Tribes and Treks Zambales | Seeding Hope in Nature and the Community

I could use a tree right now”, I muttered to myself as I feel the sun’s rays piercing my skin in the middle of the beautiful but barren landscape of San Felipe, Zambales. While patches of greens are starting to re-grow—in between flowing streams—still, much of the lowlands and the rolling hills appear denuded. What was once a fertile ground as far as the eyes can see was changed forever by Mount Pinatubo’s eruption.

Tribes and Treks uses carabao carriage
Carabao pulled carts are a big help to the community in transporting goods and people

Coming on the heels of that nature shake up is the displacement of many Aetas who rightfully claim much of Zambales’ countryside as their ancestral domain. Their self-sustainable way of living became fraught with uncertainties brought upon by the vastly transformed infertile land surrounding them.

Re-Building a Forest

After managing to rebuild their communities, the Aetas once again found solid footing in far-flung villages tucked in the waving hills of Zambales. Their way of life slowly finding a semblance of normalcy. Despite these small victories, their survival is still threatened by an unmissable adversary: 3,000 hectares of lahar-speckled land.

Before he founded the Tribes and Treks Tour of Mad Travel, Raf Dionisio went on a hiking trip on this same lahar-strewn land of San Felipe, Zambales. “I met an Aeta father and I asked him if he could guide me to the farthest village. In their village I saw how the community struggles to bring resources from the market in the town center back to their community. When in the old days, everything they need: vegetables and fruits are just right in their backyard

Tribes and Treks tour leader Raf Dionision gives an introduction to Aeta culture
Seeing how the community has already taken the initiative to regrow their lost forest, Dionisio thought about a way of contributing to the reforestation effort of the Aeta community—while at the same time, also helping their local economy. Enter Tribes and Treks.

MAD Travel’s Tribes and Treks

A side project of MAD Travel (Make a Difference Travel), Tribes and Treks offers a day-long immersion trip to the Aeta Village of Yangil in San Felipe. Part of this jaunt includes a tree planting endeavor in an area of land where fertile soil still abounds. They call this “Yangil’s tree nursery”. 

Despite being in infancy stages, the tree nursery is showing signs of improvement. A noticeable patch of green composed of assorted trees and plants widespread in the old forests of Zambales, such as: Kasuy, rambutan, calamansi, Ipil-ipil, potatoes just to state a few, are now in various state of growth. With the help of the Aeta people—who knows the landscape by heart—Tribe and Treks are still trying to distinguish more plant specie that can survive the dry soil of Zambales.

Every day, few members from the community tend to the tree nursery and in the mostly weekly tours of Tribes and Treks, traveler guests not only bring new set of seedlings, but also help in the seed planting session.

A Purposeful Trek and Inspiring Tribe

Our trek started at a little past 7am coming from Liwliwa, Zambales where we all met up at Circle Hostel. The hike to the tree nursery took more than an hour on a brisk pace over dried lahar terrain. After a couple of hours packing soil into pots, we proceeded to Yangil Village to mingle with the rest of the Aeta community in San Felipe.

The village chieftain showing us another herbal plant
At the village, the chieftain took us on a tour around showing us various plants they use for herbal medicines and afterward, they let our group try out archery using their bows and arrows made from tree branches. The community mothers also showed their bamboo straws which they sell in bunches to visitors.

Aeta kids at play
A lunch prepared by the community followed a short cultural performance where a group of kids sang a poignant song about how leaving Mother Nature unperturbed is akin to achieving personal freedom “pag-ibig tulad ng batis, tulad ng diwa ko. Payapa tulad ng dagat, diwa ko. Malaya tulad ng ibon, tulad ng ibon diwa ko”

The Aeta kids performing a traditional song
As the sky rapidly turned into shades of red—signaling the golden hour—I realized we’ve already spent the whole afternoon in the Aeta village. The experience of this day, left me with heaps of inspiration and an abundance of hope—that at one day—I shall see the barren ancestral domain of our Aeta brothers and sisters, becoming fertile once again.

Guests, trying out native archery
Tribes and Treks Zambales is a program by MAD Travel and The CircleHostel in cooperation with the Municipality of San Felipe, Zambales and Hineleban Foundation.

Activities include: Hiking, tree planting, introduction to Aeta Culture, native archery, cultural performance, herbal medicine garden tour, carabao rides, snacks and lunch with the Aeta tribe.