Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mt Tabayoc: The Face of Change

The settlement on the banks of Lake Tabeo
It was an aborted Bakun Trio in 2006 that led to my discovery of Mt Tabayoc! All I had with me was my scant knowledge of the place—that Mt Tabayoc was the second highest mountain in Luzon and that it was located in Kabayan, Benguet.

When the bus driver refused to take us to Bakun owing to the damaged road, we boarded the bus for Buguias. We told the driver that we were heading for Ballay so he took us beyond the terminus of the bus route. At the boundary between Kabayan and Buguias the driver told us ‘This is as far as I can take you.’ And that’s when we started trekking up the rough and slippery road to Ballay!

At Ballay we were warmly taken in by the then barangay captain, Jimmy Guinsiman (he became the vice mayor of Kabayan in 2010). On the ground, he sketched the trail up Mt Tabayoc and gave us one useful tip—follow the fresh cut marks on the bark of the bonsai trees that cover Mt Tabayoc. He encouraged us not to take any guide because he believed it was doable by anybody or probably because he didn’t want to commercialize tourism in the area. After that little talk, me and my friends bade him goodbye despite his insistence that we spend the night at his home.

From Kuya Jimmy’s place, we reached a little settlement on the banks of Lake Tabeo by sundown. We wanted to pitch our tents outside but an old woman who spoke no English nor Tagalog entreated us with her arms and feet to sleep in her humble home. We later found out that her heavy thumping translated into ‘There’ll be heavy rain tonight!’ That was one of the many instances in that journey where I was learning a language that needed no words. Only our hearts communicated. It was a language of trust. And as I have said in another post, you have to trust the locals when they speak of the weather. They know their place better than the forecast of PAGASA.

The following day, we delved into the thick mossy forests of Mt. Tabayoc but to no avail. We lost track of the cut marks and the dense vegetation made it impossible for us to penetrate the woods any further. With sad hearts we said goodbye to Tabayoc that day while the old woman implored us to come back.

Lake Tabeo
That’s all I do now—miss the time when everything was still authentic roughin’ it. I did go back four more times! And on each visit I saw the place change. What used to be a little community of five make-shift houses has now become a cluster of more than ten concrete houses with metal roofs of different colors. Kuya Jimmy died of cancer and the dissension among guides has intensified. The dirt road has now become a neat concrete road from Ballay all the way up to Lake Tabeo and the farmers have now started to encroach upon the mossy forests of Mt Tabayoc.

I am saddened by the change but who am I to prescribe what’s best for the place?! I am just a traveller who wants to experience the basics of life and have a good subject for my camera and my keyboard. Most travellers wish that a place could stay the same as it was the first time they saw it. When a place changes, we look for someone to blame as if change were a crime. And at times, we blame ourselves. It can’t be denied that some changes are brought about by the influx of travellers, irresponsible and responsible alike. But many changes take place with or without the self-important involvement of a traveller. In Ballay, people who don’t live there are travellers. And those that live there are farmers. A traveller’s only concerns are a good experience, great souvenirs and pictures to show, and often, to flaunt to his/her friends. A farmer’s concern is a better life through more poductive and profitable farming. A traveller doesn’t want to see tin roofs and concrete roads as they are eye sores to his panorama and they take away the flavor of adventure in their journey. A farmer needs a good farm-to-market road to ease up the transport of their produces. And a farmer wants to do away with the hassle and extra cost in regularly changing thatches so they make their roofs with galvanized iron sheets. The disputed presence of the locals in the natural park is as old as the debate on whether the place is a protected area or an ancestral land. As long as it is owned by the people, they have the right to somehow change it according to what makes their life better.

summit view of Mt Tabayoc

Yes travellers want a place to stay the same. But little do they know that the their first glimpse of the place was already an increment of the long thread of changes that a place undergoes. The beauty of Mt Tabayoc that I saw in 2006 may be regarded by some as mediocre compared to the beauty that Team Conquer saw in 2004. But still, each time, the place is beautiful. Even our backyard is beautiful. People just have to see the beauty of a place at the time they see it. And they should stop looking at the past. They should stop looking for the Boracay of the 80's in the Boracay of 2012! I love the time when I had to perch upon a bonsai tree just to have a 360-degree view at the summit of Tabayoc. But I also appreciate the presence of the view deck that has been constructed atop the bonsai trees! I love to see native houses made of wood and thatches but I also see the colorful metal roofs of the locals as a manifestation of art and a testimony to the people’s hardwork and diligence.

Part Two coming up soon!


  1. isang lang masasabi ko about sa lugar na yan...

    'napakabait ng mga tao dyan'


  2. We are ambivalent to CHANGE,we yearn for it as well as resist it..
    But it is safe to admit that change is constant and inevitable..
    thank you po...paul


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