On the road: Ifugao

Travel to Ifugao from Baguio is now quicker, 4 to 6 hours, via the Ambuclao (Bokod) – Kayapa (Nueva Vizcaya) Road that starts at the Pacdal Bridge in Baguio City,

The only “hassle” along the road, particularly for drivers unfamiliar to the region’s terrain, are the narrow lanes, sharp steep curves, and occasional landslides especially after the junction at Ambuclao where the road forks either to Mt. Pulag via the central town of Bokod or onward to Kayapa along which is situated the jump off point, at Jappas still in Bokod, to Mt. Purgatory Traverse another popular mountain trail.

My first travel on the Kayapa route this year was with a head of office who decided to drive her own car, an SUV she bought late last year.  It was her first long drive and  I was the only passenger.  She maintained a speed of 40 km/hour throughout.  To dissipate whatever nervousness she and I had, I cheerily talked non-stop for six hours or the entire time it took us to reach Lagawe.  I’ve never talked so much my entire life!  This qualifies as entry to the Guinness World Record, I believe.  On our return, we missed a new landslide by a few minutes.  We realized afterward that if we were stranded we would have ready food at least.  The back of the car was filled with an assortment of fruits and boxes of buko pie, we were bringing home to our families.  But, nearing Baguio the thick fog rendered road visibility to zero.  That was the only time in the entire trip I felt my knees go weak.

At Ambuclao, travelers especially commuter vans make the usual stop over for brunch.  Much further on, at Bagabag in Nueva Vizcaya near the junction to Lamut (Ifugao) on the left and the rest of Isabela on the other, one could either make a quick stop for snacks at the popular G&B store for buko pie (PHP75 a box, or 3 boxes for PHP200) and fresh buko juice.

From there, Lagawe is only 45 minutes to an hour away.  Unlike Banaue (of the world heritage site, Rice Terraces), the place has the weather of the lowlands:  hot and humid.

ifugao philippines

Last I’ve been to Lagawe was in 1989 as representative in the copy-writing division in the Regional Secondary Schools Press Conference (RSSPC).  I remember a rather long and very bumpy travel especially as our bus approached Ifugao.

These days I’m at the province for work.  My organization has an account at one of the newer inns where, on my first return to the province, I was ecstatic to see Vogue and Elle on the center table.  Though I’ve yet to meet the owner or manager, I liked him or her already.

Story is the manager was sent home by her parents who have long immigrated in the States to manage the place- the inn and the rest of the commercial building in the compound.  I take my hat off to her, for continuing to stay knowing that her hometown is worlds away from what she could have had in the States.

Going around the market to look for a store selling needle and thread, I saw the ground around the place especially at store entrances splattered in red, sputum of store owners chewing on betel nut, a tradition that lives on among locals, educated or not.  Apparently this is a case in which progress, of the rapid and transformative kind, does not necessarily happen as a result of good roads.  It should not surprise me then why late one night the inn manager and her staff as well as a guest were only too happy to help me thread the needle (I only asked for their help after almost an hour of trying it myself).  There’s only so much entertainment offered in town.  Incidentally, it was the guest who came up to the task of needle threading.

Kiangan is also an interesting place to see.  Each second day of September, the town celebrates a war memorial in which as history goes the place was where General Yamashita surrendered to the U.S., effectively ending World War II in the country.  The municipality is also a pilot area for home-stays in this part of the country.

And, for those into healthy foods there’s a range of relatively cheap locally grown products such as fruit wines and organic rice.  As an aside, the local tourist shop should offer a taste of the assortment of wines for sale which I believe is the proper way to sell wine.  I mean, how could a potential buyer know the diff between wine made from wild berries and rattan fruit and therefore make a choice if she has not tasted either before?

Banaue has a weather similar to Baguio, wet though not as cold.  It’s central business district area is quite small with narrow street that leads to the town hall and with very limited shops.  The controversy surrounding the proposed five-storey PHP55M parking building has recently placed the town on the front page of Midland Courier.    These are the sort of decisions made by politicians that sabotage local development and progress.  It’s always the ordinary folks who are affected the most

Returning to Baguio from Banaue, you can either catch a van or bus in the CBD to Bontoc, the capital city of Mountain Province which is just an hour away.  Then, Bontoc to Baguio which is more or less a four-hour drive.  Or, all the way back through Nueva Vizcaya via Kayapa.

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