Sunrise Watching at Kiltepan (Sagada, Mountain Province)

Jandy and I were awake by 4 AM as we, as well as the rest of the group, were slated to leave, on a hired jeepney, for  the Kiltepan (named after the 3 bounding barangays of Kilong, Tetep-An, and Antadao) Viewing Tower vantage point, where we were to view Sagada’s famed sun rise. It was very chilly that early morning, so we all donned our jackets and bonnets and made sure we all brought our cameras (in Jandy’s case, his Samsung Galaxy Tablet).  Breakfast would have to wait until our return.  The jeepney ride took all of 25 mins.,   traversing the road leading to Dantay Junction, then turning left towards a winding concrete road then, finally, to Kiltepan Junction, a  bumpy shortcut foot trail leading up to the hill on the right. 

Kiltepan Peak
The sun makes its appearance

It was still dark when we arrived there and the full moon could still be seen in the night sky.  There were already a number on sunrise watchers when we arrived, some bringing along coffee to keep warm together with their cameras and tripods.  Soon, more people arrived and the parking lot was soon filled with vehicles, both private and hired.  Some enterprising Sagadans, taking advantage of the holiday atmosphere, were making a killing selling freshly-baked pastries.  

The crowd of sun rise watchers
Jandy and I watching the sun rise

Soon night passed into day and we had an unusual and magnificent bird’s eye view of layers upon layers of the terraces at Kilong and Tetep-an, right down to the river valley and the Cordillera Mountain range, with the clouds below us.  

View of the rice terraces below us

Above them are the high ridges separating Bontoc from Sagada. We can also see the remnants of a Piltel antenna tower at the 1,636-m. high summit that was struck by lightning.  Then, at the 5:50 AM mark, the sun made its glorious appearance, to the joy of the crowd who had been forewarned that early morning fog can sometimes ruin views of the sun rising.  We were lucky to see the sun rise in all its majesty.

Bay-yo Rice Terraces (Bontoc, Mountain Province)

Upon crossing the border to Mountain Province, we made a second and final stopover at the lush green, 10-hectare Bay-yo Rice Terraces, located 18 kms. along the Bontoc-Banaue Road and 13 kms. from Bontoc Central (a 45-min. drive).  Jandy and I also made a similar stopover here 15 years ago.  Located on the southern slope of Mt. Polis, on an impressive precipice with a backdrop of mountains, it has high, fortress-like rice terracing. 

Bay-yo Rice Terraces
The drought-ravaged terraces 15 years ago

Compared to other rice terraces in Banaue, this cluster is much smaller but it doesn’t have houses or any other unsightly structures in the middle of the terraces, making it much more appealing to me. Whatever houses there are are packed on one side of a cliff, to the left of the terraces.   We can’t help be mesmerized by its charm and scenic location.  Worth some photographs, it can be seen from a concrete view deck along the road.  Jeepney drivers usually stop here but, in our case, I had to request our driver to do so.  There are public toilets located nearby.

The concrete view point
A sign here indicates that  this is a part of the “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras” as inscribed by UNESCO which showcases the engineering feat and ingenuity of the Igorots depicted here as master planners and astute agriculturists.

The Halsema Mountain Highway

After breakfast at the Albergo Hotel in Baguio City, Jandy and I packed just enough clothes for our 2-night stay in Sagada (Mountain Province) and left the rest at the Front Office.  From the hotel, we took a taxi to G.L. Liner terminal at the Dangwa Compound along Magsaysay Ave., fronting the Baguio Market.  We just missed the previous Sagada-bound bus by minutes so we paid the fare for the next bus, scheduled at 10:30 AM.  We spent the next hour at the Baguio Cathedral, climbing the steep stairs along Session Rd. to get there.  Here, we had snacks at the coffee shop within the compound before returning to the terminal.

The now paved Halsema Highway

A few after our return to the terminal, our designated bus arrived and we boarded the bus, sitting up front, to the right of the driver.  Soon, sacks, farm produce as well as luggage and bags were also being loaded around our area, making alighting a problem later for us.  We left the terminal just before 11 AM but, just before the interchange leading to La Trinidad Rd., traffic slowed us down due to road rehabilitation.  After 30 mins., we left the hustle and bustle of Baguio City and La Trinidad and were now on our way on our long-haul, 6.5-hr. drive to Sagada via the Halsema Highway, the highest highway system in the country.

Landslides and road slips are still a common occurence

Formerly called the “Mountain Trail,” this spectacular 146-km. (95 kms. of which are in Benguet) highway traverses Benguet from south to north.  Named after Eusebius Julius Halsema (American civil engineer and mayor of Baguio City, 1920 to 1936), it links La Trinidad and Baguio City with Bontoc, Sagada (151 kms.) and Banaue (196 kms.), cutting through mountain peaks, gorges and steep cliffs.   This highway was originally a foot trail used by mountain folk between Bontoc and the foot of Mt. Data.  U.S. Army engineers improved and widened it.  They also built a new winding road through precipitous slopes and traversing high ridges between Acops and Abatan,  The road reached Natubleng in 1928 and more than half its length (to Bontoc) was completed in 1931. All told, the highway took more than 15 years to build and was finally completed in 1936.

Fog can reduce visibility of the driver

Tracing a circuitous path, this road crosses the massive Cordillera Central mountain range, crossing deep ravines and skirting dangerous slopes. Jandy and I have passed this way before (in 1998), more than half the road then being unpaved, bumpy, rough and dusty. Today, about 95% of the highway is”paved.”  Still, landslides are a constant hazard here and big stones and debris tumble from peaks, especially during the rainy and typhoon season.  Occasional fog can also ruin a driver’s visibility. However, then and now, we stilled passed through some of the most spectacular mountain vistas found anywhere – magnificent, stonewalled rice and vegetable terraces; swift-flowing rivers spanned by hanging bridges; roadside waterfalls; pine-clad mountains; picturesque villages; etc..

Vegetable terraces
Along Km. 40, approaching Mt. Toyangan, we had good views of the 33-hectare Naguey Rice Terraces, along the banks of the Naburgo River (which joins the Amburayan River below Kibungan) in Brgy. Naguey in Atok. These stonewalled terraces are planted with both rice and vegetables.  The Amburayan River runs for about 30 kms. from Brgys. Pasdong to Naguey. Near Atok’s municipal hall, our bus made a highway stopover for a late lunch at Morning Star Restaurant and Fastfood.
Highest Point Marker in Atok

About 3 hrs. past Baguio City, we passed (but did not stop at) the Highest Point Marker (Philippine Pali), along Km. 53 (Km. 303), Brgy. Cattubo near Bayangan in Atok.  Here, the road crosses 2,450-m. high Mt. Paoay.  The highest point of all Philippine highways (7,400 ft. or 2,225 m. above sea level), its viewpoint has good views of Mt. Pulag, Mt. Timbac, Kabayan, Atok and the deep Agno Valley to the south (cloudy during the rainy season).

A beautiful, terraced mountainside

Along Km. 63 are the vast Natubleng Vegetable Terraces of Brgy. Natubleng in  Buguias.  Here, neat rows and upright trellises are planted with temperate-zone climate greens such as Baguio beans, cabbage, carrots and other vegetables and root crops.  We also passed the urbanized townships of Sayangan (Atok) at Km. 54 and Abatan (Buguias) at Km. 90.

The township of Abatan in Buguias
After the copper mining town of Mankayan, we entered Mountain Province at the town of Bauko, site of the 2,310 m. high Mt. Data and the Philippine Tourism Authority-managed Mt. Data Hotel, then on to Sabangan, the town before Sagada.  We exited the Halsema Highway when we turned left at the Dantay Junction where the still partly unpaved,10 km. road to Sagada starts.

The Adams Adventure Trail (Ilocos Norte)

Ferdz Decena crossing a hanging bridge
The sun shone brightly when we finally arrived at Adams’ town gym.  Here, Dr. Bielmaju Waley-Bawingan, wife of town Mayor Eric T. Bawingan, and a merienda of fresh buko juice and kakanin welcomed us.  Once carbo loaded, Dr. Bawingan briefed us on our next activity – a hike to Anuplig Falls, the most impressive of the town’s 11 waterfalls. She furnished us with 5 guides and, laden with bottled water, we now proceeded on our 2.5-km. hike, normally a 45-min. “walk in the park” for the townspeople, but double that for me and my group (and even longer for the others).
A small waterfall we passed

Though long, the hike was pleasant, the trail moderately graded (except at the steep shortcut we took up a hill), sometimes wide but often narrow. Again, we had fantastic views of forest-cladded mountains, hills and valleys; small, verdant, moderately-sloping rice terraces similar to those found in the Cordillera Region; crystal-clear brooks and rivers (one we crossed via a hanging bridge) and a small waterfall. 

Lush rice terraces

The swirling sound of the Bolo River heralded our arrival at the 25-ft. high Anuplig Falls, its two basins inviting us to swim its bracingly cold water.  Some of us (including me) bravely did so, with Frank Dizon at the lower basin: me (spraining my right foot in doing so), Ivan Man Dy and Ian Garcia climbing up to the second basin, and Gabby Malvar, Ida Noelle and Karlo de Leon moving further up to the base and back of the falls itself.  

Anuplig Falls

Ian, sprained wrist and all, bravely jumped from the top of the cliff safely down to the pool below (not recommended however).  The others just dip their tired feet, took photographs or interviewed Juan Agudo, a septuagenarian local farmer.  After an hour, we all retraced our way back to the town with yours truly, accompanied by Dandi Galvez and a guide, hobbling along on a sprained foot.

Juan Agudo

Mayor’s Office:  Municipal Hall, Brgy. Adams Proper, Adams, Ilocos Norte.  Mobile numbers: (0927) 668-1128 & (0921) 286-3470

Hike to Tappiya Falls (Banaue, Ifugao)

Tappiya Falls

Come morning it was decision time for the group.  There were two options left for us before leaving Batad in the afternoon.  For the still adventurous, me included, there was the 30-min. (according to the locals) hike to Tappiya Falls, something I haven’t done during my first visit (which was just a day tour way back April 1998).  The other was an easier hike down to Batad Village proper to photograph village life.  I chose the former but half opted for the latter. Joining me to the falls were AACC members Jun, Steve and Rosevie plus Pearl, Phoebe, Ivy, Arvic and our local guide Mang Vicente.

Batad Village

After a hearty but very early breakfast, we all left Simon Inn by 7 AM, taking the same route to the Central Viewpoint.  Beyond the rice terraces, it was a slow, lung busting and steep (with slopes reaching 45 degrees) hike.  A meandering river soon came into view, indicating how near we were to our destination. Across this river and upstream along the far bank was the beautiful and impressive, 25-m. high waterfall with its enormous swimming natural pool.  We were in luck as running across the falls was a rainbow, making for another beautiful and rare photo op. While the others went bathing, Jun, Vi, Steve and yours truly started clicking.

Apo Ben

After 30 mins.of this bather’s and photographer’s heaven, it was time to go as we had another long hard climb ahead.  A rest stop at the Central Viewpoint provided an opportunity to pose (for a fee) with Apo Ben, an Igorot dressed up in full tribal attire (complete with g-string, native spear and feathered headdress).  We arrived at Simon Inn by 11 AM in time for a well-deserved lunch we had no more time for a power nap as we had to pack our stuff and leave. Bebet and Bryan had left by then to allow themselves longer rest stops.  We left the inn with our porters by 1 PM.  The hard part was the hike, now uphill, to the Saddle but from here it was downhill all the way to our pick up point, arriving by 4:30 PM.  The debris from the landslide had been cleared by then.

Dinner at Hillside Inn

Our AUV brought us to Banaue town proper in time for an early pansit dinner at Hillside Inn.  We left Banaue by 6 PM on board a similar airconditioned GV Florida bus and arrived in Manila by 4:30 AM the next day. Again, this rewarding experience helped me gain a healthier respect for the hardworking Ifugao’s ingenuity, the wonders of God’s creation and, in spite of the long hikes, an additional 3 pounds (thanks to the pizza and nutritious highland rice!)

The Trail to Batad Rice Terraces (Banaue, Ifugao)

The Batad Rice Terraces

This stupendous amphitheater of stone and earth terraces was sculpted out of twin coalescing spurs of a steep, wooded mountain from riverbed to summit. Considered as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by many, belo it is the relatively unspoiled Batad Village.

These masterpieces of agricultural engineering are said to be the highest of its kind in the world and the largest single agricultural project in the history of mankind.  The terraces are estimated to be more than 100-sq. miles in area, reaching heights of 1,500 m. and its length, if put end to end, would extend 48,280.40 kms., encircling half the globe or extending 10 times the length of the Great Wall of China.

Our hired AUV was soon on our way, along the often dusty but now muddy Mayoyao Rd.,  to the Km. 12 Junction (called the “Saddle”), take-off point for the  hike to Batad Rice Terraces.  However, we only made it halfway as a fresh landslide, brought about by heavy rain the night before, blocked our way, adding another 6 kms. to our already arduous 4-km. hike.  Luckily, there were local porters to carry our backpacks (at PhP200/pack, 2 packs per porter, placed front and back).  Still, this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park as our group had to hurdle, aside from the landslides, tired and aching muscles, sore feet, rough mountain trails (sometimes narrowed to footpaths where only one person at a time could pass) and deep, treacherous ravines. Even in the cold, refreshing mountain air, most were sweating profusely due to the hot sun.

At Km. 12 Junction

Would-be backpackers soon gave up their backpacks to the porters, one had a bout of gout (nice rhyme), another, a diabetic, collapsed from insulin shock and another was on the watch list (having had a quadruple bypass).  Just the same, the photo opportunities were great, with lots of rice terraces, forest-cladded mountains and rivers to shoot, plus there were about six rest stations offering relief and refreshments (as well as souvenir items) to hikers.  From the Saddle, it was an easy downhill hike most of the way.

A Day Tour of Batad Rice Terraces (Banaue, Ifugao)

Batad Rice Terraces

A stay in Banaue is never complete without visiting the Batad Rice Terraces.  Seeing it is a “must” but getting there is no picnic as I was soon to find out.  The next day, April 12, Easter Sunday, after an early morning breakfast at the inn, Jandy and I were joined by Asia, Min-Min and Tom as we proceeded to the Trade Center.  Here, we hired a jeepney for PhP1,500 and waited awhile for other hikers to join us, our intention being to split the bill even further.  There were no takers.  We decided for the 5 of us to go at it alone.  The Batad Rice Terraces are located 16 kms. from the town and 12 kms. of the distance can be traversed, over the dusty Mayoyao national road, by our jeepney. Luckily for us, there were no sudden occurrences of landslides triggered by too much heat, it being the peak of the El Nino season. We safely made it all the way to the junction at Km. 12.

From hereon it would be hiking for the rest of the 4-km. distance. Jandy and I had on our indispensable media jackets (with its many pockets) and I brought along bottled water and my Canon point and shoot camera and videocam. The 2 to 3-hr. uphill/downhill and winding hike is demanding, but rewarding for hardy and seasoned hikers in good physical condition.  I didn’t exactly fit in that category as I wasn’t in good shape.  Jandy, a specimen of good health, kept egging me on – as I was huffing, puffing and sweating profusedly (even in the cold mountain air) – so I could keep up with the group, being the frequent tailender.   Luckily, for me, there were about 6 waiting sheds offering refreshments (as well as souvenir items) to hikers.  The rugged mountain trail sometimes narrowed to footpaths where only one person at a time could pass.  Below us were treacherous ravines.  Fog sometimes blanketed these trails.

After a few hours we emerged at the Batad “Saddle” in Bohr-Bohr, a landmark station in Cordilleras used to gauge the distance stretching to Batad. After another arduous hike, we finally reached our destination – the Simon Inn Viewpoint and its breathtaking side vistas of the Batad Rice Terraces.    This stupendous amphitheater of stone and earth terraces, sculpted out of twin coalescing spurs of a steep, wooded mountain from riverbed to summit, are considered as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and, unlike the more famous Pyramids of Egypt built by slave labor, were  built in the true bayanihan spirit (system of helping each other without fees).  However, the rice terraces weren’t as green as I would have wanted them to be, again it being the height of the El Nino phenomenon.

Below the viewpoint and adjacent to the rice terraces is Cambulo Village, a typical, unspoilt Ifugao village with two lodges and pale Hershey Kisses-like roofs in the midst of terraces.  My 3 companions decided to visit this rustic cobblestoned village where the ancient craft of bark cloth weaving thrives. Going down seemed easy but I dreaded the uphill return trip so I opted to stay behind and admire the view instead.  Too bad I didn’t bring any extra clothes with me.  It would have been nice to have stayed overnight.  Maybe next time.  My 3 companions returned after 2 hrs..  After a 3-hr.  stay (including lunch at the inn), we retrace our way back, under a more comfortable late-afternoon sun, to the Km. 12 junction where our jeepney waited for us.  Unlike our previous trip, our jeepney was now filled to capacity with foreign and local hitchhikers all thankful for the free ride back to town.  They then left us to settle our bill with our driver.   The nerve!!!  Jandy and I then proceeded to the Autobus ticket office at the town center to reserve bus seats as there was only one trip back to Manila. Asia, Min-Min and Tom planned to spend an extra day in Banaue.  Afterwards, we returned to People’s Lodge for a well-deserved dinner and rest.

The next day (Monday), after a very early breakfast at the inn, we proceeded to the Trade Center where we boarded our Autobus bus for the 347-km. (10-hr.) long-haul trip back to Manila via the Dalton Pass in Nueva Vizcaya.  Although the bus was branded as “aircon,” it would have been better for us to open the bus windows as the airconditioning wasn’t working.  It was hot all the way.  However, as soon as we reached the lowlands, my mobile phone became useful again.  Thank God.

Arrival in Banaue (Ifugao)

The 47-km. jeepney ride from Bontoc to Banaue, Ifugao province’s main tourism destination, was to take all of 2.5 hrs., the seemingly short distance made while climbing steep mountains via the dusty, narrow and bumpy Halsema Highway.  The discomfort was somehow alleviated by great views of some rice terraces that we passed.  By 4 PM, we arrived at the parking area for buses and jeepneys at the town’s Trade Center.   Banaue is the province’s transportation hub, being traversed by the one major highway leading south to Nueva Vizcaya and Manila and by a less-developed road going to Bontoc (Mountain Province), and from there, to Baguio City (Benguet).

Banaue town

This touristy area is the center of activity in the town and it has handicraft shops selling different kinds of traditional fabric like the woven bark cloth and dyed ikat cloth, wooden objets d’art  such as bowls, trays, oversized spoons and forks, antiques, entirely alien statues of American Indian chiefs and smiling, pot-bellied Chinese gods, and the traditional bul-ols (statues of rice gods).  Curio souvenirs include handwoven wall hangings, crocheted bedroom slippers and pfu-ong (traditional jewelry) representing good luck in hunting or prosperity of children.    At one end of it is the Municipal Hall and Post Office Sub-station.

The Caves of Sagada (Mountain Province)

The next day, Wednesday, we decided to go spelunking at Sumaging Cave.   Holy Week was around the corner and we wanted to go there before the onrush of tourists made it a first come-first served affair. Armed with my trusty video camera and point and shoot camera, we proceeded to the municipal hall where the Sagada Environmental Guides Association (SEGA) offers detailed information and guides with ropes and Petromax lamps.  They also keep the caves safe for and from tourists.  We hired a Kankanai lady guide for PhP300. It is always advisable to go spelunking with an accredited guide.  For one thing, they know the way to, from and around  the caves and secondly, if accidents happen inside a cave they now where to go for help.  Sagada sits on a limestone valley riddled with a total of 20 caves, some short, some  interconnected in huge underground mazes.  Eleven are burial caves, 6 of which are  accessible by foot from the highway. The burial caves have hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs and should be treated with respect.

Rice terraces along the road to the caves

With our guide in tow, we made a 40-min. downhill hike, along Soyu Rd., to the cave. Along the way, we passed many of Sagada’s coffee shops (try Shamrock Café beside the municipal hall) and guesthouses: Country Inn (up the stairs opposite the municipal hall), Masferre’s Inn and Café (displays old Masferre prints), Olahbinan Resthouse & Restaurant and the Greenhouse.  Next is the town’s first hotel, the 16-room Sagada Prime Hotel, opened in March 1997.  Here, we found a large, unsightly and quite out of place satellite dish.  Further out along Soyu Road, on the right, is Demang Village. This old village still holds traditional rituals at dap-ays (used by men of the village for meetings and ceremonies).  On the left, we saw some hanging coffins on a rock face.     Also along the way we passed some beautiful rice terraces.  Further down, to the left, we entered a path leading to Sumaging Cave’s (also called Big Cave, Marcos or Latipan Cave) big yawning entrance. Entering the cave doesn’t require special training or equipment but the first 100 m. entailed a steep and slippery descent.  At a certain point, we were required to take off our shoes.  Our guide pointed out the cave’s many unusual and grotesque limestone formations including “Pig Pen,” “Rice Granary,” “Giant’s Foot,” “Dap-ay,” “Pregnant Woman” and the impressive “Dancing Hall” and “King’s Curtain.”   We didn’t go beyond “King’s Curtain” as Jandy had difficulty going down.  The guide said that beyond was a cold, knee-deep underground stream which accumulates into  a large, 15-ft. diameter and 6-ft. deep vaulted pool 250 ft. down.  Its waters swirl through a funnel at the side of the mountain.   After about 2 hrs., we made our way back and out of the cave.

Jandy inside Sumaguing Cave

The tourist route takes about 3 hrs. but a full exploration of the cave entails at least 6 hrs. and some areas at its deepest levels can only be traversed by serious spelunkers with cave climbing equipment.  The cave also has other exits but most are difficult to reach by land. On our uphill trek back along Soyu Road, past the junction, is  a path on the right with a fence.  Here, steps going down the path leads to Lumiang Cave.  We stopped just at the large cave entrance where  many old and a few newer coffins were stacked. A portion of the cave’s mouth had collapsed and broken bones and coffin fragments litter the floor.  We felt no need to go inside.  The guide told us that this cave is connected to Sumaging Cave but reaching it would entail 6 hrs. of spelunking.   There are other caves that could be explored farther out but we were just too tired to explore them.    We returned to our inn for lunch and a much needed bath.  I opted for a noontime bath thinking the water would be warmer.  Boy was I wrong! Brrrr…..!