Friday, August 30, 2013

Kalinga: Getting off the grid, ignoring the bed weather and a lingering rep in Tinglayan

Kalinga - Tinglayan Sleeping Beauty Waking Up in the Foggy Morning Portrait
Sleeping Beauty waking up on a foggy morning
The way the weather is behaving the past few years, getting a window of good-enough weather for taking an out-of-towner is difficult, if not impossible.  But after being cooped up by three days of floods brought by the habagat and many weeks before that, by 125 hour working weeks servicing an outsourcing client, I made up my mind to head to the boondocks.  Not that I wanted it but I felt I really needed a breather.   It would be interesting to go someplace I've never been to even though as I'm finding out that age (and achy bones) sometimes tempts one to keep to the old and familiar,  to stick to a comfort zone, if not make one contemplate on abandoning the trip altogether.  But Kalinga in the Cordilleras has been on my sights for years.  I liken it to Tawi-Tawi in the sense that the place has been on the receiving end of bad rap and travel warning advisories.  Wouldn't it be interesting to see what's out there much in the same way that I found Tawi-Tawi a wonderful place when I got to visit?

Well, I asked God for a sign to proceed (signs, actually) -- if the weather would improve just a little bit enough to make the bus trip to Tabuk and if Kalinga guide, Francis Pa-in, will respond on a very short notice.  I got both -- the floods subsided after three days and Francis replied via text to say the good weather in Kalinga is holding.  Funny when you let the heavens and fate decide, you simply run out of excuses not to proceed.
Tinglayan - Jeepney from Tabuk
Fully-loaded Tinglayan and Bontoc-bound transport
We left on a Thursday night at 7:25 via Victory Liner bus and found ourselves in Bulanao in Tabuk at five in the morning, two hours early for catching the transport headed to Tinglayan.  The weather was fair, the air surprisingly nippy at this elevation (173mas).  There were no stores open at that hour save for a small shop serving coffee and siopao near the grains center along the highway.  Guess we got lucky to have met Derrell EstraƱero whom we chitchatted with for directions as well as insights (postscript: he turned out to be the brother of the vice mayor).  By 6:30am, we found a private AUV headed for Tinglayan.  It would take another hour and a half before it filled up and left for the almost three hour trip through the mountains.  Seeing this portion of the Cordilleras was a great preoccupation, keeping our senses busy even through several stops including a vehicle breakdown that required repairs.  Sort of seeing the mountains of Ifugao minus the tourists.

Arriving at the Sleeping Beauty Inn way past lunchtime and meeting Francis, we decided to defer leaving town until the next day to catch up on sleep; it was a bit late in the day to venture out of town anyway.  The inn, owned by the former mayor, is a curiosity for me with its empty pool, spacious hall, and a main dining area that looks out to the the Sleeping Beauty mountain range.  Our double room has a window that opens up to a shed with clucking chickens, waddling ducks, snorting pigs, and farther out, the rumbling Chico River.
Tinglayan - Chico River Bridge II
Portion of Chico River that runs at the back of the inn
It rained during the afternoon and by the time dusk was settling in, the mountain range was shrouded by fog, the aroma of the earth wafting through the nip of the early evening air.   Seeing this small portion of the river at twilight was a treat, a preview of our later sighting of this mighty tributary of the Cagayan River and also a source of the lingering bad rap of this municipality.  

Almost four decades ago, the government of president Marcos came into direct conflict with the Kalinga because of the Chico Valley dam project.  Originally planned to comprise of four single dams and produce 1000 megawatts of electricity, the dam would have been the largest in Southeast Asia at the time.  The repercussion would have been the flooding of the Kalinga's valleys, loss of ancestral lands and resettlement of the tribes.  The resulting scattered fighting between the military and the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) culminated in the murder of the chief of Bugnay, Macliing Dulag, in 1980, said to be caused by men in uniforms.  The conflict inevitably widened -- soldiers were beheaded, tribesmen shot.  In the end, the project was abandoned but the reputation of Tinglayan as a violence hotspot sadly lingers on.

It would be another two days before we will meet ex-mayor Fernando Abay who owns the inn where we were staying.  In our very short chit-chat, he tells us of efforts to clear the municipality's reputation especially among travelers (Lonely Planet recently removed its travel warning on Tinglayan).  He acknowledges both the need for tourism and the difficulty of balancing it with the preservation of culture.  One thing though he said that struck me was that "all the province can offer is nature -- the mountains, the waterfalls".   We didn't have much time to discuss the matter further but I thought that in traveling to these parts, the whole point was to reunite with nature, not hanker for glass and steel edifices, for creature comforts, for much of everything urbanity and the city stands for.  After all, there are not a lot of places left where modernity and technology have not forever altered the locals' way and pace of life, places where you can still escape to.

Feeling the need to check my emails on our first day, the Globe signal fluctuated between 2G and HSDPA (forget about Smart in these parts, very spotty coverage at best).  My browser was taking forever to load so I abandoned the effort and turned off my phone.   No FB, no Instagram, no tweets, no emails.  And so it remained that way for four stress-free days.
Tinglayan - Sleeping Beauty Inn Room
Double room at Sleeping Beauty Inn
Going to Kalinga from Manila: We rode the Victory Liner bus headed for Tabuk via Roxas passing thru SCTEX (De Luxe fare: P675 one way; about 10 hours) at Kamias (other bus skeds: 7:45, 8:45, 9:10PM via Roxas, regular bus, 11-12 hours); from Bulanon, take the jeep/AUV bound for Tinglayan/Bontoc starting at 7:30am; fare: P120; travel time: 2.5-3 hours • Tinglayan can also be reached via Bontoc: 8AM (jeep), 9AM (bus), 1PM (jeep); fare: P100; about 2-2.5 hours Accommodations: Sleeping Beauty Inn and Restaurant has five airconditioned rooms (four with common bath/comfort room), Mobile 0927-5100226; P700-800/day • Riverside Inn in Luplupa about 500m from the munisipyo has dorm rooms at P250/day • Attribution: Wikipedia; Jens Peter Philippines Travel Guide

Coming up in Lagal[og]: 
Buscalan: Fang-od, Grace Palicas and the 86 year wait for a tattooing successor in Kalinga 


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