The cockerels were exuberantly sounding the alarm, proclaiming the ascent of the Far Eastern sun as though the new day offered potential to every desire in these spiritual lands. Cock-a-doodle-doo!!!! Cock-a-doodle-doo!!!!
The other vacationers, which included my English father and Filipino mother with a collage of cousins, uncles and aunties, had voyaged from the polluted megalopolis of Manila to this tranquil paradise in the northern Philippines. At this early hour they were still snoozing, refusing the cockerel’s unease. My Tita (Auntie) Pearl, however, had been awake for at least a few hours, being both the local and acting host to our gathering. She had busied herself with deliberations over her preparations for the forthcoming midday breakfast and later banquet.
My nose followed the source of the distinct aromatic scent of squid adobo; my favourite native dish and my early activities surprised her and her helpers. Although the teasing smell could easily be one excuse, I was really awake this early to face the challenge of a run with my Tito (Uncle), who holds a military background. His name was Lucero, or Lou for short, but everyone called him Bubut. At least I could bank on delicious food as reward for my upcoming torment in the tropical heat.
I walked beyond the cooking area towards the back of the house, taking advantage of a few free minutes whilst my Tito readied himself. I made my way past the empty hammocks and magnificent coconut trees, with intent towards the safe haven for the house’s guardian canines, all-the-while keeping a watchful eye for those silent masters of the undergrowth. The thought of snakes sent shivers down my Mother’s spine, although I kept to myself a longing wish to see one in the wild. The Northern Philippine Cobra marshalled these lands and I was not about to allow my physiology to fight with the venom of this earthly creature. At last, I had made it to the dog-pen, greeted by my good friend Brownie with warmth greater than the Philippine air. I fussed his brown coat, provoking such violent outbursts of howling from his rancorous companions to make you think they were rabid. I only hoped these bullies would not later physicalize their frustrations on my soft-hearted friend. The rancour eventually settled down, allowing one final handshake in peace before I duly negotiated my way to the front black gates of the house, decorated with golden spires and camber, to meet my Uncle.
The hobbled road ran alongside the Cagayan River, the provincial name which covers our home in Solana and the neighbouring city of Tuguegarao. At seven-thirty in the morning there was little activity but for the clunking of a caribou’s hooves and the cuck-kooing of unruly cockerels, although our temperature had registered a humid twenty centigrade. Tito and I ran in rhythmic silence, battling the salt in our eyes as much as the heaviness of the air. These early experiences in life have been embedded in my memory ever since, inspiring me stay fit and active and push the limits to my own physical capabilities. I owe much to these runs through roads surrounded with towering tropical trees in the tranquillity of my family’s provincial lands.
Twenty minutes of running had passed by the time we had reached the end of the road. We stretched for a few minutes, looking out towards the mudded banks of the Cagayan River, contemplating the dangers of deforesting and logging to both the birds and our waters. When we turned our heads to home we were startled to realise a small group of observers had assembled no more than 150 metres ahead. Our efforts of stealth this dawn had unmistakably failed. There stood seven canine guardians, eyeing us in disbelief as if to question the audacity of our trespass through their sacred territory. Although a few were slim, this only meant they were overdue a next meal and their snarls and barks served as a potent warning. The Alpha-male stood at the apex of the pack and, contrary to the rest, eyed us in cold, petrifying silence.
“Don’t look at them, just straight ahead and never in the eyes. Keep running, nice and steady. Wouldn’t want to get rabies!” My veteran Uncle whispered his orders
RABIES. This maddening virus, shaped to resemble a bullet and peppered with glycoprotein spikes, is capable of transforming the human mind-set to one of fury; sending their hosts into distress at the allusion of water, light or even a gentle breeze. Once such symptoms develop, death is almost inevitable. In the Philippines, Rabies virus is prevalent within canines who may act as a viral reservoir, and sadly killed 202 people in 2011. Such a disease is referred to as ‘enzootic’.
It falls within Class V of the seven Baltimore Classifications for viruses, respecting its single strand of ‘negative’ sense RNA which encodes just five genes. If untreated, rabies will voyage to the central nervous system, resulting in either ‘Furious’ rabies or the lesser known ‘Paralytic’ rabies which accounts for 30% of all human cases. In such cases of ‘Paralytic’ rabies, muscles will weaken and paralyse at the initial site of the scratch mark before the victim is slowly enveloped by a coma as a prelude to eventual death. Immediate wound cleaning and immunization via post-exposure-prophylaxis can prevent such occurrences and each year, over 15 million people receive such immunizations to prevent the disease, which is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Statistically and geographically, I was in the right place for a bad outcome; as a young kid just wanting to play I was a sitting duck for a rabid brute. At 12 years old I knew little better and, to worsen the situation the closest facility with vaccine therapy or rabies immunoglobulin was hours away.
Against my inhibitions, my Uncle and I picked up the pace, entering a charge towards the rowdy pack on patrol. I was soaked to the skin in sweat from the humidity but wished for the guardians not to see nor sense it, fearing they would acknowledge my fear through my perspirations. I transfixed my eyes transfixed upon a mango tree far in the distance. I continued to run but against my better judgement I caught glimpse of the Alpha’s stare, and so began the pack’s charge to us.
“Keep running, look straight ahead and nowhere else” came the orders. My Tito’s coolness gave me the confidence I inherently lacked. The gang powered towards us, the cacophony of growls and barks getting louder. 40 metres away….My heart was thumping so hard in my chest I feared they would see this too. 30 metres and closing…. I suddenly preferred England. 20 metres…. My numbers were up, and so young.
To my astonishment the pack started to slow. I continued to focus my eyes on the forgiving Mango tree trying hard to contain my relief. 10 metres…. The Alpha decelerated to a light trot, the others in lax pursuit. They parted to our right and jogged by our side, with all evidence of anger dissolved.
Our companions flanked us to the black iron gates where safety was once again assured, with the reward in sight as I spied through the windows of our Auntie’s dining room. I turned to see the pack disperse, uninterested and wandering. My first ‘real’ run in the tropics had tested me more than I could have anticipated, encouraging a sense of exaltation. I felt calmed after the ordeal, and would make sure to spend some time with my soft-natured friend Brownie as soon as I had enjoyed a cool, refreshing shower and the fine Filipino cuisine offered by my Tita.