Monday, February 19, 2024

Mt. Binaratan in Dakaran, Tanudan, Kalinga

Mt. Binaratan is a mountain that straddles the border of the provinces of Kalinga and Mt. Province. To climb the mountain, you can either start from Dakaran (Dacalan), Tanudan, Kalinga or from Maducayan, Natonin, Mt. Province. I hiked the mountain from the Kalinga side. It's not an easy hike because of the steep trail going up but it's a short one. Starting from the village of Dakaran, we made it to the summit in under three hours. I think it can be done in under two hours if you keep up a fast pace. We weren't carrying heavy backpacks. Just water and trail food. Our companions who were carrying packs (because they were planning to camp overnight at the mountain) made it to the top in 3.5 or more hours.

The trail to the summit basically winds through dense jungle. Locals told us that wild boar, deer, and monkeys still live on and around the mountain. I believe them. When we got to the top, I looked around and there's dense slopes everywhere. It's easy to imagine that within these thickly-forested slopes still live wild animals like deer and wild boar.

Is It Camping-Friendly?

Yes. About a half-kilometer below the summit, there's a two-story building which basically serves as a shelter. It's a house that can accommodate 40 to 50 people. Tents can also be pitched on the grounds outside the shelter. For people climbing Mt. Binaratan via Kalinga, I would recommend this shelter if you plan on camping overnight on the mountain. The spot also offers a great view of Tanudan. If you are coming from the Natonin side, I heard that there's a campsite near the summit where hikers can pitch tents. I haven't seen the campsite though since we immediately climbed down the mountain once we reached the summit.

How to get to Dakaran, Tanudan

This info is based on how we got there during the Lumin-awa Trek. I don't know if there are other ways or routes on how to get there. Basically, you need a vehicle to ferry you and your camping/hiking gear from Tabuk City to the village of Lubo. The drive to Lubo can take between 2.5 to 3.5 hours. From Lubo, you need to hike to Dakaran. This would be another 2 to 3 hours. As to accommodation, you need to get in touch with the locals. The Kalingas are very hospitable. Finding a place to rest and sleep shouldn't be a problem. If you are in need of a guide to climb Mt. Binaratan, again, just speak to the locals. They'd be more than willing to help.

Photo Credit: James Tellias

Friday, February 16, 2024

Lumin-awa Trek: Exploring Kalinga on Foot

The warm glow of the sun was just starting to seep out into the horizon when our convoy of three vans reached Tabuk City, the capital of the province of Kalinga. It was a long drive from Baguio City. But excitement filled the air as we joined dozens of other people who came here to be part of the second edition of the Lumin-awa Trek. This is a 4-day hike planned as part of the province's annual Bodong Festival. I wasn't able to join the trek last year because (if I recall correctly) I was on another multi-day climb somewhere in Kibungan, Benguet.

I wasn't among strangers. I knew a lot of the hikers - friends, old acquaintances, and familiar faces from past climbs and adventures. In short, I was in good company.

This year's trek was hosted by the town of Tanudan. What's unique about this event is that it doesn't follow the same route every year. Pasil and Tinglayan were the host communities last year. Rumor has it that next year's edition will be hosted by Balbalan.

After a short program at the provincial capitol, it was another two-hour drive to the jump-off point where the trek officially starts. And that would be the village of Taloctoc. The drive to the jump-off point was a treat in itself. We drove past rolling hills and farms planted mostly with corn. If you've resided in an urban setting for a good amount of time, the effect of the rural scenes can be very rejuvenating. Almost detoxifying.

Coffee Equals Hello

The Kalingas don't say hello. They offer you a cup of coffee instead. That's their way of saying hello. For the whole duration of the 4-day affair, coffee was everywhere. Every village we entered and passed, there was coffee being offered. Every house we entered, there was coffee waiting at the door. My only issue was that the coffee is usually offered with sugar already mixed in. The "timpla" is often a bit too sweet for my taste. Or maybe I'm just not used to it. In hindsight, as I think about it, that could be the case. When I had my first cup in Taloctoc, the sweetness of the coffee was sort of jarring to the buds. Caught me by surprise. But as we progressed through the trek and I had my fair share of more cups of coffee, I started to not mind the extra sweetness at all. An acquired taste, methinks.

Kalinga Hospitality

There's hospitality and then there's "Kalinga hospitality". They'll catch the moon to ensure that you feel welcomed. That you feel at home. That you don't have to worry about anything. In every village we entered (Taloctoc, Anggacan, Banagao, Lubo, Ga-ang, Dacalan), there was coffee and food. We were served a sumptuous early lunch in Taloctoc. Every community also took the effort organizing welcoming committees. Anggacan ushered us into their community with the beating of the gongs and a group of singing women. They didn't stop singing until the last trekker came through. They served us snacks made from local produce - ube, cassava, and sweet "malagkit". They also provided us with hand-made walking sticks. A nice gesture given that we still had miles of hiking ahead of us.

On our way to Matacad Falls (also referred to as Sliding Falls), the trekkers were met by a group of young Kalinga dancers in full regalia. Another testament to them going the extra mile to welcome us. In moments like these, you forget everything to savor the warmth of such gestures. On the second day of the trek, we were met by yet another group of performers when we entered the village of Ga-ang. When it comes to welcoming guests, no one does it better than the Kalingas.

Mt. Binaratan

The 3rd day of the trek was dedicated to climbing Mt. Binaratan, a mountain that towers over the village of Dacalan (Dakaran). Although the trail to the summit was steep, it was not that long. Most of the trekkers planned on camping and staying the night in Mt. Binaratan. So they had with them heavy packs containing their camping gear. A small group, which included myself, decided to day-hike the mountain. That is to hike to the summit then go back down. We carried nothing with us except our hydration bottles and packed lunches. James and Al (the Tellias brothers) served as our guides as they've climbed the mountain way back in 2022. Aside from a minor confusion at a trail junction, the climb went smoothly. When I got to the campsite, James was already there. We set up the "finisher" tarpaulin and waited for the rest of the day-hikers.

The slopes of Mt. Binaratan are still heavily-forested. The mountain is the perfect setting for forest bathing. There are hardwood trees that are several stories high that you can't see their tops. Some are huge enough that it takes several people to wrap their arms around their trunks. Photo Credit: Arvin Balageo / The Northern Nomads

The main peak of Mt. Binaratan is another kilometer further up the trail from the campsite. We decided to push ahead towards it. Unfortunately, we hit a snag when we reached a section of the trail that was too thick with vegetation. We decided to go back and hope to borrow machetes/bolos from the policemen camped nearby so we can bushwhack our way to the summit. Fortunately, a couple of the day-hikers who already reached the campsite had machetes with them. So the climb to the summit resumed. The two cleaned the trail for us. The progress was slow but we finally made it to the top of the ridge. There was a bit of confusion there as we took some time pinpointing where the main summit should be. We relied on Al's tracking data. Furthermore, there was no signage there. The LGU of Tanudan should consider putting up a signage there to mark the mountain's highest point.

Last Words

The Lumin-awa Trek was a memorable experience. Kalinga is a province that the gods showered with so much beauty. The countryside is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The host communities are beautiful. And the sense of culture....what can I say about their culture? You have to be there and experience it for yourself.

Thank you Kalinga. Until the next adventure.

A good part of the trek includes passing through tranquil fields like this one. Such sceneries offer the trekker a sense of what it's like to live in Kalinga's rural corners. Photo Credit: Arvin Balageo / The Northern Nomads

Monday, January 29, 2024

Girl from the North Country (Painting)

This painting was inspired by a visit to Buscalan, Kalinga many years ago. During a hike up a steep hill, I came across a wooden shed just a few meters away from the trail. Resting inside the open shed were a man and a woman. They were in their 60's by my estimation. Probably husband and wife. The sun was high up in the cloudless sky and the heat was starting to become unbearable so I decided to stop for a much-needed respite inside the shed. I slowly shuffled towards the shed. The couple welcomed me with friendly gestures - the man with a toothless grin and the woman with a nod of her head. Both were chewing what looked like to be tobacco.

I didn't speak any of the Kalinga languages. I tried to break the silence by talking to them in Iloko. Fortunately, they understood and spoke the language so we were able to converse for a while. The old woman struck me the most. She was covered in tattoos and I couldn't stop staring at the black dots and lines that swirl around her leathery skin. She didn't seem to mind me staring at them. I've seen numerous Kalinga women covered in tattoos but these were mostly in photos and in the internet. This was my first time to see a tattooed Kalinga woman in the flesh. In person. As she moved, it was almost hypnotic looking at the lines and designs as they follow her every movement.

For weeks and months after that visit in Kalinga, the old woman and her tattoos kept crossing my mind. I started asking myself questions. When did she get the tattoos? Did she get them when she was a child? When she was a teenager? When she was an adult? I started visualizing what she would have looked like as a young woman with those tattoos.

This painting was the result of the visualization. I wanted to put on solid canvas what I imagined what she looked like decades ago. This painting was an attempt to go back in time. At a time in Kalinga when the old woman as a young girl walked the same trail and took shelter in the same shed.

I named the painting after a Bob Dylan song: "Girl from the North Country".

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That's the way I remember her best.

"Girl from the North Country"
Acrylic on Canvas
19.5 inches (height) by 23.5 inches (length)

Facebook: The Art of Daniel Ted C. Feliciano 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Readings: Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood, Charles Saatchi, Candy Gourlay, Agatha Christie, Etc.

A Worn Path by Eudora Welty (Short Story) - An elderly African-American woman trudges through hills, corn fields, and dirt roads to get to town. All the while, she talks to herself and has imaginary encounters. She sees a boy offering her cake. The boy turned out to be actually NOT there. She mistakes a scarecrow for a real living and breathing thing. She asks the scarecrow for a dance. She falls. Her dress gets entangled among the trail bushes. Out of nowhere, she gets attacked by a not-so-friendly dog. But she soldiers on. She's bent on getting to town. And her name is Phoenix. Was it just a coincidence that Welty named the character Phoenix or was it a conscious reference to the story of the "phoenix rising out of the ashes"? Towards the end of the story, the reason for Phoenix's dogged determination to get to town gets known. This is a sad and depressing story. But somewhere in there, you can feel love and warmth and hope rising out to the surface.

Yoruba by Migene Gonzales-Wippler (Essay) - Gonzales-Wippler looks back to a very important event in her childhood. She was five years old then. Her nanny, a black woman, took her to the beach. At that beach, things were done and words were said that were new and confusing to the very young Gonzales-Wippler. Gonzales-Wippler recalls the events of that day as her introduction to Santeria - a religion that is basically the stew you get if you boil Roman Catholicism, Spiritism, and the traditional Yoruba religion of West Africa in the same pot. As an adult, Gonzales-Wippler is considered as one of the leading experts on Santeria. She has written numerous books about it. Prior to reading this essay, I've never heard of Santeria. And I'm someone who reads (rather doggedly) about world religions - not to find one that I can join but to understand why people still cling to them despite their countless absurdities.

Isis in Darkness by Margaret Atwood (Short Story) - If I remember correctly, this is the first short story by Atwood I've read. This piece has poets/writers as characters so it was a very interesting read. I usually find stories and novels with writers as characters as very interesting. As a writer myself, I find it a breeze to connect with the thoughts and actions of the writer/character. In a way, the writer/character makes me feel like I'm the character in the story. [Granta 31]

My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic (Book) - This is a book that reads like a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). It's basically a compilation of Saatchi's answers to questions that have been thrown at him by journalists, critics, and the general public. Saatchi is a very influential figure in the global art market. He can single-handedly direct how and where the art market goes. Love him or hate him, his thoughts on things related to art and advertising are worth listening to. Very direct with his words, he can sometimes come out as arrogant, self-indulgent, and completely full of himself. Be that as it may, the art world treats him like a god. So I repeat, his take on things are worth listening to.

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay (Book) - There's a dearth of novels out there with Igorots as the main characters. This book by Gourlay might as well be the only one. Off the top of my head, I can't recall any other full-length novel with Igorots as the main players. The more I try to think about this, the only works that come to my mind are the short stories featuring Igorot characters by F. Sionil Jose and Amador Daguio. Geared towards young adult readers, Bone Talk is an easy and breezy read. It's basically a coming-of-age story of an Igorot boy. The events mostly happen in an Igorot village. Serving as backdrops and plot movers are the arrival of the American colonizers and tribal conflicts which were quite rife during that time.

The Last Séance by Agatha Christie (Short Story) - Agatha Christie is an author I've been meaning to read for as long as I can remember. But for some reason, I never really got started. It's probably because of the sheer number of her works. There's just too many of them. Deciding where to start is such a nagging burden. Anyway, at a secondhand bookstore (Booksale), I came across a book - an old anthology of ghost stories called The 8th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (Copyright 1972). It contains nine short stories - a story titled The Last Seance by Agatha Christie was among them. I promptly added the book to my checkout pile. Back at home, right after dinner, I proceeded to dig into the book. I went first for Christie's tale. As the title of the story suggests, it's about a seance. I'm not going to go into detail about the story so as to not spoil anything. Did I like it? Not really. I didn't like the story itself. But I liked Christie's prose style. She reminds me of Ernest Hemingway. I can see why she has legions of adoring readers.

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park (Book) - In his review of this book, Richard Dawkins said "Professor Park does more than debunk, he crucifies". And I agree. This book is an unapologetic assault against foolishness and fraud. Equipped with logic, reason, and a clear writing style, Park is a man on an intellectual mission. He's very good at what he does. I wish that more people will read this book and his other works. Usually, when I finish reading a book, I get rid of it. In rare instances, the book is so good that I set it aside with the intention of rereading it in the near future. I set aside Voodoo Science. I see that it can also serve as a good reference book.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Hiking Through the Mossy Forests of Mt. Molmog in Bauko, Mt. Province

After three hours and a half of navigating through the tricky and winding roads of the Halsema Highway, the two vans finally stopped at the jump-off point for Mt. Molmog in Bauko, Mt. Province. A motley group of around 30 hikers have come to this place for a tree-planting/camping event organized by the town through Jomar Buclay and the Bauko Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO). 

The sun was yet to make its grand entrance in the horizon and we were at an altitude which can be fairly considered as moderate to high. That said, it was cold. The good news was there was hot coffee and bread waiting for us at the jump-off point. We took our time to shake off the morning jitters of the long drive from Baguio City. After a quick orientation, the hike commenced. It started to get warm as the sun inched higher above the surrounding mountains.

At the start of the trek, each hiker was given a bamboo seedling or two. We were to plant these at a section of the trail going to Mt. Molmog. Planting the trees went smoothly. All trees were planted firmly into the ground within an hour or so. With the planting done, the focus now was to make it to the summit of Mt. Molmog which is basically a grassy patch of land which also serves as a camping ground. 

Mt. Molmog isn't a difficult climb. Its trails are a perfect blend of moderate ups and downs. As long as you're fit, the hike to the summit should be a breeze. I didn't track how long it took us to reach the summit from the jump-off point but I'd say it was between 3-4 hours. Most of the time, you will be hiking through a thick mossy forest with grassy clearings here and there. Jump-off to summit measures approximately 9 to 10 kilometers.

At the summit, there's more than enough space for 8-10 camping tents. Tents in excess can set up camp in the surrounding forest. Which was exactly what we did. Some pitched their tents over the grassy clearing at the summit. Others pitched theirs in the surrounding forest.

We had pinikpikan for dinner. And some drinks, of course. Then everybody settled in for the night. It wasn't as cold as I expected during the night. Based on my experiences camping and pitching tents in similar mossy mountains in Kabayan and Bokod, it can be freezing cold at night. That wasn't the case here. It was cold but not freezing cold. I slept rather soundly for a change.

Everybody woke up early the next morning to watch the sun rise. It was beautiful as you would expect. Sunrises and sunsets are always a sight to behold here in the Cordilleras. A sea of clouds sometimes occur in Mt. Molmog. Unfortunately, we didn't see one when we were there. Maybe next time. 

We then had a little breakfast. Then the descent down the mountain. 

[P.S. - There's a mountain trail run to be held there this coming July. The race route will pass through Mt. Molmog. Just search for "Mountain Ridge Run" on Facebook for the complete details. See you there!]

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

T.S. Eliot Wrote a Story That Was Inspired by the Igorots Brought for Display at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904

When the American poet T.S. Eliot was sixteen years old, he went to see the St. Louis World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The year was 1904. The St. Louis World's Fair was an international exposition that ran from April to December of that year. The United States of America spent a whooping $15 million to fund the extravaganza. The fair featured exhibition spaces from more than 60 countries. During its run, the fair was attended by nearly 20 million visitors.

It was at this fair that the Igorots first attracted wide attention. The fair had a Philippine section and among its exhibits was a transported Igorot village. Igorots were brought in from the Philippines complete with their traditional attires, equipment, and houses. The Igorot village at the exposition became one of the most popular exhibits there. People were particularly attracted at the seemingly backward clothing and the unique dances of the Igorots. But the most sensationalized aspect of the Igorot village was the butchering and eating of dogs by the Igorots. Dogs were reportedly brought to the village on a regular basis for butchering and eating. The Americans watched and gawked in awe and shock.

It's very possible that T.S Eliot had seen with his own eyes how the Igorots cooked and ate an animal considered by the rest of the world as "man's best friend". Eliot was from St. Louis so he had all the time to explore the exhibits at the exposition. Inspired by the tribal dances and other traditional practices of the Igorots that he saw at the Igorot village, Eliot wrote a short story he titled "The Man Who Was King". This story was published in 1905 in the school magazine of Smith Academy in St. Louis where Eliot was a student. It's about a retired American mariner named Magruder who got shipwrecked and stranded at a remote island in the Pacific. The native islanders found Magruder and he thought they were going to roast and consume him. The islanders made him their new king instead.

"The Man Who Was King" was among Eliot's first published works of fiction. More than a decade later, he became one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. To this day, his works (The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets) remain to be gold standards in the world of poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Igorot in Philippine Literature: Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay

Courtesy of this blog, every now and then I would receive an email, mostly from university students, asking for recommendations with regards to books about Igorots. These requests are usually due to them burdened with an assignment or a research project the completion of which requires them to accumulate knowledge about certain aspects of "the Igorot". When it comes to non-fiction books about Igorots, I have quite a pile to recommend. There's a good number of non-fiction books out there that cover Igorot-related topics from our history starting from the arrival of the Spaniards to our cultural traditions (then and now).

Want to read about pre-colonial and colonial Igorots? Read the books by William Henry Scott and Albert Jenks. Want to read about the art of Kalinga tattooing? Analyn Salvador-Amores has you covered. To anyone looking for reading materials about the Igorots, I highly suggest he/she visits the library of the University of the Philippines in Baguio or the bookstore at the Museo Kordilyera (also inside the UP Baguio campus).

Around November of last year, I received an email from a student currently studying at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She introduced herself as a half-Igorot and half-Tagalog. Kristine is her name. Her father is from Angono, Rizal and her mother is from Tadian, Mt. Province. She explains that she is very proud of her Igorot origin but she adds that she rarely brings it up to people because aside from having 50% Igorot blood, there's not much else that would identify her as Igorot. She was born and raised in Angono. She doesn't speak nor understand Kankana-ey, the language of her mother. She is completely clueless about the traditions and cultural practices of the Igorots.

She emailed me because she wanted help in looking for reading materials about the Igorots. She specifically asked what books should she read. I sent her a patented reply. I recommended the usual books by Salvador-Amores, Jenks, Scott, and a few others. She thanked me for the recommendations. I didn't hear from her for a couple of months. Then this February, I received another email from her. She enthusiastically narrated that she read all the books I've recommended and that she found them engrossing and eye-opening. She then noted that all the titles are non-fiction. She also wanted another set of recommendations from me. This time, she asked for fiction books about Igorots. Now that she has knowledge about the Igorots and their history, she wanted to move forward and read how they are depicted in works of fiction. How are Igorots portrayed in literature? Do their portrayals in literary works jive with the words and observations of Scott, Jenks, Salvador-Amores, and company? These are questions she wanted some answers to.

At this point, I realized that I haven't read a single fiction book which feature the Igorot as a character. It has never occurred to me to go looking for one. So I told Kristine that I have nothing to recommend because just like her, I haven't read a single fiction book featuring Igorot characters. But I also told her that I'll help her find one. This sent me into a little journey looking for novels with Igorot characters.

And I found out there's very few of them. The one that got the bulk of my attention is Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay. I chose to read Bone Talk first for several reasons. One, the novel's author is a known name in the Philippine writing community. Two, it was published by Anvil which is one of the more prestigious (or should I say reliable) publishers in the country. So far, my experience with Anvil-published books has been within the realms of good to excellent. And three, the book has mostly good reviews with several influential Filipino authors vouching for it.

So for a couple of nights, I had to forego bingeing Trailer Park Boys on Netflix to devour the book. Bone Talk was marketed as a YA (Young Adult) novel. The style and flow of the prose definitely stayed close with the genre. Set in 1899 in a village in Bontoc, the novel is basically the coming-of-age story of an Igorot boy named Samkad. Serving as a backdrop for Samkad's transition from boy to man are real historical events like tribal conflicts and the arrival of American colonizers.

The plot is pretty simple. There are no grand twists and turns. But that doesn't matter because it's a well-written tale made colorful and engrossing with the way Gourlay weaved aspects of Igorot culture and history into the story. I also liked the pace of the story. It wasn't too slow. Gourlay didn't rush things either. So many YA authors these days have this annoying habit of rushing the plot forward in an attempt to drum up excitement. Fortunately, Gourlay didn't commit that grave error here. The pace of the story was close to perfect. Not too slow. Not too fast.

With historical novels like Bone Talk, it's expected that readers inquire about its accuracy. I grew up in Besao, a town in Mt. Province. Besao and Bontoc are neighbors. This should give me a tiny bit of authority to judge the accuracy of the book with regards to its depiction of the Bontoc Igorots and their culture/traditions. I think the book was mostly fair and on point. However, there are certain parts of the story that are not historically accurate. A lot of these are on the culture/traditions front. I am not going to divulge these in this article because I don't want to ruin the story for those who haven't read the book. Suffice it to say that Gourlay used her artistic freedom in crafting her tale to give it more color. To give it more sting, if you may.

To be fair to Gourlay, she doesn't claim her book to be historically accurate. In fact, she is very straightforward in saying that Bone Talk is not a history book. In notes at the end of the book, she wrote: "This story is not history though it is set during a real time, in a real place." It's also worth mentioning that Gourlay is not an Igorot. Some readers especially Igorot readers may feel some doubts after knowing this important fact. But at the end, whether Gourlay is or is not an Igorot is a non-issue. She did her research, she wrote the story, and she used her artistic freedom to craft the final product. It's what writers do.

Still, probably to appease those who might still be harboring doubts because of Gourlay's non-Igorot roots, she has this to say in her notes at the end of the book: "I do not hail from the Cordillera and I beg the forgiveness of its many and diverse peoples for any misreading of their culture. As a storyteller I can only spin a pale imitation of any reality. I hope that this story awakens the world's curiosity about this extraordinary time and place. With utmost respect to the people of the Cordillera."

Gourlay has been more than fair in depicting the Igorot in her book. And she's been more than humble in addressing those who might think otherwise. That's more than good enough for me. So dear reader, read this book.

And lest I forget, Kristine, you should read this book. This serves as a recommendation.

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay