The Ifugao Magic

Back in the month of May, one of my friends invited me to participate in a volunteer work. Our mission is to deliver school supplies in Lubo-ong, which is one of the Barangays in Hungduan, Ifugao. I immediately said yes! It’s an all-in-one deal for me. I would get to travel and see new places, meet new people and make new friends. But most of all, I love doing volunteer work. I’ve been doing it even when I was out of the country. It somehow gives me a sense of pleasure and fulfillment knowing that I was able to make a difference.

I went to Baguio to meet up with my friends at our rendezvous point in Ililikha, a coffee shop located on Assumption Road. When we are all present, we got on the vehicle provided by our host, Mr. Santos Bayucca heading our way to a village called Uhaj. Though it was the first time I’ve met most of them, it was a fun and enjoyable ride as we would often crack up jokes, sing during stopovers and given a chance, would also tell each other ”non-offending” sarcastic remarks as if we have known each other for a long time.

We pulled over at the highest point and had our lunch from there. Seriously, who wouldn’t get an appetite when you’re looking at a breathtaking view while you eat? We are literally ”kumakain sa labas!”.

When we finished our meal, we got back on the road and made our way to the village. It was more or less a 6 hour ”twisting and turning” ride with our bodies, especially our butts in pain. When we arrived in Uhaj, we still have to climb up a few more steps since we’ll be staying in a place on top of a hill. Been tired from the trip, after we had our dinner and a little chat, we called it a night.

When we arrived in Uhaj, I immediately sense an overwhelming, yet neutral presence of spirits. I didn’t find it concerning, I was nonchalant. The place is deluged with immense solemnity I can’t help but deeply contemplate. Lucky are the people who dwell there.

Staring at the hut’s ceiling.

It was my first time sleeping in an authentic Ifugao native hut and mind you, that was one of the best sleep that I had in my entire life. It may look small and feeble, but do not be fooled by its facade. It’s tough! Inside, it is spacious, warm and cozy. I urge you to experience it for yourself.

The mountaineers arrived the following day. We have to stay one day more as some of the volunteers haven’t arrived yet. Most of the time we would just chill, chat, jam and admire the landscape surrounding us. The rest of the guests arrived later in the evening. I remembered seeing their faces exhausted from the trip so I didn’t bother to engage them in a conversation.

Early morning the next day, we all gathered at the foot of the knoll waiting for the truck that will take us to the starting point of a four-hour hike heading to barangay Lubo-ong.

As always, take a groupie before the climb, so you’ll know the difference with how you look right after.

We arrived at the starting point and begin our trek. Good thing I wasn’t carrying that much and I’ve already had experience with the mountains when I climb Mount Pulag in Benguet and Mount Kiltepan in Sagada making this a bit easier for me. When it suddenly rained hard halfway through our journey, I felt challenged and choose to take my shirt off the rest of the hike. My survival instinct and adrenaline kicked in, awakening my senses. I never felt so alive…

We finally made it to our destination and got acquainted with the people and the place. Some of us played basketball with the locals while some of us frolic with the kids. I just can’t help but be delighted looking at the smile on their faces.

We dare not visit to be mere observers; we interact with the locals and learned a lot from them. We played with the kids and how we love getting immersed in their laughter. You see the things we brought, will disappear in time… But not the trail of memories we left behind.

Our presence calls for a celebration and the school prepared a presentation for the guests and the volunteers. I was so fascinated, especially when they performed a lovely Ifugao native song called ”Gungunayon”. Even after the trip, my friends and I would still talk about it and how we were so astounded. What we’ve seen is something you can only watch on rare occasions and I’m really grateful being a part of it.

They also arranged games and sports as an interface for us to connect with the locals. (Photos courtesy of Jason Quema)

After the event, we came to the highlight of our visit which is the distribution of the school supplies to the students of Lubo-ong Elementary School. I should have been there myself and see the ecstatic look on everyone’s faces, but unfortunately, I fell asleep back in the quarters. (Photos courtesy of Rei Bayucca and Jason Quema)

Hidden behind the curtain, they unveiled the mural that we created on the previous night. I wasn’t there so I never had the chance to see everyone’s reaction. I guess their expression is the same as the paintings we made, indescribable.

Later in the afternoon, we descended back to the main road where the truck is waiting to take us back to Uhaj. Once again, we are presented with different picturesque scenery as we go along the trails. (Photos courtesy of Jason Quema)

As always, what better way to end an unforgettable day than having a glimpse of the magnificent sunset. I remembered having an epiphany while staring at this one. I realized that every place I visit has spectacles of sunset and sunrise unique to their own, granting me the desire to discover them more.

With a notion that it might take a while for something like this to happen again, we made the most out of it by extending our vacation and staying a couple of more days chillin’ in Uhaj. I’ve also had a brush with the paranormal during our stay. I like it, though. A story to tell my grandkids someday.

The universe has no place for coincidences, only divine intervention.

When I travel, I don’t just get to see beautiful places but meet interesting people as well. We shared our passion for music, our fondness for reading and our fascination for scary stories shattered the barrier of people from different walks of life and made us all connected. To everyone who’s with me on this journey… Thank you.

To kuya Santos Bayucca, Rei Bayucca, Kimkimit Lee, kuya Jason Domling, to the mayor and the people of Lubo-ong, thank you so much for your warm hospitality and generosity.

About the Author:

Homer Oclares is a content writer, graphic artist, and adventurer. His team is preparing for the launching of their new start-up company in Quezon City, Philippines

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