Mountain Paradise – Destination: Buscalan

We all need a relaxing vacation more often than not, right? I already know the answer to that question, so I’ll propose a country most notable for the crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and an overload of pork dishes.

The Philippines.

The Philippines offers beauty inside and out, from the aesthetics spanning over 7,000 islands, to the smiling, always helpful (regardless of their situation) men, women and children across the country.

Like most, I decided this time around to try out a place new to me, but definitely not to tourists across the world – Boracay.

Beautiful beaches?

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I’d say yes. But….

Call me crazy if you want, but I got bored of Boracay. The beaches are stunning, but the island reminds me of a Kuta in Bali, Cancun or Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. It is packed with drunk tourists getting rowdy at all times. The island is small, leaving little room to escape the party scene when the day ends.

Maybe I should admit… I didn’t necessarily try to escape it, just couldn’t hang after three days! The thought of living that life for 10 days straight quickly turned my relaxing vacation into a potential shit show. It’s not for me. So I got to thinkin’, thinking about another paradise I have fond memories of. A little known area in the mountains of Northern Luzon, where the rice is native, the pigs are wild and the sounds are natural.

Buscalan.

This remote village is accessible by Jeepney from Bontoc. After roughly 2-3 hours of unnervingly fast driving on the winding roads through gorgeous mountain tops, rice terraces and waterfalls, you’ll have to trek an hour or so up the mountain.

Depending on the time of year, you’ll encounter some landslides…

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These become bonding experiences though, like when the old woman asked me to carry her bags up and over the mound so she could carry her baby worry free. I always end up the jackass.

Throughout the journey the views captivate you. But its extremely refreshing to get outside of the Jeepney and begin the hike. (The drivers know the roads so well, they drive fast. Real fast. So for five plus hours it can get a little exhausting.) It starts with a unsuspecting trail on a flat grade… but quickly goes downhill and then straight up!

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The beginning of the hike up

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Clouded beauty

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I’ve done this before…

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Rice terraces all along the path up

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Their native rice terraces feed the whole village.

Past waterfalls where the old men of the village bathe and the young men cool off from the strong mountain sunshine you traverse. Up and over rice terraces, which grow the “native rice” as they call it in Buscalan, that supply the whole village for the year. Only for personal consumption, none of this deliciousness makes its way out of the mountains.

After hundreds of butt burning stairs, the village shows it’s face. Ahhhhh simplicity. A year ago this village taught me the lesson of want versus need. I hadn’t seen a village quite like this before, living off the land, working together to build a tight knit community, where everyone is your mother, brother, sister and the like.

As advised last year, I brought gin for the men and candy for the children (really the mothers, but I won’t tell their secret). I met my guy AmBoy who along with his family would host me for however long I wanted to stay. The hospitality across the whole of the Philippines is quite amazing, but up here in the mountains it is a real lesson in care. Interested in your stories, in improving their English abilities, and gaining new friends from across the world, these guys and girls are so engaging.

The days are long and slowly paced here. We sit and talk, smoke, go see the legend Apo Whang-Od, and her skills that are holding on by the seemingly invincible thread of her weathered hands. There is much to this village I don’t want to divulge here, because I hold it close to my heart, and do not want to blow it up for all to see. Just know if it is true relaxation you want, a mind clearing moment away from modernity, and a lens into those people and lifestyles forgotten by modern politics and city dwellers, then Buscalan is the place for you. Its a special kind of paradise. It’s my kind of paradise.

I’ll leave you with pictures, and hope to hear your stories from this village in the future, if you choose to make the trek.

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