Atok: A Pollen Land Delight

“Tomorrow’s a holiday. You goin’ to watch the movie?” my friend asked me referring to the superhero movie that took the country by storm.

“Nope. I have other plans.” My friend looked at me expectantly. “I need to catch some fresh air. You’re welcome to join me,” I said.

The next day, my friend and I met at Km. 5, La Trinidad to catch our six o’clock trip. The van terminal was not crowded but passengers came almost nonstop which cut our wait to just about 10 minutes. The ride eventually trundled off the depot with several of its windows opened, ushering in a cold gust of air which was rather comfortable. However, as the elevation increased the cold air bit deeper. One-by-one, passengers shut their windows down. “Oh, no. Please throw a window open,” I pleaded silently. Providentially, the driver left his window copiously opened giving the van ventilation.

Most of the older passengers dosed off while the younger ones, my friend included, had their earphones in their ears lost in who knows where. With no one to talk to, I turned my attention outside. The sun was newly raised and the sky looked fresh from a restful slumber.  Giant cotton balls capped the peaks of most mountains and hills.   The highway seemed to breathe subtly as the dew that bathed it slowly vaporized. Then I began to dream of mountains, fields and flowers.

After a two-hour ride, we dropped off Sayangan, Km. 50. Excitement running in our veins, we quickly broke our fast at a stop-over restaurant where we also registered for the tour. We were offered two options. The first was package one which was at Php 1,100.00 inclusive of transportation and tour guide fees. It covers a tour at Lourdes Grotto located in Bosleng, Wagangan and at the Benguet Kochi Sisterhood Park, then back to this stopover restaurant or be brought to the Northern Blossom or Cabbage Roses farm. Package two, on the other hand, is worth Php 1,500.00. It covers similar components as those of package one but with the addition of Mt. Timbak. We went for the latter option.

Our first stop was at Mt. Timbak, the third highest mountain in Luzon, ninth in the Philippines. To get there, we travelled up to Km. 55 then covered about a  kilometer off- the- highway ride until Mt. Timbak’s midpoint where the 30 – minute hike to its summit jumpstarted.

From a distance, the mountain was a sea of green dotted with vibrant colors of pink, lavender, yellow, red and orange.  As we trudged the slippery footpath, I heard bees visiting the flowers – some wild, some cultivated- that lined the footpath and extended afar. Their petals were sprightly, soft and sweet-smelling. They were fragile as they easily sliced apart when plucked by a careless hand. Other petals were held captives by an army of leaves. Then I said to myself, “How can I not fall in love with this place? What’s a man compared to this?”

Lost in nature’s resplendence, we very soon reached Mt. Timbak’s summit which gave us a 360 – degree glimpse of its neighboring places such as Mt. Pulag. Below, terraced farms were extensive. Various crops formed almost perfect lines on well-defined beds that reflected the effort farmers put into their farm. The sight was a joyous reminder to take time and just be.  And after ohhs and ahhs our tour guide said, “Next time you visit come early so you could witness the sunrise.”  “Oh, we missed that. We’ll do for sure. We need to spend the night here though,” I said contemplating. “There are affordable transient houses around,” she replied. Pleased to have heard such, we waved the place good-bye.

To get back to the base we treaded a different path that gave us an equally striking view. We passed by hardworking farmers who were unmindful of the sun beating down upon their backs. A few paused to smile and to offer us some of their harvest but we declined politely for the weight might slow us down.

We then travelled back to Paoay which gave as an opportunity to stop at Halsema’s highest point for some photo op. From there, we went to Lourdes Grotto where we scaled some massive rocks. Atop an enormous rock we had a clear, grand view of Atok. Observing silence is a must for tourists since it is a Catholic outdoor shrine frequented by pilgrims.

The Benguet Kochi Sisterhood Park was last on our package list. I was expecting to see a riot of pink cherry blossoms but have not seen one. The cherry blossom trees are still young, two years old to be exact. In a year or so, I hope to see what I have imagined earlier. I really can’t wait for that time when I get to picnic under those cherry blossom trees, whether during their bud sprout or peak bloom stage.

Our ultimate stop was at the Northern Blossom or Cabbage Roses farm. A private property, we paid Php 200.00 entrance fee per person. The flower terraces thrived with local flora giving enthusiasts that sensory delight. The flowers bursting into blooms seemed to compete for our attention. Who wouldn’t cave in to such sensuous sight?  We stopped, smelled their subtle fragrance, caressed their fragile petals, and took photos of them, and desired to remember them and to share them with others long after we have left the place.

Back home, I scrolled through my colleagues’ posts on our group chat. They all had one talk – the superheroes film. But mine was a different story. Mine was a story of nature, and of genial people.

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