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Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet | Life Behind the Mountains

Looking at the bus window I was all night wondering to where I and Albert were heading next at the vast mountainous province of Benguet. All I know was that we were both much decided with itchy feet to leave the metro on the night before the rush and glam of Valentine’s Day celebration. And for doing so, you can call us as  the Grinch of Valentine’s Day as we simply wish this day of sweet romance and blossoming roses and peak of traffic jam, the sudden unavailable tables in restaurants and rooms in most hotels, disappear or at least evaporate into the mist of yesterday’s past.

Reaching Baguio City at 4 in the morning was an uneasy feeling for me, curving my gut to maintain the heat in my core. Damn, even without the Siberian cold front, the chilling temperature in the City of Pines feels like drilling deep into my bones. Brrrrrrr.

To my surprised, there was already a cab waiting for us across the integrated bus terminal just at the back of SM Baguio. Albert told me that the driver was a distant relative of our contact in Tinongdan and his service would cost us only half of the original tariff we could get from the random taxi in the city. Whoa! Sounds good to me, hop in! Way to go Albert.

The dawn was about to break when we reached the pitch dark town of Itogon. In my calculation it took us less than 40 minutes to reach the well-lit 3-floored barangay hall of Tinongdan. We were greeted by Ms. Evelyn Balbenis, the barangay secretary with a welcoming smile and a hospitable gesture, offering us with overflowing local hot coffee, and whoa the hot drink literally kicked our senses back to reality. 

ICOLOS and the Great River of Agno

At the back of the barangay hall were the men and women all busy preparing the meal to be served to barangay members and guests as our visit fell on the day of the festivity of Colos and the traditional Caniao was on set on this special occasion in Tinongdan, Itogon. Colos refers to the river Agno and this celebration is embraced by all the people that live along the great river starting from the highland of Bugias down to Lingayen Gulf where the river ends.

Bridge of Coyoco and the once mighty Agno River
In the attempt not to waste a minute in the ancestral domain of the Ibaloys, we trekked down to the old settlement of Tinongdan, the Sitio Cayoco, where it is connected by the 90.8 meter Cayoco Bridge. The bridge stands more than 50 meters over the silent and greenish water of Agno. That was quite a height for me and with the addicting scenery, it was hard for me to move forward from the middle of the steel bridge appreciating  nature’s gift of wonder.

The Home that Transcends Time

Tribal houses of Ibaloi in Sitio Coyoco, Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet
We have never thought that beyond the simplicity of the cradle town hides some of the houses that had been standing as early as 1938, untouched by the chaos of World War II when Japanese occupied Baguio City in 1945. It was a blessing that we even met one of the oldest couples in the sitio, Lolo Damulo and Lola Adela Cabson, 94 and 89 years old respectively. Speaking to them was like whispering into the thin air as both cannot speak and understand Tagalog until a young "Manang" intervene and saved the day, serving as our interpreter, breaking the language barrier.

According to the couple, their house was hand built as early as 1940 out of the indigenous pine tree that used to grow abundantly near their ancestral domain. And the beams that have supported the house were made out of local woods known as “Dyasdyas”. I have never heard of this hardwood before but as the way it holds the small building, the sturdy structure looks like it will stand for the next millennium. You will be awed to know that not a single nail was used to build their house and this was really an amazing fact to digest.

Petican Rice Terraces of Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet
Down the sitio was the source of their daily nourishment, a miniature of Banawe Rice Terraces known as Petican. It is no longer new to some that our great ancestors have survived the harsh mountainous environment by adapting to the changes to provide the needs of their tribesmen. 

To survive, the people of Cayoco showed their prowess by converting the mountainous side into rice terraces and this treasure had been passed to the present generation. Petican is a traditional agricultural technique passed on to their children that saved the people from total starvation. Standing on the edge of Petican, I could only imagine the simple but beautiful way of life of the people of Coyoco. I am all hands down to their great tradition and culture that persisted through years.

I’ll let you hang for a moment as I am still out of words to describe their authentic tribal celebration. For an outsider, the word brutal will be uttered, but for someone who understands being in commune with culture and nature,you will feel that  HARMONY  fills the air. Caniao is next!

To know more about Tinongdan please visit their facebook page by clicking HERE


  1. That's something to look forward on the next post Dennis. I'm big fan of Ibaloy tribe since elementary days, blame it Hekasi. lol

  2. I think that bridge, and that rice field (your encounter with cow) is the same when we traversed Mt. Ugo. I just thought. If so, I think I've been there. :)

  3. I am running out of words to describe their unique tradition... but it was solemn and the unity is very obvious in the community

  4. yup , it is one of the entry or exit point from Mt. Ugo. But most climbers fail to acknowledge the rich local tradition dwelling in this place .

  5. Rochkirstin SantosMarch 5, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Seeing these wonderful pictures and hearing their story present plenty of good vibes. Now we know that cultures and traditions of dancing and festivals are still conducted by those in Koronadal.

  6. Such a colorful and beautiful grand celebrations, hope to see this personally. First time to hear such Tinalak festival, honestly. Thank you for posting.

  7. I can see how people radiate with their smiles in the tinalak festivities which also makes the place really colorful and festive.

  8. What a very colorful festival. I hope I can visit Mindanao someday and experience this kind of event.

  9. I've always wanted to go to South Cotabato but I've always been too afraid to travel. I see I'm missing a lot.

  10. I really admire our people on their dedication to make celebrations like this possible. It goes to show how grateful they really are as what feasts are all about.

  11. I really admire your enthusiasm to travel and capture fantanstic photos of people and places. Mindanao is really the best!

  12. tama di niyo ako niyaya ni sir albert favorite place ko din kaya ang benguet hehehe

  13. As always, you have beautiful photos ever and have captured another beautiful culture of Philippines!

  14. tnalak is one of our trademark as filipino... this festival just shows how proud we are with it. Yahweh bless.