The Philippine Archipelago never stops in surprising us, as more new destinations are revealed by trailblazers and explorers; thanks also to digital technology that brings the evidence in real-time. Take this, for example, a promising destination is just made known through a web-based free global map that features satellite images by a Visayan local. This led him and a local magazine show to explore and feature it. That episode gave me a desire to see the place myself. Hence, after months of planning, I finally found myself on the jump-off point leading to this vast hidden spectacle of the province of Antique – the Rice Terraces of San Remigio.
We set foot first in the other two provinces of the Panay Island, Capiz, and Aklan, prior to visiting Antique. I traveled that time with my friend and colleague, Catherine. We reached Valderrama’s junction via Bugasong already quite late at night – the transit from Caticlan via a public bus reached more than five punishing hours. We left the Caticlan bus terminal past 3:00 PM. We are already in contact with the Barangay Captain of General Fullon, Noli Maguad, and we are lucky, he recommended us a homestay in the town. Barangay General Fullon is the lone community that exists along the hidden rice terraces, reaching there requires a long trek traversing five mountains.
At the Bugasong junction point (or “crossing” as locals call it), while waiting for further instructions from Captain Noli, a woman dressed in her office attire noticed us and did a bit of questioning why we are here. We responded politely – not knowing that she is a Municipal Hall Staff and personally knew Captain Noli. She got excited about our intention to see and explore the rice terraces and she advised us to do some registrations prior to our actual trekking. She even offered us a ride to our homestay which she herself coordinated with Captain Noli. It is important for travelers to register at a tourism office for monitoring and proper briefing.
Upon arrival at the homestay, we are welcomed warmly and treated as if we are extended family. We exchanged stories for a bit, and shortly called it for the night, since we have to recuperate from the two-day journey we had, and organize ourselves for the expected long trek tomorrow.
The Long Trek
Alarm broke, peeled our eyes, and heaved our aching bodies. After donning our trek ready outfits, we are welcomed with a nice hot cup of coffee and light breakfast. We chartered a tricycle ride and darted to the registration area. Excited filled my body as we sped off through the cold early morning air of Valderrama town.
Fortunately, Captain Noli was able to add another trekker – Mike Jose, an accountant, and an Antique local who is now Manila-based. He is an avid mountaineer and summited the treacherous Mt. Igcuron the day before. He joined us as we registered along with our assigned trail guide.
After the short briefing, we left the jump-off point a few moments after twilight. The jagged mountain horizon was apparent in the dark blue sky until the first rays of the sunlight started to inch its way on the valley.
From relatively flat rice fields dotted by occasional coconut trees and other fruit-bearing ones, the tight footpath starts to gradually increase its incline after less than an hour, signifying our approach to the foothills of the mountain range. We traversed many streams and brooks, including a small dam structure used to irrigate the fields below.
After entering beyond the woodland edge, we are now surrounded with thicker foliage and the plains start to disappear from view as we headed deeper and higher along the trodden footpath.
We started to breathe harder as the trail proves its increasing difficulty. The sky turned overcast and the colder wind blew through our faces. There are more steep inclines as we approach the shoulder of the first mountain. It is said that we have to cross five mountains to reach the barangay.
The rain fell and we donned our raincoats. The trail is muddy but surprisingly not that slippery. The sound of the rain within the forest is calming yet eerie. The usual distant coos we here are dampened. Our path now becomes a mini river. I had a frightening thought that time, “What if there would be landslide along the way?”. Observing the surroundings, there is nothing but trees and trees and trees and more huge trees – their roots could have clamped tightly the soil on to the bedrock below.
Nearing the shoulder of the first summit, we have to conquer first the steepest part of the trail. I am not sure but it seems to be more than 60 degrees. I struggled much on this but kept on trudging. After a quick rest, we gathered our strength and made it. The spot has a crude wooden bench under a tree canopy where locals would rest and catch breath. Resting there is already a marvel. The view on the eastern directions offers the other side of the mountain ranges of Antique and, while the western side offers a panoramic view of the vast Sulu Sea. The view is mystical and enchanting. The rain had stopped. The landscape is greener. The crisscrossing mists and clouds dance their way through the many jagged peaks from afar. The cool blow of the wind was like a therapeutic massage, draining our exhaustion. From there, you can see parts of the trail; however, we could not see yet our destination. It was, I calculated, at least two mountains more from the horizon.
The trail is now scenic as we head to an open grassy area with a roller coaster-like trail at the side of the next mountains. We trekked for more hours, and the sun has not shown itself yet. More dense forest and thick canopy continue to shroud us against the open sky.
The inner climate at the mountains of Valderrama proves to be beneficial for the growth of a rare Rafflesia – dubbed as the world’s largest bloom. Fortunately, our guide is knowledgeable about the whereabouts of these rare sightings. He knows where to spot one in this endless sea of leaves, trunks, roots, and vines. I notice he kept on peering sideways, as if on a hunting mode. Suddenly, he leaped sideways and made a short clearing, I think he found one. It was a stroke of luck – he found a double bloom!
The trail seesawed as we advanced more river crossings and more thick forests trail ahead of us. It is hard to imagine that locals would have to suffer this long arduous trek just to get essentials from the nearest town. We met locals along the way, women carrying days-worth of food stock men bearing heavy stuff on the shoulders, – from a television set to huge logs, to thick cable wires, construction materials, and petrol in huge gallon bottles, daily essential needs, and many more. Truly, I admired their physical endurance and skill in balancing their way to and from General Fullon on a long taxing trail.
The Hidden Poblacion
Unexpectedly, I saw a GI sheet gleaming through the sea of green, which is undeniably a roof of a modern house. I shouted, “We made it.” Promptly, our guide told us we are just past halfway. As we continued our slog, we heard distant barks of a dog. I did not initially think the fear of an imminent attack of any living creature but felt a sigh of relief knowing that there is a community or civilization nearby or simply put, there could be human beings near us.
After making a few more turns on the undulating trail and increasingly rests, more and more roofs appeared on view. At last, this is it, the gates to the community! We quickly continued through the path as we get excited, and with the final turn, we saw the group of houses huddled together unraveled. We can hear conversations, we can hear more pet dogs barking, and obviously, we are really tired. But the agony does not end there. Our destination is still an hour away. We have to cross another hill to reach the house of Captain Noli, at the Poblacion of the barangay.
Upon arriving at the fronting community, we are welcomed with stares and smiles – children staring at us since of our different getup and smiles from the adults signifying their welcome. Some offered water, while some offered a place to seat and rest, as the Poblacion has a considerable distance.
Going to our destination, we met students going home from their classes (Yes, they have an elementary school deep within the mountain ranges). Unexpectedly, their reception is positive. They immediately wave their hands on us and uttered their welcome messages. That is a surprise, although, they certainly would see and interact with visitors rarely.
One last flight of stairs, we landed on a full-sized basketball court, and right beside it is the home of the Captain Noli. We are welcomed by his loving wife, Mam Jossa. She immediately offered cold drinking water and seats to rest. They run a sari-sari store there, and we requested if we can have instant noodles for snacks. That snack was the most inviting and therapeutic I had that moment. We gathered at their modest kitchen with the view of the basketball court.
Since the windows are open, we occasionally received inquisitive looks from the children, some of them calling our attention. I wanted to play with them but my tired body disagrees. Mam Jossa required as too rest and nap as we need to do a bit more of trekking to get to the view deck. She offered their wooden bed, and instantly, I dozed off to dreamland. Their house is among the few who were able to have concrete walls. Imagine the logistical requirement to move the construction materials from the nearest town. Workers passing and balancing along that exhausting trail while bearing on their shoulders or backs the heavy materials for many hours.
The View Deck
It was past 1:00 PM when we woke up from our power nap. We stretched and prepared for the final stretch of this leg. The trek to the view deck from the poblacion is relatively shorter. When we hopped out from the door, more children greeted us with their inquisitive stares and smiles. Continuing our walk until we reached the last house, the rice terraces, in full green state, welcomed us.
We passed through the carved rice paddies and until we reached an ascending grassy trail. From there, the view gets better. Finally, we reached the view deck, we shouted for victory when we stepped to the endpoint of our destination!
It was the best view I had in my entire traveling history – A river meandering below the foot of towering mountain ranges, the clustered houses along with the vast, expansive and green rice terraces with water buffalos grazing, lone huts among the slopes, adding up the coconut trees seemingly like adornments, the distant waterfalls we notice with gleaning white cascades, the wispy clouds above us and fresh cooler air flowing our very spot. It was hard to suppress my childlike delight to run around the view with arms widespread as if catching or receiving the invisible endowments of Mother Nature.
This view deck is a campsite too. If not for a tight itinerary, we could have extended our stay here. We took photographs for evidence and enjoyed the view. I tried to absorb the scenery as I can. I was overwhelmed by this rare beauty, an intact rice terraces in full green, but with a thriving community. Our guide said that soil in General Fullon is healthy that it can support three harvests per year – this I have to check.
General Fullon is not yet developed for casual tourists. There is no developed road that could even support two-wheeled vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles, the only way to go there is to endure the many hours taxing hike. Mam Jossa has mentioned to us the government is already constructing a road originating from Valderrama. I hope that the project will finish as planned, not just for tourism purposes, but for the locals to appreciate other essential services they need.
The Return Hike
We are not able to see the Kawa Waterfalls which is about another half an hour trek more. Our tired feet and legs decided that we need to rest and recover for the return hike. Mam Jossa was kind enough to let us refill our hydration packs and gifted us a bunch of bananas. It was a rare variety and they call it “milagrosa” – if my memory is correct. To describe, the general appearance looks like a saba, when you peel it, the flesh looks like lacatan, but when you tasted it, it resembles latundan. They also believed that this variety has many medicinal properties. I was happy to have a bunch of it my backpack. We bade goodbye to Mam Jossa, our temporary mother in General Fullon – the sad part. She treated us as if we were her children.
We also bade goodbye to the locals we met along the way. The sun is already up and our damp bags need a little drying. We have already the idea of the trail and this time, the bananas are helpful. I consume one every hour and did not have any cramps at all.
We rested on our favorite spot where we witness the sun almost at the horizon of Sulu Sea. Surely, we will meet the dark of the night along the trail. The slippery descending trail was our challenge as the sky continues to dim. I forgot to bring a flashlight and my source of illumination is from my craggy old iphone4, wishing the battery will survive out until we reach Barangay Iglinab, the jump-off point. After many hours of trekking downwards through the night, lights did twinkle through the darkness – surely, we can now see the jump-off point. Following the lone foot trail, I hurried attentively on each step until I reached the flatlands! I sighed a deep breath and waited for my other teammates from there. It was almost 11:00 PM when we reached the registration area and met another barangay captain. We made it back safely.
Travel guide to the Rice Terraces of Barangay General Fullon.
- Nearest Airport is via San Vicente in Antique from Clark with Philippine Airlines.
- Alternative flying via Iloilo or Caticlan . See photo below.
- Once you reach these airports, you can hop on transit to bring you to van terminals that can transport you to Bugasong Junction.
- From Bugasong Junction, charter a tricycle to Valderrama town.
- It is required to register at their Local Police Office.
- Go to Barangay Iglinab and look for the registration area.
- Comment below if you wish to have the contact number of Kap. Noli Maguad.
- For cost details, check Chubby Byahera’s post here
I am thankful to Catherine and Mike who joined me in this arduous yet memorable journey in the province of Antique. Surely, I will be back to San Remigio, for the third time.