“I have so many beautiful stories to tell about my recent trip to
Ifugao, Mountain Province and Benguet but I don’t know where to start.
Sa sobrang dami at sobrang ganda ng napuntahan ko,
di ko alam paano ko umpisahan.”
This is what I wrote on my Facebook status yesterday as I started scanning the multiple photos I took during my short visit to some of the most beautiful towns in Cordillera Region. The still images are so vivid and each photo tells one beautiful story. I’m puzzled where to start – where to begin chronicling this journey that was born out of admiration for our country, the Philippines.
As I went through looking at these photographs one by one, I was reminded of my childhood dream born way back in grade school. As early as grade one, our Sibika at Kultura book taught me about vital lessons that made up why the Philippines is such a beautiful country. All those places of great importance mentioned on the book deepened that immense admiration in me about our country. It nurtured that sense of nationhood as I slowly take pride of our own heritage. That admiration was turned into a dream – a dream of visiting those places one day. Years passed by, I passionately begin living that dream – going places marveling at sights I used to see only on books and postcards. After many years, finally another dream was realized – seeing the many entrancing gems of the mountainous region of Cordillera.
I remember growing up how I love articulating the words Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banawe. I guess every little pupil who loves their Sibika at Kultura books would agree that the picture of Banaue Rice Terraces is one the most breathtaking pictures included in the book. Even in our classroom’s Filipiniana Chart, the postcard of the Rice Terraces of Banaue always stood out. And so the thought of going there marveling at this captivating spot once hailed as the 8th Wonder of World me thrilled me like a jovial kid.
Coming from the south, going up north to the mountainous Cordillera Region entails a lengthy travel. Davao City to Manila is roughly 2 hours flight and Manila to the Provinces of Ifugao and Mountain Province via Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya is about 12 hours. For some, this can be a very tedious journey but for me and my 11 equally adventurous friends, this is where real adventure begins.
It was 3 am at dawn when we left Manila. Fortunately, despite the Low Pressure Area that was spotted northwest of Luzon, we were blessed with a fine weather that early morning. In fact, we even got a perfect glimpse of a glorious sunrise somewhere in Nueva Ecija. In my mind, I thought the gods of Cordillera are with us on this trip. It brought to mind the same situation when I first set foot on the mountainous grounds of the province two years ago when I climbed Mount Pulag, the 3rd highest peak in the country and the highest in the whole Island of Luzon. The weather that time was even worse but we all survived Mount Pulag – seemed there was a strong divine intervention. But this trip was a lot better. It promised an unforgettable journey.
After plying the highways of Nueva Ejica and Nueva Vizcaya for almost 8 hours, excitement fired up when finally the signage that bears WELCOME TO PROVINCE OF IFUGAO was laid before our eager eyes. I can feel the warm welcoming words of the welcome pylon as we entered the grounds of Kiangan, the first Ifugao town from Nueva Vizcaya. Having seen that, I could no longer contain my excitement. “Ifugao, yes, this is Ifugao”, words that I silently muttered.
As we moved up further, my eyes were glued on the green mountains of the Kiangan. There, I saw few rice terraces but not the one I pictured on my mind. Those were just few of the many breathtaking rice terraces that can be seen in Ifugao. Ten minutes later, our driver/tourist guide/friend Andrew pulled over our van just beside the view deck overlooking the breathtaking view of verdant mountains of Kiangan. It was our first official stop. All of us hurried to the view deck and submitted ourselves to full admiration of the beautiful environs that enveloped us. I took a deep breath and savored the thought that I am there – in Ifugao, so close to Banaue Rice Terraces. So close to that dream.
From there, we moved forward. Along the way, I noticed few Ifugao traditional houses erected beside the highway. There were open huts too selling famous Ifugao woodcrafts and carvings. There were plenty of them as we passed by the highway but the one that charmed us was this Ifugao House where various woodcrafts of different designs and sizes were on display. It was a charming souvenir shop that sells interesting items – bulol (rice gods), pestle and mortar, libbit (conical-shaped drum) and many more. I got the libbit for myself surprisingly for only Php 200.00. Because the shop was a little charmer, we stayed there for a couple of minutes enjoying things that we all found amusing. But as I went through the back of shop, there I found another charming rice terraces. It was beautiful. But I know I wasn’t the one mentioned in the book. It was not in Kiangan but in Banaue.
Again, we moved back into the van and continued our journey. I was humming the song from one of my favorite classic films – The Sound of Music. “The hills are alive with the sound of music” – the lyrics, the melody seemed to blend with the most spectacular view of the best mountainous region I’ve ever been. This is Cordillera, I reminded myself again. “Savor it, Olan! This has been your dream!”
Moving forward, I didn’t notice we had already reached another town as my mind wandered around thinking about this whole Cordillera trip until Andrew announced, “Welcome to Banaue”! Hearing this, I instantly shivered in sheer excitement.
“Banaue, oh, my Banaue. At last, I’m here…! “
WATCH OUT FOR THE NEXT POST: “BANAUE, OH BANAUE, AT LAST I’M HERE!”
This is The Travel Teller’s Ifugao-Mountain Province-Benguet Diaries