June 28, 2016

Adams, Ilocos Norte

Not everybody deserves a second chance. But Adams does. Definitely, positively, Adams does.

Rarely do I go back to the same place twice. But there is something so naturally enchanting and poetic about this place, that I promised myself I will return, given the chance. And I did, in less than a week. Adams is simply that irresistible.

But let me begin this story with my first solo adventure to Adams. It took me almost four years-worth of courage to finally visit the secret paradise of the North, only armed with excitement, my gadgets, and good stories I heard first-hand from friends about the place. They say that this small one barangay-municipality in the upland of Ilocos Norte, was comparable to the beauty of the Garden of Eden that’s why it was named Adam’s (the first man created by God). The population count is less than two thousand, with a mixture of locals coming from the tribes of Kankana-ays, Yapayaos, Itnegs, Igorot-Ilocanos, Ibalois, Bagos and Imalods. Because of its mountainous terrain and cool climate similar to Baguio, it’s being dubbed as the Pines City of Ilocos

There are only a few homestays in Adams, and I’m glad I ended up staying in I think the most rustic among all of them - Ilyn’s Homey Place. They have charming wooden cottages in a serene fishpond setting overlooking the verdant Mt. Palemlem. They also offer good food, mostly sourced from their pond or their farm.

Beruna Cottage named after the fictional quaint village in Narnia

A writer’s haven

Steamed tilapia, brown rice and steamed vegetables

Daing na bangus, Laoag longanisa and tomatoes

Pink lotus in bloom

The hospitality and warmth of Ate Ilyn was in fact one of the many reasons why I returned to Adams. She was a former OFW from Taiwan, who decided to stay for good in her hometown, when her then Taiwanese supervisor followed her all the way to the Philippines, while she was on vacation, and asked to marry her, much to her surprise. Hindi na nga sila nagdaan sa courting stage. Basta nagpakasal na agad sila. When I asked Ate Ilyn why the rush, she said that it was because of the strong determination and effort of the guy who was willing to give up his life in Taiwan just to be with her. She felt loved for the first time. And the rest is history, and the eventual opening of their home to guests and visitors. 

A few minute walk from Ate Ilyn’s place is the bugnay winery of Dr. Bielmaju, the former Mayor’s wife. The abundance of bugnay (wild blackberry or currant tree) in Adams, made Dr. Bielmaju decide to venture in winemaking industry, an opportunity which she also saw to provide livelihood to the locals, and at the same time promote local culture and tourism.

For a non-wine connoisseur like me, I actually find bugnay wine tasteful than red wine. But since hindi naman ako tanggero, I just settled for the sweet bugnay juice, instead.

A day or two in Adams is not enough to explore its countless natural wonders.

The Kalbario Patapat Natural Park Eco Village is a protected area located on the Patapat mountains both shared by Pagudpud and Adams. It has picnic grounds, cottages and view decks which allow one to take a glimpse of the lush forest and the Pasaleng Bay.

Perhaps the most romantic date place in Adams is the Lover’s Peak. On and from the peak, lovers could chase each other on its rolling hills, wait (while holding hands) for the sunrise, and marvel at the stunning beauty of Tinamburan mountain ranges.

Sometimes you can’t help but feel this uncontrollable sadness when you see something so beautiful and you’ve got no one to share it with. That’s exactly how I felt the first time I reached Adams View Deck, solitary seeing the town covered in such wonderful greenery while raining. I felt this spot was my Kiltepan. 

I hope you won’t get overpopulated

After that drama, wherever I look, there’s just too many incredible mountain views that made my eyes and heart swell with joy. It feels like the place is an extension of the scenic Cordillera Mountain Region.

There are about 10 hanging bridges in Adams. When the Bolo River overflows during rainy season and the wooden and concrete bridges becomes impassable, these hanging bridges serve its purpose. On a regular sunny day, it is a normal sight to see children swimming in the cold river or women doing their laundry.

Baset hanging bridge (the longest in Ilocos Norte)

The main attraction of Adams is its 18 documented waterfalls. I was accompanied by a young local guide Matthew in visiting the most spectacular, the Anuplig Falls, which is more than an hour of leisurely walk from the town proper, passing by ravines, cliffs and rice paddies and terraces. The 25-feet waterfalls has two inviting pool basins.

If only it didn’t rain and I wasn’t shivering cold, I would have loved to take a dip in its blue-green waters. They were so hypnotizing, that I just enjoyed the moment looking at them for a while.

People of Adams say that they have their own micro-climate. There are times when it could be scorching hot in the neighboring Pagudpud but it would be raining non-stop in Adams. But despite the days the sun was not up, I was still blessed to have seen how the mist and fog embrace this town, adding more charm and mystery.

Leaving Adams is as hard as leaving someone you love.

Pero nung tinanong nga ako ni Ate Ilyn kung bakit ako bumalik kahit na medyo nakakapagod balikan. Nasabi ko na “di ba nangako ako na babalik ako.”

I don’t keep promises, when I know I could never keep them.
How to get to Adams and travel tips:
1. From Manila, take Laoag-bound plane or bus. In Laoag, take Claveria-bound van (or any bus going to Cagayan) and get off at Pancian, the last barangay of Pagudpud. In Pancian, ride a habal-habal going to Adams (usually takes 45 minutes). Road is partly paved, passing thru mountains and streams.
2. All the major natural attractions can be reached by foot or by habal-habal. Anuplig is only accessible by foot (tour guide is recommended).
3. Definitely the best place to stay is at Ate Ilyn’s Homey Place (0920-6610632). It is just a short walking distance from the municipal hall. They even have tent accommodation for those on a budget. 

Casa Renato, Fairview

The problem with nice people is that they will not tell you that they are hurt. They will wait for you to realize your mistake

Spicy steak quesadilla

Fresh seafood pasta

Grilled tenderloin blade medallion

Chocolate cake

Casa Renato
Dahlia Ave., Fairview
Quezon City
Tel. No.: 430-3427

June 20, 2016

Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail

When you feel stuck or caught between a rock and a hard place, just look at the sky. Clouds remind us that everything changes. Or better yet, scale this beautiful mountain named after the clouds and mist that mystically surround it.  

A mini-Middle Earth of Itogon, Benguet, Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail may be one of the best day hikes for those looking for adventure not that far from Manila. Rising 1,846 MASL, the trail is not that easy but it offers a wonderful view of pine trees, grassland ridges, rolling hills, rock formations, burial caves, and clouds that take different shapes and forms by the minute.

And it’s okay to hike solo. Even without any mountaineering gears. I left Manila on a weekend at 2:30 am. Arrived in Baguio by 8 am. Took a taxi going to Lakandula. Had a quick breakfast at McDo. Ordered take-out lunch from Jollibee. Took a jeepney bound for Samuyao and was dropped at Ampucao Elementary School. Registered at the barangay hall. Paid P500 for the registration and tour guide. And by 9:45, I’m on my way to see Ampucao’s famed and newest attraction, along with my young tour guide Clemens.

The Mt. Ulap Eco Trail is actually composed of six stages, which can be traversed in 5 to 8 hours, depending on one’s pace.

Stage 1 - Tomtombek. We started the climb from Sitio Tomtombek. There’s a kind warning that says “Keep Ampucao beautiful” or in short don’t dare vandalize. Simula pa lang, ascent agad. Kaya muntik na ako mapaatras initial stage pa lang hehe. Even if it was scorching hot, there are a lot of pine trees along the way, giving shade and oxygen, which kept us going. I was also surprised to find a wooden gate on the trail. Clemens said that it was built to keep the cows from escaping or wandering.  

Stage 2 - Ambanao Paoay. I began to really appreciate the trail, the moment I reached the first peak - Ambanao Paoay. Cairns dot the summit of this hill. And herd of cows graze on this area.

Stage 3 – Gungal Rock.  The famous landmark of the trail is the Gungal Rock, large rock formations, where hikers queue just to take a photo-op – a solid evidence to show that they’ve really conquered the mountain. Another surprise came when I bumped into Mark and his friends who were also there on a dayhike.

Stage 4 – Mt. Ulap Summit. With its verdant rolling hills with a larger herd of cows, my most favorite station is the summit. When I saw the camping site, gusto ko magpa-iwan. Kung meron lang sana nagpap-rent ng tent within the vicinity, I wouldn’t think twice spending the night.

Stage 5 - Pong-Ol Burial Caves. The last attraction of the trail is the burial caves, which as of the moment are closed to the public. But Clemens still took me to two of the sites. Taking pictures of the skulls and the remains are strictly prohibited maybe to prevent “mummy theft incidence” that happened before (kaya dun sa mga palihim na nag-picture habang nakalingat ang guide, hindi na raw kayo makakaapak ng Ampucao hehe).

Stage 6 – Sta. Fe. Had I known of the steep descent going to Sitio Sta. Fe, bumalik na lang sana ako sa Ampucao. This part of the trail is the most difficult. Na-stress legs ko pababa. We passed by some locals who live in the area, a charming wooden house, and hanging bridges, before finally reaching the highway by 6 pm.

We finished the traverse in eight hours. I took a shower in one of the houses. Rode a jeepney back to Baguio. Tambay ng tatlong oras sa Victory. And four hours later, already back in Manila. I was actually hesitant at first to try this challenge alone but I’m glad I did. Mountain climbing will always be my first love.

At kahit hindi ako masyadong ready, naniniwala ako sa sinabi ni Kat Ri na “You’re never going to be 100% ready and it’s never going to be just the right time, but that’s the point. It means that every moment is also the right moment. If you want it, you just have to do it.”