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