Trip Information

Anatomy of the Backpack
Anatomy of the Backpack (18)
Trip Date:1985-05
# Photos:7 [View]
Countries visited:Philippines
Viewed: 4663
In 1985, I was fortunate to be a part of an 'exposure' trip to a small village up in the Cordillera mountains of Northern Philippines. The Cordillera group of mountains contains some of the highest elevations in the Philippines including the second highest mountain peak. It's cool (cold for us) pine country in these areas. It is the home of the proud 'uncolonized' tribal peoples who have been in the Cordilleras for thousands of years.

The purpose of the trip was to express solidarity with the Cordillera tribal peoples (Igorots, Kalingas, Ifugaos etc.) who were in a struggle for autonomy (even independence) from the then Marcos government. At that time, the government was undergoing an extensive military operation against the liberation group led by a 'renegade' priest named Conrado Balweg. As a piece of trivia, it was during this trip that the famous interview with the revolutionary priest by one of the foremost Filipino journalists (by the name of Vitug if I remember right) was made. (This was a huge thing then because Balweg was one of the most wanted 'terrorists' by the Marcos government.) In fact, when we, 400 strong delegation from the lowlands and other tribal people from outside the Philippines, were there, there was a military mop up operation in the next mountain while we were celebrating a 'peace pact' or 'bodong' with the villagers in another mountain.

We reached the village from the drop off point just North of Bontoc, the capital town of the Mt. Province - after a 4 hour hike along treacherous mountain passes and rice terraces (according to our guides, it should only take 2 hours). We reached the drop off point from Manila after close to an 18-hour hour trip along dangerous zig-zagging mountain roads and passes. These were secondary roads - unpaved, gravel roads - sometimes there was just enough space for the bus or jeepney to travel through - the other choice is sudden death down the ravines.

The area has one of the most breath-taking views that I have ever seen in my life in the Philippines then ... just kilometers and kilometers of mountains transformed into rice terraces. This was truly off the beaten path - the usual rice terraces viewed by tourists are in Banawe or Batad. This was virgin territory so far as tourism was concerned. The villages did not expect 400 visitors - they had to scramble for food to feed us. They killed several carabaos (water buffaloes), brought out their finest tapuy (fermented rice) - their hospitality was tremendous.

The Igorots are one of the uncolonized tribes in the Philippines. Their culture includes the rice terraces some of which have been dated to have existed since 4,000 years ago. The rice terraces are basically hand-made, the tall walls are made or either rock or clay or both. Its purpose is to conserve and share water that would trickle from the top rice terrace down to the last terrace below.