Ever since we arrived in Western Visayas, by the sea shore in Iloilo, almost 4 years ago, I have been regularly told that in order to get a bit of respite from the usually oppressive heat and humidity that you had to head for the mountains. Since we have not been On the Road Again for quite a while we decided to visit the Mountains around Bucari.
Bucari is an area with mountainous terrain situated in the highlands of Leon and Alimodian, both are municipalities of Iloilo province in Panay island. It is composed of Bucari, a barangay in Leon and neighbouring barangays of which 14 barangays are in Leon and 7 barangays are in Alimodian. Its is known as the “Summer Capital of Iloilo” and declared as a special economic zone for tourism and ecological enterprise due to its cool climate, topography, highland attractions and scenery.
It is located in 58 kilometres from Iloilo City, the capital of Iloilo Province. It comprises a total land area of 10,432.875 hectares (25,780.20 acres). The area spans terrain and mountain ridges that is part of the Central Panay mountain ranges.
Fauna found in the area include the Visayan warty pig, snakes, lizards, hawks, frogs, hornbill and monkeys. Species of existing endemic flora are pine trees, narra, teak, bacan, antipolo, hambabalop, mahogany, antosan-dilaw, kultingan and undergrowth coffee.
The temperature in the area ranges from 18 to 20 °C (64 to 68 °F) and dipping to 10 °C (50 °F) with the wind factor from December to February.
The average elevation of the populated mountain ridge is 600 metres (2,000 ft) above sea level. This elevation surrounds a valley serving as the catchment of Aganan River. The highest point in the area is 1,300 metres (4,300 ft).
Local farmers grow vegetables such as asparagus, cabbages, baguio beans, sayote, eggplants, carrots and fruits such strawberries, mangoes and bananas. Rice is planted in rice terraces similar to the popular Banaue Rice Terraces of the Ifugao.
The area also has several very interesting ‘tourist attractions’ although we were not able to see many on this list – it would make your trip to the mountains worthwhile to try to get to see them all…but remember it could get very expensive. (More on this later). Some of these attractions include:
- Tabionan Reforestation Area
- Reforestation area where 30-50 year old pine trees cover almost 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) area.
- Mansiga Cave
- Found in Tabionan where a person has to lower himself about 30 feet (9 m) below the side of a cliff to have access to its entrance.
- Susong Dalaga or Ambassador Hill
- The highest point land-mark along the road to Bucari, barren of trees and showing beautiful patterns on the hard rock. This is a twin mountain with similar striking tips and perfect cones at about a distance of 20 metres (66 ft) from the top. The natives called it “Susong Dalaga” or the “breasts of a maiden”.
- Imoy Falls
- Located at the headwaters of the Aganan River in barangay Camandag. The stream where the fall drops has crystal clear waters and is surrounded by big awesome trees and beautiful wild flowers.
- Tomas Confesor Marker
- The Tomas Confesor Marker is a landmark on top of a hill for lasting remembrance of bravery and heroism in honor of Tomas Confessor who established the Free Government of Panay and Romblon, the only civil resistance government that did not fall to the Japanese during WW2.
We were headed: Really Deep into the Boonies on a road that allegedly didn’t even qualify as a cow path.
As a result of the warnings we had been given, we decided we had better put together a crack team of professionals to ensure we got there and back safely. Our crew for this On the Road Again episode our regular team: Nilo and Jomarie, was supplmented with Roger ‘The Manager’ Parrenas who was in charge of logistics – primarily, he handled the snacks and refreshments. How hard is it to pack a couple packs of Oreo Cookies and half a dozen bottles or so of SM Bonus water? We’re not quite sure but he apparently did a stellar job.
The last member of our crack team of professionals was Jerry Ciudadano, known to his friends as Sonny (he’s also a neighbour), – who was to act as the Guide for this expedition, since he had been to the summit on several occasions in the past.
The crack Summit team is pictured here just before embarking for the final push to the summit.
After our regular 4:45am walk at the Esplanade in Iloilo we headed home, got cleaned up, had some breakfast and headed for the Mountains. It was 7:45am when we finally mounted the “Wreck of the Road” and head for the hills.
The trip was uneventful through Santa Rita, Alimodian and Leon…even to Buga – a peaceful and quite drive. Just past Buga we started into the “foothills” and started our climb to the summit.
The road grew steeper, bumpier, paved or concreted roads gave way to a gravel road, which gave way to a narrower ‘dirt track’ with cliffs on either side. All the way to the top we kept seeing incontrovertible evidence of landslides and road washouts…
We stopped at the site of the road works here, because it appeared that there had been a landslide some days ago and a lot of worked had and was being accomplished. By the side of the cliff into the valleys below the view was amazing.
Moving on we went from concreted sections of road to dirt track within meters of each other…as Nilo drove cautiously up the mountain through the mud, muck and corruption the car bottomed out several times and more than a few times I thought we might leave some important parts of the undercarriage or the oil pan of the Wreck of the Road on that mountain track and end of being really stuck on a mountain road in the middle of nowhere with my best friend and his car now living in Manila…and then watch out even more for the lecture you would get from She Who Must be Obeyed…guess we shouda thought about that before we left – because she did warn us and tell us what would happen – that’s “The Famous: Didn’t I tell you that would happen?” – Good Lord I hate that statement…
Here comes the art.
And people, actually live up here in the middle of nowhere.
As we passed the Falling Rocks sign, we can into a dip in the road caused by a washout. It was muddy and messy and of course we got stuck in the mud. We were axle deep in the stuff and it took us almost 40 minutes to get out…and it took some of my experience getting stuck in the snow to get us out – always remember if you ever get stuck in sand, snow or mud…keep your wheels straight and rock the car backwards and forwards and it will eventually get out with a little help from your pushers…
We’re heading into a small settlement up in the mountains…
Whoa, check this out!
And there’s even a cowboy!!!
A little further down the road more scenery to die for…and a “Pine Tree Plantation” and a farmer working his fields crammed full of cabbage. They also grow asparagus, eggplants, carrots, potatoes, onions. You want fresh fruit and veggies – here’s where you can get it.
Our destination was the Fruit and Vegetable Cooperative – where a series of locals each have plots of very very fertile land a grow a wide variety of field crops, fruit and vegetables. Our progress on the road ends our attempt to visit the Co-op, too back I really want to see that. We make a U-turn and start heading back. At the fork, we start heading south towards home.
Funny, what’s the deal? No one said anything about that fork to the North. I ask Sonny what the deal is. He explains that from the junction onwards the road is only suitable for one lane with sheer cliffs on both sides. The mountainside going up on one side and the sheer cliff going down on the other side. He tells me that the road ends about kilometers away and that the only way to access it is by motorcycle. Apparently a one way ride will cost you about 3oo Pesos from the Junction. There is a ‘mountain resort’ at the end of road… I’m happy with that, very interested in seeing the end of road and the resort but the mere thought of getting on a motorcycle puts an end to that. Never driven or ridden a motorcycle (or as my Dad, the orthopaedic Surgeon, used to call them “Murder Cycles”) and frankly have no intention of doing either for the balance of my life here.
We’re headed home and we have a few more interesting things on the way down.
I’m having fun being a ‘back seat’ driver and I’m taking pictures from back there… Am I seeing things, did I just see a group of mountain bikers pedalling up this mountain? OMG, who do they do that?
Well, when I finally got there, I wasn’t expecting very much. A small country Chapel in the middle of nowhere. I was surprised.
The Church of Santo Nino was small, plain and actually quite nice with a couple really nice touches that I really liked.
We’re almost there. We’re travelling along the Sibalom River and we spot some nice scenery.