fortunately, we only had to do this with her twice because we mostly just lounged around reading and studying at the seminary in the country, or went to places on the same side of the road as our vehicle.

On the way back, I just held my phone up to the bus window periodically and used the camera button like an automatic rifle trigger.  Pew, pew, pew, pew, pew, pew. I looked at the pictures later, deleted those that were too out of focus, repetitive, or boring.  Not many were boring.

I like to play a game with these pics. I enlarge them and just look and see how many things I see. What are some of your observations?


There were several military checkpoints on the bus where the bus stopped, other passengers got off and were shepherded through a couple of guards looking at ID, the bus pulled forward and let them back on again.  One guard would walk through the bus and check behind seats.   We weren’t allowed off at those checkpoints. A friend told me later it’s because the guards wouldn’t want any watching guerillas in the mountains seeing American faces, so whites stay on the bus to keep everybody safe.

I saw more armed guards in a day than I do in a week here in Davao.

I heard gunfire in the distance behind the school where we stayed, although I assumed, surrounded by sugar cane and corn fields as we were, this was largely target practice and nobody else seemed disturbed by it.

I held several mutually misunderstood conversations with the school guard who refused to believe that I did not really speak fluent Visaya since I had said Thank-you, good morning, good evening, beautiful place and ‘I am reading’ and ‘we leave at 10’ in Visaya.

In one of those conversations, it turns out I did understand most of what he was asking me, but I assumed I didn’t because part of his question didn’t make sense to me- he was asking what time we’d returned from going to dinner and did we come in through the gate and I couldn’t figure out how else we would have entered so I must have misunderstood him.

But he was concerned because he hadn’t seen us return so he wanted to know where the breach in the wall was that we’d come through and why and how.  What had happened is the director had seen us leave by jeepney, and he was concerned about trying to get the Cherub back across the busy road after dark if we returned the same way so he came and picked us up in his car and brought us home, but the guard didn’t realize we were inside his van since the windows are blacked up.  So his question made perfect sense.  If I’d had more confidence in my language skills he wouldn’t have had to go find a student to translate for us, but it was good to have confirmation anyway.

I am pleased that I, prone to motion sickness,  did not lose my cookies on the jeepney ride in spite of the smelly bucket of fish parts two feet away and the smell of a boozy elderly man with the smile of a saint who was sitting one foot away.    I rode in the back of a pick up truck perched on a tiny plastic chair that skittered and bounced as we shot down the highway (they drive fast in Malaybalay), praying that the chair wouldn’t break and tip me out.  It is called a multi-cab, and I find it fascinating that people don’t sit in the bed of trucks, they stand or perch on unsecured chairs.   I saw more accidents in a week than I have in a year in Davao, and all of them were bad, very bad.   I alone of my traveling companions saw the aftermath of the motorcycle accident we passed a couple minutes after it happened, and it’s entered my nightmares.

On the plus side, Besides a zillion pictures and a couple dozen naps, as well as eating far too much delicious basic Filipino food (FOR FREE), I am most pleased with myself for These Two Things I did with all my extra free time during our vacation in Bukidnon- I read Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (in English, and WOW. I see why it’s a classic), and I listened to half the gospel of Matthew in Visaya on a recording I have. In the real, final conclusion:

Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you! Our trip to Bluewater over Christmas break was a special gift from a supporter (s) who wanted to do something nice (Thank-you!) I cannot even begin to tell you how welcome that break was and how much peace and refreshment we gained from it. For our trip to Bukidnon- we paid for bus tickets (eight dollars each) and we paid for dinner out once. We didn’t expect the free meals and I’d packed oatmeal, ramen noodles, fruit, baked sweet potatoes, radish kimchi, baked potatoes, canned sardines and similar items, most of which we didn’t eat, although we did eat the small baked and salted potatoes, some fried chicken, oranges, and nuts on the bus. I left much of the food I’d packed at the seminary for snacks for the students because I didn’t want to bring it all back home again. Once again, this trip came at the end of a very stressful work period and my dh in particular really needed the break and time away.

We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for all our supporters, from the child who had a lemonade stand and raise 2 dollars (there were actually a couple of kids who did this) to the family who paid for our tickets to come here because of special circumstances that allowed them to have those funds just when we needed them and not a month before. There are those who were able to give us something once, and those who give us a little each month. We are grateful for those who are unable to contribute monetarily but have committed to pray for us. We are thankful for the family at home that take care of all kinds of things there so that we can be here- from tax documents to school records to depositing checks to taking our son to and from college on breaks, to fixing broken water lines and checking on pipes during freezing weather and more, so much more. We are thankful for those here in the Philippines who have often sacrificed more than we realize or understand to help us – to help us learn the culture, to move, to figure out where to go to get things done, how to do them, how to cook, how to shop, to meet with us for Bible studies, language lessons (both ways), and more. We three are here because of an incredible array of people from around the world used by God to form a network of support- sometimes the support is financial, sometimes it’s friendship, prayers, or simply a kindly word at the right time, or a bed on the floor of a dorm in a mountain community offered by a stranger through a mutual friend. We are so thankful, and also so humbled, because we are so richly blessed in our friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. The funny thing about how this tapestry of blessings works is that some of you reading this are some of our biggest blessings and you don’t even know I’m talking about you because you don’t believe what you’ve done is that big of a deal, but it is. Thank-you, and pass it on.


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  1. Amy
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing! I feel like I’m learning so much about other cultures by reading your posts. I hope it can help me to reach out to people from other cultures around me. I know that I understand some things about a Korean couple I know better because of some of the things you’ve shared. I found out that things I thought were odd are actually normal for that culture.

    I’m curious about the plant nurseries. Do you know who the primary market is? My grandparents started a nursery in the US many, many years ago, and it stayed in the family for many decades. Here, the market for plants is largely tied to the economy. When the economy is down, people don’t buy plants. Do people there appreciate plants more and buy them even when they’re struggling financially? Or are they exporting a lot of the plants to other countries or cities that have a larger base of wealthy people? You may not know, but it was interesting to me.

    • Headmistress
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know about the plant nurseries, but while there were a few large ones, many just seemed to be so tiny, just a few shelves loaded with plants. Plants are highly appreciated here, maybe because they are easy to grow? I see potted plants lined up outside most dwellings, on their decks, hanging from the corners, even of homes that are mostly shanties. And maybe because they grow so well, they have a lower cost?

  2. Frances
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing – I really enjoyed this. I was touched by the guy looking out for the Cherub’s safe return!

    • Headmistress
      Posted March 26, 2018 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      Yes, we were touched by that, too. He really had to go out of his way, as well. First he had to track down a cell phone for one of us- he didn’t have that, and find out where we were. And then he doesn’t live on the school campus, but in a town 7 km further the other direction- so a 21 KM trip neither he nor his wife needed to make (she came, too), several hours after dark.
      We bought them each a slice of cake from the restaurant we went to, and it’s a place known for its desserts) but I thought they lived at the school. If I’d known they lived in the other town, we would have bought them an entire cake.

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