Monday, April 1, 2013

Discovering Bontoc, Mt. Province


Bontoc is the capital of Mountain Province, Philippines and the seat of the entire Cordillera Administartive Region since the foundation of authority in the Cordillera. Mountain Province sits on the Cordillera mountain range, which runs from north to south. It is bounded on the west by Ilocos Sur province, on the east by Isabela and Ifugao provinces, on the north by Kalinga- Apayao Province, and on the south by Ifugao and Benguet Provinces. Part of its western territory has been carved out to the jurisdiction of Ilocos Sur, and is drained by the Chico River.


Bontoc - the capital of Mt. Province, Philippines taken
from Nueva Viscaya-Ifugao-Mt. Province Highway

Bontoc is classified as a 3rd class municipality with local economy depending largely on agriculture, commerce and trades. It is a highland municipality and generally mountainous with the highest elevation of 2, 028 meters above sea level and the lowest with an elevation of 900 meters. It is a bowl like valley surrounded by mountain ranges. Tourism is one of Bontoc’s economic potential with its impressive square patchwork of terraces like the Bay-yo and Maligcong Rice Terraces. Kankanaey and Ilocano language are the main dialects spoken by the residents.

After our drop-off in Banaue from Native Village Inn, we need to wait for a bus plying the Banaue – Bontoc route. Afuvel, Von-von Liner and Emmanuel bus are the regular buses plying the route, dropping -off & picking-up local and foreign passengers in Banaue between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. There are also passenger jeepneys plying the route but unluckily on that day, we missed the 9:00 a.m. scheduled trip to Bontoc. The bus ride from Banaue to Bontoc is somewhere 48 kilometers. The route is typically steep and winding. The thick forest canopies along the countryside consist of heavily-logged mossy woodlands and mixed montane ecosystem underneath. The mainstreams although constructed with paved concrete have several portions showing visible marks of erosion and weathering.


Bontoc is like a bowl-like valley sorrounded by mountain ranges

Our bus, Von-von Liner had to make the compulsory stop-over at Mt. Polis trading post for personal essentials. Mt. Polis is situated between the borders of Ifugao and Mt. Province. It is 1,895 meters (6,216 feet) above sea level and with such elevation even at midday; the vicinity is rapidly transformed into a foggy landscape creating poor visibility for motorist. There are several stalls selling fresh vegetables and farm produce. Mt. Polis is also a popular birding site. Birdwatchers and birding aficionados from local and abroad flock the site to catch a glimpse of numerous bird species in these bountiful upland montane ecology.


Stop-over at Mt. Polis trading post

Several stalls trading fresh produce lined the main street of Mt. Polis 

The vicinity is rapidly transformed into a foggy landscape even at midday

We reached our destination at 12:30 p.m. (January 10). Bontoc is a busy little town which poses a distinct rural charm. It is an ideal journey hub for travelers and backpackers traveling in the different regions of the Cordilleras. Bontoc is a developing town with new structures being built. There are numerous hotels, inns, and commercial buildings including a shopping center. Bontoc public market which is located in the town center sells fresh local produce as well as goods from nearby provinces. Except for the indiscriminate “betel quid” discharge sputtered almost everywhere the pavements, most public infrastructures are clean and tidy. Transportation means to outlying vicinity like Banaue, Sagada, Besao and Baguio City are readily available and systematically allocated with designated terminals thus avoiding traffic congestion within the town center. I was fascinated with the multi-colored tricycle peddling the main street serving commuters. It is the most common means of transport within the town proper.


The busy town center of Bontoc

Commercial establisments are active in downtown Bontoc

Multi-colored tricycle dominate the streets of downtown Bontoc


Bontoc cuisine and perhaps the Cordillera region is well represented in some of the local eateries or “carenderias” and restaurants we visited. Pork dishes are a much-applauded and preferred viand for the local residents. In one of the modest eateries inside the public market, my wife and I marveled in some of Cordillera’s renowned dishes – Dinakdakan and Adobong Hito Sa Dilaw.


Dinakdakan & Adobong Hito Sa Dilaw

Dinakdakan is a popular pork dish that originated in Ilocos Province and other northern parts of Luzon. The dish preparation may vary depending on locality’s method of preparation and ingredients. The main ingredient consists of the head portion; ear, nape, cheek, liver, tongue and brain of a full-grown domesticated pig. It is simmered in boiling water along with choice spices. After boiling, it is grilled until the preferred crispiness is achieved and then chopped into bite-sized portions. The chopped portions are blended with onions, ginger, red chili, lemon or kalamansi, vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste. The brain is added in the mix to create a velvety consistence in the palate and if consistency is not enough a spoonful or two of mayonnaise can be added. Dinakdakan is similar to Pampanga’s Sisig which is usually served as an appetizer.


Dinakdakan, a popular pork dish in Northern Luzon

Another popular dish we ordered is Adobong Hito Sa Dilaw (Marinated Catfish in Turmeric). Adobo dish is widely regarded and accepted as the Philippines’ national dish. Because of its popularity, variations in preparation and ingredients are extensive. Among them is the Adobong Hito sa Dilaw. It is basically an Adobo dish where the main ingredient (catfish) is infused with the basic and spicy flavor of turmeric rhizomes or “luyang dilaw” and cooked under constant low heat. The peppery flavor of turmeric and deeply hued orange-yellow color creates a distinct Adobo taste that is unique and sumptuous flavored by the aromatic rhizomes.


The sumptuos Adobong Hito sa Dilaw

After our hearty meal, we choose to wander around the uncrowded market to feast our eyes on variety of fresh farm produce, indigenous products from various Cordillera regions, observe the method of trading and of course hunt for bargains.

There is one very obvious curiosity we unexpectedly came across with; our encounter with “Etag”.

Etag is a salted meat delicacy from native pigs; it is a pork-based ethnic delicacy of the Cordilleras prepared through the process of curing and smoking. The residents of Sagada, Mt. Province popularize this native delicacy with Etag Festival that is celebrated every last week of January. Pork from native pig breed with ample layer of back fat is the most suitable portion to utilize in order to achieve a good quality lean product. Generous amount of salt is rubbed into the meat then stored in a covered earthen jar called “binulnay” to cure overnight. After curing, the meat is smoked for at least two to three hours daily for the next two weeks. According to some residents, the real smoking process for Etag can last for five months up to five years. Etag can be eaten raw; garnish another well known Cordillera chicken dish called “Pinikpikan” or complement other variety of meat or vegetable dishes.

Etag is not sold by the kilo, it can be purchased only by piece and an arm’s length piece is worth P180.00 ($4.40).


Etag is a salted meat delicacy from native pigs

Etag is a pork-based ethnic delicacy of the Cordilleras

Having satisfied our curiosity and following a hefty purchase of a dozen pieces Etag, I fitted my backpack snugly on my back while camera on my trunk as we wandered farther into town exploring the vast expanse of this lovely busy little town in the highland region of Mt. Province.

Our next stop..... Sagada!






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