What Lies Behind the Mountains of Mountain Province, Philippines
January 1, 1970
by Ardys Gladden Soriano
The Mountain Province in the Philippines is famous for its dramatic scenery of rice terraces. As the name of the province itself – the place is surrounded with rolling hills and mountains with glorious rice terraces in-betweens. The only way to go to each terrace for an up-close and personal experience is to trek. But this is not your usual trekking adventure. The view is not something you get to see always in other provinces in the Philippines. Why? Believe it or not, what lies behind the mountains of Mountain Province is an unseen and unblemished beauty of a lake. But the journey to the lake is not easy.
2 Miles of Upward Trekking
Sacasacan is one of the 8 barangays in the municipality of Sadanga, Mountain Province. According to PhilAtlas, as of 2015, this barangay only has a population of 659 and never even reached a thousand in the last 2 decades. No wonder people in this barangay know each other and greet every single person they meet on the way.
Our tour guide, one of the locals, told us that Sacasacan is now easier to climb compared to years ago since the road has already been developed. True enough, the road was concrete and it only felt like we were just jogging on an uphill mountain.
The view of the overlapping mountains on the side was magical. Our tour guide also shared stories about the mountains during the time of his ancestors which made our trekking light and easy while learning something about their culture. However, after almost an hour of trekking upward, we noticed that the road going up never seemed to end. It turned out, we needed to trek 2 miles upward before we could get to Sacasacan. The locals are already used to walking long miles every day of their lives and while we were panting and pacing slowly, our tour guide seemed to be effortlessly energized.
We fought against our weight and the pull of gravity going up (with quite a few times of resting, of course) and finally, we arrived. We did it. We came. We conquered. And there in front of our eyes were the different shades of green and yellow rice terraces, looking like tiles of perfectly arranged pasture from our viewpoint. Tourists and travelers would never miss the view as this is the pride of Sacasacan – the Focong Rice Terraces.
The Magnificent Focong Rice Terraces
What makes Focong Rice Terraces magnificent, as any other rice terraces in the Mountain Province, is the perfectly designed wavy ridges. And the fact that these are in the highlands and the terraces are extended almost up to its summit is simply amazing. It has enough and effective irrigation system and the vast agricultural land is obviously well taken care of by the Igorots. Igorot is a Filipino word which means “people from the mountains”. Hence, Igorot is an ethnic tribe who inhabits the mountains of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.
We also had an opportunity to witness some of the Igorots harvesting their grains and crops. Farming, in the Mountain Province, has always been part of the lives of the locals. This is their main work and a source of food and income.
The Igorots are hardworking and extremely friendly indigenous farmers. They don’t use any machine during fieldwork and harvest – all these are done by hand. They grow ancient grains which are grown organically in these magnificent rice terraces.
People of different ages can be observed farming and/or harvesting, from the early twenties to sixties and seventies. We met an old couple (in their seventies, perhaps) and they are still as strong as the young ones who continue to farm for their family. They seemed to be happy and content with what they have and what they do. Amazing place, amazing culture – truly admirable!
After harvest, the locals would then trek home with their heavy sacks of rice and let them dry under the heat of the sun. They do this back and forth depending on how many grains they have harvested – the reason why these farmers, especially the younger ones, have biceps earned from a natural workout and don’t even need to go to the gym.
The Challenging Trail to Dananao Lake
After enjoying the scenic view of the rice terraces and talking to the farmers, we then headed to Dananao Lake – a natural beauty of Sacasacan that no outsiders or guests have visited yet. Totally unblemished in its true essence of the word.
The catch though is that the trail to Dananao Lake is a hundred times more challenging than our trekking experience going up to Sacasacan. Dananao Lake is situated on top of the mountain hiding from the trees and bushes of the forest. From Sacasacan, we took another mile of upward trekking but this time, the road is no longer concrete. At times, we needed to create our own trail as some of it has been covered by grass and long thorny plants.
Think of it like an adventure you usually see in movies where the main characters are going into the forest to discover something revolutionary. What they go through, the grass and plants they need to cut to pass through, the unfriendly thorns they need to avoid so as not to get hurt – these were exactly the things we did. It was a combination of a forest adventure and a never-ending upward trek.
Caution: Never wear shorts or sleeveless. You would get scratches from thorny grass and plants thus its best to wear appropriate clothes for this kind of adventure. After more than 4 miles of accumulative upward trekking, we finally got to see the never-been-touched (by outsiders) Dananao Lake.
The still water of Dananao Lake reflects the trees of the forest making its water green. It has different species of fish, which according to our tour guide, the locals are not even allowed to fish. Apart from swimming, the place is also best for picnics and quiet time. Silently majestic!
It is such a mind-boggling truth that a mountain would hide a lake and let it sit on the top. I guess that’s one of nature’s surprises. And the trail to discovery may not be easy but the 3 miles of upward trekking is definitely worth the climb!