MOUNTAIN PROVINCE | I Almost Skipped the Hike to Mount Kupapey and Maligcong Rice Terraces


At Maligcong Rice Terraces of Bontoc, Mountain Province
The first time I traveled solo wasn't that smooth-sailing. For starters, I almost missed the last jeepney trip to Maligcong that departs at 5:00 PM. The day's plan was to visit Bontoc Museum, then scroll around downtown in the morning before the Maligcong-bound jeepney leaves at noon, then climb Mount Fato after lunchtime. But I reached the upland barrio at dusk. A truck overturned somewhere in Nueva Ecija, prolonging the usual ten-hour bus trip from Quezon City to Bontoc into a seventeen-hour journey.
Bontoc, Mountain Province (poblacion)
 Bontoc, Mountain Province

It was 4:30 PM when I finally set foot on Mountain Province's capital and before dark falls, I was in Maligcong. The lengthy road trip and the hushed nightfall at the peaceful village — the type of environs I might never get used to — got the best of me. I wanted to go home, even if it means going back without the Maligcong experience. I thought of catching the earliest jeepney back to Bontoc (at 6:30 AM of the next day) so I could take the earliest bus back to Manila. I wasn't even able to get a good sleep because I'm not used to sleeping alone. That night has become one of the longest night of my life.

But even so, I did not come home without some story to tell. I survived the night and got up at wee hours the next day not to prepare for the trip back home, but for Mount Kupapey.
Before daybreak at Mt. Kupapey, the scenic Maligcong Rice Terraces from afar
 Before daybreak at Mt. Kupapey, the scenic Maligcong Rice Terraces from afar

Mount Kupapey

Still in my pj's, I savored the warm cup of mountain coffee that Ate Vilma, my hostess, prepared for me. I knew then I was back on track, feeling the same excitement I had upon boarding the provincial bus the other night. That coffee cup, in the first place, was to blame why I was at the Cordillera highlands. Days ago, I was in the office clad in my sweater, Metro Manila's having an inclement weather then. On the misty window was a view of Bonifacio Global City skyline but somehow, I was daydreaming that the vista was of a foggy scenery where lush greenery and skies meet and the coffee cup I was fighting near-hypothermia with contains not a 3-in-1 but a local mountain brew.
Trees at Mt. Kupapey's summit

It was 4:00 AM when I hit the trail with Kuya Jonathan — Ate Vi's brother and my hiking guide. The established trail was quite straightforward and friendly to those that are not much into hiking. With a speck of light from my headlamp, I could see a glimpse of rice paddies, paths fringed with towering pine trees, and a wide open grassland where the cool mountain breeze blows. It took us 45 minutes to reach the crest — taking short rest stops, not taking any pictures, and me taking the opportunity to sit and catch breath while Kuya Jonathan gathered some woods off the trail for the bonfire. It was still dark when we arrived. A hiking group that arrived first encircles around an already lit bonfire. The summit camp site was spacious enough to hold a crowd; we're like around 30 that time who witnessed the first light of the morning and shared a clear vista of Maligcong's rice terraces. It was not the season for a sea of clouds.
Fellow hikers at Kupapey, in awe of Maligcong Rice Terraecs
Clear vista of Maligcong Rice Terraces
First light of the morning at Kupapey's summit
Grove of pine trees at Kupapey's summit

A "puddle" of clouds seen from Kupapey's summit
 A "puddle" of clouds
Mt. Amuyao seen from Kupapey's summit
 Mt. Amuyao seen from Kupapey's summit
Bonfire residue at the summit of Mt. Kupapey

We left the summit at around 6:00 AM. I was then able to appreciate the lush trail that morning darkness hid during our way up: the groves of pine trees and other flora, the verdant open field that resembles a location of the scene from a "Twilight" movie, a spot where locals were said to convene and hold some mountain ritual, other parts that are simply delightful like the natural mud hole where carabaos (water buffaloes) soak themselves, and Maligcong's rice terraces up close.
Flora along Kupapey's trail
An open grass field along Kupapey's trail
A spot along Kupapey's trail where local holds a mountain ritual
 A spot where locals hold a mountain ritual
A carabao's bath tub along Kupapey's trail
 A carabao's bath tub

Maligcong Rice Terraces

Hiking Kupapey was not just all the nature trail, the summit, or the panoramic view from up there. Making a detour from the mountain's beaten path leads to Maligcong's terraced pond fields which at that time of the year were in their greenest state. Behind rows of pine trees dawns the Maligcong Rice Terraces.
Maligcong Rice Terraces behind rows of pine trees
The author beholding the beauty of Maligcong Rice Terraces

According to Kuya Jonathan, there have been instances when photos of Maligcong Rice Terraces that surface online and on print were mistakenly captioned as the equally stunning but more famed Banaue Rice Terraces of Ifugao.
The author walking along the edges of the rice paddies
The author at Maligcong Rice Terraces

As we continue our way across the rice paddies, it dawned to me that that exact moment was a childhood dream — to step upon the edges of the rice terraces that I only see in my textbooks back then.

READ ALSO: Photo Kwento: "Childhood Reveries"
Maligcong's terraced rice fields, up close

If I had skipped this hike, I would've missed the scenery that Mount Kupapey has in store for her visitors. I would've missed the chance to be in commune with nature and unwind. I would've missed the subconscious realization of a childhood dream and getting a sense of fulfillment from knowing that I have that privilege to turn my old fantasies into reality. This hike reminded me that while it's a long way to go, I am doing well in life. I am.

Forget the drama, you should visit Maligcong soon. I swear, it's all worth the long journey. And when you're there, say hello for me to the one who owns the mud bath.
A carabao on our way to Mount Kupapey

Here's a travel guide for an overnight trip to Maligcong: Maligcong Trip Guide and Itinerary


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