I was born and raised in a coastal town. My favorite pastime was jumping off our jetty and running towards crashing waves. But as I got older, I found myself drawn to the mountains. I preferred the company of forest trees and seeing the world from a mountaintop.
Last year, I went back to the Cordilleras with a group of friends. Our first stop was the bustling poblacion of Bontoc. We were greeted by a variety of shops from cheerful eateries to general merchandise. Bontoc is like any other downtown where people come and go for errands. It reminded me of my hometown where development is visible, but the traditional culture remains intact through the ways of the people.
We rode a rusty old jeepney to make our way to Suzette’s homestay, the internet’s most recommended place for travelers in the town of Maligcong. Sacks of commodities packed the aisle of our vehicle over time. It reached a point where I could no longer see my sandals. The jeepney climbed uphill like a veteran mountaineer, unwavering despite my doubts on its ability.
Once we reached Suzette’s, we were welcomed by a pack of barking dogs. A woman with shoulder-length black hair stepped out of the gated porch. “I’m Suzette”, she said in a discernible and confident voice. Suzette had a way of making her guests feel at ease the second she meets their eyes. I thought to myself, the Internet is worth trusting sometimes.
The walls of the guest rooms were made from endemic pine. It’s literally so cool we had no need for air conditioning. From the dining area, we could see Maligcong’s rice terraces. The sight of such agricultural masterpiece filled us to the brim with excitement. We were eager to see it up close. We scheduled a hike up to Mt. Kupapey the next day.
My phone alarm went off at 3 am. Our tour guide, Kuya Rommel, greeted me good morning as I stepped out of the room. He gave me his spare light—a round flashlight that was smaller than a tennis ball. It wasn’t much, but it helped me see where I was going. I followed him to an ascending cemented road. It was still too dark to see things. I just kept walking until my sandals felt naked earth.
He told us that we could reach the summit of Mt. Kupapey in an hour if we walk fast enough. Before I knew it, we reached the peak. It was an open and humpy mountaintop. There was a designated bonfire place near the clearing that was meant to keep us warm while we waited for the sun to rise. Kuya Rommel started gathering branches and twigs to feed the fire.
As I settled down on one of the logs surrounding our campfire, the first light began to radiate, unveiling a sea of clouds. It was a sight I was looking forward to ever since I heard about the natural phenomenon. When the clouds started dispersing, a bird’s eye view of the rice terraces came to light. Once again, I fell head over heels for nature.
We were back at Suzette’s by nine in the morning where we saw her in action inside the kitchen. She was preparing our breakfast. We invited Kuya Rommel to eat with us. Together with Suzette, we talked about the future of Maligcong. They both wanted to see their town flourish through tourism but it was important for them to make sure the culture and tradition of the people are preserved and respected.
“Mabuhay po kayo,” I said to Ate Suzette as we bid goodbye. “Balik kayo, ibang destination naman,” Kuya Rommel said as he mounted on his motorcycle and drove home.
A town can easily be considered beautiful because of its natural wonders, but the warmth and the kindness of its people make it worth coming back for.