Saturday, 4 August 2012

Images of Bontoc

The barangays of Bontoc Municipality, Mountain Province, Cordillera region, Philippines.
Going home one time, I caught an overnight bus from Quezon city to Bontoc. The bus night trip takes about 12 hours, and I did my best to squirm in and get a bit of sleep on the confined space of my seat. The bus had three scheduled stops for a bit of leg stretching, a toilet break or food. On the final leg of the journey, I awoke to the whine of the engine climbing the hills of Ifugao as we drove through gloomy Lagawe and then as dawn was breaking, rumbled past sleepy Banaue. Sunrise broke out over the mountains greeting us good morning. We were going down up the highway, listening to the big bus whine, humming up to the gap in the mountain range on Mt Polis. After stopping here for some refreshments we continued on to meet the new day, westerly down into Mountain Province.

Situated on the western slopes of the Mt Polis range, Bayyo is the eastern gateway to the Mountain province.

The mountains lifted their veil of clouds allowing travellers a glimpse at the mountainside village of Bayyo and its rice fields. Ole Hank put this town in a song:
...Son of a gun we'll have big fun on the Bayyo. he he. 
Amidst the hidden valleys and streams around here are Talubin and Can-eo. I hope to visit these places someday.

Further on down the road we come to -
 a gateway to the ricefields... i don’t know what else this could be.

We see more ricefields as we reach Samoki.

On top of old S’moki.
Samoki in summer, when not covered in smoke, is a sight to remember.

I’m a rambler and an ambler, but sometimes I range not far from home. Another time I took to the roads less travelled and found myself in the east of the province, through Barlig, Natonin and Paracelis. From there I travelled on a circuitous route north to Kalinga before homing to Mainit via Tinglayan and Sadanga.
A welcome sign in Tocucan at the northern portal to Bontoc shire.
On the approach into Bontoc municipality from the north, the road winds its way around the steep rocky banks of the Chico river. Sheer cliifs had to be blasted out for the road to go through.
The village of Tocucan was already here even before the wheel was invented, so that the roads that were inserted in town are narrow with tight bends and little room for traffic. Retaining walls had to be built very high because of the steepness of the terrain.
As in many places, necessity dictates land use. The principle of ‘highest and best use’ of land is a concept yet to be recognised and accepted in the mountain communities. Here, life is very much at a subsistence level and every piece of arable land is priceless and held on for generations.
So when government comes calling for a bit of riceland even for public use and purpose such as national road, rightly or wrongly, no amount of money can convince the traditional owners to part with their heirloom fields.
How long this stalemate will last, only time can tell. The future of these children or their children, or their children’s children is at stake. Will they carry on with tradition? Will they start a new life elsewhere? Again what price progress?
For the sake of the children, can we sort out this dilemma over land? In the words of Ama Barakob from Milika via Yaken (in Mainit it’s called Yagan), and in the ayyeng of the people who carved out this mountain fastness: "we-en man, yes we can!”

Speaking of home, (did I speak of home?) home is where the heart beats free, and that’s Mainit for me - sometimes.
The best sights in Bontoc municipality (and elsewhere) are off-road. I found this out some time ago when I first trod on a mountaintop and looked around at the world below.
On a mountain top, you're on top of the world. And I climb a mountain every chance I get. Forget Mt Everest – it’s full of peril such as frostbite and hypothermia etc. Forget Mt Pulag – there’s tourists there, and litter. Why go and see that? Climb your local hill or nearest mountain. In this turbulent world and times, you’ll find peace there. And whenever I’m conflicted, I go to the mountains.
Maligcong, Dalican and Guina-ang are on the way to my mountain home, if you go my way – the mountain way. These views are for the very few who take to the rough narrow mountain ridges -where even goats fear to tread (I think I said this before). It is always a privilege to behold these amazing hidden wonders.
Sometimes I put on my wings for a bit of an aerial view. Sometimes too I climb the tallest pines. But you weren’t born yesterday. So today on a mountaintop I clambered up to the pine treetops, and checked out Maligcong. (Photos may be reproduced but please acknowledge source).


Dalican with part of Guina-ang in the foreground at bottom-right.

The village of Guina-ang.

The ricefields of Guina-ang.

D'Albago highway.
Southbound from Bontoc, the mountain trail follows the main tributary of the Chico river upstream. Along the seven bridges road section of the halsema highway, travellers cross the many tributaries of the Chico. These smaller rivers or creeks include Balitian, Amlusong, Malitep, Bila with headwaters deep in the uplands in the west of the province.

Dantay at the crossroads.
Dainty Dantay is the gateway to Sagada and Besao.

The clear blue waters of the Chico are very enticing. But is it safe for swimming?

Itong bayan ay maalab - a very warm welcome stopover for weary travellers
 or motorists with broken-down vehicles. It’s called Alab.


Balili and Gonogon have the sweetest camotes and bananas, grown right on the balilings on the edge of the Chico and Malitep rivers.
Visitors should check out the roadside stalls here, for some of the quality local produce, to take home.

Back on the mountains, from an eagle's nest, I've finally spotted Bontoc and Mainit. 

It's time to go exploring.

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