During the process of ‘closing’ our Peace Corps services two friends and I decided to escape Manila for a week and head north to the famed Mountain Province. An overnight bus brought us to the town of Banaue and the rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and living cultural landscape of the Ifugao ethnic group.
We traversed century old rice terraces in the town of Batad where heirloom strands of rice are still grown using heritage farming practices. Our hike culminated at the base of Tappiyah falls- the headwaters of which is located atop Mt. Pulang (the highest mountain in Luzon at an elevation of 9,600 ft).
The following day we continued our trip north to Sagada, a small mountain town surrounded by mossy pine forests with giant ferns and limestone boulders. Spanish missionaries didn’t reach remote, high elevation towns like Sagada until much later, preserving some indigenous cultural practices including the 2000 year old tradition of hanging wooden coffins inside burial caves. One of the highlights of our time in Sagada was exploring an intricate network of tunnels connecting Sumaguing and Lumiang caves. Equip with a gas lantern, our spelunking guide led us through the elaborate series of narrow passageways and vast caverns, wading through underground rivers and past skeletons (shaken loose from their coffins during an earthquake in 1990).
After several days of exploring the mountains of Sagada, we headed west to Baguio city. Fortunately, the road to Baguio had just reopened after a series of landslides blocked the passage last month. Baguio was created under William Taft during the American occupation of the Philippines (in the early 1900s) and was originally regarded as the ‘summer capital’ of the Philippines, used as the nation’s capital when the lowland heat of Manila became unbearable. The city was designed by Daniel Burnham- an architect and city planner who also designed Chicago, Washington D.C. and Manila.