TREK Tanudan: Immersing in Kalinga's Rich Culture

December 30, 2008 Voluntourism

A year ago, in 2007, we embarked on a mission to assist children living in mountainous areas. To commemorate the first anniversary of Trails to Empower Kids (TREK), we journeyed to Tanudan for our 3rd mission.

Tanudan is situated in the landlocked province of Kalinga, within the mountains of the Cordillera Autonomous Region.

Before the actual outreach, we conducted a reconnaissance mission. Based on recommendations from friends in Kalinga, we targeted the village of Lobo. My co-founder, Jong, accompanied me on this recon.

We took an overnight bus from Manila to Tabuk and arrived early in the morning. Discovering limited public transportation to Lobo, with only one leaving after lunch bound for Seet, halfway to Lobo, we contemplated taking that and walking the remaining distance. Fortunately, we met Nats Dalanao, the leader of the local mountaineering organization, who offered to accompany us the following day. Realizing the impracticality of our initial plan, we agreed to his suggestion.

The trucks available for the journey were substantial, indicative of the challenging terrain they would navigate.


The first part of the trip was easy, with only a few rough roads and really magnificent views of the hills and mountains of Tabuk. After three hours, we had a stopover at Seet, in a place locals call Jollibee.

It was a wonderful experience. We shared meals with fellow travelers and exchanged smiles with strangers.

The road ahead was rough, muddy, and long. Nats was right. It was a bad idea to walk from Seet to our destination. After another three hours, we arrived at the jump-off point. There were convenience stores at the jump-off. Some men were drinking, and they offered us a few shots. From there, we could already see our destination, the village of Lobo, nestled in the middle of rice terraces.

Lobo looked so quaint, so postcard-perfect. The trek all the way down to the school was quite easy. Nats took advantage of this time to brief us about the place where he used to spend most of his summer growing up.

Upon arrival at the village, we dropped our things at the house of Nats' uncle, who adopted us for the night.

Nats was really helpful. There was a language barrier, which we couldn't have hurdled without Nat's help. One of the things Nats explained to us was the hospitality of the people.

We toured the village, and everyone we met opened their homes. They offered us meals. We took either a cup of coffee or ate servings of rice with chicken from every home we visited.

I was very careful not to offend our hosts. I was still a vegetarian at that time, but I decided to eat the native chicken, which they boiled and served with salt mixed with chili. Despite their obvious hardships, they chose to serve us what they have, and I appreciated that. And it was explained to us that they consider it an honor to have us in their homes.

After a few houses, we felt so full and over-caffeinated, and we had to beg off. Still very cautious not to offend anyone.

We then proceeded to the center of the village.

There was a huge outcrop in the middle of that village. Our host climbed up with a few of the village elders. They asked us to follow. Later, we found out that it was a place of honor, and not everyone can go up there and address the village. Nats' uncle had the privilege of joining the elders being our host.

A single oil lamp lit that village meeting, so Jong brought out a butane lamp. He introduced the two of us. They asked for a few words from me, and I ended up saying a few sentences, realizing that they don't fully understand me anyway. One of the village elders welcomed us and opened the discussion. They huddled about our mission and what the school needs.

After the town meeting, we went back to Nats' uncle's place, and we found out more sad truths about Lobo. The village had sanitation problems. We were lucky to stay in a place that has one of the only four restrooms there in the village of about 3,000 residents. That was why diarrhea and other hygiene-related problems were abundant. It was difficult for me to imagine high school girls who are going through their monthly period not having a comfort room to use.

That, we thought, was the most immediate concern that we wanted to address. That, alongside bringing school supplies, books, and other educational materials the schools need to regain their tradition of excellence.

The following day, we took the first trip back to Tabuk. That was again a six-hour bumpy ride back. We cleaned up at Nats’ place and caught the last bus to Manila.

Not always a paved path: The Outreach

Before each activity, we conduct a pre-climb meeting, where we brief our participants on our project, including the itinerary, what to expect, what to bring, and some of our do’s and don’ts. This is actually a practice among mountaineers.

We told our participants our trek would only be for an hour. We ended up trekking for more than eight hours after the truck we rented broke down, and we were left with no other option but to continue on foot, lugging our backpacks and carrying whatever donations we could take.

We arrived at the jump-off site at nighttime and decided to start our trek to the village the next day. Most of the participants went straight to bed, without dinner, because of exhaustion. The homeowners at the jump-off point lent us their rooms. I often say how good the people who live in the mountains are. I say it again.

While the rest of us were preparing our food and having some conversations with the locals, we could already hear the distant sounds of gongs playing from the village.

We woke up early the following day. The sound of the gongs continued, and that must have sped up our pace.

We arrived with a delightful plethora of costumes and colors. A big, colorful parachute tent was set up in the middle of the fields. The children were lined up according to their grade level, donning traditional Kalinga attires. In the classrooms, the parents and teachers were busy preparing meals. On stage, the community officials were running through the program.

We were directed to the classrooms, which were designated as our sleeping areas.

One of the classrooms was used as the kitchen. Pigs were slaughtered, which made non-meat eaters like me cringe. The villagers knew of my diet preference, so they presented alternative viands, which made even my carnivorous friends envious. That included a traditional dish only served during their harvest thanksgiving rites.

After eating, we went to the stage area for the program, which started off with a prayer and some welcome remarks.

The elementary and high school students showed us their traditional dances, with the males beating their gongs and the females raising their hands to shoulder level while moving to the beat. Some of the parents also danced.

After that, one of the village elders wrote a poem of thanks to the members of TREK.

Some of the mothers also composed a thank you song for us, which left most of us teary-eyed and made us forget our aching legs and our longing for a good bath.

The villagers kept the festivities going with other song numbers. We took that as our chance to bond and play with the children.

The following day, a Sunday, we attended the mass at the church up in the village. The village must have been alerted as even the priest also acknowledged us during the mass. The unusual thing we saw was that instead of money, the mass-goers there donated produce.

After the mass, we had a meeting with the members of the parents and teachers’ association to decide the division of the donations. During that time, most of the donations were still in transit. We decided, later on, to leave the decisions to the heads of the Parent-Teacher Association.

We packed our bags that same afternoon and headed back to Tabuk. We saw the donations being hand-carried down to the school on our way up to the jump-off point. We arrived in Tabuk just in time for those who have work the following day to catch the last bus to Manila.

That was another successful TREK project.

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