Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Buguias the Beautiful: Staying Awhile and Satisfying a Long-time Curiosity in Benguet

Sunset on Buguias
All these years shuttling from Baguio to Sagada and Bontoc along Halsema has picqued my curiosity on some of the places that the GL or Rising Sun buses would just hurtle through.  It's one of the few occasions when I do miss having my own vehicle (an accoutrement disposed off following my unemployment many summers ago) to go on a journey through the mountainous parts up north and look beyond the usual DOT heavily promoted places.

Among these places are Buguias and Abatan, roughly 80 or so kilometers from Baguio, about 1/3 through a Sagada/Bontoc - Baguio journey, where the sights of terraces planted to humongous lettuces and other vegetables never fail to arouse my interest and curiosity.  At the back of my head, I've earmarked a future time when I'll do more than look or a cursory stopover.   Well, following an outreach trip to Maligcong, Bontoc, we had an opportunity to stop midway and somehow satisfy our curiosity as to what's really out there in Buguias.
Rows of newly planted potato plants colored by the late afternoon sun
For a municipality known more for its produce, I felt Buguias is a treasure trove of beauty.  The scenery just takes my breath away, whether it be the high point of noon when the sun cast little shadow, or sunset or sunrise hours when the shadows are longer, the skies more dramatic like palettes of rouges on blue canvas.  I've never been to Tuscany but saw a lot of 'em pictures so I'm tempted to say the scene looks "Tuscan-esque" but that would be unfair to both Tuscany and Buguias for both are beautiful in their own right.

It's hard to believe how incredibly scenic the newly plowed earth patterns for new potato plants look like in the late afternoon sun.  Or the furrowed earth mixing with the greens (carrot plants I would learn later) in the distance during the early morning when the farmhands would either come and spray the plants or dig into the soil preparing for planting.  The scene is quiet most of the time save for the occasional howl of the wind and the unmistakable hobble of jeepney engines struggling to climb to the over 1,500 meter elevation of the mostly empty highway.  

Some friends who've seen the images in my social media outlet note that they looked like they're not local scenery, more like they were torn from the pages of North American or European picture books which is part-compliment, part-understatement, imho.  At times it can't be helped but be compared to the North American heartland, given the predilection of the locals here to listen to American country music.
Farming beyond the sunset hours
It's a mystery, too, that when asked what else is there in Abatan, the locals are hard-pressed to say that there are indeed tourism-worthy sites.  I'm sure there are more to be discovered, given a longer stay, more on-ground research and a bit more mobility.  For the time being, we content ourselves with the beauty of the vegetable terraces and the charms of the Abatan town poblacion, unmindful of shooting in the evening or early morning cold of 16 degrees plus wind chill factor.  During our short stay here, we seemingly were the only out-of-towners around.  In this day and age of mass tourism, this is a rarity.  Not to be selfish but the reason I hie off to the mountains is to have some alone time, not to join the hordes for an IG selfie.

Shooting on the fields, we were careful not to step on the plots -- these are plants that yield produce that will eventually find their way to Baguio and Manila.   Beautiful as the terraces are, these are productive lands, sort of edible landscapes and respect is in order when trying to capture the beauty of the place.  I guess this makes it even more beautiful in my eyes -- landscapes that not only feed the eyes but also the tummy as well as forming part of a living heritage.
Scenic window views, very good coffee at Cafe Lounge 85
If you ever find yourself in Abatan, stranded or otherwise, go grab some good coffee and French toast at Cafe Lounge 85 at the edge of town proper (Read more at www.happyfoodies.com).  If you come in during the off-peak hours, you can avoid the karaoke crowd and nurse your java with the scenic Abatan terraces as an refreshing backdrop for tired eyes.  

Also highly recommended for tired hikers: the reflexology clinic near the town hall is very, very good.  Look for Robert at Ronan's (0948.5108905).

To get to Buguias from Baguio: ride the GL Lizardo bus or vans from Dangwa station; catch the Rising Sun bus near the slaughterhouse bound for Bontoc or Sagada.  Travel time: around 3 hours although there are roadwork projects along the Baguio-Bontoc road which slows down traffic considerably.  From Bontoc ride the GL Lizardo or Rising Sun bus headed for Baguio or the vans with Abatan signs (fare: P90) near the intersection.
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