Monday, October 21, 2013

Bontoc, Mountain Province

Last Wednesday, I headed to Bontoc, a six hour drive from Santiago, with Sir Patrick, my manager, and Sir Junior as our driver. Attorney Floyd, Provincial Secretary of Episcopal Church of the Philippines, who coordinates the YASC program here in the Philippines invited Margaret and I to a Filipino wedding between a deacon in the ECP and an American young lady a couple weeks back. He said that if he was in America and learned a Filipino was getting married that it’s their cultural tradition to attend the wedding and show support. I didn’t tell him that’s not really our tradition. Wedding crashers are not welcome. Nonetheless I jumped at the opportunity to witness and experience another cultural tradition.

However, I’m not going to talk about the wedding in today’s post. Sorry to psych you out. Check back tomorrow! Today is solely on Bontoc.

The drive is all through the breathtaking mountain range. We stopped in Banaue for an afternoon snack. Remember those postcard images I posted here? Well those views of the rice terraces vanished into thick, white fog. As we exited Banaue, the clouds began to lift and it became a gorgeous afternoon. Looking in the rearview window the contrast of the clouds and blue sky, it looked as though the mountains were on fire with gray smoke. Gorgeous! Although the drive gives beautiful scenery, I cannot watch the road because with the windy, blind curves that become one lane in some areas due to recent landslides I always think we are going to end up in a head on collision. Not likely because Sir Junior is the safest driver, I’m always relieved when we arrive at our destination.

This is what the "8th Wonder of the World" looked like.

Where the road treacherously becomes 1 lane. 
Calla lillies grow wild on the side of the road!
Right before entering Bontoc, we stopped at one of the rice terrace viewpoints. Much smaller than Banaue Rice Terraces but still have a beauty of their own.

I completely fell in love with this town. It encompasses everything I love: surrounded by gorgeous mountains; small, active town; cool, crisp, refreshing air; active Episcopal Church. We got in around 5:30pm on Wednesday evening just as the sun was setting. Before going to dinner, I stood on the guesthouse balcony, which sits next to the diocesan and Cathedral compound, watching men play tennis, enjoying the smoky smell on bonfire filling the air, and taking in my new surroundings.

View of the Cathedral and Diocesan compound from the guesthouse balcony.

Margaret didn’t get in until after midnight so we first saw each other for an early breakfast on Thursday morning. Since the wedding is a community affair and many people came from out of town, a buffet breakfast was served on the pavilion of the diocesan compound. It was great to reconnect with some priests and deacons of EDNP, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines, that I met at the Joint Clericus about a month ago.

After breakfast, Margaret and I had over an hour to kill before the wedding began at 9:30am. We decided to walk around and explore Bontoc. I never turn down the opportunity to capture beautiful photographs of different places. Also, it gave Margaret and I to catch up and discuss our joys and challenges in our YASC placements. And I wanted to search for some food since pork soup and rice aren’t something I can stomach at 7am. To my delight I bought the best, juiciest orange, which are green here, from a street vendor for less than a quarter. Then it was time to head back for the wedding.

The brown thatched roof in the background is the Bontoc Museum

In the late afternoon, Margaret and I escaped the festivities for some much needed time to recharge our batteries. Margaret took time to herself to lay down. I heard great things about the Bontoc Museum and ventured over there about a 5-minute walk from the guesthouse. I knew we were leaving straight after breakfast the next day so this would be my only opportunity to see it.

I almost walked right past it because it actually sits on the campus of an elementary school. For 60 pesos ($1.36) you can view an amazing collection of relicts, art, and photographs of the Indigenous Tribes of the Codillera Region of the Philippines. The black and white photographs from 1900 – 1950 showed the beauty and unique qualities of these indigenous people. There were china plates imported from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) and Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). Through the displays of baskets, headdresses, tools, necklaces and every day tools you could understand how the cultures of these tribes deeply enrich themselves with the land in which they live off of. Traditional garb for ceremonies consisted of armbands made of boar tusks, headdresses created from snake vertebrae, and necklaces containing dogteeth.

Another aspect of one the tribes, the Igorots, was they were headhunters. Igorot headhunting was a dangerous, great sport that tested agility and skill in which superior courage is important. There was a display of all the different weapons used and actual human skulls. Also, something that totally creeped me out was they would take the human jaw, boil it clean from flesh, then use it as the handle of a gong. It was a sign you were a true man if your gong’s handle was a human jaw you captured. There were a couple on display with teeth still in them!

Of course you couldn't take photos inside the museum, but I had to sneak a couple in.

Tools of the Headhunters.
The last part of the museum is outside, a recreation of a traditional Ifugao village. The huts are tiny. The entryways only came up to my chest. I was most shocked when I found a hog in a stone pit as I was walking around! Then I explored the souvenir shop where I met a lovely nun. We had a wonderful chat about the museum and such while I picked out some postcards. Then it was time to head back to meet up with everyone for dinner.

On Friday morning, we headed back to Santiago leaving the mountains and cool weather behind. Until next time, Bontoc!

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ashley, Thank you for sharing the beauty of Bontoc. The place is always been known as a stop over to Sagada and very few takes their time to explore it. Thanks to you, I am now eager to explore its beauty. :)