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The bunnies hop to Banaue |

Health And Family

The bunnies hop to Banaue

MY TURN - Vicky Veloso-Barrera - The Philippine Star
The bunnies hop to Banaue
All seven rabbit plushies in the land where they were knitted.
Photo by Knitting Expedition

About this time a year ago I thought of providing rabbit plushies to go with my science-fiction series for kids The Sign of the Rabbit, the way popular movies sell toys and other merchandise.

Little did I think that this would be the start of another adventure, this time to the north — to the rice terraces of Banaue, Ifugao, to be precise.

My bunso Tatin loves plushies and bought a cute knitted dachshund from Common Room in Rockwell. I tracked down the manufacturer as Knitting Expedition, which pops up regularly at Bench Katutubo and other fairs.

It turns out these plushies are knitted by the women farmers of the rice terraces in Uhaj, Banaue, to augment their income.

I connected with Knitting Expedition founder Candy Alipio and ordered over a hundred knitted rabbits of my own specifications, seven color combinations representing important characters in Book 1: The Black Cloud.

I was delighted when the beautiful knitted rabbits arrived and began selling them, but I wasn’t content.

I wanted to see the rice terraces for myself, and wanted to meet these women farmers. Strangely, I lost my heart to them even without having seen them in the flesh, and I have been working on the documents needed to export them to the US.

The view of the Uhaj terraces from Native Village Inn: Note the abandoned terraces in the background now overgrown with vegetation.

But first, I needed to go north myself.

So last April I set out together with my son Joshua and his Pomeranian Marie, plus our longtime staff Gloria, who has been with us ever since Joshua was six days old.

Her nephew Harold would meet us in Baguio and drive us to Uhaj, as hours of mountain roads sounded really daunting for me even if I drive to Baguio and back as often as I can.

We started off with a stop at Atok, where we visited two of the flower farms, both incredibly beautiful! But that’s a story for another time.

Four hours through gorgeously scenic roads (where we even spied the famous Crying Mountains) took us to the Native Village Inn, Uhaj, which Candy had recommended.

Here we enjoyed the very chilly air in very warm and cozy surroundings. Owner Monina Taylor runs a lovely place perched on a mountain overlooking the terraces of Uhaj, where the knitters are from.

The first thing we did was sit down to an excellent meal prepared by Monina and her staff, with British touches lending flavor to the freshest vegetables courtesy of Monina’s British husband.

Despite the cold we slept very comfortably in authentic native huts and awoke the next day to a delicious, British-style breakfast complete with toast and marmalade!

I have developed a hankering for marmalade ever since.

That day I met the women who knitted our plushies and it was incredibly moving.

The women rice-terrace farmers of Uhaj who knit my plushies.

These simple, hardworking women do the work on the terraces while their husbands get additional work elsewhere.

They have to endure difficulties such as the eels eating into the terrace walls, disrupting irrigation. As of my visit they have asked repeatedly for help with these giant “worms,” but no help has come.

Still they were smiling, charming, and they have my heart forever.

My best friend Veronica Esclamado and I are working to get these rabbit plushies (as well as the physical books!) available on Amazon so that hopefully we can give these farmers more orders.

In the meantime I sell them here at Tiny Kitchen and they are also sold together with the books at the Bencab Museum in Baguio.

It’s been a year since our visit to Uhaj, but my son and I are already plotting our return — to see the rice terraces, enjoy the sheer, simple, affordable luxury of sleeping at Native Village Inn and that incredible British food.

But most of all, I long to be able to tell those knitters — who stole my heart — that I have more plushie orders for them to knit!

* * *

Vicky Veloso-Barrera (aka Bunny to schoolmates) is a former fashion designer who writes children’s books, composes their theme songs and teaches kids to cook.

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