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The Search for the Kabayan Fire Mummies

As the bus swayed along the scenic rough road in Bokod, Benguet, I find myself feeling an odd mix of amusement and boredom. Me and two friend have been traveling since 11:00 PM the previous day and I haven’t slept much. It was already past 2:00 PM and we were still making our way through remote communities, passing through cliffs squeezed between mountains. The views were amazing but my ass was in pain. "Are we there yet?”. I sighed as I slumped on my elbow with my head out the window. We passed an area where clouds kissed the vast mountains that stretched for kilometers. It was astonishing that a community exists where this arduous journey ends.

After an hour or so, the bus made its final stop in front of the tourist center in Kabayan. Yay! I excitedly climbed down to stretch and take in our surroundings. The town is quiet. There weren't any other visitors in site and we received curious, friendly looks from the by-standers.

Everywhere we turned our heads, there were mountains! Even if the town is lined up with several 2-story buildings and humble establishments, it still gave off a rustic vibe. 

We asked around for a place to stay and we were directed to the Kabayan Coop Lodge, a few blocks from the tourist center (200 Pesos/head). After settling down, we walked to the Opdas Cave which is less than a 15 minute walk from where we were. It contains piles of skulls over stone shelves. It's estimated to be about 500-1,000 years old based on a tests done by Tokyo University.  There we met the amiable family of Baban Berong who discovered the cave in 1971. 

Our last stop for the day was the Kabayan National Museum which is situated in an elevated rough road behind mountains. Its structure reminded me of a chalet rather than a museum.  

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Tan
We retired early in the night as we agreed to meet with our guide at 7:00 AM. The plan was to traverse from Barangay Poblacion up to Mt. Timbak to see more mummies. Based from our research, estimated trekking time would be 6 hours through an uphill trail. I was excited and nervous. I haven’t done a hard hike in months.

It started off as an easy stroll down the mountains, passing cliffs with views of terraces planted with various crops. Agno River which supplies water to the Ambuklao Dam can also be seen, slinking across valleys. Air was cold and there were hardly any people in sight. As an avid hiker, I was having the time of my life!

We headed to Tinongchol Burial Rock which is a 3-storey boulder with holes where you can see coffins of deceased Ibalois. After taking photos, we resumed our hike and saw the inclined road ahead. We decided to rest at a view deck where we can see terraces and the rest of Kabayan.

After several minutes, the road started snaked upwards a rocky terrain. It's very reminiscent of the infamous long, winding, torturous trails of Mt. Tapulao in Zambales. What set the Kabayan trail apart were the picturesque mountain landscapes that became more breathtaking as we moved to a higher elevation. Total trekking time lasted 5 hours before we finally decided to knock at a local’s place, the only inhabited home we found during our hike. Our guide negotiated to rent out their jeep for a ride to Mt. Timbac. It was a wise decision because we weren’t even halfway to our destination.

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Tan
We rocked inside the vehicle for 30 minutes as we made our way up Mt. Timbac. Finally, we got to the caretaker’s house who keeps the key to the caves. It was another 15 minute hike down a series of stone steps. It started to drizzle and the fog was building everywhere. Though we were tired and haven’t consumed any substantial food since last night’s dinner, the tranquil atmosphere was enough to appease our hungry tummies.

We finally got to the caves where we encountered a signage – “No Picture Taking”, so I respected that. Even if I was amazed to find mummies in such a remote location, I treat them like departed loved ones. I wouldn’t want anyone removing the lid off a coffin for the sake of a wacky souvenir shot.

Our hike to Mt. Timbac took much longer than the time we spent viewing the burial grounds or the mummies but all of it was trivial because of the rewarding mountainous scenery. This definitely made its mark as one of the best hiking trails I've ever done. :) 

We capped off our weekend adventure by hailing a bus to Baguio at Kilometer 55. At Flying Gecko along Session Road, we gorged on comfort food and drinks to celebrate our fun-filled weekend.

My friend also wrote about our trip in a more scholarly tone. (Use of an online dictionary to peruse his article is advised, haha!) . Read about it at EAZY Traveler (Travel tips included).

Travel Reminders:
  • Avoid disruptive noise when walking around Kabayan.
  • Please treat the mummies as if you are visiting a departed love one. They are not art pieces or sculptures. They were people who once lived! 

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