Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Maligcong Rice Terraces and Mt. Kupapey

I wrote somewhere at the back of my head as part of my 2017 bucket list, I should make it to the rice terraces this year, but as some cases go, I did not only reach it, I went above and beyond it. I reached for the clouds and conquered Mt. Kupapey. Going to Maligcong was the highlight of my Cordillera trip. As seen in the photo, standing up there and staring down at the terraces at the break of dawn will give you a feeling that's hard to describe. Breathtaking? Yes. As for the other words, it doesn't matter, the only thing I can say is that it was euphoria to be in that state of present. 

This does no justice to describe how crowded we were inside the jeepney.

This is the road going to Bontoc from Maligcong. This is our descent to Bontoc City.

As an innocent-ignorant little soul, I did not know that the rice terraces were actually scattered all over the Cordillera mountain ranges, forming small barangays per cluster of terraces, some a little harder to access than others. Maligcong was one of the easier ones, just a 30-minute jeepeney ride up a very steep and narrow road from Bontoc. For only Php20.00, we managed to get a seat inside the jeep, while others had to endure sitting on center isle, hang at the back, or sit on the roof to get to their barangay. Our experience on the jeep seemed like it was clipped out from a rural movie scene wherein as we sat there, people slowly came in riding with sacks of rice, bundles of vegetables, bags of chicken feeds, a pair of live chicken in a box with punctured holes for it to breathe through, canned goods, and where everyone just started chatting the moment they spotted each other like a friendly neighbor. It was amusing to watch the interact, to hear them speak in their language and not understand a word, and see them give us curious glances from time to time. 

It was a consistent 30 degree uphill climb all the way to the top, and I could hear the engine roaring throughout the trip. The view is covered by trees, though at times there will be openings where you will get to see glimpses of the valley below, and Bontoc city. 

This is the view from Suzette's Homestay as you sip good brewed Sagada coffee.

My travel companion book. It's a collection of short stories on real-life travel
experiences of fiction writers.

We stayed at Suzette's Homestay, as most of the bloggers seemed to have stayed there. The thing about her place is the viewing deck, the dogs, the hospitality, and the free brewed coffee and tea. The rooms are basic, just a double sized bed, a small table, and some bars with hangers...where you can hang things. No electric fan, because you seriously don't need it. We went there mid-summer and we were freezing that night. Yes, there is a signal for Globe (because they had issues with the Smart tower that was built there,) but the sockets are limited to four outside the rooms. There are two common toilet and baths, but there was a construction going on when we went there, so they will probably add more rooms and toilets. The toilet is the manual kind, and you'd have to really squat down to get to the bowl.

Maligcong is a small town, doable by foot from one end of town to the other. There is the entry part of town where jeepneys pass by (that's where we stayed,) but to get to the town proper, you will have to pass by the terraces. It's a very easy walk, one that's wide enough and cemented for you to walk on. And while another group of friends decided to hike up Mt. Fato, we decided to stay behind and get to the terraces as close as we can so we could watch the sunset from there. A five-minute descend from Suzette's got us close enough to the patties, so close that we were felt like kids reliving a childhood memory we never really experienced. We walked amazed, every few steps we were taking photos, at every opportunity, at every angle. It took us about an hour to reach from one side to the other because we were taking our time, but if you rush your walk, it'll probably take less than twenty minutes to finish. 

This is the first part after ascending down the steps and into the terraces.

Urgh! I'm here, I made it. Bucketlist: See the rice terraces up close. Check!

Playing with shadows as we waited for the sun to set.

The view from the mid-part of the terraces.

This is right before crossing a small bridge to get to the other side.

This is the view a few steps after crossing the small bridge.

The stream is much smaller than you think.

We decided to just chill until evening after our leisurely walk on the terraces. That night, we cooked our own dinner and had a feast eating ensaladang talong and canned mechadong tuna. One of my favorite part on the trip was stargazing while lying on a hammock and listening to the voice of John Mayer, his album Battle Studies to be more specific. It was extremely dark, with distant light sources that could be counted with one hand, allowing for the stars to shine brightly. Under a roofless deck, I swayed back and forth enveloped in the chill of the night and viewed the sky, occasionally spotting a firefly flicker by. In that moment, I truly felt I was at peace with the universe, and nothing else mattered. That was the charm of Maligcong. 

Early the next day, as early as 3:15am we set out from our homestay and made our way up Mt. Kupapey. Why? Because the sunrise started as early as 5am when we were there. The trek starts out with a steep stair incline, one with a set of cemented that was a challenge. I hate stairs. It went on for about thirty minutes because we were slow...then the steps disappear, turning to a dirt trail. That lasted for another hour...because again, I am unfit to rush a steep incline. In all fairness to the trail, they said it's a level 3 trail, but it was a very easy one in a sense that I did not have to heave my body up a 45 degree trail or crawl up on all four just to pass through an area. If you pace yourself, it's a very straightforward trek that will not tire you the rest of the day by the time you get down. In fact the way down was so easy we didn't take any breaks in the forty-minute descent. 

We stayed at the summit a little longer after the sunrise, so much so that we missed the jeepney that was supposed to take us back to Bontoc. We decided to rent a jeep instead so we could get to Sagada before lunch as agreed by our group and another group who we happen to meet there at the home stay. The view from the top is unlike other summits I've seen (as if I've seen a lot,) for the very reason that this is the only summit where I saw a beautiful rice terraces below. From above the clouds, there you will see reflections from the pools of water of the patty fields framed by pine needles that fill your foreground, and beyond the clouds peeks layers of mountain ranges that you will eventually see when the overcast clears after sunrise. The colors of nature is a combination of yellows and pinks from the rays of first light, the blues of the clean sky, the white of the rolling clouds, and the bright greens from the pine foliage and stalks of palay. It made me love the Philippines even more.

Breakfast for three...because we love a heavy meal after a climb.

The guide said there used to be no pine trees covering the view, so you could
see the whole terraces if you had arrived twenty years sooner.

Let's end the photo series with another glimpse from the summit of Mt. Kupapey.


*The only way to get to Maligcong is from Bontoc, ride the jeep for Php20.00.

*It's a 30-minute ride.

*Renting the whole jeep cost us Php800.00 for a one-way ride.

*There is a scheduled time of departure, usually 2-4 trips a day. Ask the locals.

*There are currently only three places where you can stay in Maligcong, best to reserve in advance, especially if you decide to go there on a weekend. 

*There are three popular activities in Maligcong, the rice terraces, Mt. Fato and Mt. Kupapey. 

*A day-trip is possible, but staying the night is preferable.

*It gets pretty dark at night, so I suggest you bring a flashlight.

*It also gets very cold at night, so bring a blanket or a jacket especially around Ber-months until February...even in summer. Okay, it's cold year-round.

*Suzette's Homestay will charge P250.00 if you use their gas range. You can ask for salt, and oil and pans for your cooking though. 

*Her homestay does have a shower heater...fortunately.

*You don't need a guide to tour around the terraces, you can just go down and explore on your own. Be careful though, it's a long drop if you fall.

*You will need a guide to reach the summits though, Php500.00 per guide. It's one guide for every four or six people I think?

*You can ask the homestay to cook for you for P150 per meal, or you can bring your own food. But I suggest you buy your ingredients in Bontoc because there isn't much where you can buy in Maligcong except the bare essentials. The homestay sells cooked rice for P20 for a big serving.

*Go to Maligcong while there isn't much tourist traffic, because its charm lies in how low-key it is from most tourists. There were a total of three groups of tourists when we went there, us being one of the three.