Tam-awan Village


BAGUIO ON A WHIM. It was a cool Saturday dawn. Relief at last from the forty plus plus hours of the work week. I emerged from the office with the urge to hop on a provincial bus just to satisfy my sudden craving for the most rustic, old-fashioned, and ethnic experience available these days.

At three in the morning, there was no bus leaving for Baguio at the Victory Liner terminal in Cubao. Instead, there was a van already packed with passengers that only needed one to leave for Baguio. That’s me.



COMMUTER’S LUCK. Upon reaching Dau in Pampanga, all thirteen passengers left the van for the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark Air Base. Worried, I asked the driver, tutuloy pa po ba kayo ng Baguio? Driver said Oo naman.

At the last hour of the trip, we were on Kennon Road. It’s been a long time since I traveled via the zigzag road because public buses usually don’t take this route to Baguio.  So in a van with only me as the passenger, the driver was fond of making several stops on this scenic drive up for picture-taking.



TAM-AWAN VILLAGE.  There was heavy traffic on the main road leading to the downtown area when we entered the city. Baguio in mid-February until the week of Panagbenga Festival becomes unusually crowded with tourists so I avoided going further to the mandatory tourists attractions and instead went straight to Tam-awan Village.

Tam-awan Village was established by National Artist Ben Cabrera in 1995 to promote the works of local contemporary artists and to revive the traditions and ethnic life in the Cordilleras.



HOUSES ON STILTS. The compound has a replica of an Ifugao village centuries away from how the Summer Capital looks today. A footpath that ascends and descends a steep trail of earth and rock leads visitors to the different vantage points or tam-awan on this overlooking garden-hill.

In a clearing are traditional pyramidal houses on stilts that can be rented out by visitors to experience living in a rustic, high-perched space. Beneath the shadow of the uplifted structures sits hand-carved gods of the granary that also doubles as fertility deities.



VILLAGE ATO.  Highland community life centers in the spacious ato that serves as council house for community elders, dormitory of boys and travelers.  The structure is usually constructed from old pine wood and topped by a bulky cogon roof. Ifugao building tradition dictates that the ato must not be roofed with metal tin sheets because the visiting spirits of their ancestors would certainly not appreciate a roof made noisy by rain.

In Tam-awan Village, the ato houses a rustic cafe that serves locally grown chilly stuffed with cheese then deep fried, french fries made from mountain-grown potatoes, and my personal favorite -an all-day breakfast meal served with freshly brewed mountain coffee. The feast goes down well while interacting with Tam-awan’s resident artists and cultural performers.



BAGUIO ART. In Tam-awan Village shops and galleries is Baguio art, those spontaneous, experimental, and intuitive kind that gave the art in the highlands the signature feel that is hard to equal.

Baguio is a busy colony of sculptors and painters whose creative works of interpreting and mixing mediums tell stories of their history and ethnicity as seen in the abstract paintings of Alfonso Dato and solar drawings of Jordan Mang-osan. Cordillera artworks can narrate exciting stories about their pantheon gods, Kabunian and Lumawig and the adventures of first sculptor of the bulol idol and culture hero, Wigan or a pictorial epic of the Ifugao village life.



RHYTHMS AND RITUALS. The total experience of village life in Tam-awan is when young Ifugao men performs mesmerizing rhythms by pounding three hand-held brass gangsas.

This percussive concert is a vital part of every Ifugao ritual from birth and marriage to death and of communal ceremonies like praying for rain and bountiful harvest or victory in tribal wars and during the sacrificial rites of the cañao.



EPILOGUE. With the playing of the hand gongs, the young Ifugao men bounded in long, red g-strings and the women in their best colored tapis danced in a circle with fluttering bird-like movement.

The ritualistic purpose of each dance is explained and the those gathered to watch were invited to beat the brass gong and dance among the Tam-awan villagers.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Banawe Rice Terraces

Banaue Rice Terraces

WHEN IT RAINS IN BANAWE. When we arrived on a cold and  drizzly mid-morning from an 8-hour bus ride in Banawe there was no postcard view of the world-famous rice terraces.  At 4,000 feet, all we could see was the thick white fog covering the engineering marvel of the ancient Ifugaos. The itinerary set for us like touring Banga-an, Poitan, Hungduan, Matang-lab and trekking down Batad have to been cancelled because of the heavy rains.

The rains kept us indoors most of the time. But the best part of our stay in Banawe was spent touring its two museums, finding shelter in a woodcarver’s home, and ogling at the sooty tribal artifacts cramped in a dark pyramidal granary house on stilts.

Banaue raining

IFUGAO LEGEND. That incessant downpour was a clever introduction for day one of our week-long tour to the Cordilleras. According to a legend, the land used to be a vast plain where primeval man Wigan rarely hunts down enough game to feed himself and his wife Bugan.

The chief god Montalug took pity on Wigan. To help him, Montalug sent a deluge of rain for several days to flood the flat region. As flood waters reached the sea, the force of the current caused the single plain to rise, forming the soaring mountain range we call today the Grand Cordilleras of Luzon. From then on, Wigan hunted and trapped wild boar and deer with ease. Basing it from the legend, the best things happen when it rains in Banawe.

Banaue tabacco

WEEKEND MARKET. From the national road, we climbed down to the town proper. We were led to the tourists information center where we were advised to stay in one of the inns and remain hopeful that the rain would stop so we could continue with our tour. Rain just kept pouring for the next hours.

It was a Saturday, but no sight of the weekend market except for a solitary stall selling dried tabacco leaves. We were told that the vendors pack up their wares when it rains in Banawe.

Banaue Sanafe Cafe

Banaue Sanafe Bed and Breakfast

CLOUDS ROLL DOWN. Over a hearty breakfast of tocino, longganisa and hot native chocolate, we meet Susan Parades, owner of the quaint and cozy Sanafe Lodge and Restaurant. She told the same thing we learned from the tourism folks at the information center that we will not see anything from the view decks because clouds roll down the terraces when it rains in Banawe.

Banaue Inn Museum

Banaue Museum

BANAWE MUSEUM. Veering away from our plan, we took Susan’s suggestion of visiting the two museums as an alternative.

A short uphill walk outside the town proper, we first visited the Banawe Museum. This private museum is housed in the Banawe View Inn.  In the collection are vintage photographs showing Ifugao life at the turn of the century, tribal ornaments, woven textiles, wooden carvings, and a lot of traditional mountain baskets.


IFUGAO BASKETS. Traditionally, baskets are must-haves in every Ifugao household. Like their neighboring tribes throughout the Cordilleras, baskets come in various sizes and shapes and were made for different uses.

There are round baskets with covers for carrying meals called the akob. Tall baskets called the kayabang are used for carrying camote, bananas, and cabbages.  A basket-tray used for winnowing rice is called ligao. Box like baskets are called the tupil and the hu-op. There are locusts baskets called the agawin that is used for securing the insect which is choice delicacy to the Ifugaos.

My personal favorite is the traveler’s backpack called the pasiking. One variety has a shield made of tiered fibers called abnut. The inabnutan backpack is preffered by Ifugao hunters because it provides them protection when it rains in Banawe.

Banaue Cordillera Sculpture Museum

banaue bulol museum

MUSEUM OF CORDILLERA SCULPTURE. We took a tricycle to see the next museum. From the main road, we walked a narrow uphill path to reach the museum’s doorway. The Museum of Cordillera Sculpture has an permanent exhibit of bulol statues and tribal artifacts from the extensive collection of George Schenk.

The bul-ol is a world-famous Philippine icon, specifically associated to the mountain tribes of the Cordilleras. Traditionally, the image of this granary deity is placed in rice granaries to serve as guardian. The primitive-looking statues were sent in rituals like the canao to be coated in blood. Form, age, and that unexplainable force are some reasons why the bu-lol has become a prized collectible.

Banaue Cordillera Sculpture Museum

Ifugao lunch box

BUL-OL OVERLOAD. With more than a thousand bulols in all conceivable positions  and veritable tribal wood carvings, the museum is a tangible proof of the ancient Ifugaos’ passion for carving. This passion is demonstrated in the carving they did out of the mountainsides thousands of years ago.

The time we spent in the two museums, looking the ritual objects like the bulols and reading the caption in the display of primitive household tools such as the different baskets gave us a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Ifugaos. This is a recommended activity especially, when it rains in Banawe.

Banaue lusong

LUSONG. But the real experience we had on mountain life in Banawe was spent in the home of an Ifugao woodcarver and his family.

The rain continued the rest of the afternoon. While approaching the Chango Viewdeck, we saw some local children pounding palay in a lusong under a wooden house by the roadside. The lusong is a large mortar used for removing the outer pod of the grains of rice. It is said the Luzon Island was named after this carved wooden mortal.

Banaue wood carver

GUIYANG BUMOCLA. Working by the house’s main stairs is woodcarver Guiyang Bumocla. Like most Ifugao woodcarvers, Guiyang learned to carve from watching his father carve. While we watched Guiyang dexterous hands whittle away superfluous material off a piece of kamagong wood to form a three-inch bulol, I began thinking if any of his grandchildren is interested to continue the craft of woodcarving.

Inside the house we saw different kinds of bulol readily available for tourist trade. We were told that it’s cheaper to buy directly from the wood carver than from the shops in the town plaza so we bought two pairs of bulol from the display shelf.

Banaue carver's home

IFUGAO FAMILY. We spent the rest of the afternoon in Guiyang’s home, participating in the pounding of palay and in the picking tiny stones from the grains of bigas.

Banaue Ifugaos

CHEERFUL IFUGAO FOLKS. Our tour continued at the view deck by the roadside hoping to see something but still no sight of the terraces. But we were not disappointed at all because there were a couple of elderly folks chewing the teeth-staining red betel nut in their colorful headdresses. One was wearing a sweater embroidered with cheerful reindeer. They willingly posed with us completing our bright holiday souvenir picture at the Banawe Rice Terraces.

Banaue bulol

NOT FOR SALE. In one of the craft stores at the view deck, we found an interesting bulol. Among the items in the store, it stood out with a commanding presence.

Its elongated ears and arms, naturally polished patina, that particular bulol is antique and it’s not for sale. However, the dealer referred us to Hiwang Native Hut to see his father’s collection of antique bulols and tribal artifacts.

Banaue Noel Balinga

Banaue Hiwang Native Hut

IFUGAO RELIC HUNTER. The native hut is hand-hewn and expertly assembled with wooden pegs. Inside the dark, windowless pyramidal house on stilts we found a treasure trove of Ifugao artifacts. They are mostly vintage to centuries-old ritual objects like bulols, binabuy, ceremonial boxes called the panumahan and wooden vessels gathered by Noel Balinga from different Ifugao villages.

The ancient Ifugaos have fifteen hundred different gods. Creator gods, guardian gods, messenger gods, and even deceitful gods, the bulol is just one of them. He is a guardian of rice granaries. The presence of a bulol image in rituals guarantees abundant harvest for the Ifugaos.

The Ifugaos were also fond of carving ritual object out of wood like the image of a fat pig called the binabbuy, which is placed alongside images of granary gods to insure abundance of animals in the village. Before leaving Noel, we bought some interesting pieces from his collection.

Banaue Rice Terraces viewpoint

Banaue Rice Terraces Traveler on foot

THE BANAWE RICE TERRACES. By the next day, we are scheduled to leave Banawe for Sagada. The jeepney made a stopover in the highest view deck. At the perfect moment, the overcast skies finally opened up revealing the incredible beauty of the stair-cased rice paddies.

The rice terraces were built using crude hand tools some 2000 or 3000 years ago. It is believed that the stones used to reinforce the terraces exceed the amount of stones used in building the pyramids of Egypt.

EPILOGUE. We gave in to tradition of photographing the iconic Banawe Rice Terraces. Then it started to drizzle again. The clouds began to roll down again making the terraces disappear from our sight. This what happens when it rains in Banawe.

-Feast of the Candelaria 2013


Tinglayan Kalinga

THE NORTHERN SKY LAND. The Grand Cordillera Range is the most imposing of the mountain systems in Luzon. It covers the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, and Kalinga. It is home to ethnic communities whose ancestors have been responsible in hand-building the world-famous rice terraces.  It is in the northern sky land where there are still a number of tribal communities whose mountain lifestyle and traditions remain authentic and preserved.

After our two-night stay in Sagada, we were back in Bontoc early in the morning and rode a jeepney taking us further north to the town of Tinglayan in Kalinga Province. Among the tribal communities in Tinglayan are the oldest tattooed women and the last tattooed Kalinga warrior.

Tinglayan Luplupa

Tinglayan Luplupa Bridge

VILLAGE OF LUPLUPA.We skirted the meandering mountain road high up in the Cordilleras following the twisting Chico River below for nearly three hours. As soon as the road descended on a curve, the jeepney driver called our attention and pointed at the village of Luplupa snuggled upon the mountainside over the riverbed.

It was in Luplupa where we had the closest view of the Chico River as we cautiously crossed the narrow hanging footbridge that connects this Kalinga village to the national road.

Tinglayan Luplupa village

Tinglayan village

HOUSES ON STILTS. As soon as we dropped our baggage at Luplupa Riverside Inn, we began exploring the neighborhood. We walked among the native black pigs gregariously wandering around the village or resting beneath the rough-hewn traditional houses that sit on stilts.

Tinglayan rice terraces Kalinga

Tinglayan Kalinga rice terraces

GOLDEN GRAINS. We then hiked up the steep and slippery stone-walled terraced rice paddies with its golden grains ready for harvest. We trekked our way to the neighboring villages of Ambato Legleg and Old Tinglayan to meet Attao and Liw’is Maldes. They are among the tattooed Kalinga women.

Tinglayan Tattooed woman

Tinglayan tattooed Kalinga woman

KALINGA BREW. We met Attao in the village of Ambato Legleg. She was preparing to attend a senior citizens’ party at the Poblacion. We immediately noticed the colorful heirloom beads slug casually on her neck that highlights the beautiful tattoos resembling snake scales.

It started to rain when we arrived in Old Tinglayan. We took shelter in the home of Liw’is Maldes. The kind and hospitable woman in her 60s  showed us the impressive sleeves of tattoos down her arms. She invited us to climb up her wooden home where we sat on the smooth bamboo floor and served us Kalinga brewed coffee.

Tinglayan Kalinga warrior

SOLE SURVIVING WARRIOR. Back in Luplupa, we were introduced to the only surviving Kalinga warrior. One hundred plus year-old Fa’wad Accad wears traditional tattoos that he earned from inter-village combat.

EPILOGUE. reparing early in the rainy morning so as not to miss our ride, we hurryingly crossed the iron bridge then took the first trip jeep back to Bontoc.

Baguio City Market

Baguio Market

SESSION ROAD. The sun was ready to set when we arrived in Baguio City from a five-hour downhill trip via Halsema Highway from Bontoc. From the bus terminal, we walked our way towards the northern end of Session Road and found ourselves in the busy post-Christmas day Baguio Market.

Traditionally, the city market served as trading post for farmers and mountain communities from the north. It is crowded with people and local goods. Foreigners inspecting the design patterns found in a hand-woven fabric and housewives doing their late afternoon marketing are the usual scene. Off course, there are the local tourists haggling for an export quality walis tambo as a practical souvenir from the City of Pines.

Baguio City market

BAGUIO MARKET. Although much of the merchandise we saw is very commercial and is really meant for daily use, the market scene in Baguio becomes uncommon because of the different colors and texture found in Ifugao baskets, tufts of walis tambo, leis of amber flowers called everlasting, the sundot kulangot and rice of different shades that are sold side by side with green leafy vegetables and bright red strawberries stacked high in bilaos.

Baguio strawberries

Baguio kulangot

STRAWBERRIES AS RED AND SO AS SUNDOT KULANOT. Strawberries thrive in the temperate north. They grow plentiful in the summer months and can become expensive when they are not in season. Recently, strawberry growers found ways to make strawberry wine and incorporate the succulent fruit into the taho.

Sundot kulangot may sound disgusting. This local kalamay made from brown sugar and sticky rice is packed inside split round wooden shells that is rejoined by a red tape. They are sold in rows of miniature balls held together by strips of bamboo sticks.

Baguio everlasting

Baguio everlasting flowers

EVERLASTING LOVE. Everlasting is a Baguio exclusive. As the name suggest, this flower last a long time. For a while we saved on buying leis of sampaguita for our altar when we brought home garlands of auburn and amber everlasting flowers from Baguio.

We have to discard them after year because the flowers have been gathering dust. But unlike the sweet and soft sampaguita, a garland of everlasting is not meant to be worn around the neck because the hardy flower can be very itchy.

Baguio walis tambo

MADE IN BAGUIO CITY. Walis tambo is a very popular and practical souvenir from Baguio. We know it’s popular because local tourists hand-carry this soft broom inside the bus on their way back to Manila.

Baguio handicrafts

NATIVE BASKETS. Household baskets made by mountain tribes are also practical souvenirs. They come in different shapes and were made for everyday use like for storing rice and valuables, carrying locusts, meat, and produce, and for ritual purposes. An antique Ifugao backpack called the pasiking is coveted and command a higher price than those recently made ones.

EPILOGUE. There are more places to see in Baguio. But for this stop-over, we never made it anywhere beyond the city market, Session Road, and the Cathedral. We soon boarded the bus bound to Manila, hand-carrying an export-quality walis tambo.

-Feast of the Three Kings 2013

Published in: on January 6, 2013 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Baguio City Market  
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ALPINE CHRISTMAS. We spent the holidays wearing winter sweaters and bonnet, wandering around a mountain town nestled in a misty pine forest located thousands of meters above sea level. We had that alpine Christmas in Sagada.

The quaint town of Sagada is located at an altitude about a hundred meters higher than Baguio City. But unlike the bustling City of Pines, Sagada has earned the reputation of being idyllic and away from civilization.

Sagada Topload

TOP LOADERS. We began to realize the remoteness of Sagada being true, when in Bontoc we rode on top of a jeepney jam-packed with passengers and basket-loads of goods on the way to this mountain town. As top-loaders, we had a terrifyingly breathtaking view of deep ravines, terraced hillsides and white clouds blanketing the Cordillera mountain peaks.

In about an hour, the jeepney went through a winding rode in a lush forest where there were occasional views of valleys and limestone cliffs. Another turn and we saw the welcome signage and more limestone formations jutting out from the thick foliage.

Sagada Montain Province

Sagada limestones

LIMESTONE FORMATIONS. Sagada’s fame is derived from these photogenic primeval rock formations where wooden coffins are lashed to limestone outcrops along cliffs. There are also numerous subterranean caves that were used by ancient mountain tribes as burial sites. Caving in the deep network of limestone caverns have lured local and foreign tourists to Sagada.

We arrived in Sagada’s town center around lunch time. Since it was Christmas Eve, the town was busy with tourists but not crowded. We signed up at the Tourists Information Center from where we were informed that we cannot do any caving because my seven-year old son is not old enough to go through Sumaguing Cave.

Sagada patupat

Sagada St. Mary Church

PATUPAT. But there are a number of exciting activities in Sagada. Hiking is one. After checking in at Green House Inn, we began our hike to Echo Valley and then later to Kapay-aw Rice Terraces.

The hike to Echo Valley begins at the century-old Episcopal Church of St. Mary where we gave in to the offer of a patupat vendor to sample their sweet local delicacy. Patupat tastes like the lowland suman only that it’s made of native rice and wrapped in banana leaves.

Sagada Echo Valley

ECHO VALLEY. Our walk continued to the cemetery behind the church then down the trail leading to the top of a cliff, overlooking the jagged limestone walls and the famous hanging coffins.

We did what most people do upon reaching this part of the hike –shouting, blowing, and whistling to the wind then listening to the muffled sounds that reverberated throughout the valley. Hence, this area is called Echo Valley.

Echo Valley Hanging coffins

Sagada Hanging coffins

HANGING COFFINS AND CHAIR. We hiked the narrow path leading off through the deep foliage below to see the hanging coffins up close. Suspended on the cliff side are the wooden coffins. Some coffins have chairs attached to it. Those chairs give us a clue on the burial practice of the locals.

We learned that before a corpse is placed inside the wooden coffin, it is sat on a chair for a few days. The same chair used in the ritual is hanged together with the coffin.

Sagada river

Sagada underground river

BALANCING ROCKS. Following the flow of a narrow stream led us to the entrance of a cave with a subterranean river. At the entrance of Matang Cave, we enjoyed balancing river stones to create freestanding sculptures.

Speaking of river stones, unlike the Ifugao terraces that generally have mud walls these round and smooth stones were used to reinforce the terraces walls in the Mountain Province.

Sagada Sugong

Sagada Sugong Hanging Coffins

DO NOT POINT. Back at the town center, we continued walking south toward Kapay-aw Rice Terraces. On the way we stopped by the view deck of Sugong Hanging Coffins. The picturesque limestone formations at Sugong resemble church spires with its hanging coffins looking like logs from the view deck.

The locals believe that pointing at any of the coffins and skeletons is considered the worst kind of bad luck.

Sagada Gaia Cafe

Sagada Gaia Cafe view deck

GAIA CAFE. Gaia Café and Craft has a view deck to Kapay-aw Rice Terraces. Guests were encouraged to grab a good read from the Padi Joseph Domogo Library while waiting for their orders to be served.

For that day we had free meals since Gaia was celebrating its anniversary.

Sagada Kapay-aw Rice Terraces

CHRISTMAS EVE. Viewing the charming rice terraces under a quaint wooden café together with the warmest people in cold Sagada capped our Christmas Eve.

We still have plenty of time to complete our trekking itinerary but we opted to explore Sagada at a slow pace. We reserved the our trek to Kiltepan Rice Terraces for the following day -Christmas Day.

Sagada pine cones

Sagada wild raspberry

WILD RASPBERRY. On Christmas Day morning, we gingerly scrambled the trail to Kiltepan Rice Terraces view point under towering pine trees. The hike was like a biology class field trip where we were introduced to different flora that thrives in high altitude climate.

There were wild raspberries ready for picking. Like biology students on a field trip, we soon began to collect perfect pine cones that fell from the trees. My son would later giveaway the pine cones as pasalubong to those who were left at home.

Sagada Kiltepan Rice Terraces

Sagada Kiltepan

KILTEPAN. After a 45-minute trek, we made it through the Kiltepan view point. Kil-tep-an is a contraction of the names of the three barangays the terraces spans –Kilong, Tetep-an, and Antadao.

EPILOGUE. Reaching the Kiltepan Rice Terraces viewpoint is the highlight of our Christmas day in Sagada. From the viewpoint is a panoramic view of the rice terraces, a portion of the Chico River, and the ancient Spanish way –a road carved at the foothills that was used by the friars for their missionary zeal in the Cordilleras.

-New Year’s Day 2013