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with AklayMay 8, 2005 Sunday

The Cordillera with Aklay - Day 10: Sagada

Origins of Aklay
Back in 1992 working as a chef in Alsace, France, he decided to walk away from his rigid existence of 15-hour days. He loaded up his mountain bike and decided he'll ride it indefinitely...wherever it takes him. And it has taken him across Europe, across the Himalayan range and into Southeast Asia. 8 years later, covering nearly 55,000 kilometers, he arrived in Sagada. Given all the places he's been to, he knew he finally arrived. He's been here 5 years now. He has endeared himself to the locals, they gave him an Igorot name - Aklay.

Ride Highlight
Asked what the highlight of the journey was, he said he downhilled the Himalayan range continuously for 4 solid days - all 244 kilometers. However, it took him 3 weeks to climb it. He even worked for the Sultan of Brunei as pastry chef. He said there was no budget ceiling. If he required strawberries for a dish and there were no strawberries (out of season), a jet will be sent out to go as far as halfway around the world to get those strawberries.

The Ride with Aklay
Aklay's house was plastered with hand-made maps of the mountain bike trail system. He knew every trail there was - where it's not possible to ride the bike, how long to portage the bike, where a trail leads to, etc. He claims to know more than the locals. I believe him. The locals may know a couple of trails they regularly use. But Aklay goes out of this way to try all possible trail systems and see where it takes him. He's been doing this for 5 years now. I was so looking forward to this ride.

After meeting at St. Jo's for coffee, we hit the trails and took the high road to Besao. I just followed as he took turns after turns and more climbs. I had a feeling he was gauging me since he wasn't hammering as I thought he would. I was occasionally coughing from the cold spell a few days ago. It's frustrating to have this opportunity and not be 100%. He let me off easy and we were back to his place before noon.

The Dinner Invite
Being a food buff, I'd go out of my way for good food. I made sure I mentioned that to Aklay hoping I'd get a dinner invite. He did not respond to it. I tried a less subtle approach. It went like this:

Me: I cannot possibly leave Sagada without tasting your cooking.
Aklay: (silence...still no response)

Me: How much do you charge for cooking for 1 person?
Aklay: I don't cook for 1 person (spoken in the rude French fashion that gave them the reputation)

Me: How about you cook for yourself like you always do. This time however, make it good for two?
Aklay: So, you want to be my dinner guest?

Me: (without missing a beat) I'll bring wine. What wine do you want? (if he specifies the wine, he's totally committed to his invite)
Aklay: whatever

Me: I'll bring rice wine. What time should I be here?
Aklay: 7.

And with that, I left before he could change his mind.

Dinner
I brought tapuey, a local rice wine. I'd been meaning to try it anyway. Aklay prepared a traditional north african couscous...Sagada style (pork instead of lamb) with a bowl of hot sauce. He said the magic was in blending the hot sauce with the dish. He was absolutely right. The dish was nothing short of magical. This guy certainly earned his stripes. That was the best dish I've had during my Cordillera journey. When I told him that I don't get to eat this good everyday, he quickly replied, "I do".

After planning a bike ride for the following day, I left not wanting to over-extend my welcome.

Ending Thoughts
I have to unabashedly admit: I was star-struck with this guy. I was face-to-face with someone who epitomized the life I yearned but too chicken-shit to pursue. I was hanging by every word he uttered as he narrated his tales about the jungles of Borneo, the Himalayan mountain range, the right way to make soup, biking across the Cordillera until he reached the beaches of Ilocos, etc. Is this guy for real? I've had the adrenaline rush of an endless downhill run, spellbound by breath-taking sceneries, humbled by the magnificence of the terraces, but Aklay's exploits remain the highlight of my entire Cordillera journey.

--- TheLoneRider

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Baguio | MTB Race




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»» next story: The Cordillera on a Mountain Bike - Day 11: Last Day in Sagada
»» next Fab People story: Alone Again in the Cordillera

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