normally hate going on long road trips to cover events, particularly when that trip involves long, winding roads.

When I got the advisory from the Department of Social Welfare and Development regarding their first Pantawid Pamilya caravan in Mabinay town, I was surprised to hear myself asking my boss if I could go cover the event.

Anyone who's been on a road trip to the hinterland town of Mabinay would understand why I dread the winding roads leading to the town.

Mabinay is about 87 kilometers away or a two to three hours' ride from Dumaguete City, where I live. The town is nestled high up on a mountain. It can be reached via this narrow, circuitous road that snakes its way up the mountain.

As the vehicle drives up the terrain, you can actually look back and see the pavement twisting in and out the clusters of greenery below. It really looks very picturesque, but the sharp bends and turns as the vehicle climbs its way up the inclined slope makes me nauseous. 

Although I've never actually thrown up from motion sickness during a road trip, I always end up lightheaded and queasy at the end of the trip, a condition I don't want to be in when I'm doing fieldwork.

But this is the first Pantawid Pamilya caravan that will be staged in Negros Oriental. I don't want to miss it. Besides, I can walk away from it with enough news stories to last me the long weekend (All Souls' Day holidays). 

So last Friday, I found myself inside the van with some DSWD staff and a radio reporter on the way to Mabinay. All the while I was praying that God will be nice to me that day so the other people in the van won't see me heave up what I had for breakfast. 

To take my mind off the winding roads ahead, I focused instead on the scenery rushing past by me.

I know I live in a beautiful island, but every time I get out of the city I still get blown away by just how beautiful Negros Oriental is. 

As our van swerves up the curvy steep road bordered by thick trees on one side and the amazingly clear blue skies on the other side, I thought: "This is God's country."

Here's a shot of one of the nauseating bends that drivers deal with on the road going to and from Mabinay:

Up ahead that bend is another sharper curve and then another and so on that, at one point, I wanted to yell at the driver to stop so I can throw up outside. But I was afraid that the pounding noonday heat outside would only worsen the nausea, so I just shut my eyes and held on tight, all the way to the top where the road finally, thankfully, leveled off as we drove nearer to the town.  

All the while, Anthony, the radio reporter who came with me to cover the event, was sound asleep. That's him sleeping on the front seat:

Anthony (right) of DYWC-AM and DYGB-FM who slept through the twisted road. 

When the van finally pulled to a stop outside the town gymnasium, the caravan was already underway. 

Pantawid Pamilya is a short-term (5 years) poverty reduction program started by the national government under the previous Arroyo administration and continued by the current Aquino administration. 

It's a social development strategy which provides cash grants to extremely poor Filipino households identified by the social welfare department. Many critics have called it a dole-out program, but technically it's not as there are conditions that the family-beneficiaries must comply with if they want to continue receiving the monthly cash grants. 

One of these conditions is for pregnant mothers to undergo pre-natal check-ups, immunization and to give birth at the health facility. Most of the women in the rural areas still conceive the old, dangerous way - through hilots, or traditional, untrained birth attendants - rather than giving birth assisted by a doctor in a health facility. 

The rural mothers' preference for hilots is blamed for the high maternal mortality rate in the Philippines, which is why it was set as one of the conditions under the Pantawid Pamilya program. 

There was already a crowd of nearly 2,000 beneficiaries - mostly mothers -  gathered inside the gymnasium when we arrived:

The caravan is a convergence of government agencies that have services the program beneficiaries can avail of, such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which handed out free patent titles to 56 families who are also Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries that day. You can read more about it in my news item here

Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Oscar Magallones (extreme right) handing over a free patent title to a beneficiary during the caravan program. 

Other government agencies who were also there that day were the Technical Education Skills Development Authority whose desk was surrounded by mothers signing up for free skills and livelihood trainings, Department of Agrarian Reform, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine Coconut Authority, PhilHealth, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Health, among others.

Mothers swoop down on the TESDA desk to sign up for skills trainings. 

Anthony and I immediately started doing interviews so we can get back to the city after lunch. It was too noisy inside the gymnasium, so we dragged a couple of health personnel inside a pedicab parked outside where we interviewed them. 

On our way back to the city, we briefly stopped by the info center of Bulwang Caves. Mabinay's strongest attraction for tourists is its many enthralling caves, earning it the distinction of being the "Cave Town in Negros Oriental."  

Locals say there are more than 400 caves here, but this has yet to be confirmed. Spelunking isn't really my thing. I don't like going underground where it's pitch dark and deep. I always associate caves with bats, and bats with, well, err, vampires. Sorry, but I don't find Edward Cullen attractive. Hehe.

This area serves as the entry point-slash-reception building leading to Bulwang Caves which is 159 meters long. The area is serene, with a wooden walkway between two cute cottages and a hut where visitors can take a pit stop or a break from the winding roads and enjoy the quiet, almost tranquil ambience .

It was easier dealing with the curving road downhill on our way back to the city. Maybe one of these days I'll have the guts to want to experience Mabinay's famed caves.


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