TREK Tanudan: Immersing in Kalinga's Rich Culture

12:51 PM Voluntourism


We decided to let TREK remain an informal organization.  It remained a non-membership and volunteer-led group with an expedition or team leader elected for each project.

This time, a co-founder, Jong, joined me in the recon.

Kalinga is a landlocked province in the mountains of Cordillera Autonomous Region.  It is also located north of Manila.  Jong's first visit to Kalinga was on a whitewater expedition on its famed and premier tourist attraction, the Chico River. 

We were fearless and excited. We targeted Lobo, based on recommendations from friends from Kalinga.  We found out there was limited public transportation to Lobo, but there is one that leaves after lunch to Seet, half way to Lobo. We almost took that and just walk the rest of the way.

Good thing we met Nats Dalanao, the leader of the local mountaineering organization, who suggested we go with him the following day.  When we did, we saw how crazy our original plan was. 

The trucks were huge, which tells a lot about the road it would traverse. 


The first part of the trip was easy, with only very 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 wonderful.  We shared rice 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 convenient 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.




Upon arriving at the village, we dropped our things at the house of Nats' uncle, who adopted us for the night. Jong was prepared with a list of items we might be able to donate and some information about the group. Nats used this to explain our group to his uncle.

Nats was really helpful. There was a language barrier, which we couldn't have hurdled without Nats help.

Nats told us about their hospitality and we were careful not to offend our hosts. We toured the village and must have taken more than five cups of coffee and servings of rice with chicken from every home we visit. I was not eating meat 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.

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

A single oil lamp lighted 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 which has one of the only four restrooms there in the village of about 3,000 residents. That is 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 to Tabuk. We cleaned up at Nats’ place and caught the last bus to Manila.

Not always a paved path

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 nighttime. We decided to start our trek to the village the next day. Most of the participants went straight to bed, without dinner. 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 to 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 costume.  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 cringed. 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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