Under the tropical heat of the Philippine sun, and in the jungles of Batangas province, 45 minutes to the South of Metro Manila, a man rides a short, stout but sturdy horse. This man is no ordinary man, and the horse more remarkable still. They embark on a journey laden with mud and ending with a few Pesos to tide them over to the next week.
But before I truly begin this tale, I'd like to introduce myself to everybody. Hello, I'm Danny, just a freelance writer from the Philippines and I know absolutely nothing about horses save for the fact that they are mammals. A picture that I found on the Internet that best depicts my story can be found > here.
With this, I begin.
Even before the early morning call of the Philippine rooster, the man that we've mentioned before wakes up and leads his horse to the jungle. But the jungle isn't really a jungle in the truest sense of the word for it has been tamed long before you and me. The seemingly wild vegetation that engulfs the land has a distinct sense of order known only to the ones who traverse its paths. The undergrowth runs the gamut of the usual Philippine vegetables and weeds, from squash, "kang kong", tanglad and other plants of tropical origin.
While leading on his steed with a rope in his hand, the man hacks at the bushes with his jungle bolo. Some of the vines and bushes, have grown thicker as it has rained the week before. He then proceeds and spots his quarry, the first in a long line of thousands: the coconut tree. A tree, which despite its humble nature is well known for all its wondrous and multifaceted uses. All in all, these trees contribute $19.5 Billion to the Philippine economy annually.
The man then ties the end of the rope to a nearby "kakawate" tree.
With the man is a mambubuko, a man whose agility and strength is beyond the ordinary. The man with the horse nods to the mambubuko, as he lights a stick of Fortune, a local cheap cigarette known to cause headaches for those who have had the misfortune of ever trying one. The mambubuko then lays out his equipment, a pair of boots with metal spikes at the bottom and a system of ropes and simple pullies, all of which are attached to harnesses on his clothing.
He fastens one of the belts around his body and then proceeds to bury his spike laden boot just above the base of the tree. In time, he manages to go up and when he has reached the top, he then takes a look around to select the mature coconuts. He then attaches a clasp to the small "branches" and spathe holding the coconuts together, and lops off its base. As he does so, gravity does its work and the coconuts make their journey downward aided and slowed by the system of pulleys and ropes.
Below them, the man with the horse, picks up the bunch of coconuts, removes the clasp and the spathe so that he could load them on the metal wire baskets which are hanging on both sides of the horse. Each coconut can weigh about 1 kilogram each and the larger ones can be as heavy as 1.5 kgs. Each basket can hold from 20 to 40 coconuts. Sometimes, the coconut farmer even rides on the horse with two full baskets. The terrain is quite arduous with rolling and muddy soil. After making sure that the balance on the load is equal, they would then begin with their journey back to the main road, where they can sell their coconuts for a few pesos to the truckers and traders.
Now one must know, that in the Philippines, the carabao is the quintessential beast of burden. But yes, the short and stout horses here, do a fair amount of heavy lifting too.
I do not know how you folks would react to this story, but from my perspective here, the man and his horse in this story are more than business partners, they are friends. Without the horse to do the heavy lifting, hauling the coconuts would be a really difficult if not impossible task from harvesting to carrying and then marketing.
Now you may be asking, who's the hero here?
Well the hero, or heroes, are the man and his horse. Because with this equine partnership, a simple man from the Philippines is able to feed his family and send his children to school.