"Ahhh, the great Cordilleras!" Once you hear those words, I bet you instantaneously imagine yourself wearing your sweater in a foggy cold weather. You suddenly picture yourself making your way through terrains built on mountainsides. The journey along the narrow concrete-laden pathways offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of a 2,000 year-old beauty.
The rice terraces of the Cordillera or 'Payao' as the locals call it - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hold a distinct charm that serves as a relic of the Filipino’s agricultural background. From generation to another, the ethnic group of Ifugao has their life labor etched in the contours of these mountains. And for thousands of years, this minority group has consistently passed on their agricultural knowledge that has now produced vast lands of cultural landscapes.
Located at the northern part of Luzon, the provinces of the Cordillera, which includes Apayao, Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, and Baguio City, are teeming with destinations that seem offbeat for a tropical country like the Philippines. In here, the weather’s almost always perfect for a midday stroll at the park. It seems that throughout the day, coffee is always a good idea. Hiking its mountain ranges would take you either a day or a couple of days but with the right kind of training and a whole lot of patience, your future self would thank you for it.
Braving the 10-hour bus ride straight to the province of Ifugao, our all-girl trio was famished when we arrived at the sleepy town of Banaue. It was both a relief and a surprise to find a ‘karinderya’ (eatery) still open in the wee hours of the morning. We ordered the usual Filipino breakfast food(tapsilog). The locals served us, their visitors, as if we were in a fine-dining restaurant. It almost came to a point where we were feeling a little bit uneasy of such treatment. ‘We aren’t used to this’, we said, but all they gave us was their warm smiles as they started to engage in a small talk. I felt a sudden gush of blood pooling on my cheeks, perhaps out of sheer gratefulness and pride for my people. In my head was a dialogue that says, “I told you, it’s still here.” “It’s still here? What is?” “You know, the things that you assume to be lost eons ago; authenticity, simplicity, and character. The finest things, alive and breathing inside these people.” We finished our breakfast and left, not just with filled tummies, but hearts that are full.
Walking around the town, talking to locals, we were simultaneously fishing for ideas and planning our trip. People in Banaue are good with directions and are more than willing to offer their two cents to make your trip fun and worthwhile. Where else do we expect to get the best tips but from the locals themselves who grew up in the vast land we’re about to explore. The next three days would be filled with spontaneity and of sorts. We just find more excitement in proceeding with our trips not spending too much time worrying if we’re meticulously following the itinerary down to the ’t’. After weighing our options and settling disputes on what to do first, we figured we would go way further north. From there we would trace our way down the map and cap off our adventure in the rice terraces of Batad.
We found ourselves riding another van for roughly an hour to the town of Bontoc in Mountain Province. Thereafter, we got to enjoy another jeepney ride that will take us on top of the mountain where we will spend the night. Ate Suzette, the owner of Suzette’s Homestay, recommended that we postpone our hike to Mt. Kupapey to a sunrise hike the next day. “Soil would be slippery now, especially that it’s misty at midday”, she said. Can you guess what we did next? Yup! We took no heed. We commenced with hiking Mt. Kupapey despite her warning. In our defense, we didn’t think the weather was really that bad. We can’t let the day pass by without us making the most out of it. And so to the forest we go…
Our hike is made up of dancing on narrow pathways, sprawling on enchanting wide spaces, and making friends with dogs.
We were like toddlers in a playground, laughing to the beat of our hearts and running around to our soul’s satisfaction. We would tell stories of previous trips to our guide and she cannot believe how these small-framed ladies went through all that (spending 24 hours in Siquijor Island, diving in the open ocean without the skills for it, and the list could go on forever). I could only guess, but looking at her eyes revealed that she found our stories too far-fetched. Instead of being offended, I found it funny that we surpass people’s impression of us. It’s a compliment, at least, to be able to reach far from how other’s see us.
In the end, as it always has been, we get to see the fruition of our labor and stubbornness. When we refuse to give up and choose not to believe the words whispered by our fears, we usually find ourselves atop the summit of our dreams. In this case, we found ourselves lounging by the woods, occupying the front-row seats to this magnificent, oldie but goodie, beauty.
Don’t forget to tag #ChoosePhilippines in your photos when you get to the Cordilleras and tell your stories below! :)
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