The cold weather at Baguio was nothing compared to the freezing temperature at Atok in Benguet. Still, I was confident in my three-layered clothing as we arrive at Baguio’s Dangwa Station. The two-hour 74-peso ride to Atok was a thrill in itself. Atok is an almost untouched abode as the pine trees tower proudly along the meandering Halsema Highway, which goes higher and higher to one of the highest points in the Philippines.
The blanket of clouds, the lush green mountains, the cold, fresh air and the ocassional whiff of chicken dung were signs we were already in Atok. The region’s climate is perfect for farming and agriculture. Patches of cabagges and lettuce could be seen lined up on the side of the mountains. Wild flowers are vibrantly growing in some of the farmland. We were enjoying the view while getting a bit dizzy in this rollercoaster ride. The bus was old and a bit rugged, but the aged driver has managed to smoothly pass the freaky sharp curves and winding lanes that could go on forever.
We were instructed to register at Atok’s Municipal Hall in Sayangan before beginning any tour. My heart sank when we learned that the Northern Blossom Flower Farm was closed,* but the young tour guides have offered us two packages. We opted for the one with Mt. Timbak. It costs about Php1,500 because it includes three other tourist spots and a van that would take us to these places. The price is meant for five people, but my friend and I were willing to take it at any cost.
If taking that tour option, I suggest you should start with Mt. Timbak first. The travel time from the jump-off point to the top of the mountain could take about 15 to 20 minutes through car (or van in our case). Otherwise, it could be taken in an hour by foot (or two hours if you take loads of selfies). Ice, our tour guide, offered us to stay for a night at a transient house on the mountain before we continue with the rest of the tour on the next day. A night at a transient house costs only Php200. But if you are brave enough to brace the cold weather in a tent, one night in the mountain costs only Php100.
Our host, Josie Camsol, told us that tourism plans at Atok has only started on February this year. She said her family is used to mountaineers dropping by their house. She admitted she does not want to charge her visitors, but representatives from the Tourism Department have instructed locals to do so. I believe these instructions are made to help Atok’s residents as tourism is a financially viable industry.
The afternoon became lazier as the clouds have completely covered the scenery. We tried to pitch a tent on the balcony, but we ended up spending the night inside the house.
By the break of dawn, we trekked the summit to catch the sunrise. We were lucky because our host’s farm is located on the summit. I was amazed with the astromerias and the daisies that stood stoic in the cheery, cold wind. The cabbage heads, although not ripe for harvest, appeared sumptuous as they were covered with dew. They became more alive when the golden rays touched them. The sun was already stretching itself from sleep behind the nearby mountains.
As the third highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Timbak offers a grand view of nearby towns like Kabayan. The sea of clouds could be seen on the nearby mountains. Mt. Pulag clearly hovered the others on the other side. Hello, pet, it’s been three years since I first fell in love with you.
A station of the cross sits solemnly the other side of Mt. Timbak. One can pass there upon descending. Everything around the mountain is simply breathtaking and I cannot help but thank God for His wonderful creation.
We thanked our host and her family for accomodating us before we embarked in the second leg of our tour. It was 8 am, but the clouds were starting to descend upon the mountains again, slowly covering the lush farmland. The heavens seem to have given us a sneak peak of Mt. Timbak’s beauty only for today. But the place is enveloped into their sanctuary again because they want to preserve this treasure for generations to come.
* As of this writing, the Northern Blossom Flower Farm will re-open on Sept. 25, 2018. It is currently closed due to the replanting season as the flowers were already harvested.