By: Ben Muni

I usually leave some of my stuff inside my backpack for a few days after I arrive from a trip, especially if I just came from a hike in the mountains. Except for the things that need to be immediately air dried or washed, I leave my outdoor stuff lying inside my pack for a few days. This helps me retain better memories of the place that I’ve been into through whatever scents or smell that my stuff acquired from the mountains. They say that the best way to remember something is thru its smell. I believe it too.

In my recent trip to the Cordillera mountains, I tested a new hiking sandals by using it thru a day hike in Sagada. The morning trek from the Echo Valley trail to the Bokong Falls (also known as “Small Falls”) passed thru some of the best views of Sagada as seen from the points-of-view of the creeks and rivers that cut thru its limestone karst landscape. In the afternoon, our group climbed uphill from the Sagada town center to Lake Danum, then proceeded to even greater heights in Sagada’s Mount Ampacao. I’ve been to Sagada many times before in the last ten years but it was my first time to climb up this mountain. Truly, an old place that you’ve been into can always give you new experiences and new perspectives.

The underground rivers and creeks that cut thru Sagada’s limestone karst formations,flowing into its famous caves are beauties in their own right. (Photo by Elainne Encila)

While hiking thru the trail in Mount Ampacao, a plant whose seeds stick into one’s clothing and footwear made its way into my sandals, creating an ethnic-like design into it. I did not remove the green clingy seeds until a few days I arrived in Manila, when they had all started to dry up and look liked something else. The seeds reminded me of my place in this world – temporary, a need to put myself into something that I can hold on to, and to have a purpose, that is to make more of what I have now and ensure that it will last into the future.

But what this trip really gave me is the realization of an idea. Every environmentalist has a place that she calls ‘home.’ By this, I am not referring exactly to one’s hometown or I-am-at-home-with-the-world sentiments. Rather, I am referring to a physical space, be it the mountains or the seas, wherein one’s love for nature and environmentalism are rooted. My most recent hike in the Cordillera reminded me that it is my home, where the roots of my being an environmentalist are firmly rooted. I was born and grew up in Bicol and I love that place too, a home that is of equal importance to the Cordillera. I guess the relationship can be like the one with your mother and with your life partner. Bicol is my mother, Cordillera is my life partner.

Hiking towards Bokong Falls in Sagada, following the river system. (Photo by Elainne Encila)

After that trip, I wrote the following words in a Facebook post along with a photo taken in Batad in Ifugao, where our group proceeded after our Sagada adventures. “The beauty of spending time outdoors, such as hiking the trails of the amphitheatre-like Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue, Ifugao, is that you get a sense of proportion of your own place in this world: small, fleeting, and subject to the ways of Nature. Rumi once said: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” I do not know if I understood him correctly, but I think using the lessons I have learned while spending time with Nature as the map and compass for the direction of the roads that I will take in my life will be a modest interpretation of that adage.”

Hiking in the Batad Rice Terraces in Ifugao – an adventure always worth repeating. (Photo by Vienna Encila)

I wrote this because I think that my experiences with the people and the landscape of the Cordillera in the ten years that I spent my life  there as a student and as a young teacher has provided me a way of knowing the world. The complexities of people’s cultures, the intricacies of natural processes that sustain a beautiful landscape, and the fragile state of affairs between humans and the environment – all of these I learned during my numerous excursions into the mountains to satisfy my wanderlust and my yearning for adventure.

The clear water of Lake Danum in Sagada. (Photo by Lovs Soriano)

I would not claim that I have totally understood the Cordillera landscape, including its people. What my experiences in those ten years that I lived in the Cordillera and the succeeding visits that I made after leaving my home had taught me is that any form of relationship has to be nurtured. My love affair with the Cordillera did not stop when I left the mountains to live and work in the big city. Rather, going back to your roots is an important event that one must take regularly. It is the only way that will keep your feet on the ground.


Ben Muni is one of the founding members of the Cordillera Conservation Trust. He was also a part of the Philippine Central Cordillera Traverse in 2005. The first ever crossing of the Philippine Cordillera on foot, that was the birth place of the idea for the Cordillera Conservation Trust. He now works as a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines and sits on the board of the Cordillera Conservation Trust


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