Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Maligcong Meanderings: Lagalog, Kunig, and a Break of Deliberate Slowness

Planting season is here
I alighted the jeepney and walked briskly into the familiar compound. Suzette Che-es, the owner of the homestay, immediately came into view and greeted me.  Then, my peripheral vision caught sight of a brown blur of fur.  Kunig!  He took a sniff then jumped up and down, tail wagging wildly, his snout breaking into an unmistakeable grin.  This affectionate mongrel did remember me!  I may have an unofficial moniker of "Og Whisperer" but I certainly didn't expect such a warm welcome. Honestly, it more than made up for over 18 hours of sitting -- six hours waiting at the Victory Liner station in Malibay, Pasay for a Baguio-bound bus; six and a half hours for the trip to Baguio; another six hours going to Bontoc; and a 20 minute jeepney ride to Maligcong.  Such a long trip to take a short break, you might say.  But reveling in the nippy breeze, taking in the quiet broken only by the jeepney's engine, cackling hens and occasional dog barks, not to forget finding a second home here complete with a lovable canine, it doesn't sound so foolish at all.
Kunig, my adopted canine, surveying the sunset scene in Maligcong
Digital detox.  The plan for the 4-day break ahead of the Lenten season was simple -- no plan at all save for the departure and return dates. I brought my camera for the occasions that I may feel inspired to hike and take some snaps though left the pressure of taking mandatory sunrise and sunset pictures at home.  Ditto my iPad and laptop.  You just know when your mind and body need a break and for me, this was the time.  Anyway, I've never been one for hogging the internet for tweets or heaven forbid, selfies.  And last year, I've gotten rid of my Facebook account.  A week without going online isn't a dreary prospect for me.  As I grow older, I've come to prefer a "real" vacation -- one deliberately un-crammed by wall-to-wall itineraries of must-see, must-visits, must-shoots that leave the vacationer more tired than when he first started.  So the trip started with a lengthy wait for the Baguio-bound bus that had me reading half of Anne Tyler's "Noah's Compass" book.  No problem. I. Am. Not. In. A. Hurry. Really.
Breathtaking at sunset
Kaingin and other burning matters.  The cogonal areas were burning in different parts of Maligcong, sending plumes of smoke that obscure portions of the mountain during the day and glows precariously at night.  Turns out that a return trip to Mt. Kofap-ey may be less than photogenic says our guide, Tina, who by chance, was with me during the 5pm jeepney trip to the barangay from Bontoc.  Well, I really came here to take a real break so if it's not feasible to shoot the sunrise, so be it.   The night sky was clear on my first night but an over-18 hour sitting experience made me crave for sleep.  Turns out the next couple of days would be cloudy.   Honestly, I didn't really care.  Even the only other guests, two Pinoys who spent overnight for a chance to see the sunrise spectacle we saw last August, were reduced to trail running.

The routine of no routine.  I'm normally big on itineraries but since I'm backpacking solo, I didn't make one.  Haha, I was working up to the day I was set to leave so even if I wanted to, I simply didn't have the time.  Besides, everyday is already a rush so I certainly welcome the prospect of deliberately junking the routine.  Hmmm, maybe I do have some sort of routine but it's something as laidback as this:

• wake up around 8:30-9:30am
• admire the terraces from my window
• say my morning prayers, read a chapter from the Holy Bible
• open the door to find Kunig asleep on my foot mat; rub his snout and belly
• sit on the terrace, drink coffee and mountain tea while sharing oatmeal cookies with Kunig
• play again with Kunig and mimic animal sounds with 4-year old Jounin, Suzette's youngest child
• chat with Suzette if she's not busy cooking/baking/attending to the kids/supervising repair/construction work
• read a book or that Outside Magazine issue I brought along
• write on my journals
• take a bath ignoring the ice-cold water
• take a nap or hike to the school viewpoint with Kunig, shoot pictures if only I feel like it
• buy a Coke and some bread at the lone sari-sari store
• eat lunch and dinner in between these "activities", kamayan style (eating with bare hands)
• read a book in bed using my headlamp after lights out
• marvel at the fireflies which have strayed into my room (I keep the door open until early morning as Kunig sleeps by the doorway and often wakes to look my way)

Repeat the next day.  And the next.

It's refreshing to just forget the date, letting the days blend seamlessly, one into the next.  
Kaingin concern on cogonal areas blowing into the patches of forest
One cloudy afternoon, I found myself sitting on the terraces halfway from the school and the homestay (sorry, I forgot which day it was).  Just looking, admiring, appreciating the incredible view.  Waving at the farmers planting on the watery terraces below.  Breathing in as much of the clean air as I can (If I could bottle it for taking home, I would've done so).  I was feeling the humidity hanging in the air, the rain clouds hinting at possible precipitation but I wanted to stay put a bit longer.  Even Kunig, who's normally restless and pacing the trail, stopped and laid down next to me, looking into the distance.  There were no other tourists for miles around.  In the silence of the afternoon, for what it seemed like a long while, the world appeared to have slowed down.  And for the time being, nothing much mattered for both human and dog.
Kunig & Og resting on the terrace trail

SIDE NOTES:  I have found my home in the Mountain Province at Suzette's Homestay in Maligcong.   Last time I was here, our stay was just too short but I felt immediately at home.

It's more than just about the creature comforts that matter to me but the charm, the warmth and hospitality of this homestay that I find priceless.  Suzette often goes out of her way to attend to the needs (oftentimes whims) of guests.  The food, regardless of whether it came from the market or the front yard garden (soon, fresh produce from nearby Tala Farms of Sir Joel Fagsao), is always a labor of love.  Oh, and let's not forget the freshly-baked oat bars and cookies that go so well with the mountain tea or brewed coffee.  Of course, I can't talk enough about my adopted dog, Kunig, the mongrel ambassador of the homestay.  Suzette jokes I'm Kunig's dad and this canine extends the hospitality further, welcoming new arrivals and accompanying guests in their forays to the terraces or the mountain.

Reading the logbook, it feels good to have some sort of hand in helping convince tourists to wander into this village and discover its charms.  With the incremental uptick in guests, the homestay is adding a family room with its own toilet & bath along with a second common outhouse T&B.  Things are slowly changing and perking up but I wish that it, along with the rest of the village, remains as charming and hospitable as when we first found it.
CONTACT DETAILS.   To reserve accommodations at Suzette's Homestay and Coffee Place, call or text Suzette Che-es at 0915-546-3557.

HOW TO GET TO MALIGCONG: From Manila, board a bus headed to Banaue or Bontoc.  From Banaue, ride the bus going to Bontoc.  From Baguio, ride the GL (P212) or Rising Sun bus (P176) for Bontoc.  Then get on the jeepney headed to Maligcong at the side street near the munisipyo and public market; fare: P20. 

Maligcong and nearby Tala Farms: 
A Totally Organic Experience


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