Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Salinas Salt Spring Means A Lot

I have yet to write a more meaty account of why the town of Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, is dear to me. But for this blogpost allow me to focus on its Salinas salt spring if only to substantiate that, apart from barangays Buag, Barat, Almaguer, and Indiana, plus the Bambang public market and the Bambang Central Elementary School, there are other places in that town that I could consider part of me.

For newcomers, Salinas is that oddity in the province of Nueva Vizcaya that used to attract local as well as foreign visitors when the word tourism was not yet a household word. It is one of the places that Nueva Vizcaya, particularly the municipality of Bambang, used to be very proud of when the salt mound (that we Ilocanos called "galpang') and the spring that made it grow were both still alive. 

The salty geological structure was in fact enshrined in the Vizcaya Hymn that we used to sing with fervor in the elementary grades in this stanza: "...Winding Magat and Salinas spring, this is our Vizcaya home!"

Salinas is important to me because, aside from having been mesmerized by it since I first stepped on it as a pre-school kid (carried on the shoulders of my Uncle Anton Pudiquet), it was also the subject of the very first article I ever got published.

I will post in a separate blog that Salinas article once I find it in my "junk files". But for now, allow me to revisit the Salinas salt springs with you.

Salinas on the Web

I googled “Salinas salt spring in Nueva Vizcaya” and my search led me to http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/As/Philippines/NuevaVizcaya/SalinasSprings.htm where there is a photo of Salinas that carried this caption: Salinas Salt Spring before the earthquake. Scanned postcard from the page of Jack Kintanar Cariño, public domain due to the expired copyright length.

The earthquake the caption referred to most probably was the July 16, 1990 temblor that devastated large parts of Luzon, including the Cordillera (Baguio, Benguet), Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, La Union, and Pangasinan. 

When I googled Jack Cariño, I found out – sadly but still thankfully – that the great photo was not of recent vintage but an archive picture taken or painted (as indeed it looked like a painting) during the American colonial era in the Philippine Islands. 

You may ask how come. 

Well, first, the photo showed US soldiers with their characteristic boots and coverall outfit. And second, the caption on the photo itself said “A 229 – A Mountain of Salt, Mountain Province, Philippines” which means that the Americans who first saw it may not have been so literate on Philippine geography that time for Nueva Vizcaya as a province already existed long before the American colonialists came.

Be that as it may, I'm still thankful for the photo as it portrayed how the Salinas salt spring looked in the olden days. There are bonsai-like trees with their roots clinging on the pearly rock. The mountains in the background show the characteristic brown grasslands that may have been burned to renew the cogon or tanglag grass for the cows, or to attract deer with the resulting ashes.

Here's the photo:

The same wondermondo.com site fortunately had this generous writeup titled “Salinas Salt Spring”:

Once upon a time there was unique monument of nature near Bambang town - a snow-white mountain of travertine formed by a powerful spring.
The glistening white hill with rimstone pools (just similar to the fantastic rice terraces in Ifugao) attracted attention of people since ancient times. Nearby village -- Salinas -- got its name from it. This beautiful spring turned into major tourist attraction.
Unfortunately since the earthquake from 16th July 1990 this spring has changed its course and the white mountain has turned into a dirty grey hill covered with inscriptions and graffiti. Most likely the tectonic forces tightened some fissures and water found other ways.
Happily there have been found two more springs with active travertine formation processes in the nearby Macalong barangay, Bambang.
In 2004 local people found out that water is flowing again from the base of former springs. By this time the rural people in this part of Luzon were overwhelmed with the cultivation of tilapias -- small, tasty fish diversifying the daily meals of Filipinos.
In spite of the popular belief that water is too salty for freshwater fish, local enthusiasts tried their luck in artificial fishponds with springwater. This was complete success -- fish grew well and were a lot more tasty than elsewhere. In other pools the meat of fish has got soily taste but here the salts are cementing the ground and the water is cleaner.
Currently more than 30 fishponds have been arranged and in this way the people of Salinas got compensation for disruption of the former tourist landmark. Salinas Salt Spring is a protected monument of nature since 2000.

Popular myths. 

Often there are met two faulty myths regarding Salinas Salt Spring:

  • Many believe that Salinas Salt Spring is formed by the salty water of Pacific Ocean which miraculously travels 75 km inland and is rised 400-500 m above the sea level. This is wrong. Deep artesian water in most areas of the world is salty, often a lot more salty than the ocean. And it happens that this salty water comes up through fissures, and, as it reaches the surface, it precipitates the salt.
  • Cupola and terraces are formed by clean table salt (sodium chloride). Wrong -- if this would be pure table salt, it would dissolve in the wet climate of Luzon very quickly. Salinas cupola and terraces are formed by travertine which for most part consists of limestone. Water in the springs though is slightly salty -- thus there might be some rock salt involved as well.
The author and owner of the www.wondermondo.com website is Gatis Pavils, holder of BSc. Geology and MSc. Environment degrees.

There is also this photo black and white that shows Salinas still white even as it already had the handiwork of vandals:
Photo from http://manilajc.tripod.com/valerio.htm
At first I thought the photo above was of recent take, possibly in the 1990s. But I'm having second thoughts because the blogsite that carries it is a memoir of a former World War 2 guerilla named Escolastico "Restie" M. Valerio presumably from Bulacan but now based in New Jersey. Anyway Guerilla Resty had this account (reprinted here as is, unexpurgated) on Salinas that went with the photo in his blog:

"...at pagkatapos nito ay inatasan kaming tunguhin iyong malapit sa Salinas Salt Spring o bundok na mina ng asin, wlang labanan at ankita namin ang malipetan itong minanganng ito, may 20 metro ang lapad nito sa nilalabasan ng asin mula sa ituktok na undok, putting-puti ang asin sa itaas buablit sa ibaba ay kulay dilaw naman hangang sa kapatagan." (Source: http://manilajc.tripod.com/valerio.htm)

How Salinas Looks Today

It has been decades, nay, half a century, since I last set foot on Salinas. From hearsay, I learned it had been "killed" by the July 1990 earthquakes and since then the spring stopped flowing, and soon the salt mound lost its pearly white color. No wonder when you are near the bridge in Lamo, Dupax del Norte, you could no longer see the formerly visible white mound in the direction of Salinas.

This 2010 photo I found in the internet should say a lot:

Photo from http://s613.photobucket.com/albums/tt220/mscheca/?action=view&current=6.jpg&newest=1

Yes sir, yes ma'am, plus or minus the graffiti you see on its gray sides, Salinas salt spring that used to be a pride of Nueva Vizcaya is no longer something to be proud of.

Each time I travel between Baguio and Dupax via the Salinas-Pingkian road, however, I never fail to look in the direction of where the pearly white salt hill used to be nestled among the grassy mountains of the former Forestry Nursery area. 

I also entertain the thought that one of these days the "galpang" will come back, as indeed the salty spring has oozed in other parts downhill -- and benefiting salt-water-loving tilapia plus their fishpond owners (including my second cousin Steve Pudiquet of Barat).

Perish the thought of another killer temblor, but since an earthquake has plugged the hole that allowed the mineral water to come out from the bosom of the earth to form the salt dome, I also have this feeling that most probably another earthquake will unplug the same hole or open a new one that would spawn a new pearly mound that will make Bambang and, for that matter, all of us Nueva Vizcaya natives sing once again.

(NOTE: Please see also my blog "My Very First Published Article Was About Salinas")

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