Friday, 18 May 2012

Trip to Pasil,the Salip festival and Colayo,the Hidden Valley

 “From the mountains we derive our strength,
the rivers our peace,
the valleys our hopes and from the skies,
the wisdom of our ancestors.” (Kalinga poem)

There is an emptiness in the heart of  man (city dwellers and lowlanders especially) that cries out to be filled, a longing or ache for things long forgotten, a search for the ancient paths. The old testament prophets, Moses and Elijah and even Jesus had to go out into the wilderness, climb the mountains, be tested and strengthened by it, and to catch a glimpse of the creator; it’s all about the journey. The high places have always been regarded as holy ground.

There are many reasons to go to the mountains, the beauty of nature around us, the pure air, dense forest and flowing water, the challenge maybe of conquering the highest or even uncharted peaks. I came for many reasons, and got more than I bargained for.

Arriving in Tabuk in the morning I hastened to Black tree to ride a jeep. I had tentatively planned to visit Balbalan and Balbasalang but I had missed that jeep and so rode to Pasil instead. A retired schoolteacher showed me the right one. Before I left I had already met quite a few people in town and was delighted to find that everyone spoke such good English; after 3+ years in Manila it was quite a treat to be able to converse freely again.

As soon as we got going, I knew I was in the right place; I always ride on the roof of jeeps, the best seats, and the 3 hour ride flew by as the scenery became more rugged and the road massage bumpier as we wound our way up and down and into the hills.

Arriving in the town centre I was directed to the Pasil Municipal Hall where I received a very gracious welcome (thanks Teddy) and my first introduction to the most extraordinary hospitality and sincerity that Pasilians and people of Kalinga are noted for.

I arrived a couple of days before their Salip Festival and was invited to stay for it; I readily accepted and was accommodated and very well fed! The festival had many parts: a parade on the first day led by the Police, Army and Civic leaders followed by representatives of each of the 14 barangays, many in traditional costume.

Video of the Parade at the begining of the Salip Festival (got the spelling wrong on video..apologies)

Each Barangay demonstrated its own building techniques in a competition for the best structure, made with local materials, without nails or modern tools but with great skill and attention. These housed the shops where local products were sold during the festival, like coffee, vegetables, red rice which is also exported to the USA, and pottery, brushes and other craft items expertly made with local materials.

Traditional dances and stories made up much of the first day, I was even invited to play a gong during one dance and enjoyed that very much indeed, quite a privilege, and everyone kindly overlooked my lack of musical ability and coordination. It is to their credit that the old traditions have been preserved and passed on through the generations. Despite being made up of many tribes there is a strong collective identity, more reminiscent of a nation rather than a province I would say.

Video of Traditional Dances 

Other events included the all important Basket ball tournament, the anniversary Mass for the Catholic Parish and a superb country and western concert with band/singers from as far afield as Baguio and Sagada playing to a packed house.

Walking around to other nearby barangays, I met with many people. The first evening I was joined by the High School Principal who showed me the way and I was invited in for some strong Kalinga coffee. Next day a visit to another barangay where I tagged on with the local Pulis officers and later ran into an army unit who patrol the area. As I was to hear later, when you are a visitor in a particular place you come under the protection of the tribe. There was certainly a very safe and secure feel to the area, people are very mindful of the safety of visitors.

The timing could not have been better for my visit because at present the local authorities are in the process of developing eco-tourism in the municipality and I was invited, along with a journalist/radio host from Sagada, to visit one of the most promising (and remote) potential tourist spots, the so called Hidden Valley of Colayo. My host was Pasil Councillor Samuel Tayaan, a man one day older than me in years and maybe 10 years younger in physical fitness; I’ll have to train harder next time!

Another bumpy ride took us to the end of the road in Batong Buhay and the Balatoc mines area. Here I saw the reason that the local Council want eco-tourism. The mining companies, a legacy of the Marcos era, left a messy landscape after they had taken what they wanted, the high grade gold and copper ore found in many mountain sides in the province: a brief moment of prosperity for the few and then nothing. A few private mines still operate but these are low impact on the environment by comparison.

The eco-tourism option is certainly a more noble endeavour, a sustainable business than can bring jobs and extra income to the agricultural areas whilst at the same time preserving the natural beauty and balance of the area.

Video of part of the journey:

And so we began the long walk to Colayo (depending on your fitness level and how many photos you stop for, this will take 2-5 hrs) mostly uphill as I recall, but well worth every drop of sweat and aching knees to see the magnificent scenery, littered with waterfalls, peaks and virgin forest. There are even hot springs and an evening climate like Baguio. Stunning!

The next couple of days were wonderful; the opportunity to climb up and down the hills, drink from the crystal clear rivers source, surrounded by mountains and forest and the wonderful hospitality of the townsfolk, some of whom I had already met during the festival, was great, like having one foot in heaven really.

There is much to do before the area is open-for-business on a larger scale; in the immediate future I imagine it’s mainly for the adventurers, mountaineers, nature lovers and hikers. In the coming weeks and months the local administration, led by Mayor James Edduba, himself one of Colayo’s sons, will be preparing to open up the area through the adoption of a tourism code and council, upgrading mountain trails and roads, coming up with a menu of possible trips within the valley, registering official guides and porters to help visitors and putting in communications (it’s a dead zone for cell phones) and hopefully a rest-house or dormitory for visitors in a eco-park is to be established.

It’s really one of the most beautiful places I have visited in the Philippines, but the real treasure isn’t just the scenery and nature, nor is it the minerals locked in the hill sides, no. The real beauty of Kalinga, of Pasil and Colayo is its people - true ambassadors for the Philippines.

I can already hear the gongs in the distance, calling me back again.

To keep up-to-date with progress and if interested to visit, drop me a line at Steve or my Facebook Steve Clark  and check out Local government unit Facebook page at LGU Pasil.

(More Photos on my facebook page in the Kalinga gallery.)