Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bontoc Day Trip

My first encounter with Bontoc was through Google maps. Our intention of going to the area was for Sagada and Maligcong, Bontoc was the entry point to our destinations. I didn't know what to make of it then except that it's small and has a huge river in between. Arriving, I was half-asleep that I didn't see the bus enter the city until the driver stopped and said we had arrived. It was only when we got to walk around a bit did I get an air of nostalgia. It was was as if I was walking in the streets of Luang Prabang, Laos. The city is situated in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountain ranges with a wide river passing through its center, dividing the city into two. The low and laid-back population gave it a charm, but their habit of spitting chewed up betel nuts made the streets look unhygienic as blots of red are stained all over the city. It sort-of became our game, to spot the biggest spits and just laugh at figuring out how huge some got. Two main streets cut through the heart of the city, and at its center is the plaza. At most, it's a walking distance to everything you need to see within the city center (just a lot of incline walks though,) and just beyond are smaller barangays that possess a quaintness of their own. 

Cathedral of All Saints.

Interior of the cathedral.

Bontoc was the starting point of our five-day adventure of the Cordillera. We got down the bus at the end of Samoki bridge, right beside TLS Highway Canteen and across the Cathedral of All Saints. A chilly air greeted us, momentarily making us forget that it was the height of summer. First things first, breakfast. The closest restaurant that was open at 7am was Cable Cafe & Restaurant, a small cafe that's also an inn and has a toilet you can use. First impression of the restaurant, it's cozy, but the chairs are hellishly heavy that it took some muscle to haul it out the table. tasted different to what I perceived it to taste like. I ordered pork steak tapa...and for some reason it tasted closer to tinolang manok. My friend ordered sisig, and it reminded him more of eating bopis, as I do also agree. My other friend ordered buttered chicken, and that one she got with a pool of butter for extra measure. The staff were carefree, at some point the cashier left while the waiter went in the kitchen, leaving the whole restaurant unattended for a long while. That's the provincial life.

Right after the meal, we headed back up to the Cathedral of All Saints for some divine guidance throughout the trip. It is small in size for a cathedral, felt more like a chapel if I compare it to the ones I've seen in other places, but it was well maintained. We left, then headed up another incline to see Bontoc Museum.

Pork tapa of Cable Cafe & Restaurant. (P120.00)

A lot of their houses are covered in tin.

Some leg work is needed to get around. But look at the view!

There isn't much to do in Bontoc, it's like a simple city where you can stop for a few hours to get to another destination. One of their points of interest though is the Bontoc Museum. For a P60 entrance fee, you will get to see some interesting photographs of headhunters and old tribal stuff, like bags, spears, textiles, accessories, shields, and such. We were not allowed to take photos inside, as typical museums would rule, but outside where there were recreations of different kinds of huts, we were allowed to photograph.

Looks like a village of orcs from a MMORPG. I love it!

They sleep up there and other stuff are done downstairs.

The insides really looks like a house from videogames with pots and no toilets.

Ato is a sort of gathering of older men over a campfire. We didn't get to see one though.

This is a hut intended for young unmarried women of the tribe. Discrimination!!!

After the museum, we were left wandering in the streets looking for the local market because a few hours before our arrival, the host for our homestay texted that she'd be out of town that time and that if possible, we bring our own food for the duration of our stay. So we decided to cook our own food, winging the menu as we went around. We ended up with eggplants, tomatoes, limes, eggs, mangoes, and a bunch of canned goods. So practical. So efficient. Their market has a few stalls with a couple of repeating items and the prices were cheap-of-sort-but-not-that-cheap. Some vegetables and fruits were fresh, but the meats didn't seem too freshly-slaughtered.

Along the way we got to interact with the locals, and they are friendly enough to ask us questions as well. What I love most about Bontoc is its cheap brewed coffee, which is P10.00 a cup. It was good coffee as well, for what it's worth, it tasted even better than the ones being sold in some cafes for P100.

Every now and then we would spot old folks from neighboring mountains coming down there, and they would have tattoos on their skin. It was amazing to see these living legends walking among us. Locals there have different facial features as compared to other regions in the country. They look like foreigners even, some reminded me of the Mongols with rounded face, a tan-ocher complexion and blushed cheeks, downturned eyes, and light brown irises. It's very interesting to watch. They are soft-spoken yet approachable. The creases on the skin of the old natives are very visible that they make for an interesting portrait subject. We even encountered one on the jeep with bad-ass haggling skills that she managed to buy blanket initially sold for Php1800 for only Php300. 

The makings of the popular nga nga.

One experience I will not forget in Bontoc is buying nganga or mamma and trying it for the first time. I've always wanted to try it, just never got the chance to do it, so I didn't let that moment slip. Each pack is worth P5.00, and I needed to buy four components to make the nganga, totaling the cost of the experience to P20.00. It is composed of a betel nut, a green leaf that-I-had-forgotten-what-it's-called, apog, and dried tobacco leaves. I was clueless of how it's being done, so I had to ask to be taught how to do it. It starts with peeling off the outer skin of the nut to reveal its core. I started biting it as first, and it was solid hard like biting a macadamia shell...turns out you need to crush it open with a tool and roll it in apog before you start chewing it. It didn't taste much, just a bitter-numbing feeling...then while chewing it, you bite on the green leaf to give a sour taste in your mouth, followed last by biting the tobacco leaf and chewing it all together until your mouth is filled with saliva. You don't swallow anything, you chew and spit. The longer you chew, the redder the spit becomes. It gives your mouth a sensory overload as you get to taste bitter, sour, a bit of salty then spicy, and leaves you wanting to spit it out over and over. In the end my whole mouth felt numb that lasted a few hours. It was fun trying it, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the locals did. As a foodie, it was something I wanted to taste, but not more than once. Charge to experience is what is was.

A local kakanin made of brown rice. It's not sweet, so it went great with hot choco.

Their tricycles are bigger than usual. And their coffee...urgh! Winner!

In a span of five hours, we got a small glimpse of what Bontoc is like, and it's pretty interesting to see another part of the culture that makes us as a whole. While in most parts of the Philippines that I've been to felt same, there I felt a bit out of the typical and it was a refreshing experience. It gives you a sense of being somewhere remote in South East Asia. That feeling of being somewhere completely new, yet at the same time see remnants of the familiar is where its charm lies.

*We went to Bontoc from Cubao via CODA Lines for Php685.00.

*The bus trip took ten hours.

*Bontoc is 45 minutes away from Sagada for Php40.00.

*The Bontoc-Sagada jeepney route was one of the most beautiful roadside views I saw. I don't have a photo, but the picture in my head paints a pretty darn sight to behold.

*Bontoc to Maligcong is 30 minutes away for Php20.00.

*There are schedules for jeeps, and it usually ends mid-to-late afternoon. No jeepneys travel at night because of the road conditions.

*Bontoc can be cold in the mornings even in summer, and more so during Nov-Feb.

*Prepare to see a lot of spit remnants on the street.

*There are a couple of places where you can stay and eat.

*Jeepneys have different terminals for different destinations, just ask around.

*Not everyone can speak tagalog, especially the older ones, but most do.

*They have their own flavors and tastes there. 

*Bontoc has a 9pm curfew, but this mostly means that bars should be close and no more alcoholic drinks by then just to avoid unwanted situations. But you can still go out, but most people are in their homes by then though.