It was the turn of the year and I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to be in a place where people don’t know me. I wanted to greet the first sunrise of the year in a new landscape. The past year was filled with mixed emotions, I was hoping that being away would bring things in a positive light and hopefully bring me back to the right direction. The first morning of 2014, I found myself already climbing the mountain slopes of Maligcong for Mt Kofafey under a starry night with my two companions who used to be just strangers a few days ago and now I’m entrusting my life to them.
Under the Starry Sky
I had to force myself to get off from my bed. At 3am in the morning, my room was totally shut but the piercing cold still seeped into my room and filled every space like water in a container. I stood up, still wrapped in my blanket and prepared for the morning hike. I could hear Suzette, the owner of Maligcong Homestay, preparing brewed coffee at their kitchen to bring for the hike. I had my headlamp, camera bag, my MyPhilippines 3D hoodie for the extra warmth and a few pieces of Chees special Oat Bars. After helping ourselves with a cup of native Bontoc coffee, we went down the turning point to meet Ezra for our hike.
It would be both the first time for me and Suzzette to climb Mt Kofafey. She said it would do her good to experience the sunrise on this mountain to better encourage visitors of her homestay to do the same. The young Ezra, still studying in college know most of these parts having accompanied his grandfather around these area since he was a child. The pine forest trail wasn’t much difficult, it was similar to how we initially crossed the hill going to Mainit Village. The cold slowly felt thin as temperature heats up as we hike. We followed Ezra’s lead as he steered us away from one of the local’s houses whose dog is trained to kill people who trespass their property. The guy was one of the natives of Maligcong that still held on to their traditional ways. He was still wearing his their traditional bahag attire.
By 4:30 am, we ascended into a clearing where I was astounded by the amount of stars in the sky. I just wanted to stare and drown in the vast universe of stars but we continued again through a trail within the pine forest. From the dark I saw multitude eyes staring back at us which startled me a bit. I directed my torch and saw herd of cows clumped together, equally startled by our presence.
On a Sea of Clouds
It seemed like we were walking on a ridge until finally we reached the steep end opening up to a sea of clouds. I set up my equipment as Ezra and Suzette prepared our coffee. Oh having a warm cup of native coffee, the smell of its aroma wafting through the nippy air and the site of a sea of clouds was a simple pleasure I could cherish at that time. What a moment to remember for my first morning of 2014. Slowly the clouds billowed out and dissipated unveiling a marvelous pattern of water-filled rice terraces that seems to be converging together under the clouds. Maligcong Rice Terraces looks astounding from Mt Kofafey, I imagined more if it was all green and brown ripe for the harvest. The mirroring sky on the water-filled paddies was no less than majestic still. What a wonderful way to start the year.
Over coffee and oat bars by a small camp fire, Ezra told me of how Maligcong got its name. He told me of a the original settlers following a pig to this place. Then they came across a man and his dog, he was named “Malig” and his dog’s name was “Cong“. Hence the settlers simply named that spot Maligcong. I’m not sure if the story was true but it reminded me how life can be simple at times like how a place could be named from a simple interaction yet leave a huge mark in their lives. I may not have had a life-changing epiphany on top of Mt Kofafey but nature just showed that life goes on. The sun will continue to rise and fall behind the mountains, the earth will continue to turn and the rice terraces would have a season of good harvest and sometimes empty as patch of water. Maligcong has been wonderful experience and I promised I would be back.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.