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Northern Luzon: Self-Portraits

Batad Rice Terraces

Healing started with an itchiness that asked for some serious scratching. But I had to resist, or else it would bleed anew. I patted the embossed centipede, my protective guide, on my lower back and scratched the surrounding areas instead.

It’s been a week since I came back in Cebu from a ten-day solo trip in northern Luzon. By far, my recent birthday trip was the most storied and writable I’ve ever had.

It’s been a year since I went to Siargao, broke Pawlita, and met new friends. And I thought, it was the most storied and writable. It’s been a year, and I have not seriously written it or uploaded the tons of pictures I took.

Perhaps, just like what happened to my Siargao trip, it would take a year or more to sit on the notes, make sense out of them, string, and hopefully come up with a commendable and anxiety-killer story.

But before worrying the stitching of the fragments stored both in my physical and mental notebooks, allow me to post self-portraits of my northern Luzon.


Mines View Park, Baguio. Like any tourist in a tourists-filled city, I tried most of the so-called must-dos in this summer capital. But what I loved in this capitalist park is the rather short woman  running the tribal costume business for the senior citizens. I blurted out “You’re pretty short,” and she answered, “at least, I see the world.” Indeed.  At least, we see the world. 


Botanical Garden, Baguio.  A traveling gardener is always delighted with the sightings of flowers. These blooms are locally known in Tuburan as escarlata. I used to have plenty of them. What I love about Baguio aside from its labyrinthine uphills and downhills is its flowers. They are everywhere brightening and warming this rather cold city.


Botanical Garden, Baguio. Dahlias are one of the everyday flowers found in Baguio. Dahlias in different colors, the same beauty.


Mines View Park, Baguio. It is taken inside the Cordillera store right in the mouth of Mines View Park. I intentionally did not register after seeing the owner standing in front of the registration counter and a native sieve for donations. He actually saw me coming in, but when a staff asked me I denied it. He called me and asked for my name. I admitted that I forgot to register. “Labas nalang po kayo. Gusto lang naman namin na maging honest kayo,” he said. His piercing, eagle-like eyes accompanied me on my way out.


Tam-awan Village, Baguio. “Ma’am, ‘yong strap ng bra ‘nyo po natanggal,” said a woman staff behind me. She hooked it up herself, and I could not thank her enough. I’d been touring this manmade and artists’ village with my bra strap waving hellos and goodbyes to whoever was behind me.

Burnham Park, Baguio. Men uprooted the escarlatas and planted flowers with orange blooms. I got some dead flowers to plant in my own garden. It was not the lagoon and its boats that captured me, yes, its the flowers and the varied crowd.   


 Batad, Banaue, Ifugao.  “Ako nalang ang magdala ng bag mo,” said Darwin, a local and a guide whom I chanced upon at the saddle. But I declined. It was my own load. I had to bear it. Darwin has a pair of one of the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen. He was with Wendy, another guide who I saw a day after staggering in front of his hut while holding dos por dos in one hand and a stone in the other, threatening someone with it. batad111wm

Batad, Banaue, Ifugao. That feeling of overlooking a beauty built by a community. It is “A Small Place” indeed, Jamaica. A beautiful small place. 


Tappia Falls, Batad, Banaue, Ifugao. I got lost with a young Israeli couple who intended to go to Cambullo, the next village. I mistook the village’s name for the falls and trailed with them. Although I realized along the way that they were going to the next village, I still accompanied them.  After  finding my way back, I trekked my way down to Tappia. It was an easy downtrek but a pantful uptrek. Good thing, there was a cute French guy around who asked, “So how do you find the Philippines?” 😉  


Bomod-ok Falls, Sagada.  I miscalculated the slipperiness on the lower part. I slipped and hit my upper left arm on the rock. My skin was scraped open a bit. I knew it would leave a big bruise. But it did not stop me from climbing and jumping into the water and made a huge happy splash amid the applause.


Protestant Episcopal Church, Sagada. While waiting for the jeepney going to northern Sagada, I walked around and saw the stonewalled church. Well. The blueness of things.


Sumaguing Cave, Sagada.  Avoid the smooth stones. Their smoothness can kill. Trust the rough ones. They make your feet grounded, anchored.


Lumiang Cave, Sagada.  On my third day in Sagada, the paths—the almost invisible paths—became visible with my constant walks. I went to Lumiang Cave alone and observed the silence of the cave, the silence of the dead, the silence of the small boxes. Too small  a human box.


Davey’s Inn and Restaurant, Sagada. Although I could not get a good-night sleep here since I intentionally chose the room closest to the heart of Sagada, this place was the best for me. I could see how Sagada works from my window: from its misty chilly morning to its curfewed nights.


Buscalan, Kalinga. Fang-Od joked that my love handle kept on jouncing while she tapped my lower back with her traditional tattoo tools. She had many anecdotes and adult jokes that really cracked me up. I promised her a native pig if she reached a 100. She said “Make it 3,” in her own language. We reached a deal.


Buscalan, Kalinga. It has been more than a week since I came back. The big bruise Bomod-ok gave me now looked like a hickey. The pang of pain from one crazy phenomenal woman’s pomelo thorn has reached the final stage of healing.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona! I’m in my early 30s and is currently based in Ha Noi, Vietnam.I primarily write poetry and short stories in Cebuano and lengthy travel essays in English. Blogging has become an outlet to think out loud. I live the life I set for myself. I try to live an unapologetic life. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at Find me somewhere else!

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  1. nice trip mam, informative i hope to go there.

  2. David Carroll says:

    WOW! That is dedication to get a traditional tattoo! My Pinoy Pride friend has his whole chest hammered in the same style. You are one hard core traveler that really dives deep into the local culture!

    • Haha! Mine is just a small one, David. The tattoo artist was so awesome! Not that deep! I wanted to stay there longer and observe their everyday life more. The culture is actually disappearing. I might come back in November. For a week. 🙂 Where are you now? I’m also thinking of going to Vietnam next year!

  3. David Carroll says:

    Back in the States. Working to get back to Vietnam. Tuyet just emailed me about wanting to get married this Dec. So, if you’re in my new ‘hood (‘Nam) come to my funky Buddhist wedding! We have a couple of Filipino friends bringing Adobo! And wow, I just missed Sagada. Definitley have to go now!

  4. Nice travel tale about Northern Luzon. That tats surely hurt. 🙂

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