April 10, 2017

Mt. Kupapey, Maligcong Rice Terraces

Don’t be scared to walk alone. Don’t be scared to like it.

Maligcong is a picturesque, rugged village in Bontoc, Mt. Province. I remember many years ago, Jec, Jen and I had merienda cena at Goldfish Café in Bontoc town proper. The name of the café was intriguing, given that it is right at the very heart of a mountainous province. Nope there weren’t aquariums nor a live gold fish inside, but there hanging on its wall was a large monochromatic photo of a breathtaking rice terraces. Our server said that it is the Maligcong Rice Terraces. And that its beauty could rival that of Banaue’s. The terraces is known for its stone walls which make them sturdy and withstand erosion. I never expected that one day, I’ll get the chance to see it for real.

It takes almost 10 hours by bus to reach Bontoc from Manila, and another 20 minutes by jeepney to get to Maligcong. The highland is a wonderful place for those seeking a hiking adventure with friends or a quiet “me” time away from the tiring and busy city life. I would have loved to have a company to do this adventure, but since this was another spur of a moment gala, I ended up being with myself. Again.

Maligcong was named after the word “ligcong” which means to level land for a rice field. And true enough, anywhere and everywhere I look, I see rice fields and terraces.

There are three homestays in Maligcong – all of them just a stone’s throw away from each other. I chose to stay at Suzette’s Homestay. Why? Well its veranda overlooks an amazing view of greenery. And Ate Suzzette is known in the area for her yummylicious freshly baked squash muffins and freshly brewed Maligcong coffee, aside from being warm and so maalaga with her visitors. I was even surprised to find out during our chitchat that she was a black belter during her younger days (so better not mess with this woman who can still give anyone a good flying kick).

After having brunch, I explored the rice terraces and the nearby village. While walking, I realized someone was following me. It was Kunig, the pet dog of Ate Suzette. He eventually led the way, serving as my tour guide. And I was just happy to follow him as he brought me to the elementary school in Fang-orao and Favarey where the original settlement of Maligcong and the church is located. In Favarey, tombs are scattered everywhere, practically next to the houses, giving an impression that the place is somewhat a cemetery village. During daytime, where most of the people are out working in the rice fields, the village is almost deserted and seem like a ghost town. I got scared a little but thankfully Kunig was with me, and never left my side.

In the afternoon, I tried climbing Mt. Fato upon the suggestion of Ate Suzette. She said that the trail was already established and that I would surely find the right way going to the summit. Kunig was already accompanying the other guests who arrived, so I was left on my own. And because I wasn’t familiar with the terrain, I got lost not once but twice. To make the story short, I never reached my destination. Worse it started to rain. Kung kasama ko lang sana si Kunig, he could have led me to the right way. Pero di naman ako nalungkot masyado, because my inaccurate sense of direction took me to surprisingly scenic off the beaten path. I saw more rice terraces, forest of pine trees and a rainbow after the rain. It was a happy misadventure after all.   

The highlight of my trip - the trek to Mt. Kupapey (also known as Mt. Kofafey or Mt. Antungfaw) happened the next day. The mountain is known for having the best vantage point to view Maligcong Rice Terraces. Ate Suzette got me a guide – Ate Tina. This time though I have two companions – fellow guests from the homestay. Plus Kunig. We started trekking as early as 3:30 am so we could also witness daybreak. Even in pitch darkness, Ate Tina knows the trail like the back of her hand.

It usually takes almost two hours to reach the summit but we made it in just an hour. We were that swift because my companions were all fit, at medyo na-pressure ako na bilisan kahit deep inside gusto ko lang sana a walk in the park.

Buti na lang it wasn’t freezing cold at the summit, as often the case. And while waiting for sunrise, we were gifted with a mesmerizing view similar to the one I saw at Goldfish Café. We get to admire the sky changing colors and the fog partly shrouding the mountains and the terraces. Only one word came out of my mouth: Wow. It was like a surreal painting, a masterpiece adeptly made by the hands of nature.  

I love the serenity of the moment. Andami sumasagi sa isip ko. Like Pain is also a good motivator. Every time you take someone for granted, you’re teaching them to live without you. And I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

From Manila, take a night trip Bontoc-bound bus (Coda Bus Line in Banaue, Quezon City). Get off in Bontoc town proper, early morning the next day. Ride a jeepney going to Maligcong (first trip starts at 7:30 am, last trip is 4:30 pm). Ate Suzzette’s homestay (0915-5463557) is just along the road, a few meters before the final stop. Tip: get a guide when trekking to Mt. Kupapey and Mt. Fato. Guide fee is P500 for a group of 4.
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