Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Tourist Spots in Benguet (Mountains, Caves, Farms, Etc.)

[Note: This is a work-in-progress. If you have suggestions and recommendations, please feel free to chime in at the comments section below. Or send me an email at or connect with our Facebook page. All photos used here were taken by me. Needless to say, if you are going to use them for whatever purpose or reason, please take the time to ask for my permission as well as provide credit to whom credit is due. I'm an advocate of the free use and proliferation of creative content but a certain level of policing needs to be done to curtail the rampant rehashing of creative content without crediting the source.]

1. Mt. Pulag – Mt. Pulag remains as the most popular hiking and mountain climbing destination in the Philippines. It offers a plethora of surprises to those who dare endure the several hours that it takes to scramble to the top. The picturesque grasslands. The amazing views during sunset and sunrise. The rolling sea of clouds. The cold temperature that sometimes go below the freezing point. Exploring the natural wonders of Benguet won’t be complete without pursuing a detour to this mountain which a lot of the Ibalois (one of the tribes of Igorots that live in and around the area) consider as sacred. Legend has it that Kabunyan (sometimes spelled as Kabunian), the Igorot god, lives in the mountain. For a panoramic view of Mt. Pulag's peak, go here.

2. Mt. Ulap – Very accessible from Baguio City. The trail isn’t that difficult even for beginners. Getting in and out of the mountain won’t take more than eight hours. In short, Mt. Ulap is the perfect day-hike. These are just a few of the reasons why hikers are trooping to this mountain (technically, it’s a mountain range). Located in the town of Itogon, you can reach the place in under an hour.

3. Mt. Yangbew – Think of Mt. Yangbew as the mini-me of Mt. Pulag. There’s a reason why it’s often referred to as the Little Pulag. The two mountains share quite a few attributes: grasslands and beautiful views of distant Benguet mountain peaks. Located in barangay Tawang in La Trinidad, hiking to the top shouldn’t take you more than an hour. Overnight camping is also allowed on the mountain provided that you pay the corresponding fees to the barangay.

4. Aran Cave
– The town of Tuba has quite a few caves but it’s Aran Cave that attracts the most attention. Just a stone’s throw away from Kennon Road in Camp 3, the cave is perfect for a few hours of spelunking. It has pools of water inside, some of which are deep enough so that you can have a swim in them. It also has waterfalls inside. As icing on the cake, the cave system is adjacent to a small resort where you can have a beer or two, relax, or sing karaoke after hard hours of crawling, climbing, and swimming inside the cave.

5. Ambongdolan Caves (Paterno Cave and Bengaongao Cave) – The town of Tublay is home to several caves. Two caves that have been developed and opened for tourists are Paterno Cave and Bengaongao Cave. Both of these caves are located in Ambongdolan, a barangay that’s about 30 minutes to 1 hour away from the capital town of La Trinidad. Before going to the caves, visitors are required to register at the barangay hall and pay the corresponding fees. You will be provided with a guide, head lamps, and other necessary equipment.

6. Strawberry Farm – The province of Benguet is the biggest producer of fresh strawberries in the country. Most of these strawberries come from the Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad. Visitors of the farm can purchase packed strawberries from the stalls near the farm or they can go and pick the strawberries themselves. The farm is located in Km. 6 and is just a few minutes of walk from the main road.

7. Mt. Kalugong - This mountain which towers over the La Trinidad valley got its name from the huge boulders of rocks atop it that look like a hat from a distance. “Kalugong” means hat in the local language. The mountain can be accessed either through Banig, Tawang or through barangay Cruz. Mt. Kalugong is an ideal location for picnics. There are huts and picnic tables scattered within the eco-park. The place also has its own coffee house where you can sip on local-flavored coffee and munch on strawberry and chocolate cakes.

Other places of interest (write-ups coming soon):
1. Mt. Ugo
2. Mt. Purgatory
3. The Flower Farms of Bahong
4. The STOBOSA Hillside Homes Artwork
5. Timbac Cave
6. Mt. Timbac
7. The Kibungan Traverse

Friday, March 17, 2017

Our History Books Are Wrong: Ferdinand Magellan Did Not Discover The Philippines

The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
For decades, it has been taught in Philippine schools that the country was first discovered by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who led the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 until his death in 1521. Many schools in the Philippines still teach this false claim that "Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines".

Let's be completely clear here. Ferdinand Magellan did not discover the Philippines. He merely landed on its shores on March 16, 1521. Prior to Magellan's arrival in the archipelago, people had already populated nearly all corners of the islands. Various civilizations flourished in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao for thousands of years before Magellan's ships caught sight of the islands from afar. How can you claim to have discovered a place when there were already people inhabiting it when you arrived?

With that aside, what should be the appropriate term to use when referring to Magellan's arrival in the country. Some say we should use the term "rediscovered" instead of "discovered". This is still wrong and doesn't make any sense whatsoever. The best way to describe Magellan and the members of the expedition is this: they are among the first Europeans to set foot in the Philippines.

So, if Ferdinand Magellan did not discover the Philippines, who did? This is a very difficult question. One that can't be provided with a definitive answer until we are able to piece together the waves of human migration that led to the settlement of the islands. As of this writing, there are several models of migration to the Philippines. There's still a thick fog of doubt and uncertainty swirling around these theories. One theory posits that the first humans in the archipelago came from the north (Taiwan). Another theory claims the complete opposite: the first human inhabitants came from the south (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei).

Here's a quick overview of the models of migration in the Philippines:
1. Beyer's wave migration theory (Theory of Waves Migration) - Waves of migration came from the south via land bridges. These waves arrived in the following order: Dawn Man, Negritos, Indonesians, and Malays. This is the theory most well-known to Filipinos because it's the one commonly being taught in schools.
2. Bellwood's Austronesian diffusion theory (Austronesian Model) - Also referred to as the out-of-Taiwan hypothesis, this model suggests that people migrated from China to Taiwan then all the way down to the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
3. Solheim's Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network (NMTCN) or island origin theory - This hypothesis is rather difficult to summarize so I suggest you read about it here and here.
4. Jocano's local origins theory (Core Population) - This model contends that the first inhabitants of the Philippines did not come from the Malay Peninsula. Jocano suggests that Filipinos are products of the long process of evolution and the movement of people.

Quick note: The oldest human remains found in the Philippines were dug out from the Callao Caves in Cagayan sometime in 2007. Modern dating methods estimate the age of the remains to be 67,000 years old. That said, some group of humans beat Ferdinand Magellan in discovering the Philippines by at least 50,000 years.

Monday, March 13, 2017

March 20 (Monday) Declared As A Non-Working Holiday In La Trinidad, Benguet

It's going to be a long weekend for residents and workers in the town of La Trinidad in Benguet. In a proclamation signed by acting Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra by the authority of President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacanang Palace declared March 20 (Monday) as a special non-working holiday in the entire municipality. The proclamation aims to allow residents of the town to participate in the ongoing celebrations of the month-long Strawberry Festival.

Here's a copy of the proclamation:

Malacanang Palace

By the President of the Philippines

Declaring Monday, 20 March 2017 As A Special (Non-Working) Day In The Municipality Of La Trinidad, Province Of Benguet

Whereas, the municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet marks the celebration of its Strawberry Festival every 18th day of March;

Whereas, to enable the people of the municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet to fully celebrate the occasion, the Office of the Mayor requested that Monday, 20 March 2017 be declared as a special non-working day instead of 18 March 2017 which falls on a Saturday;

Whereas, it is but fitting and proper that the people of the Municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet be given full opportunity to celebrate and participate in the occasion with appropriate ceremonies;

Now, therefore, I, Menardo I. Guevarra, acting Executive Secretary, by authority of the President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, do hereby declare Monday, 20 March 2017, as a special non-working day in the Municipality of La Trinidad, Province of Benguet.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Republic of the Philippines to be affixed.

Done in the City of Manila, this 13th day of March, in the year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Seventeen.

By Authority of the President
Menardo I. Guevarra
Acting Executive Secretary
Photo by Daniel Feliciano / The Cordilleran Sun

5 Awesome Caves In Benguet For Those Yearning For A Caving Adventure

For decades, spelunkers and caving enthusiasts heading into the Cordillera region had but one destination: Sagada. This shouldn't surprise anyone as this peaceful and secluded town in Mountain Province has not one but at least four expansive caves. Truth be told, the town's status as a tourist magnet relies largely on these great caves.

Here's the good news: the caving scene in the Cordillera region is starting to flourish with renewed vigor as new players enter the game. Several caves within the province of Benguet are already open to the public. Logistics are also in place for some of the caves. The communities overseeing some of these caves have guides and gear for those interested in visiting.

This should sound good for those who have already explored Sagada's caves and are looking for new destinations. Or if you are not yet ready to endure the 7-hour bus ride to Sagada, why not consider exploring the caves in nearby Benguet towns. Below is a quick breakdown of the caves in Benguet that are open to spelunkers, hikers, and adventurers.

1. Aran Cave
If you fancy crawling through tight spots and wading through underground pools, this cave is for you. Since it's located in Camp 3, Tuba, you can get there in under an hour. That is if you're coming from Baguio City. Aran Cave is short but it has everything you'd look for in a caving adventure. There are waterfalls and pools inside where you can bathe and swim. There are rock walls that you need to either climb or rappel.

Tips: Wear long pants and shirts. Majority of the rocks and boulders inside have rough and jagged surfaces. One misstep and you'll be nursing a bloody injury. If you're bringing in phones or cameras inside, you should bring along a sealable plastic bag (ziplock) or something similar.
There are pools inside Aran Cave which are deep enough that you can swim in them. Photo by Daniel Feliciano / The Cordilleran Sun.
2. Ansagan Caves
There are about five caves (some say there's more) clustered within the outskirts of this small barangay in Tuba. These are as follows: Wagitwit Cave, Obbong-obbong Cave, Sinimbaan Cave, Pipingew Cave, and Takadang Cave. Aside from the locals, not many people know of these caves. And the place is a bit far. It can take you around three to five hours to reach the place. The caves are also undeveloped which means you will be entering them at your own risk.

Tips: Don't go there without coordinating with the municipality of Tuba and the officials of Ansagan. This is very important. Don't go there unannounced and expect to see guides and equipment waiting for you. Please coordinate with the local officials.

3. Paterno Cave
This is one of several caves located within the town of Tublay. In particular, Paterno Cave is one of two caves in barangay Ambongdolan that have been opened for tourists. The cave got its name from a certain General Paterno who used the underground hollows as hiding places during the Philippine-American war. To enter the enclosure, you have to go through a small slit in a rock wall. The cave doesn't go deep into the mountain although it has chambers that are dozens of meters high.

Tips: Always pay attention to your guide. If he tells you to duck down, do it. If he tells you to watch your step and use your headlights, do it. There's a certain section in the cave wherein you need to rappel down with a rope. Although there's a steel walkway built inside the cave, you can fall dozens of feet below if you slip.

4. Bengaongao Cave
This is the second cave in Ambongdolan that has been opened to the public. It's just a short distance away from Paterno Cave. It's deeper, it's longer, and it contains more rock formations. The entrance to the cave is in itself quite marvelous. There are chambers inside the Bengaongao Cave that were carved out by water over thousands of years. Fine sand and debris within the chambers point to the fact that the chambers get flooded with water during the rainy season.

Tips: Again, listen to your guide. There are some sections of the cave that can be dangerous if you slip or fall.
The giant entrance of Bengaongao Cave. Photo by Daniel Feliciano / The Cordilleran Sun.
5. Timbac Cave
You don't visit Timbac Cave in the town of Kabayan to spelunk, you visit it to see one of the great wonders of Benguet: mummy remains complete with detailed and fascinating tattoos. What's unique about these mummies is the process used by our Igorot ancestors to preserve the bodies. Although there are quite a few theories on how our ancestors accomplished it, the most accepted theory is the one put forth by Dr. Ursula Carino Perez. You can read more about how our Ibaloi ancestors mummified their dead in this Wikipedia article.

Tips: Always coordinate with the local government units overseeing the caves. Keep in mind that the mummies along with the artifacts around them are protected. In fact, the cave is locked so that only those who asked permission will be allowed to look at the mummies. And whatever you do, don't touch the mummies.
Photo by Daniel Feliciano / The Cordilleran Sun.
There ya go. If it's caving you want, the province of Benguet has you covered. Feel free to chime in at the comment section below to share your thoughts, suggestions, recommendations, and reactions.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Documentary On Kalinga Tattoo Artist Whang-od Makes It To The Cannes Film Festival In France

Whang-od Oggay's stock as one of the foremost traditional tattoo artists in Asia will likely rise with the inclusion of a short documentary about her in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival in France. The 15-minute documentary aptly titled Blood and Ink (Dugo at Tinta) will be among the hundreds of short films to be screened during the prestigious festival which will run from May 17 to May 28, 2017. Blood and Ink (Dugo at Tinta) will be part of the festival's Short Film Corner. It's worth noting here that the Short Film Corner is a film market and not part of the festival's competition section.

Directed by Jill Damatac Futter, Blood and Ink (Dugo at Tinta) merges the story of the beloved traditional tattoo artist with that of the budding filmmaker who just returned to her home country (Philippines) after spending 22 years as an illegal/undocumented immigrant in the United States. Futter made the film while studying at the University of the Arts London - London College of Communication. She submitted it to the university as part of her Master of Arts thesis.

In the words of the filmmaker, Blood and Ink (Dugo at Tinta) was conceived as a portrait documentary but it evolved into a meditation on identity as her re-connection with her roots significantly influenced the direction and overall theme of the film.
A large-than-life portrait of Whang-od at an art exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada last year. Photo courtesy of Kayleen Kwet.
Here's the synopsis for the film: "Conceived as a portrait documentary about a 97-year-old indigenous tribal tattooist in the Philippine mountains, this film evolved into an intimately subjective essay documentary as the filmmaker recognized that the personal catharsis of discovering her paternal roots inevitably influenced the film's shape. Blood + Ink (Dugo at Tinta) explores identity, both personal and national, through the story of Apo Whang-Od Oggay and through director Jill Damatac Futter's own story after 22 years away from the Philippines as an illegal immigrant in the United States."

Just a quick note: I've seen news stories and articles about Whang-od referring to her as the last Kalinga traditional tattoo artist. No, that is not the case at all. A lot of those in her tribe (Butbut) know the craft. In fact, Whang-od has taught the art to some of the girls in her village (a few of them in their teens). She has taught them the way she was taught when she was their age. So the claim that Whang-od is the last traditional Kalinga tatto artist is simply false and completely misinformed.

Related stories:
1. A Quick Guide For Those Planning To Visit Whang-od In Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga
2. Kalinga Tattoo Artist Whang-od Likely To Receive National Living Treasures Award
3. Bid To Declare Kalinga Tattoo Artist Whang-od As A National Artist Gains Momentum
4. Kalinga Tattoo Artist Apo Whang-od Featured In An Art Exhibit In Toronto, Canada

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mt. Kalugong In La Trinidad, Benguet Now Has Its Own Coffee Shop In A Cabin

I spent Valentine's Day writing essays and working on a long overdue art project. I spent the night of that fateful day reading John Gardner's novel Grendel, a weird but great (and humorous) retelling of the English epic poem Beowulf in the perspective of the hideous monster. I turned off my phone, popped a few cans of beer, and read until I finished the book around 2:00 am. In a nutshell, while everyone was romantically productive on Valentine's Day, I was busy typing away on a keyboard and poring over a book on monsters.

On the morning after Valentine's Day, I decided to go for a hike to sort of shake off the cobwebs of the previous day/night. Waking up with a bit of a headache, I went for a short run then headed over to Mt. Kalugong. Since they no longer allow hikers to pass through the "stairway to heaven" in Tabangaoen, I took the long route through barangay Cruz. There were only a handful of people when I entered the eco-park. I paid the park fee and immediately climbed over to the rock formations as everyone seemed to have retired to the picnic tables under the trees. I sat there at the rocks for a long while: thinking, mulling, reminiscing, enjoying the warm sunshine, taking in the view of the La Trinidad valley below, and eating my "baon" (potato chips and good 'ol water).

I explored the rock formations (the ones I didn't get to see during previous visits). It still amazes me how these gigantic rocks made it to the top of this mountain. Geology and how it explains the formation of geological landscapes over thousands and millions of years are very fascinating to me.

With the sun starting to burn through my skin, I climbed out of the rocks and headed over to the newly opened coffee house on the southern side of the park. Except for the lone waitress and two lively and giggly girls enjoying their coffee and chocolate cakes in one of the tables, there was no one else inside the cozy shop. Resembling a cabin from the olden times, the shop has wooden tables, wooden chairs, wooden floors, and wooden walls. You can even catch whiffs of that old wooden smell. It was nice. Cozy. Tranquil. Fresh air. Birds chirping outside. Soft wind blowing in from the open windows. It's paradise for loners and introverts such as myself.

The two women customers left and it was basically just me and the waitress in the cabin. Feeling a bit of hunger, I decided to order something. Looking over their menu board, I jokingly asked the waitress if they serve cold beer. She chuckled. They don't serve alcoholic beverages, she said. Because patrons might get drunk and fall off the rocks, she added. I chuckled. That's a good point. I asked for coffee and cupcakes because they ran out of strawberry cake.

I left the park high on coffee and with a stomach full of strawberry cupcakes. For sure, it was worth the climb.

Here are a few photos I snapped during the quick trip.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Frost Envelopes Vegetables In Atok, Benguet As Temperature Drops Below 0° Celsius

The temperature in the agricultural town of Atok in Benguet went below the freezing point for two consecutive days (February 15 and 16). Negative two degrees Celsius (-2°C) and negative three degrees Celsius (-3° C) were recorded on the mornings of said dates. The low temperatures led to the formation of frost (andap) on some vegetable patches in the town especially those located within Sayangan and Paoay.

Frost is characterized by a coating of ice on the leaves and stems of vegetables. They usually occur overnight and melt away during the day. Fortunately, the kinds of vegetables being raised in Benguet like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and cabbages are  only moderately susceptible to freezing and chilling due to frost. The most susceptible to frost are flowers and seedlings that are yet to be transferred to their plots.

In a Sun Star Baguio report, Agot Balanoy, general manager of the Benguet Farmers Marketing Cooperative, said that frost has less than 1% effect on the total vegetable production in the area. Balanoy added that it had been windy and drizzly in Atok for the last few days. These helped in mitigating the effects of frost on yet-to-be-harvested vegetables.
Image Source: Helen Simonsson via Flickr.
Frost formation is also a common occurrence in other Benguet towns especially in Kabayan, Kapangan, Kibungan, Buguias, Bakun, and Bokod.