I’m JM Sarian, a full-time graphic designer. I’ve spent my entire life, so far, living in Davao City in the Philippines.
Why did I decide to travel? Cliché as it may sound, but a broken heart can lead you to do many foolish things and take you to new places. Travelling has been a good outlet for me to get acquainted with myself and learn to control my thoughts and emotions.
Before this, I wasn’t confident to step outside of my hometown. For me, Davao City was such a comfortable place that I didn’t see myself in any other location. The time I decided to take a trip out of Davao, I became less afraid of travelling. I became more curious about what other places had in store. I began taking risks and trying new things in places that I didn’t normally do back home.
As an introvert, I challenged myself to talk more to people, mostly locals. I was eager to hear their stories and share mine. I witnessed people in different places go on with their daily lives, learnt how they got by, saw the things they did to survive. And because of that, I became more appreciative of what I had and the opportunities I got in life.
The Warmth of Cordillera
The two-hour flight from Davao City, and roughly 10 hours by bus from the airport, is what it takes to get to this landlocked region called Cordillera. Composed of six provinces, the region boasts magnificent views of 2,000 year-old rice terraces carved directly on the sides of majestic mountains. Cold weather lasts all year round.
Growing up, the Banaue Rice Terraces were constantly mentioned in our school textbooks as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Realizing that these wonders were made using only primitive tools available centuries ago, I couldn’t help but be amazed by our ancestors’ labors that were required to produce such beauty.
Visiting the rice terraces in the Cordillera can’t be done alone. You have to coordinate with the local tourism officer and a guide, should you wish to explore the terraces and other attractions in town.
The guides are usually locals or members from the respective tribe cultivating the rice terraces. They don’t just take you to places in the town or point you to a particular direction; they open up to you, sharing stories about their community and themselves.
One of the people I met during my visit in Batad was Elmer. He was a former miner at a nearby province. After the mine closed down, he decided to go back to Batad and make a living being a tour guide for guests. He was kind enough to take us to his house located in the middle of the terraces to rest after showing us around. Elmer also introduced us to some members of his family and showed us how they made their famous rice wine.
He shared stories of how he is referred to as “Lakay” or ‘husband of all the girls’ in Batad. He also told us about his dreams of becoming an engineer to help the community. Elmer said everyone in the community was very close and regarded each other as family, having breakfast in one house, and lunch or dinner in another.
I also met Vilma Fagkang or “Ate” Vilma as I called her (the Filipino word for sister, commonly used to replace the word aunt). She managed a small homestay in the town of Maligcong. I believe it’s in the blood of every local in the region to be very accommodating to visitors. It was late when my friends and I arrived in the town in Bontoc and there were no more vehicles going to Maligcong.
However, Ate Vilma helped us get a jeepney from their town to fetch us at downtown Bontoc for a reasonable price.
She attended to our needs during our short stay in Maligcong and even made sure we were up early to catch the sunrise on top of Mt. Kupapey. The way Ate Vilma dealt with her guests was unique; you felt that she genuinely cared.
Perhaps one of the most memorable moments was meeting the well-known Apo Whang-Od Oggay. Apo is a 100-year-old traditional tattoo artist from Buscalan in the Province of Kalinga. She continues to attract tourists to her town who wish to be tattooed by her.
I didn’t get a tattoo, but being able to witness her strength and passion for the craft was an amazing experience. She had that certain glow that radiates and makes you wish that she could live for another hundred years continuing to do the craft that she loves. And I hope she does.
The Cordillera, with its vastness, has a lot of things to offer. There are many hidden surprises hidden waiting to be uncovered by those who wish to explore it.
After three visits to the region I still have this urge to go back to the place once more, to witness the rice terraces, their different colors; to experience the cold weather whilst enjoying the view of the mountains, to witness the clouds roll on the terraces at sunrise and enjoy the warmth of the people, sharing proud stories of their ancestors, culture and customs.