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Northern exposure: Discovering the joys of the Mountain Province

John Ryan Nual Mendoza discovers the joys of Northern Philippines.

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As a development worker for years in the far-flung indigenous communities in the Mindanao mountains, finding nature just right outside one’s doorstep has been a much missed memory after recent city-dwelling years. So when I got the invitation of some friends to travel to the Mountain Province, a landlocked province in the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon, to support a community effort to help build a children’s library made of trash filled plastic bottles, I immediately packed and sped to the nearest bus terminal for the P445 trip to Baguio City to rendezvous with the group; and from Baguio, caught the non-aircon buses at the Dangwa Station at the back of the Center Mall for P212 that took us through the six hour treat to the dramatic cliffs and mountains of the Cordilleras.

Braving Bontoc
Poblacion Bontoc is quite a compact town center where the provincial capitol building, plaza, market, municipal hall, and commercial center are located. One can either just hike or ride around in a tricycle for eight pesos per trip. The Bontoc Provincial hospital has been one of the facilities I find notable in the country for their promotion of indigenous and alternative health practices; they encourage utilization of Igorot herbs and practices and a traditional Chinese acupuncturist serves fulltime in their physical therapy unit.

We stayed at the Churya-a Hotel & Restaurant that is just situated along the national road – a five story building with verandas on each floor with a cozy view of the townscape. Nights at the poblacion, though, could be a disappointment to travelers seeking more quiet spaces as townspeople spend their time at karaoke bars and disco live bands in the vicinity. Bontoc has been known as the first mining town in this mountainous region of North Luzon, where locals would travel to for leisure and business.

For breakfast, a must-try would be the early morning coffee at the Bontoc Public Market. Locally sourced and organic, Arabica coffee blends only cost ten pesos per cup.

The bottle library is being constructed in the upland village of Guina-ang which is an hour drive of seven kilometers of winding roads up the mountains. Next to Guina-ang is the village of Mainit, which is known for its hot sulphur springs. We decided to spend one night in these invigorating baths before getting into hard labor. The jeepney ride to Mainit and Guina-ang is parked beside the Shell Gas station in Bontoc. The jeepney leaves usually at 2:30 PM and the next at 4:00 P.M. On days with no rain, one can ride on top of the jeepney and enjoy much of the view of rice terraces while going up. Mainit accommodations priced at P300 per person were very modest. One must be warned that water from the faucet (when flowing) is still sourced from the hot springs, so one could burn him/herself. The hot spring water piped into small pools could be murky, but locals say that it is a good sign that various healthy minerals are present. A warm soak is just a perfect match for this village’s very cool climate.

Spending many days doing community work in the village of Guina-ang has given me a glimpse of the strong collective indigenous culture among the Bontocs. United by a common history and struggle, the Bontocs have learned to rely on their strength as one community to warmly welcome initiatives from the outside if they are deemed beneficial to all and shun any external action that could put them at a disadvantage. The steady progress of the bottle library is attributed to this cooperative spirit that is shown by each one, young and old, in this mountain village.

Surviving Sagada
This first trip of mine to this part of the Cordilleras would be sorely lacking without experiencing Mountain Province’s pride: Sagada. In Bontoc, jeepneys going up to Sagada are located on the street beside the Walter Clap Centrum. Travelling up to this other mountain town would just take less than an hour.

I first noticed the significant drop in temperature when we arrived. We were there in February, the coldest month, when it is reported that temperatures drop to 12 degrees Celsius at night. I stayed at Alfredo’s Inn for P250 a night for a single bed with a common bathroom with hot showers and Wi-Fi. All other hostels also charge the same rate, though with just minimal differences, such as a viewing deck and better accessibility to the town’s public amenities and attractions.

Sagada is known for its natural wonders of caves, falls, limestone cliffs, rice terraces, burial sites, and other historical landmarks. It has a land area of only 8,000 hectares and most spots can actually be reached by just walking. Mountain bike rentals are also available for P500 per day or P100 per hour. While we managed to find the Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins on foot, I personally getting a guide mainly for safety. There are two official guide organizations in town–the Sagada Enviromental Guides Association and the Sagada Genuine Guides Association. These associations have done a very competent job in organizing and standardizing their rates for guide services and van rentals. The tourism office ensures transparency through officially posting them and assuring that there are no hidden charges.

A friend came with me to conquer the cave connection, which can be done anytime between 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The caving journey begins at the huge opening of Lumiang Burial Cave, which is a 40 minute walk from the town center. The challenge then starts with a crevice that is narrow enough to fit one person. The passage then led down to various awesome rock formations. Moisture is always present on the rocks, so extra caution and strict compliance to instructions have to be observed to avoid accidents. To facilitate safe access through rocks and tunnels, guides usually offer their shoulder as a “human step stool.” There are also built-in ropes with knots in very challenging areas. There are parts in the exploration that one has to swim during rainy season when some of the pools are filled with water. Yet guides can offer an alternate route if this is not preferred. The tour lasted for four hours until we exited at Sumaging Big Cave. The standard fee is P800 for one to two visitors and P400 for every additional visitor. Another P400 is charged if transportation to and from the town center is availed.

Finishing the cave connection did give me a great sense of physical achievement. That was then I understood what the t-shirt print “I survived Sagada” really meant. Important reminders for anyone who would attempt this feat would be to wear loose shirt, shorts or loose pants, and rubber sandals/flip flops/ rubber shoes. Guides generally do not advise people with fear of heights and/or closed space, heart ailments, asthma, and injuries to go through this long route and would suggest other less strenuous alternatives such as the short course caving.

The short course caving is an hour and 30 minutes of spelunking at the Sumaging Big Cave. This cave has a huge chamber and there’s a small tunnel at the end. To date, guides report that this is the most frequented tourist attraction in Sagada. Visitors are treated to amazing rock formations, huge open chambers and boulders to climb over. Sumaging cave is the habitat to thousands of bats. Visitors usually come upon a dung section in one of the huge spacious chambers. All visitors climb back at the same route. On the way back to town, the guide usually brings guests to the entrance of Lumiang/Burial Cave and drop by at the view point if Sugong Hanging Coffins, which is an hour walk. The guide fee is P500 pesos for up to four visitors.

All these other adventure options are in the list of the things I would love to conquer when I get back (Much cheaper when done in groups):

  • The Sagada to Mainit Hotspring Trekking is a five to seven hour climb and trek through rice terraces, villages, and rivers. Guests would then spend a night at the Mainit hotsprings. Guide fee is P2,500 per visitor.
  • The Mt. Sisipitan trekking is a six hour hike back and forth up a mountain of mossy and pine forests with an elevation of more than 2,200 meters. Guide fee is P2,000 per person.
  • The Danum – Mt. Langsayan trekking is a three to four hour traverse hike through mossy and pine forests that overlook two municipalities and offers a vast view of the rice terraces. Guide fee is P1,000 for up to three visitors.
  • The Marlboro Country trekking is an hour and 30 minutes hike from the mountain’s base to the peak. The Mt. Ampacao trekking is a hike to an elevation of about 1,880 meters. Guide fee for each trek is P600 good for up to 10 visitors.
  • The trip to the Bomod-ok Big Waterfall is a three hour hike back and forth from the Bangaan road. Fee: P600 good for up to 10 visitors.
  • The sunrise viewing at the Kiltepan mountain ranges offers an “aerial” view of rice terraces. The trip starts at 4:30 in the morning. Fee is P450 per ride which is good for up to 10 visitors
  • The sunset viewing at Lake Danum starts at 4:30 in the afternoon. Visitors also stop by at Sagada Pottery. Fee is P500 per ride which is good for up to 10 visitors.

The cold nights in Sagada actually spur much drinking and videoke singing. You can either have beer or the locally produced bugnay or rice wine. A 9:00 PM curfew is imposed though, and there are only a number of bars open beyond this. One such is the Sagada Pine Café, which is usually packed with booze and music-seeking foreigners and locals. This place has its hushed reputation of being a small Amsterdam in this part of the country. Go and figure out why for yourself.

Waking up in chilly mountain province mornings has been indeed a surreal joy. Watching the early bustle of women harvesting fresh vegetables and the view of faintly sunlit fog covered slopes from afar are exactly the perfect rustic vibes I have and will always long for. Each new start of the day is another beginning for the endless choices of adventures for all types of thrills.

And so one visit to this upland haven can never be enough; one definitely has to come back for more.

A registered nurse he may be, but Cagayan de Oro City-based John Ryan Nual Mendoza is an ardent believer of holistic living - as such, he advocates, for instance and among others, the use not only of Western approaches to healing, but also of the more traditional methodologies that may be learned from the hilot, babaylan, et cetera. As he said, in life, "why be limited, when you can have a more full/complete life by embracing just about everything?"

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Destinations

Launch your boat into a new season

Whether you’re racing against the waves or quietly floating with a pole in hand, a day on the water is hard to beat. However, before you can enjoy the excitement of a new season, there are several steps you need to take to make sure your boat is ready for the ride.

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Photo by Gunnar Ridderström from Unsplash.com

Whether you’re racing against the waves or quietly floating with a pole in hand, a day on the water is hard to beat. However, before you can enjoy the excitement of a new season, there are several steps you need to take to make sure your boat is ready for the ride.

System Check
Your boat’s fuel and electric systems need an experienced eye to determine potential problems. Cracked or damaged hoses and connections need to be replaced, and all fittings and clamps should be checked to ensure they’re tight and secure. Test exhaust and ventilation systems, and replace worn or lose belts and cables, giving special attention to the steering and throttle cables. If you didn’t change the oil and filter before putting your boat in storage, do so before the season begins. Also be sure to check oil, power steering fluid and coolant levels as well as running lights and emergency features such as horns.

Battery Function
A reliable power source is essential for powering your trolling motor and operating accessories like fish finders when your engine isn’t running. You’ll need to test your battery before heading out on the water. If it’s time for a replacement, look for a powerful and cost-efficient option like Interstate Batteries’ Enhanced Flooded Deep-Cycle Marine Battery. The battery features a durable design with extended battery life and includes a two-year, free replacement warranty.

Visual Inspection
After several months in storage, it’s a good idea to give your boat a thorough inspection so you can identify any holes, cracks or dings that may impact its performance or safety. Scan the hull closely to for any abnormalities and check the propeller, as even minor dings and scratches can affect its operation.

Careful Cleaning
Depending on the security of your storage space and how you covered your boat, you may not have much heavy cleaning to do. However, it’s a good idea to start the season fresh by giving everything a thorough wipe down. This can help illuminate any problems you may have overlooked during your visual inspection. In addition, using UV protectant on exposed surfaces can help prevent damage such as cracks and fading caused by harsh sunlight.

Safety Supplies
Before you hitch the trailer, take inventory of your on-board safety supplies. Be sure your life jackets are in good condition and that you have options to appropriately fit all passengers. Check fire extinguishers to ensure they’re in good working order and test the carbon monoxide detector (or add one if there’s not already a detector installed). Also scan your safety kit; update any expired items and replenish your supply of bandages or other items that may be running low.

Find more information to get your summer on the water underway at interstatebatteries.com.

Finding the Best Battery for Your Boat

No matter how you spend your time on the water, a durable and reliable battery is a must. Learn what kind of battery is best for your boating needs from the experts at Interstate Batteries:

Starting: Whether you’re sailing the ocean or ripping it up in a motorboat, starting batteries are built to withstand most marine conditions.

Deep-Cycle: These batteries are the most popular line of marine batteries and offer strong, reliable power. This type of battery is used to start your trolling motor and power other accessories like fish finders whether your engine is running or not.

Dual-Purpose: Originally developed for military tanks and submarines, this type of battery has the staying power of a deep-cycle battery coupled with high-cranking performance.

Powersport: When you’re trying to catch every wave, the last thing you want is a weak battery. These top-quality batteries are built to withstand the most rugged conditions on the water.

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Destinations

Frequent travel could make you 7% happier

A new study in the journal of Tourism Analysis shows frequent travelers are happier with their lives than people who don’t travel at all.

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Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels.com

People dreaming of travel post-COVID-19 now have some scientific data to support their wanderlust. A new study in the journal of Tourism Analysis shows frequent travelers are happier with their lives than people who don’t travel at all.

Chun-Chu (Bamboo) Chen, an assistant professor in the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, conducted a survey to find out why some individuals travel more frequently than others and whether or not travel and tourism experiences have a prolonged effect on happiness and wellness.

The results of his analysis show individuals who pay more attention to tourism-related information and frequently discuss their travel plans with friends are more likely to go on regular vacations than those who aren’t constantly thinking about their next trip.

Additionally, participants in the survey who reported regularly traveling at least 75 miles away from home also reported being about 7% happier when asked about their overall well-being than those who reported traveling very rarely or not at all.

“While things like work, family life and friends play a bigger role in overall reports of well-being, the accumulation of travel experiences does appear to have a small yet noticeable effect on self-reported life satisfaction,” Chen said. “It really illustrates the importance of being able to get out of your routine and experience new things.”

Previous studies have examined the stress relief, health and wellness benefits of tourism experiences, but they have tended to examine the effect of a single trip or vacation. Chen’s research takes these previous studies one step further by looking at the sustained benefits of travel over the course of a year.

Participants in the study were asked about the importance of travel in their lives, how much time they spent looking into and planning future vacations, and how many trips they went on over a year. They were also asked about their perceived life satisfaction. Out of the 500 survey participants, a little over half reported going on more than four pleasure trips a year. Only 7% of respondents did not take any vacations.

As travel restrictions due to COVID-19 begin to relax in the future, the research could have important implication for both tourists and the tourism industry. Based on the results of the study, Chen said travel companies, resorts and even airlines could launch social media campaigns, such as creating hashtags about the scientific benefits of vacation, to spark people’s interest in discussing their opinions about travel.

“This research shows the more people talk about and plan vacations the more likely they are to take them,” he said. “If you are like me and chomping at the bit to get out of dodge and see someplace new, this research will hopefully be some additional good motivation to start planning your next vacation.”

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Travel

No evidence people alter daily travel after having symptoms that could be COVID-19

“We could not detect any significant change of movement when people should self-quarantine. On the other hand some people almost did not leave home since the beginning of the pandemic, while others move freely around.”

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.com

How can we better understand how people move during the pandemic and how they spread COVID-19? New George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services research is one of the first individual-level studies to explore this question.

Dr. Janusz Wojtusiak led the study published in the Journal of Healthcare Informatics Research. Wojtusiak and colleagues tracked symptoms and movements of 175 volunteer individuals on George Mason University’s campus. They found that there is no evidence that participants altered their movements based on the symptoms they reported.

“We could not detect any significant change of movement when people should self-quarantine. On the other hand some people almost did not leave home since the beginning of the pandemic, while others move freely around,” said Wojtusiak.

Participants used the Mason COVID HealthCheckTM to record symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection and GPS and WiFi data to provide information on how they move during the pandemic. This allows the researchers to model and predict movements during the pandemic and in conjunction with any reported possible COVID-19 symptoms.

“By tracking individual movements and symptoms in our study, our findings could help inform effective public health interventions to reduce COVID-19 infections,” explains Wojtusiak.

In addition, Wojtusiak and colleagues analyzed de-identified Mason COVID HealthCheckTM responses and found that a headache was the most frequently reported symptom, and a headache was always listed as a symptom when any other symptoms were reported. Other commonly reported symptoms were coughs and sore throats.

Movement patterns varied among participants, with some only going out for essential trips while others moved about more. As a group, movement was consistent over the study period, which included a period when Virginia was under a stay-at-home order and when it was not. Participants traveled a total average of 139 miles per week, visiting an average of less than six locations per week. This low average mileage and number of sites visited does suggest that COVID-19-related restrictions affected their movement. However, they also found that even when participants reported symptoms of COVID-19 or contact with others with COVID-19, they did not change their movements as recommended by public health guidance.

George Mason University has a very low COVID-19 infection rate, and during the period none of the study participants reported COVID-19 infection, so researchers weren’t able to link COVID-19 positive tests and movement. Future analysis will include data from the winter of 2020 so may provide more information on movement after COVID-19 infection. The researchers are also conducting surveys and interviews to provide richer data including reasons for complying or not complying with social distancing.

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