Hidden Wonder of the Cordilleras

    The lush forests in Maligcong are a welcome sight for tired urbanites.

    The lush forests in Maligcong are a welcome sight for tired urbanites.

    I CAME across the photo of Maligcong about 15 years ago while solo backpacking around the Cordilleras.  It was a 1945 black and white photo by Masfere of a vast stone rice terraces on exhibit at the Bontoc Museum.  The museum guide told me the Maligcong Rice Terraces is one of the well-preserved terraces in the Cordilleras and if I go there, I would see exactly the same as the one on the photograph.  I asked her how to get there and she told me that there’s one jeepney that climbs to Maligcong everyday and leaves Bontoc very early in the morning.

    I made several attempts after that to go Maligcong after that but with no success.  The road going up was a major challenge as it was always “under construction.” But several months ago, I heard the road going up there was now fully concreted.

    So in December last year, I packed my bags and took my Isuzu mu-X to Maligcong.  What I saw when I finally arrived is to me the most beautiful rice terraces in the Cordilleras.

    Maligcong is one of the barangays (villages) of Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province.  It is connected to the capital by six kilometers of winding road that ascends to 500 meters to an elevation of 1,360 meters.  It is also well connected to the other barangays of Bontoc via the so-called Bontoc Circuit Trail.  It is possible to trek from Maligcong to Guina-ang, Mainit and Belwan.

    Natives of Maligcong also have to do maintenance works on their popular rice terraces.

    Natives of Maligcong also have to do maintenance works on their popular rice terraces.

    The population of Malicong is less than 800.  In fact, at the elementary school in Fang-orao, the number of students from Grade 1 to 6 is only 79.  The main source of living is rice farming, but the people tend to keep their rice inside wooden granaries for their daily needs and special occasions.

    Maligcong is way out of the tourist trail.  There are only two guesthouses that can accommodate intrepid visitors who may find their way to this hidden wonder.   But for those who chance upon the place are rewarded with exciting adventures of scaling peaks and walking through the terraces, and meeting the friendly Maligcong people and learning more about their culture, or simply relaxing for days while enjoying the cold mountain air.

    How to get there
    Getting to Maligcong is already an adventure in itself.  For those travelling by public transport, the quickest way is to get on an overnight bus from Manila to Baguio City.  Travel time to Baguio, including the customary stopovers, is five hours.  In Baguio, the terminal for buses going to Bontoc is located at city market.  Buses leave every hour from 6 am and the 146-kilometer trip to Bontoc via Halsema Highway takes another six hours.

    Another way to reach Bontoc is via Banaue.  Take an overnight bus from Manila to Banaue.  This takes about ten hours.  From Banaue, a jeepney bound for Bontoc leaves at 8 am.  Banaue to Bontoc is 46 kilometers and the trip takes about two hours.

    Compared to 15 years ago, there are now more jeepneys that climb to Maligcong every day.  The schedule is 8 am, 12 noon, 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm.  Fare is P25 and it takes 30 minutes to reach Maligcong.

    Various native delicacies can also be enjoyed at Maligcong.

    Various native delicacies can also be enjoyed at Maligcong.

    For those taking their own vehicles, there are several options to reach Maligcong:  via Baguio-Halsema-Bontoc road, via Solano-Banaue-Bontoc road, and via the newly-opened Tagudin-Cervantes-Sabangan-Bontoc road.

    All visitors in Maligcong are required to register at the Tourist Center near the jeepney terminal.

    What to see, what to do
    The main attraction in Maligcong are the rice terraces known for its stone walls that make the terraces more stable and capable of withstanding erosion.  There is a well-established concrete path where one can trek to see and explore the terraces closer.   This trail leads to the village of Favarey.

    Favarey is the original settlement in Maligcong.  Although most of the original houses are now replaced with concrete walls and galvanized roofs, there still remain a dozen Bontoc houses made of wood and cogon.  In the middle of the village still remain the old Ator or Dap-ay where the village elders meet and the decisions for the village are made.

    An interesting site in Favarey are the many tombs of the deceased family members built right next to the houses.  The locals believe the body of their ancestors must be buried closely so the spirits of the dead can protect the living.

    On a hill in the middle of Favarey are three pine trees believed to be over several centuries old. They call the place Papattay.  This place is sacred to the local people and it is here where animals are sacrificed before the start of planting season or after a bountiful harvest.  Surrounding Papattay are several dozens of wooden granaries standing next to each other where the people keep their rice stocks.

    Trees like pomelo can thrive in the cool climate of Maligcong.

    Trees like pomelo can thrive in the cool climate of Maligcong.

    Another attraction in Maligcong is the trek to Mount Kopapey (or Mount Antungfaw).  A guide is necessary to scale this around 2,000-meter mountain.  Guide fee is P500 for a group of four.  The best time to climb Kopapey is before sunrise.  It takes two hours to reach the summit.  At the summit, one can have a magnificent view of the Maligong Rice Terraces on the east and the many other peaks of the Cordilleras on the west peeking above the clouds.

    Where to stay, what to eat
    As of this writing, there are only two places to stay in Maligcong. Terraces View (contact Rowena at 0915-188-1732) has its own vegetable garden and lodging is P250 per person. Suzette Maligcong Homestay (contact Suzette at 0915-546-3557) offers lodging at P300 per person.  Both offer basic accommodations with shared bathrooms.  Electricity is now available 24 hours per day, but mobile phone signal is very weak especially for those using the Smart network.

    There are no dining places in Maligcong.  Either bring your own food or make arrangements with the guesthouses. The guesthouses can prepare set meals but they have to be arranged in advanced.  They usually prepare adobo (using native pig) or tinola (using native chicken) served with native rice and vegetables from the garden.

    Suzettte also makes homemade oatmeal cookies while Rowena prepares local native suman (rice cake) made from glutonous rice or malagkit wrapped in banana leaf.  Both are best taken with a hot cup of Bontoc brewed coffee.  It also worth trying the local halo-halo with fresh fruits and macaroni!  These are the best ways to end a day of trekking along the magnificent Maligcong terraces.


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