Niño Jesus is a backcountry of the city of Iriga. Barely populated. No signal. No videoke. No pushing and shoving. No Christmas madness. I doubt if the locals here even celebrate that most wonderful day of the year. Ironically, the place is named after whom the Christmas bells toll.
We made a two-kilometer hike going to the Oliva family’s farmstead, somewhere unknown to Google map. Exhausting, but it sure is good to reap the rewards of three years of non-smoking. Feels like I can climb any peak again the way I do during those mountaineering days. I used to consume more than a pack of cigarettes back then and still, I can beat anybody in an uphill climb even with a 20-kilo load on my back.
Today I can only outrace what, two septuagenarians, one female, and a 10-year old kid.
An hour of journey by foot is no trouble for Papu — the Oliva’s padre de familia. He made it with his snow white socks and sneakers without a spot. That’s hiking 101 for you. Manoy Jaime, the farm hand, received us with his betel nut paraphernalia in clutches, and the two sat down for a bottle of Emperador Lights afterwards. Probably the most popular drink in the country I haven’t tried yet.
And so today — due to my inquisitiveness as to how a local liquor company could create a colossal brand that would make them acquire Spain’s Fundador Pedro Domecq — I took a swig of this brandy for the very first time.
Wasn’t so bad at all.
Manoy Jaime has his sons to do the heavy tasks. Although judging by how he brandish his bolo strapped around his waist, I believe the man can still hack the entire woodlands to the ground.
This year’s El Niño Phenomenon must have dried-up the acreage it left the family no choice but resort to producing copra. A tough job, his boy would confess. From coconut cracking to shelling to parring and finally to sun drying or — if the weather does not permit — direct heating. All the backbreaking job in weeks’ span and for a measly sum.
Niño Jesus is a perfect hideaway from the holiday insanity. Materialism hasn’t corrupted the folks out here so far. I doubt if they even heard the Force has Awaken already. But I’d rather stay cool here in the quietude of this place than be trapped in the chaotic streets of Manila today; breathe the crisp air or take a whiff of cattle shit more willingly than make a pig of myself on every banquet. I would rather strum Ang Paskoy Sumapit under their humble hut.
We must simplify Christmas and go back to the real point of the occasion. Find your way to “Niño Jesus.”