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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 November 2018

A splendid walk into the past

Maligcong terraces

Maligcong terraces

2 November 2018

Today we drove into Mountain Province to the Bontoc area, where we picked up local guide “Key-nod” (no idea how it’s spelled). Keynod comes from around here, and has relatives in the village we’re trekking to today. Apparently each region of the mountains requires its own guide and we’ll need another in Sagada.

With Keynod we go on a two hour trek to the isolated village of Maligcong through the rice terraces that surround it. There’s no sign of any other tourists, same as at Banga-an. We learn an awful lot about the cultivation of rice, and see at first hand how the powerful typhoons like this week’s one cause dozens of landslides among the terraces that destroy scores of the small fields.

Tombs by the front door

Tombs by the front door

The village itself is astonishingly traditional, once you look past the ubiquitous corrugated steel roofing that has replaced the hard to maintain thatch. Wooden stilt houses built so close that only narrow alleys wend between them. Tiny stone built pig pens sandwiched between the wooden houses. Very sturdily built wooden granaries with no chinks to let rats in. Tombs and gravestones right next to the houses, as their tradition is still to bury the dead beside the family home. Old tattooed women (the arm tattooes are for fertility, apparently). Chickens and dogs everywhere. Turns out they eat dog on special occasions, so these mutts aren’t pets. All we tried though was a bit of pomelo dipped in dark sugar cane vinegar.

These villagers have a very dense ritual life. Apparently if we had discovered crossed sticks at the entrance of the village then we’d have had to abandon our trek: when something taboo has happened, such as someone seeing a rainbow which is apparently terrifying, no-one can leave the village and no-one can enter until all the corrective rituals have been observed.

Lady of Maligcong

Lady of Maligcong

I was fascinated by Maligcong, and the surrounding rice terraces are beautiful too. Wow… but it was hot walking in the sun though. Hope SPF 50 was enough!

After lunch, and the terrific treat of an ice cream, we visited the local Bontoc Museum with Keynod. Having your own personal guide is certainly the best way to visit an ethnic museum. We learned a lot about the various tribes and their outlandish ways and strange origins; some are originally Malays, others originally Indonesian, both groups having mostly replaced the exile Chinese who created the rice terraces 2000 years ago. How these groups washed up in the inaccessible northern mountains of Luzon is anyone’s guess. These guys were headhunters too, with the last recorded case as recent as the 1960s. Violence between tribes is still common enough that it would be dangerous to go trekking far without a guide.

Our hotel in Sagada is much less dank than Banaue, thank goodness. The landscape has changed too. This is limestone karst country, with tall stacks of spiky rocks covered in vegetation. The predominant trees are also pines now (apparently invasive, brought by 19th century Americans), which makes some of the views look oddly Californian.

Maligcong and terraces

Maligcong and terraces


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