Friday, July 26, 2013

Ifugao Province

by Ivan Ignacio

Probably one of the greatest feats of The BACKPACKERS is the discovery of a remote but very beautiful mountain in the province of Ifugao. Mt. Humalophop (or Mt. Palo for some), is located in the town of Hingyon and is a haven to spectacular rice fields and terraces. According to the locals, they were surprised to see a group of mountaineers as the place had no visitors except for the PNP who conducted a medical mission in 2011. Our Mt. Humalophop climb was part of our Give Love Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights where we brought school supplies, goodies and sandals to the kids of Humalophop Elementary School and nine other schools in Hingyon, Ifugao.


BP Mau, though not joining the adventure, came to Sampaloc to drop by his donations
and the donations of Cynel and Ever, our guests in the recent Mt. Tangisan climb

THIRTY ONE individuals (sixteen BACKPACKERS, twelve Guests and three KaEskwela Representatives) gathered at Ohayami bus station in Sampaloc, Manila on July 20, 2013. Everyone was ecstatic; greeting and chatting with familiar faces while the bus was still parked. It was the start of the much awaited Ifugao adventure!

Angel Cawaling

Anna Aujero
April Bedana
Conts Cirujales
Ghei Agoncillo
Jovy Duremdes
Liz Honrade
Marion Macapagal
DeePee Piano
Heinz Alvarez Jr
Ivan Ignacio
Kenji Revoltiado
King Aguilar
Ralph Flores
Resty Ritualo
Wilson Galapon

Claire del Rosario
Isabel Fonte
Leah Nogoy
Sheryl Dalagan
Thea Trinidad
Weng Bulaon
Aaron Quime
Chad Planea
Gino Trinidad
Freddie Fernandez
Reynante Mina
Rexie Vergara

It was a long bus ride from Sampaloc, Manila all the way to Ifugao, saved by a twenty minute stop over at somewhere in Nueva Vizcaya. When we entered the province, the radiant rays of the sun were already kissing the sky. Captivating and mighty mountains greeted us as the bus swerved in the zigzag road. It reminded us of a promising adventure and a worthy advocacy of the three day trip. Riding in the bus with us were not only our co-passengers, but twenty boxes filled with donations of various sort which were to be given to several hundred children in the region. Yes, this trip was truly one-of-a-kind because it was a climb for a cause.


We alighted in Ifugao's capital, Lagawe, just in front of the Department of Education District Office of Ifugao. We unloaded the boxes and went inside the District Office. We met one of the coolest and nicest person who was also our partner in this undertaking: Ma'am Ermie. A local of the town, it was she who spearheaded the cause of the event: distribute school supplies to ten elementary schools in Ifugao. Project Aral Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights, a project of The BACKPACKERS, KaEskwela, National Bookstore and Miss Ermie Bahatan, will be accounted in a separate article.

Miss Ermie welcomes the group in Ifugao

BP DeePee posing in front of the DepEd office

Before we head to our major destination: Mt. Humalophop, we had a first hand treat of some of the customs and traditions of our Ifugao brothers and sisters as we strolled along the capital's plaza. The ambiance was quite different as cool and unpolluted breeze were felt as we walked along the clean park. Native houses scattered in the whole province were in the plaza, reminding us of the importance of cultural preservation. It was a nice thing we had Ma'am Ermie who served as our tour guide and answered our questions.

BACKPACKERS Liz, Resty and April posing in front of the native houses in the Lagawe town plaza
Ivan Ignacio, the BP lead and the author of this article,
Posing in front of the Mayoyao, Ifugao native house
Remember him in Survivor Zambales: Backpackers vs Guests?
That's Gino (right) and his sister Thea, two of our guests in this adventure

We had an early hike from the plaza to Ma'am Ermie's abode where she prepared a hearty welcome-to-Ifugao breakfast for us! We took advantage of this moment to eat, drink coffee, relax and bond with the other participants of the epic Ifugao adventure. The morning menu were served: hotdog sandwich, delicious tinapa, omelette and a local delicacy more known as Soup Number 5. It was BP Wilson who had the best time enjoying the soup made of cow testicles.

Soon after, we went back to the Division Office for a quick photo ops and a meeting with the district supervisors of the schools of Hingyon, Ifugao. While waiting for our service, we utilized our free time in bonding, playing table tennis and exploring the establishment which has a view deck where magnificent view of the surrounding mountains can be seen. BP Jovy was assisted by Leah and Aaron in a last minute shopping of supplies.

At Department of Education Division Office in Lagawe, Ifugao

VIDEO: The Prayer Circle
Prayer led by Leah Nogoy


Before our major hike to Mt. Humalophop, part of our itinerary was to see one of Philippines' bragging rights: the Banaue Rice Terraces! Dubbed as the eighth wonder of the world, these staircased terraces were built by our Ifugao ancestors using their bare hands. Yep - no bulldozers, wheel loaders or any other machines! This was my second attempt to view the world renowned wonder, and I, along with the others were just as excited. We loaded our backpacks, donation boxes, supplies and finally ourselves inside (and on top of) our service.

As mentioned in our previous Cordillera adventure, one of the most sought after stunt when backpacking in the region is toploading; riding on top of a jeepney. Many of us wanted to experience the thrill so we were divided in batches. On top of the moving vehicle, we had a clear view of the surroundings - the mountains, the forests, the villages, and the people we passed by along the way. And then there was the thrill of holding on to the rail as the jeepney passed through the winding mountain road.

Ready to topload!

VIDEO: Topload

After an hour of voluntarily holding on for dear life on top of the jeepney, we finally reached the town of Banaue, Ifugao. When our jeepney turned left in the Mayoyao-Mountain Province junction in Banaue, I remembered  the place and knew that we were just a couple of meters away from our sightseeing sidetrip. And as the jeepney swiveled from one curve to another, the sight of the famous rice terraces were in the offing. Whenever an opportunity of an unobstructed view arise, you can see several hands of the toploaders and the ones inside the jeepney holding a camera, attempting to get their perfect first shot of the rice terraces.

We were this close to the rice terraces

We stopped by the first view deck where we also ate our lunch prepared by the DepEd officials. But Ma'am Ermie had a hard time summoning us to eat lunch as we were all in awe upon reaching the view deck. Everyone were itching to get that shot with their childhood dream destination in the background. For most people in the group, it was a precious moment of finally seeing the famed terraces that once plagued our Civics and Culture books. This was the start of Ma'am Ermie's famous "Ten Minutes..." and "ang kukulit ng mga batang ito", with her hands on her waist. After several calls, we finally went to Ma'am Ermie where we each received our packed lunch. The group was ordered to board the jeepney (and there goes Ma'am Ermie's ten minutes again), so that we can hop to the more familiar view deck of the tourist spot. This was said to be the angle of Banaue Rice Terraces in the twenty peso bill. The place has a souvenir shop and some Ifugao natives in their traditional costume. Some took pictures with these elderly natives who asked for donations in return.

BP Marion and the Ifugao natives
The Banaue Rice Terraces is definitey a beholding sight. Green staircase of terraces are creatively lined up in front of the town of Banaue. It was just a little saddening to hear stories that the rice terraces now is not as grand as it was before. It used to be purely rice fields  piled up in one block over another in a higher elevation. But now, sights of houses are very apparent scattered near and in the rice terraces. News also claimed that some parts are being challenged by erosion and earthworm infestation. But nevertheless, it is worthy of visiting and viewing as it is one of our nation's treasures. We hope that the good people of Ifugao, particularly in Banaue continue to preserve this natural wonder in cooperation with our tourism officials.


A forty minute ride from Banaue took us to our target town in Ifugao: Hingyon. Rooting from the dialect Hinli Yon, which means in the corner, Hingyon is a not so obvious town along the National Highway. You need to notice the corner (or junction) to go inside the town. It is a very unspoiled and rustic place where green meadows and mountains extend to the point of touching each other in the horizon.

Flower photography by BP Marion
After passing by the bridge, we turned right to get to our destination: Brgy. Mompolia. Turning left would be the way to the Central School and the farthest barangays: Cababuyan South and Cababuyan North. We alighted at the last access road as of this writing. We were welcomed by the locals and were called for in the visitor center where another set of food was prepared for us. A prayer was offered for our safety and the success of our hike and outreach atop Humalophop. Then we were introduced to our guides: PNP police officers who would escort us in our Mt. Humalophop hike. And if you haven't noticed, this was turning out to be one of the most pampered The BACKPACKERS' adventure!

Food from the locals of Brgy. Mompolia
BACKPACKERS DeePee, Anna and King
The hike started in the dirt road which was under construction at that time. I believe they were paving a path from Mompolia all the way to Ubuag, another mountainous sitio in Hingyon. At one point, we bade goodbye to Ma'am Ermie and the three KaEskwela volunteers as they headed to the lower mountains in Sitio Ubuag. Twenty eight of us, along with our PNP and local guides were heading to the higher, farther Sitio Humalophop which is nestled on top of a mountain.

First taste of rice terraces hiking
Be courteous on your way up! There are minimal houses on the way

The introductory trail was a dirt road and a short trek at a small rice terraces. Then we crossed the intersection of the dirt path but we deviated from it by taking the usual mountain trail which was purely descending. Truly, Humalophop is a small community which can not be accessed by a vehicle. The trail got narrower and we had to be careful with our steps as we were actually descending from one mountain before getting to the base of Mt. Humalophop. And as we curved through that descending path, the target mountain was in front of us with its tall and proud stance. Most of us were surprised and did not expect it to be in a true mountain hiking fashion. When we were told that we would hike to deliver supplies to a community on top of a mountain, we pictured out an easy Mt. Balagbag or Mt. Banoi trail. But this was definitely more challenging than those two. So the pampering was over, and the real challenge began...

An account which will solely feature our target mountain for this month, Mt. Humalophop, the challenge and the beauty of its trails will be on a separate post.

Mt. Humalophop at a distance.
On our way down here until the base. The campsite is over there almost at the top

Did The BACKPACKERS and Guests complete 
the Mt. Humalophop Challenge?

The BACKPACKERS' Ifugao Series

(3) Project Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights

Photo credits:
Liz, Ghei, Jovy, Marion, Miss Ermie, DeePee, King, Ivan and Rexie 

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