By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
Vacation is a break from daily and common routines. Parents take days off from their work and students from their school tasks. It then serves as a time to discover alternative places to visit to unwind from problems and worries arising from work and school.
HOT SPRINGS. These pure hot springs are believed to have therapeutic and cleansing properties, including treatment for muscle pains and arthritis, among others. Photo by Brenda S. Dacpano
When the temperature dropped to a chilling 10 degrees in Baguio City and the Cordilleras, families look for warmer places to go. For inexpensive places, their destinations are hot spring resorts, which are only a few minutes drive from the city.
New hot spring resorts are in nearby Itogon town in Benguet, where at least 10 resorts now cater to local tourists. This is more than the number of resorts in Asin, in Nangalisan and Klondykes in Camp 1, both in the town of Tuba, also in Benguet.
The hot spring resorts in Barangay Poblacion, are only 30 minutes away from Baguio City. Public utility jeepneys are regularly plying that route. Drivers had mastered the rough, dusty, and zigzagging roads. Three roads lead to the spring resorts. One passes through the Antamok-First Gate mining area in Ucab and Loacan, another one passes through the Gold Creek, also in Ucab and yet another through the Balatoc Mines in Virac.
The hot springs are distinct from resorts in nearby town. Pools have been built in each resort where pure hot spring waters are directly piped from their natural source. These pure hot springs are believed to have therapeutic and cleansing properties, including treatment for muscle pains and arthritis, among others.
Hot springs are also found in Asin in Tuba, Dalupirip also in Itogon and in Daclan in Bokod, Benguet. These originate from an inactive volcano that stands in Bokod, near the country’s second highest peak, Mount Pulag.
Hot spring water bath
From the hot spring water sources, operators have reinvented the use of a mine tunnel, where anybody can go and have a soothing steam bath.
“It helps you feel better. It refreshes the body to face the new life challenges for the New Year 2009,” said Santiago Malecdan, an elder from Baguio City, when interviewed in the area.
In the tunnel, one must be extra careful though that his or her steps would not miss the rocks, or he or she would plunge into the very hot spring water. It will not scald the skin, one of the resort owners assures.
Other pools in the resorts have both cold and hot spring waters for an enjoyable warm bath. Pools have various depth designed for adults, children and even toddlers.
The resorts in Poblacion are new but these are fast becoming known as an alternative destination especially to locals. Our visit on December 30 amazed us, because all the resort cottages were occupied. Some groups had even settled under the trees. The wide spaces along the banks of the Balatoc River were also used as parking areas. The roadside was also occupied.
A new breed of tourism
An interview from resort owners showed that the resorts were not only designed as affordable for visitors. It is more for people to enjoy natural hot spring waters coupled with their simple hospitality, they said.
Operators change pool water daily especially during holidays. Considered as the peak season are the Christmas period and summer, explained Nato Ano, a resort owner across the Balatoc River. His place may be reached only through a walk on a bamboo bridge, which is an added enjoyment.
LOCAL TOURISTS, NATURAL SAUNA. From the hot spring watersources, these tourists find their way back to the pools after a short sauna bath inside the tunnel. Photo by Brenda S. Dacpano
Nearby is a resort owned Sangguniang Bayan Secretary James Sergio. An added feature in his place is a short talk with him. He can elaborate on the beautiful areas of Itogon, including the people and their issues, and the Ibaloi culture.
Entrance fees in all resorts are uniformly pegged at P20 while cottages at P200. Materials, like barbecue stand and firewood stove, are available for use in the area. In case visitors are lazy to buy their goods in the city market, food and other needs can be bought in the stores in Itogon which can be of help to local entrepreneurs.
Other “eye opener”
Itogon is known as a mining town where the oldest mines: Benguet Corporation (BC), Philex Mining Company and the Itogon Suyoc Mines Inc. (ISMI), have been operating since. In the 1950s the government built Binga Dam along the Agno River in Tinongdan, one of the remaining agricultural barangays of Itogon.
Unlike the well-developed roads in Asin and Kennon, rugged roads going to Poblacion showed however the underdevelopment of the community despite a century-old mine exploitation in the town.
Officials explained that while their resources are utilized through the dam and mines, the companies pay their taxes to where their mother offices are located. They pointed out that this situation (of receiving small share from the resource utilization) is traceable to national government policies.
Even the rivers like Balatoc had been polluted due to mine wastes and sedimentation. For some, this could be an attraction as “balkis” or gold panning is being done in the river of Poblacion where the resorts are located. Gold-panners claimed they get at least 1.5 grams daily which they could sell P1,000 per gram at the Baguio black market.
In visiting Itogon, you will enjoy the remaining resources – like the hot spring. More importantly, it is an eye-opener that utilization of the remaining resources could be more sustainable compared to their experience in corporate exploitation by large-scale mining companies and dams.
Itogon is predominantly an Ibaloi area, except the mining communities where mineworkers from lowland and nearby Cordillera provinces had established residence. #