Look! The boondocks in Bontoc are alive

P_20170309_164431On my maiden sojourn up to Sagada, on the 10th hour of the epic bus trip up Mountain Province, I woke up to this surreal fog-covered, dream-like area. There was a pit stop, and the bus pulled over a vegetable slash convenience store that served hot coffee. It was freezing when I got off the bus to see what was veiled in this mist. But I was tentative, what if I was unknowingly walking straight off a cliff?

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Fresh broccoli is dirt-cheap in Bontoc. A kilo goes for less than a dollar, or Php 40. The freshness of the produce there is unmatched anywhere else in the country, owing to the crisp cool climate. The veggies they grow and sell are carrots, cucumbers, cauliflowers, lettuce, etc. And when you live in extremely rugged regions like Bontoc, you can’t climb terraces or slopes without consuming vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. I will also offer an observation that the locals’ complexion shows how veggies make their faces glow.

Anyway, Bontoc was more of a pit stop than a destination on my recent trip, but, I gotta share here some wonderful photos I took that left me in awe of this vast realm of rice terraces, raging rivers and fog-covered mountain roads. I call it an enigma. Not the name of the place, because Bontoc simply comes from the word buntuk meaning a place surrounded by mountains. You can feel the power of the place. Bontoc, unlike the nearby environs of Sagada, Benguet and Banawe may not be talked about often, but just skimming the ridges of the place, really gets you into a Marlboro country slash Lord of the Rings mood. I did say Bontoc is an enigma, so I’ll end the text here, like I won’t talk, so you can see Bontoc for yourself.







Sagada: So good, I gotta plan my return


After 12 hours on a cold bus, the photo above, taken while we were inside the moving bus, was what greeted us in Sagada, up in the northern hinterlands. We survived zigzag-induced nausea, and butt cramps from the looooong bus ride. But hey, many of the passengers were already speaking to tour guides right after we registered and coughed up the environmental fee at the Sagada Tourism Office. Me? No.


I found myself hurrying up, or rather down, because the Main Road was inclined towards the Municipal Hall and Tourism Office. I wanted to get to my home in Sagada, inspect my rented room, make sure that the bathroom had hot water, that the bed had a quilt, and that I had a nice view. Alas, the mayordoma of Lodge Labanet failed to send me a confirmation of my reservation online, but when I found her at the front desk, Auntie Dora explained she got a very bad signal from her telco and couldn’t send me a reply. She disclosed that all over Sagada, the internet was slow. Understood. I spoke to her in Ilocano, which I learned to speak since childhood. Auntie Dora smiled upon hearing me. Perhaps she was sharing this light moment with me because the horde of guests were either still asleep upstairs or the new ones haven’t arrived, so she had time to listen to me. Then she called on one of the chamber ladies to show me to my room just a flight upstairs. When I saw the bright and neat room, I nearly collapsed on the giant bed with my backpack. I had slept on and off during the trip, I desired the big bed. My room had two chairs, a wide cabinet for clothes and a sturdy table for writing, if any writing was going to get done. Then I ran into the bathroom, there were no toiletries provided by the lodge, but I bring my own always and I just need hot water so I switched the faucet on, then the shower, water felt so warm. I checked if the flush worked and it did. I had everything I hoped for.  And then the chamber lady showed the door that led to my balcony and I shrieked telling her in Ilocano how pretty my room was. She left as I put my bag down, locked the door behind me and then returned to the front desk to Auntie Dora, paid her in advance and quickly asked her where the nearest breakfast place was. I needed coffee so badly, the dizzy spell from the zigzag roads was making my head hurt. When I dropped by Sagada Weaving, the warps and wefts of their colorful weaves on the bags, table runners, wallets and pouches reminded me of the zigzag roads on the way to Sagada.



17239632_10210397051657501_1440505721038295415_oSagada has so much food choices. Majority of it, of the garden variety: Oranges, strawberry, blueberry jams and preserves, strawberry, blueberry, rice wines, blueberry and banana muffins, pink-purplish mountain rice, blueberry yogurt, lemon pies, peanut and sunflower seed brittle, vegetables like broccoli and cucumber are cheap and fresh. Sagada tea and Sagada coffee, their brisk sellers. Everyone in Sagada wears thick-hooded jackets, and it’s a perfect place for coffee-bingeing. I sat finishing my delicious breakfast at 9:30am and the weather was a mere 14 degrees C. Sat for a good two hours sipping hot coffee, while I imagined many tourists had already taken off uphill or deep into the forests for their adrenaline fix. I watched the street below the restaurant and the people trudging up the street.


Walking is more like hiking up here in Sagada. The sky seems so near, yet still so far. So I guess, in this cool temperature, one seeks the sun, the openness outside. Breathing in the fresh air, looking at how nature is very expressive all around you.


I entered the Church of St.Mary, and since it’s my first visit to Sagada, I make a wish-the wish is immediately granted as I sit in silence. It’s so peaceful.


The sunset is peaceful. And a harbinger of colder temperature, 12 degrees in the evenings. All sunsets are amazing to me. I say goodbye to the sun, for meeting me up in Sagada.


This shot was taken before nighttime out on my balcony. The air has grown chilly, so I must put on a second pair of socks, my bonnet, wear my fleece jacket and pull its hood over my bonnet, and wrap my fleece blanket around myself. The local dogs, and I see more dogs than people in the middle of the day in Sagada, make their final barking concerts that incredibly echo all around. And I grab my chocolate drink packet from my bag so I could sip something hot before cocooning myself in bed like Goldilocks, tired to the bone. But in contrast to her, I got to sleep in the biggest bed.


And I admit, I never put the alarm on to wake me up at four or five on any morning while in Sagada. I knew that the Kiltepan sunrise worshippers were doing just that and freezing in their knickers as they rode out to await the famous Kiltepan Point Sunrise. I knew there would be quite a number of them up there while I lay sleeping until I wanted to wake up at 7:30am. So I went to the Tourism Office at 8am, and with only two Tourism guides,the other one drove our van up to Kiltepan. When I got there, I was the only tourist and there were no photo bombers. Perfect!


Just look at the view from above. Manong, the one who drove the van, said he was pure Igorot, one of the many northern indigenous tribes. We both spoke Ilocano and I told him I respect the indigenous people. I said to him that I grew up spending my summers in a nearby province where the indigenous were called Itnegs and Tingguians.


Conquering Kiltepan Peak was the highlight of my Sagada adventure. I initially wanted to trek to Lake Danum, but I had to listen to my body, which suggested what I needed was a lot of introspection (sleep). Plus, I couldn’t resist meditating (just sitting) and reading  on the balcony with that beautiful view.




Laiya, I like ya

Fun brought to you by Burot Beach, Batangas


Photo by Onnah Valera

Stones and sticks tell the stories of Batanes

Batanes is the only place in the Philippines which is protected in its entirety, thus, securing environmental permits and registering at the municipal hall is a must for visitors. As a first-timer to Batanes, I’d prefer to keep its secrets to myself, but I can’t because it’s the most amazing place on earth. The Batanes airport is undergoing structural updates but exemplifies the islands’ aesthetics. The airport represents my first brush with Batanes. 10293546_10205527821329786_946592745335185606_o

Marine Sanctuary. We got a mayor’s permit to enter the area. This is an untapped dive site and its cool brown, grey and cream sand is cool to the touch. The water feels soothingly cool. Had an awesome time splashing on the beach. Photo by Onnah Valera

This was our ride for our entire stay on Basco Batanes, a unique cogon grass-roofed 10-seater. They made our hectic Basco-Sabtang itinerary very enjoyable. If your vehicle for touring is this open, there’re more opportunities to take photos enroute and breathe in the fresh air. www.crisanlodge.com

Photo by Onnah Valera

The arch to this view point says Welcome to Basco. Warm welcomes don’t always come with this view.

Photo by Onnah Valera

Mt. Carmel church is new, but built with the ancient Ivatan style. Its ceiling’s got murals of the 6 patron saints of the six Basco barangays. Mt. Carmel church is new, but built with the ancient Ivatan style.

Photo by Onnah Valera

The “boundaries” called liveng (hedgegrows of cogon reeds or sticks and grass) seen on the hills serve as fences, organic farming tools and anti-erosion for stormy weather

. Photo by Onnah Valera

Marlboro Hills, rolling hills with a stunning 360 view

. Photo by Onnah Valera

Valugan Boulder Beach. As the guides say, Batanes was an accident. Mount Iraya erupted and spewed ash and huge rocks.

Photo by Onnah Valera

Vayang Rolling hills. The population of people in Batanes is only a few thousands, with the lot of cows around, I wonder if there are more cows than people here.

Photo by Onnah Valera

Watched the sunset at the foot of the Basco Lighthouse on Naidi hills

Photo by Onnah Valera

Casa Napoli Pizza is the only pizzeria in town. Make that two. It’s got two outlets. They serve the best pizza and the most tasty fried chicken I reckon. But, if you are a die hard gastronomy fanatic, you might want to head off to Pension Ivatan where we were able to taste the unique local gastronomy. For our group of 8 women, their Ivatan Platter was just enough to feed us. The fish is grilled flying fish! You can see a lobster, beef strips, squid, fried pork called lunis, uvud balls made of taro root, lumot, another vegetable dish that kinda reminds me of laing, red eggs, and turmeric rice in there.

Photo by Onnah Valera

Meet the people who visit Batanes and leave their secrets in this visitors’ library in Mahatao. In these pages, any Batanes visitor is welcome to write, as they say, “What happens in Batanes stays in Batanes”. Their diorama also holds interesting colonial Spanish era facts.

Photo by Onnah Valera Photo by Onnah Valera Photo by Onnah Valera

The faluwa (local Batanes motor boat) we boarded at Ivana Port to bring us to the island of Sabtang.

Photo by Onnah Valera

Sabtang Island. There’s a native fashion called “vakul” which is solely to be worn by women of Batanes to protect them from the elements, sort of an all-weather raincoat/umbrella. My photobomber (she’s part of my tour group) is wearing a vakul. Photo by Onnah Valera Photo by Onnah Valera

Chavayan District is a functional community of Ivatans or locals who live in these stone houses with walls a meter thick, cogon grass for roofing, or in modern times, steel roofing. It kinda reminds me of the Shire in those Lord of The Rings movies.

Photo by Onnah ValeraPhoto by Onnah ValeraPhoto by Onnah Valera

Songsong District experienced a tsunami three decades ago and yet the walls of the Ivatan ruins still stand.

Photo by Onnah Valera Photo by Onnah ValeraView Post

There’s so much for a first-timer to Batanes like me to experience, I only got as far as Basco Island and Sabtang. Itbayat is another Island they recommend to see. Actually, it would’ve been cool to really know the Ivatans by living “homestay” style in their stone houses. I hope to return and do this next time. The stone houses tell quite a marvelous story about Batanes and the Ivatans.

Hovering Over Paradise (November 2014). Elevation Elation!!!!

Puerto Princesa Underground River is the Philippines’ new addition to the 7 New Wonders of Nature