Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Maligcong for the Holidays: Hoppin', Huffin', Hopin' High in the Highlands

Huff.  Puff.  Huff.  Puff.

That was me last year on new year's eve, huffing and puffing in the revelry's sooty air.  I haven't been diagnosed but I suspect I may already have asthma.  During that episode, I made up my mind to spend the next new year's eve far away from the pyrotechnics' smoke that penetrates closed windows, flows unimpeded into air conditioner filters and clog nostrils, nasal passages and lungs.

Well, I still huffed and puffed on the first day of the new year, this time on the long but gentle trail up Mt. Fato in Maligcong, Bontoc. Last time we were here two months ago, we led a contingent of Backpack Photographers, letting them have their vantage points instead of shooting.  We were given a two day window of sunny weather then; on this day, it is chilly, foggy, and intermittently rainy.

My adopted dog, Kunig, was furiously scratching the door when we left Suzette's Homestay at 4am, trapped and locked up inside the kitchen where he hid during the holiday hubbub as revelers lit up firecrackers and made noise to welcome the new year.  We regrettably had to leave him behind.  Instead, we had Nelay, our guide Terence's friendly if skittish young canine to walk us up the mountain.  It rained on and off the previous two days, the weather pushing the mercury down from 14 degree afternoons to 10.5 early mornings.  Out here, it was even colder as there was the wind chill factor as well as the thousand feet rise in elevation.  If the past two days were two-blanket cool, this day on the mountain was shivering-dog-cold.  Nelay would alternately run around the viewpoint to stay warm and shake and shiver out in the open.  It didn't take long for her to figure out that curling up in between the large limestone boulders is a better idea to keep warm.  Well, that and fueling up on my trail food.
For three hours, we waited for the sun to show up, our hopes buoyed by the occasional streaks of bright blue sky overhead.  The clouds and fog danced across the terraces, alternately obscuring the vista and revealing a bit of the scenery.  To warm up, we played a game of identifying the places hidden by the clouds and fog -- Tinglayan to the east, Sagada to the south, even nearby Mt. Kupapey in Favarey to the northeast.  We wondered about the mountaineers we talked to the previous night; they missed the sea of clouds on Mt. Pulag, most likely they would miss the sea of clouds on Kupapey as well.  That's life.  That's not to say the view is any less breathtaking.  Draped in fog, the scenery is surreal, the light scattered and diffused by all that moisture.

The clouds, fog, and wind wouldn't let up.  I'm normally tolerant of the cold but on this occasion, I missed not wearing my long hiking pants and fleece jacket standing in the swirling, howling wind and intermittent drizzle.  Past 8am, we had to go back down, prompted more by hunger than frustration (Nelay ate more of my stash of Presto peanut butter cookies and tupig than I did).   The huge felled pine trees were still there on the trail; on territory being contested by barangays Maligcong and Guina-ang.  There were occasional mushrooms here and there though not anywhere copious as when I was here last June (Terence said what we found were inedible anyway).  Ditto the wild strawberry plants which will not fruit in the next few months.  Most of the rice terraces viewed from up here were filled with water, being prepared for tilling.  In the morning light, some even resembled huge infinity pools reflecting the overcast sky.   

It's already 2016 and I wonder what the new year will bring.  For the time being though, it's just me with friends and a friendly dog, talking while hiking on the trail, savoring the fresh redolence of the pine forest, and admiring the handiwork of our Creator.
Info:  Maligcong is a barangay of Bontoc Province, located in Mountain Province in northern Luzon, approximately a 11-12 hour bus ride from Metro Manila.  

For a downloadable map of Bontoc, click here or the map image below.  Art map © 2015 Oggie Ramos of  Usage is free and encouraged; piracy and unauthorized editing/use is not.  Please respect copyrights.


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