No traffic, no cellphone signals, no emails, no crowds. I was happy to be rid of the things most folks consider “essential”, even for just a weekend.
The quaint farming community of Imugan, nested some 950 meters above sea in the Caraballo Mountain Range in Nueva Vizcaya, has become sort of our “Shangri-la”. My closest friends and I (my friends are some of the most well traveled folks and icons of the Philippine travel blogging community, and they have probably seen almost every nook of the Philippines) prefer to escape there at least once every so often. Last weekend, all our schedules aligned and the whole gang was there.
Imugan is far from being a tourist destination, and the locals prefer it that way. Imugan and its neighboring barangays of Malico and Salacsac are part of the Kalahan tribe’s ancestral land. The locals are very much wary of the things we normally consider as “progress” or “development”. Its probably one of the reasons why we are attracted to it. Of course the beautiful Imugan Falls is one of the the draws, but we were happy just to be there and enjoy each other’s company.
But even a place like Imugan may not be spared from “development”. Over the years we’ve seen how the road going up the mountain has changed. What once was a rough road is now cemented (80% of the way up is already cemented). Portions of the mountain side were scraped to widen the road. The side effect: landslides.
Malico, which is about 30 minutes away from Imugan, was not spared as well. Its becoming to be like La Trinidad in Benguet with fields planted with cabbages and strawberries. We noticed green houses being built (illegally, according to one of the community’s respected elders) by some enterprising people from Benguet.
Small hills are being leveled to make more fields for planting. Pesticides are being used more and more, threatening the rivers and streams below.
There is still an ongoing dispute between Nueva Vizcaya and the nearby province of Pangsinan. Pangsinan is claiming Malico to be within their boundary. Its not very hard to understand why.
The Salacsac pine forest, at 1350 meters above sea, was as eerie as ever, especially with a thick blanket of fog. Only a small community remained in Salacsac and the school there was closed due to decreasing student population.
We failed to visit the falls in the afternoon of our first day; as expected it rained just after lunch. It was actually a welcomed change in plans, for it afforded us a chance to catch up with each other over a hot cup of java, as well as catch up on our sleep (we took the redeye bus to Vizcaya, so we weren’t able to sleep properly the previous night). The company of friends, the cold mountain weather, and lively conversations transformed our spartan dorm into the best of accommodations.
Night soon fell. The star-studded sky was so clear you can see a portion of the Milky Way. Some of my friends managed to peel themselves out of our bunks and head out to shoot. But for me the lull of the light rain falling on the roof and the sweet resounding forest melodies proved to be an effective lullaby. An amazing diversity of insects, all shapes and colors, visited the dorm. One friend had a blast taking macro photos of them.
We woke up early the next day. We were already on our way to the falls by the time the first light of the day hit the surrounding mountain tops. I managed to catch the falls with a thin veil of fog.
The falls was as pristine as I remembered it; the water was crystal clear and freezing cold. I am glad the locals would rather keep this as it is now than promote it as a tourist destination. They tried it before, and found out the fees they are collecting could not even cover the expenses for cleaning up the garbage left by irresponsible visitors.
Some say that by showing photos of Imugan we are in a way contributing to its demise (since it can attract more crowds). But we can look at it in another way: I hope the photos will make everyone realize how beautiful the place is and the importance of make sure it stays that way.