Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Sagada Way

Sagada is one of the best destinations in the Philippines with so much activities and picturesque landscapes to offer.

Hiking, spelunking, culture, rice terraces, gastronomy, arts - they have it.
Famous for its magnificent caves, rice terraces and rustic lifestyle, Sagada regularly attracts thousands of tourists specially on weekends. Even made more famous by the movie “Tadhana”, more and more people come to Sagada to find their own “tadhana” (fate).

Viewing sea of clouds in Marlboro Country.

But before going there, make proper preparations. Sagada is a highland with climate different from the usual tropical setting.

Here are several things to consider when visiting Sagada
The sacred lake Banao / Danum.
  1. Be Culturally Sensitive. This is the most important of all. Don’t go around asking stupid questions like where you can find Igorots. The kind of Igorot you’re looking for does not exist. Igorots are the ones who live there and they’re the ones you meet around the place. The Igorots are not uncivilised, short, dark-skinned with kinky hair. They are educated, fair-skinned (unless they work in the farm constantly exposed to the sun), they have average height like most Filipinos, and many have aquiline nose and maybe better looking than those seeking for the ugly Igorot. Be respectful of the local traditions and culture. Don’t vandalise around especially their sacred places. Sacred places include their burial grounds and their mountains. You can shout at the echo valley but that doesn’t mean you can scream in every mountain top you visit.
  2. Wear sensible outfits. Don’t wear a skimpy short and keep complaining about the biting cold while waiting for sunrise in Kiltepan or Marlboro Country. Sagada is a highland with cold temperature and winds are freezing especially at night and at dawn. When going spelunking in the caves, wear shoes that you can dunk into the waters as you will be passing through underground rivers. Be prepared to get dirty especially when visiting the caves and the hanging coffins.  
    Underwater river system inside Sagada's caves.
  3. Bring emergency kit. Some of the trails are slippery so bring your med kit. With the freezing wind, you might like to expose yourself to the sun but this will give you sunburn. Use sunscreen protection. Also bring mosquito repellent.
  4. Register - All Visitors are required to register and pay an environment fee. Your receipt will be checked upon entering tourist areas.
  5. Guide is a must - Sagada is filled with beautiful canyons, cliffs, caves, streams, fields and forest but you could get hurt or get lost so make sure to ask for a guide when go venturing around the municipality. Children are not allowed to guide so ask for legit guides at the registration area. If you plan to sleep somewhere other than the guest houses, let someone know. If you don't turn up where you plan to be, the community will come looking for you. Get the emergency numbers when you register so you could call anytime you get lost. 
  6. Gastronomy adventure. Be daring to explore the food culture. There are the pleasantly surprising yoghurt house and lemon pie. But you should also try the locally-popular “etag” or smoked ham. This traditional way to preserve meat has survived for centuries and it is one of the local delicacies. And don’t forget the Sagada Oranges. Because of its popularity, even imported oranges are named after this Sagada native fruit. Make prior arrangement for your meals if you go out on tour to make sure they are ready when you return.
  7. Manage your own garbage - Sagada has no waste disposal system and every household and business establishments manage their own garbage. Do the same and bring home what you brought with you. 
  8. Get immersed with Art and music – We have some music and art hubs in Sagada. Art includes the weaving industry that have designs unique to the place. There’s also the Sagada Pottery where you can try out for a small fee. Of course we also have visual artists, check out some artworks you see around the place. Some of them were made by the locals. There are some folk dens to visit when you want to listen to music.
  9. Walk, don’t drive. Sagada gets pretty crowded during weekends and Holidays because of tourists insisting to drive around. Be prepared to walk if you visit Sagada and leave your cars in your accommodations or in designated parking areas. They have new ordinances that only public transport are allowed inside Sagada to avoid gridlocks especially during long weekends. So if you don’t want to walk, visit somewhere else. 
  10.  Don’t forget number 1. I can write more about things you need to consider when visiting Sagada but these to me are the most important. If you forgot what I’ve written here, the most important really is number one, be culturally sensitive. Like that famous phrase “When in Rome, do what Romans do,” when you’re in Sagada do it the Sagada way.

See you on the road.

The hanging coffins.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Mountain Trail Thrill

The distant mountain on the left is Mt. Pulag while the peak on the right is Mt. Timbac

The Queen's Curtain in Sumaguing Cave is one of the
tourist destinations in Sagada.
Cordillera has many beautiful places to visit like Sagada and Banaue. But the saying goes “it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”

So while we will surely enjoy our visits to these beautiful spots, we sometimes forget about the sceneries we pass along the road. If we are on a bus, we may even opt to sleep on the way.

That’s the beauty of riding a motorbike coz you can’t sleep and you will surely notice all of the beautiful spots on the road. So let’s talk about the main highway connecting the provinces of Cordillera, the Halsema Highway.

The Cordillera Mountains as seen along Halsema Highway.
This is a challenging highway with sharp curves, steep inclines and declines. But passing here, you will be rewarded with scenic picturesque views along the way.

The vegetable terraces of Buguias.
It’s an adventure from La Trinidad, Benguet  to Bontoc, Mountain, Province. It also connects to Sagada and to the rice terraces of Ifugao via Bontoc. This road is an engineering feat with continuously eroding mountains and solid rock formations. The half tunnel in Atok was carved from a steep ravine of solid rock.

Benguet offers views of terraced vegetable and flower gardens. The mountain ranges of Kibungan that can be seen after about 30 kilometers of travel (km. 38) are dubbed by some visitors as the Switzerland of the Philippines because of its grandeur.

Mount Pulag, the second highest mountain in the country can be viewed in Atok. Atok is where the highest point of the Philippine Highway system is situated at 2,300 meters above sea level (MASL) (7,000 feet).

Majestic Mount Pulag in the Background as seen in Atok.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can take a short detour to Mt. Timbac where you can see a burial cave of some of Kabayan’s mummies. Another short detour you can do is to Mount Usdong in barangay Madaymen, Kibungan where you will see some of the best views of beautiful vegetable terraces.   Mount Usdong is 2617 meters above sea level; there you can see the view of Atok, Kabayan, Kibungan and Buguias.

The first municipality of Mountain Province in Sinto also offers vegetable terraces but as you go deeper into the province, you will see it transforms into rice terraces.

Not only is the road scenic but historic as well. This mountain highway formerly known as the Mountain Trail was named after Eusebius J. Halsema in 1953 under Republic Act 933. Halsema was an American Engineer who became the Mayor of Baguio from 1921 to 1937. It was originally a horse trail called the Mountain Trail used by gold prospectors and traders during the Spanish and American time. Some of the remains of the old trail not converted into a road is still called Spanish Trail.

When Halsema became the Mayor for Baguio, he fought for the improvement of the road.  The national government complained of the enormous amount needed to finish the road but Halsema insisted that it will bring progress to the region and eventually to the country, making use of the mining industries in the nearby towns as one of the reasons.

To augment for the needed labor, the locals were utilized. Having no money to pay for their taxes, they contributed days of labor per year in the road construction. Some of them complained about this forced labor and they called Halsema “busol” or “buso”, a mean person who takes advantage of others. Halsema’s methods maybe mean but without that resolve, this road may not have been built during his time, or perhaps not at all.

Road construction started in La Trinidad and Bontoc. My grandmother told us that they would put the workers on suspended barrels and lowered over the mountain sides to dig holes for dynamites. So next time you pass by these rocky mountains, especially from Gueoeng to Balangabang (km. 40 to 48) or in Sabangan in Mountain Province, try to imagine how hard it was to build this highway back then with no heavy equipments.

Eventually, the road construction slowly crawled but it did crawl.  And in 1933, after eleven years of hard labor, the first car arrived for the first time in Bontoc.

Next time you pass by this road, you may want to reflect on the blood, sweat, tears and even people’s lives that were sacrificed during its creation and have better appreciation of this mountain highway.
See you on the road.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

My Tublay Scenic Detour

Recently, I served as a guide to a group of riders going to a wedding in Kapangan, Benguet. I suggested to take the scenic Alapang – Alno – Tuel – Ambongdolan Road. This scenic detour is a single lane road perfect for motorbikes. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the conditions of their bikes and their expertise in driving on mountainous roads as they all came from the low-lands.

This road has very steep inclines and declines. A 110 cc bike with two passengers had its chains broken, thankfully, someone brought an extra. The ones driving scooters complained of muscle strains for the continuous and strenuous use of their brakes. This is the very reason why I did not buy a scooter coz I’m an extreme user of engine brakes and I need that a lot in the mountainous Cordillera. I’m pretty sure, my chains stretches faster than some bikers. These are some things to consider when you go riding around Cordillera's terrains. 

The steep inclines

My trustee 125 cc bike I hope to upgrade someday into 150 cc
So this road is not for every bike and although concreted, some parts are already deteriorating. This place, however, is very scenic and having a picture of yourself riding on this road is very picturesque.

You will be passing by some unique views of Benguet like the terraced flower gardens . And if you have time, you can visit the beautiful falls in Tuel. There are also hot springs in Tuel area if you want to take a dip. Just drop by the hot spring resort by the road.

Tuel Hot springs
Also in Tuel, you will see a centuries-old historic balete tree that was instrumental during the Filipino guerilla’s fight against Japanese army in World War 2. This tree served as guerrilla leader Bado Dangwa’s guard tower. 


You will also pass by some of the historic caves in Ambongdolan that you can visit by hiring a guide at the Barangay Hall, the Bengaongao and Paterno caves.

Entrance to Bengaongao Cave
These caves served as the guerrilla forces’ hiding places. The Paterno cave has an older history named after Pedro Paterno who made use of this cave as one of his hiding places from the Americans in the early 1900s until his capture.

Try this road sometime if you want an adventurous short ride.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Baguio stages first Creative Festival

Baguio City launches today, November 10, 2018, the first Creative Festival as a celebration for its recognition as the first UNESCO Creative City in the country.

This festival is a consolidated effort of the City of Baguio, the Department of Tourism (DOT), The Department of Trade and Industry, the Baguio Arts and Crafts Collective, Inc. (BACCI) and the different Art Groups and Craft Centers.

The recognition as a creative city under Crafts and Folk arts was awarded on October 30, 2017 and a soft launch for the festival was done on February with the unveiling of the Creative City’s logo designed by National Artist Ben Cabrera.

BenCab during the launching of the Creative City Logo.
Applying for a creative city title only took 2 months to prepare for the proponents. Baguio was already an art haven and also a center for crafts and folk arts making it easier for Baguio to acquire the title given the short preparation time to fill in the necessary documents. Out of the ten cities in the Philippines that applied in 2017, only Baguio was accepted.

As a melting pot of cultures and as the center of commerce in Cordillera, it has attracted different crafts with designs inspired by the cultures of the northern Philippines. Baguio was predominantly an Ibaloy settlement until its creation as a chartered city 1909 attracting workers coming from the neighboring provinces. Today, the city offers all the cultures in the north especially the six provinces in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

The honour goes primarily to the creative workers who kept the folk art traditions alive: the weaving, sculptures, metal crafts, and many other cultural-based crafts that became popular in the City. Of course we will not discount the other art disciplines like the visual arts that has made the local culture the base of their works.

One of the requirements by UNESCO for the city to retain its title is to conduct a creative festival to bolster the creative industry in the region.

Proponents of the creative festival also consolidated efforts to make use of old and unused buildings to become creative centers.

The ruins of Diplomat hotel famous for being haunted and a popular destination for tourists and ghost hunters served as the launching of the festival. It will hold an exhibit and several art installations of Baguio and Cordillera artists.

A Department of Trade and Industry building located in Upper Session Road that was not utilized for a long time was converted into a productivity center showcasing Cordillera crafts.

The proponents are proposing that the initialized usage of these buildings during this festival will become permanent to enhance the city’s and region’s creative economy.

The festival’s slogan Enta Cool was derived from Kankaney word “Enta” which means “let’s go” combined with what Baguio is famous for, being “cool”.

The idea to apply for the creative city title was suggested by Paolo Mercado,  President of the Creative Economy Council of the Philippines.

Mercado saw Baguio’s potential to be among UNESCO’s creative cities and worked closely with the City, Department of Tourism and BACCI from the preparation of documents to the staging of the festival.

Former DOT CAR Regional Director now DOT COO Venus Tan revolutionized Cordillera’s tourism industry and the prime mover of this endeavor. With the potential to make it an international arts festival, Tan have chosen however to start it with Baguio arists and artisans. “The first creative festival should be dedicated to the local artists and artisans and they were invited to showcase their artworks to tourists and art enthusiasts visiting the city and the promoted art hubs.”

University of the Philippines Chancellor Raymundo Rovillos, a member of BACCI said that the “aim is to galvanize Baguio artists” for this first creative festival celebration.

“We aim to rejuvenate and revive Baguio through sustainable development t and creative economy,” said Rovillos.

The festival will run from November 10 to 18 with several creative crawls to visit across the city.

The UNESCO Creative Cities program is part of the Millennial Development Goals in reducing poverty through Sustainable Developments.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Wire Art, a miner’s lifeline

A young miner and a father of a four-year old boy found wire art when monsoon rains and typhoons devastated Itogon, Benguet and affected their livelihood.

Last week, I made a short ride to Dalicno to visit this miner who is also a distant relative of mine. Kenneth Jones Pulsingay started experimenting with wire art during the month-long typhoon Habagat where he created insect-shaped designs like spiders and scorpions for his four-year-old son’s toys. When relatives saw his works, they encouraged him to create bigger designs. He started to make bonzai-like trees made of wires.

Surprisingly, even without any formal training, he was able to make exceptional artworks. Timely with the order to stop small-scale mining, his relatives encouraged him to continue hoping this will help the family start a new livelihood.

Pulsingay said what moved him to create these wire arts is to have something to give his boy to play with as he can’t afford the expensive plastic toys. Some of the materials he used were rusty wires he found lying around. The further improvement of his crafts, he credited to his relatives and neighbours who encouraged him to make more. They bought him raw materials to start with.

This shy young man from the Kankanaey tribe in Dalicno, Itogon shows passion in his arts creating masterpieces that are life-related. His Ompong tree shows the strength of the typhoon that caused havoc to the northern part of the country, but it also shows the unbent resilience and resolve of the people that was represented by the still standing tree.

His Waka-waka tree was derived from the vines hanging on trees, which is called “waka” in Kankanaey. A coconut wire tree perched on an island with real coconut shell that made the island.
His mother Agnes who was an innate artist herself said Kenneth was always fascinated with unusual objects like strange-looking trees. “He started keeping tree roots for functional decorations and even created a house-like shell bank made of scrap woods when he was young and gave to me as a gift,” she said.

Relatives say he got his art instincts from his mother who has also no training in art but was able to create exceptional painting decorations on their walls. She is helping Kenneth design the base of his wire art from found things from the forests and these too are works of art.

The family is appealing to the public to support Kenneth’s artworks to support him and his family while mining is still banned. If things go well, he may not have to go back to mining.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Baguio's Panagbenga 2018 showcases culture, creativity

BAGUIO -- An estimated 1.5 million tourists and locals attended Baguio City's much-awaited Panagbenga flower festival, which is now on its 23rd year.
Just last year, Baguio City was named as one of UNESCO’s Creative City for crafts and folk arts joining the network of 180 creative cities and this year's festival was meant to showcased the culture and creativity of the Cordillera region.
Among the highlights of Panagbenga 2018 was the Grand Street Dance Parade participated by local student groups and street dancers, who came from the different provinces in the north, some coming all the way from Aurora province; and the Grand Float Parade participated by 27 floats.
Most of the local participants showcased cultural dances, swaying to the familiar Panagbenga Hymn.
This short article was also published by ABS-CBN, see link below.


Here are some of my shots during the 2-day parade.