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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

entry arrow11:42 PM | Getting a Glimpse of Hari ng Negros 2007

I know most of you will want to see more of this...

But that has to wait a little bit, if you can stand the suspense. Let me first tell you the beginning of how Mark and I went to the northern mountains of Oriental Negros over the weekend. As the reigning Hari ng Negros, Mark had been called up by Michael Ocampo -- Hari's equivalent of Miss Universe's Donald Trump -- to do his duty in introducing the new candidates to the rigors of selecting the next Hari. Of course, Mark was up to the task: he seemed chipper about this than most of our previous trips to the northern city. Then again, the last time we were here, he was just a candidate among 24, and now he was to return as the reigning king. For him, it was a time for nostalgia, and for duty. "I want to be a good Hari," Mark said. So off we went.

It was an incredibly beautiful weekend, sunnier than usual but not humid, and was full of color. We took the early morning bus for the five-hour trip to the northernmost part of the province where we would meet the freshly selected candidates from both sides of Negros Island. This is how Negros looks like, with Cuernos de Negros far off in the distance, and sugar plantations all around...

It's a long trip, and the last leg, from Vallehermoso town to Canlaon, is trickier because of the winding road through the mountains, quickly sloping down to steep cliffs. One false move, and our bus and us can careen to certain death. Here's a video I took of that leg (no sound, guys, just moving images)...

When we arrived, we took the next available tricyle to the Canlaon Pension House, traditionally the home of all Hari ng Negros shenanigans. It's one of the more presentable buildings around Canlaon, a Negrense city that betrays its small-town preoccupations by having nothing around really (everything closes at 7 pm), just a lot of wide spaces, small and quaint buildings, and vegetable fields everywhere. This is Mark mugging for my camera in front of the pension house entrance, with a resplendent view of Canlaon hills that remind me all the time of Tuscan countryside.

The Canlaon Pension House, as usual, was a study of curious neglect. It has a lot of potentials (and a great view of faraway green valleys), but somehow the city government, which owns the place, does not seem at all interested in sprucing the place up, which is really sad. Sometimes the shower does not work, there is no television in most rooms, and there is no restaurant. What it has is a deserted cafeteria where a solitary videoke machine reigns. In the two years I've been there, I have yet to see food in the cafeteria.

A little later in the day, we all dressed down to our basic trekking wear. We know what was ahead of us: an extensive walk -- over dirt roads, gigantic river boulders, wet tributaries, and tall grasses -- to reach the site of the first photo shoot of the new Hari season. The destination was Padudusan Falls, which we knew would be quite a long walk. But first we had to ride to the nearest stop on the back of a truck de karga, a huge truck meant for transporting sugarcane. It was not an easy ride. Then we arrived after less than an hour. See those clouds in the distance? They cover Mount Canlaon, the highest peak of Negros Island which is also an active volcano. We walked...

... and we climbed, and more than thirty minutes later, we arrived at the small cataract. All that effort for something so small. Immediately, the candidates' gay managers set about the task of beautifying their contestants. They were like birds escaped from a cage. They squawked, and fussed around their boys. The makeup was flying everywhere...

While Mark mugged for my camera with the first Hari ng Negros Emman Labirua, the rest of the candidates finished their makeup and changed right into their skivvies, este, their swimwear.

And this guy, the candidate from Bacolod, seemed to embody the best chances of making it as the next Hari ng Negros. But that's just me.

He looked fit, actually looked good without being cocky about it, and seemed to display confident charm and intelligence. Then again, I want somebody from Negros Occidental to make it this year. Four years of the Hari sword being in the exclusive stronghold of Oriental Negros does not exactly make the other side the island happy. Maybe Mr. Bacolod will give Occidental a bigger chance for getting that sword this year. But I was happy to note that Occidental seemed intent on doing just that. Their candidates seemed very strong, good-looking, and competitive. These were some of the other candidates that caught my attention that afternoon by the waterfalls as having the strongest edge than most of the others, now numbering twenty-five (and according to Michael, still counting...).

But there were the others who might have only gotten lost on their way to somewhere else, and found themselves in Canlaon for a photo shoot. Really, what are these guys doing in a male beauty pageant? Some either have to lose weight fast, or to merely just get lost.

Soon right after, everybody splashed water on everybody else. No one can tell from the photographs above, but that water was very, very cold...

Then we all head towards the "oldest" tree in Negros Island, in another spot so far away I started counting the times we had to duck at the back of our truck or else our heads would get smacked by stray tree branches. (The bamboos are especially painful.) Dondon, one of the managers, provided most of the entertainment by being just his normal gay self. We laughed. We arrived. And this is the tree.

"A thousand years old," Dondon told me. Really? I thought to myself. Maybe that was just some local tourism propaganda to make this gnarly tree seem more important and "visit-worthy" than it really was. But it was a beautiful tree nonetheless. Still, after that bumpy ride standing in the back of a dirty truck, it better be that old.

Finally, nearing twilight, we got back to the Pension House, and promptly showered and slept the entire night away consoling our aching muscles. The next morning, we were more than ready to get back to civilization. This was Mark and me in front of the van that would take us back to Dumaguete...

And finally, we were on our way home. Below is a photo I took of myself smiling at the rearview mirror. I was smiling because I knew that soon I would be back home, where everything I needed would be much closer at hand.

And that was how I spent my weekend, my last fling with summer before June's reality comes barging in tomorrow. (Mark, by the way, has a post on this trip as well. And more of my Canlaon photos here. And more Hari pictures as well here.)

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