The epitome of a beast of burden, carabaos or water buffaloes are necessary companions of Filipino farmers. This is the carabao we rented to carry our things to sitio Lapinig where I was scheduled to meet an old datu who is reputed to be able to talk to farm pests.

Like the work horses in these hinterland villages, a carabao when loaded with cargo is rigged with a saddle made of rattan cane and wood. In these parts, the saddle is called a “sakang”.

The sakang is where the cargo placed in sacks are secured with ropes.

Ropes secure the sakang to the carabao as well.

A piece of rope sewn with a piece of sack to serve as a cushion is made to run under the carabao’s tail from one side of the sakang to the other. It’s to make sure that the sakang and the cargo do not fall off due to the carabao’s cadence. Yes, cadence. Carabaos walk with a left to right gait, which when matched with their broad back, can be very unwieldy to ride on for people like me who only know how to ride a horse, and am not even very good at riding horses; just good enough to make horses trot a little without falling off as we tackle the rough and up and down mountain trails.

The carabao can carry a lot of load, including a two-year-old boy who has to hold on to the sakang all by himself, without any rope securing him.

Having ridden on those mountain trails for years now, I have come to realize that yes, only cargo has to be secured. It is for the best interest of any passenger to just be seated and hold on to whatever can be held on — whether it be on a rein, or a part of the sakang. Up there in the mountains, accidents can happen, and when you fall off a horse or a carabao, you will never wish to be attached to it by any means. The trick is, if you fall, just be quick about it and get out of the beast’s hooves fast.

The children there are born to that life and they instinctively know what needs to be done in order to hang on.

Sorry for this lousy setting; I zoomed my point and shoot Canon G9 as fast as I can, with no time to adjust my settings because the toddler’s uncle was moving the child from the back of the carabao onto a sack secured on the side, with just one hand, and while in motion at that. The boy merely removed his hand from the rear part of the sakang to the side of the wooden brace.

Perched now on top of a sack of cargo, this was how the boy completed the five-kilometer ride to sitio Guilon, the stopover where we transfered to motorcycles to return to where our vehicle was parked, some seven kilometers from the highway.

Yes, that’s the head of my horse. I was trailing them and thus got a ringside view.

Thus, Nilo, our guide, assistant, cook, and carabao driver unloads our cargo to load these anew on the motorcycles.

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