My desire to chase Sagada can be traced back four years ago upon seeing its tempting charm on TV. It persisted through constant research in the web. Then it brought me to blogs and written articles where people who had been there and explored the place alone and with groups could only say wonderful things about it. Most of them found refuge and relief in Sagada. It puzzled me and I felt the need to find out why.
I knew “just dreaming” won’t bring me somewhere. Unless I quit reading the stories of people who made it there and make mine myself. It was that dying-to-find-the-answer-to-my-curiosity attitude that prompted me to begin my quest last week. And I tell you: it didn’t disappoint.
Last week was my first week-long out of town trip since 2006. I exclude Zambales and Bataan when I say out of town. We stayed in Baguio first for three days to witness the over-publicized Panagbenga Festival then headed straight to Sagada.
The terminal of buses going to Mountain Province is located at Dangwa in Baguio. Earliest trip to Sagada starts at 6:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon. Only ordinary bus with comfortable seats ply the route to that part of the province. Buses take breaks every two hours.
Going across Sagada from Baguio wasn’t that easy. Apart from taking butt exercise for almost six hours, you would also torment yourself or feed your eyes with the views waving from the left and right sides of the road. The appalling precipices on the whole duration of travel would literally take someone’s breath away because the only distance between you and death is only a meter or two. I dub it as creator’s work of art. Now, deal with it and savor the moment.
I, together with my travel companion, did steal several naps when we were on our way there— just naps, because we wanted to make sure that our eyes are full before reaching our main destination. Missing a thing was unforgivable that time. And besides, how could we sleep if all we see was pleasing to the eyes?
There was part of the road where we grappled with dust for almost an hour due to road repair. What a challenging start for us.
START OF THE ADVENTURE
DAY-1 CAVE EXPLORATION
We arrived in Sagada at exactly 12:11 in the afternoon after taking the first trip from Baguio. Subsequent to our lunch was our first adventure of the day—spelunking. Is there a difference between caving and spelunking? Dictionary finds it almost the same but according to our tour guide, the appropriate term for the activity of a cave visitor or tourist is spelunking because caving is coined only for someone who discovered a cave. So, in case you were asked about it, you know what to say by now.
We’ve chosen to take the traverse at Lumiang cave and Sumaging cave or the Cave Connection. Why cave connection? Because of the fact that the two caves are connected. Once you enter the Lumiang , you would exit at the Sumaging.
Jessanie and I were assisted by one tour guide and we paid P400 each. They have this one guide for two policy. Cave connection can be explored in four hours depending on your pace and endurance. If you came in large group, it could be more than 4 hours since waiting for your companions will eat time.
Situated at the mouth of Lumiang are horizontally-piled small coffins. Locals believe that their ancestors who were buried there are protectors of the abundant forest in the area. According to our tour guide Jayson, there were almost 200 coffins before, but due to earthquakes and other calamities, some got obliterated. Decades back, coffins were hung vertically. However, upon the advent and spread of Christianity, traditional burials were given to their departed ones. People then learned to bury them laid back.
We also came to know that natives held the first rites for their ancestors (burying at cave’s mouth) more than a century ago while the latest was in 1986, about 25 years ago. At present, residents learn to adopt traditional entombment in the graveyard. When Jayson was asked why coffins are small, he said that deceased were placed inside in a fetal position. According to their belief, we came into the earth in a fetal position so should return to our Creator the same way.
We reached the cave’s opening at 3:30pm and came out in one piece at 7:34 in the evening. The entrance was very dark and narrow making us skeptical about proceeding. The idea of backing was immediately ruled out. That was how we conquered the first ladder of the challenge.
The life of the whole trail was our lamp since the whole place was concealed by darkness. And once you’re inside, there is no turning back. There are portions inside the cave where rappelling is unavoidable. Lumiang will also force you to be a contortionist because you cannot do away with small openings without crawling and bending your bodies.
The key is to listen to your tour guide and follow every instruction given by him. He knows what to do for he eats and breaths spelunking. If you didn’t know how to listen, you would say hello to danger. Your guide can do wonders. Don’t attempt to enter the cave without having one. We were informed that a foreigner died when he explored the cave just by himself. Another fatality was recorded when someone went inside during typhoon season. He got drowned.
This had got me tongue-tied with amazement for countless times.
In cave connection, Sumaging exploration is considered as the FUN part. It is less strenuous to trail which is why most tourists prefer this. From Lumiang, we reached the boundary of Sumaging after two hours and stayed for another two hours there. Rock formations are very visible and would bring someone to life. Aside from stalactites and stalagmites, some evident formations are the giant frog, giant turtle, King’s Palace which displays the Queen’s vagina, rock curtains, giant teeth, chocolate cake, elephants, dinosaur’s footprint, and water terraces. The place seems like a playground of visitors.
Do you know what’s the best part in Sumaging? That’s when we plunged into the freezing chest-deep mini pool and rappelled the 15-foot rock.
Just a reminder: Wear rubber slippers, flip-flops, or any durable sandals. You would encounter sharp rocks and pebbles along the trail. There would be instances where the guide would ask you to walk barefoot due to slippery surface. Also, wear comfortable shorts and shirt, preferably soft maong shorts, so you could easily move and stretch. I recommend reliable soft maong because most of the time, you would do butt-slide. I’m sure you don’t wanna get outside with your shorts worn out. Don’t bring unnecessary things that would somehow cause you inconvenience. And most especially, don’t litter.
KILTEPAN AND MARLBORO COUNTRY
After acquiring muscle spasm from our cave exploration, Jessanie and I arranged a whole day event on our second day in Sagada. It was also our first time to bond with our fellow travelers, Trisha and Faith—both are Filipinos— and Mike, a Swiss.
We started our first trip to Kiltepan in the wee hours of the morning for the sunrise. It is located in the middle of the forest.While waiting, tourists gathered around the bonfire to keep ourselves warm. The heat did not beat the frostiness of the area though. At exactly 5:30, we all went to the edge of Kiltepan as we wanted the horizons of the sun to be the first to greet us in the morning, unfortunately, we did not capture its perfect view due to heavy fog. We headed straight to Rock Inn for breakfast and for “orange picking.” It was another bad timing for us because farmers already made a harvest prior to our visit.
We trekked Marlboro Country following our hefty breakfast. It is an hour walk from the drop-off point including taking of pictures, quick rests and informal talks in between. Good sight of soaring pine trees and cool breeze overwhelmed the steepness of the track. When we finally arrived at Marlboro Country, we were all caught in astonishment. It reclines in the middle of wilderness where the only things around are mountains, trees and wild plants.
Marlboro Country is my favorite spot in Sagada. It is where I can scream and wail without anyone hearing it except for the verdant forest.
Just half-hour shy before noon, our group began the seeming incessant hike to Bomod-ok waterfalls. It’s an hour and a half walk from Barangay Aguid’s drop-off point while passing through the beautiful Sagada rice terraces.
Bomod-ok is the largest among the waterfalls in Sagada. For the record, this is the first waterfalls I’ve seen in my entire existence. I do not consider the small falls in Pundaquit, Zambales as one because it only appears during rainy season. According to Mike, a Swiss traveler who had been to many places in the Philippines, Bomod-ok is the most beautiful, adding that its magnificence is highly praiseworthy and incomparable.
With its crystal clear waters from the mountain and bluish green at its basin, we cannot just sit, take pictures, and be contented on merely praising its splendor. The need to consume it was irresistible so we hastily jumped off to the waters. It was as cold as ice even with the high sun. Some of us tried to dive from the elevated rocky part of the falls. Faith and I had the same conclusion: it was like cliff diving— our highest so far.
ECHO VALLEY AND HANGING COFFINS
We spent our last day in Sagada to relax. We first stopped at St. Mary the Virgin Church, an Angelican Church situated a few meters from the football field. The church is very unique because it’s made up of piled stones.
From the Church, it took us 20 minutes before reaching the Echo Valley and Hanging Coffin. There’s nothing significant in Echo Valley except that it made us yell more because of the echo.
Although I’ve seen hanging coffins in pictures for several times already, it felt different seeing it with my very eyes. Locals believe that the higher the place of the dead is, the greater the chances for them to be in heaven. We wondered though how people managed to hang the coffins beside the rocky mountain’s cliff.
Sagada is only a small town in Mountain province. The whole town appears to me as two small streets in Manila in terms of dimension not in terms of population and number of houses. It won’t be hard for travelers to look for accommodations in the area because they are dispersed along the two small streets of the town. Average rates of guest houses range from P200-300/day/person. We stayed at George Guesthouse for only P300 per night, with private CR and free wi-fi.
Whenever I visit new places, I always make sure that I try its finest food. I observed that in Sagada, most restaurants are cozy and have almost the same menu. Complete meal is averaging from P120- P200. At Log Cabin restaurant, it’s P250-400.
Here are my recommendations:
1- Rock Inn– They serve good breakfast. Tapa and fried rice are also good, and I love their banana yogurt.
2- Yogurt House- They offer good pasta. Beef is bland and supple. According to some friends, yogurt cake is a must-try. It wasn’t available when we dined there.
3- Log Cabin– They serve buffet every Saturday night for only P350 while regular menu from Sunday to Friday. Pork chop and pasta are good. This is my favorite restaurant in Sagada.
4- Bana’s Cafe– They offer delectable meaty spaghetti. Carbonara is just plain.
5- Alfredo’s Cabin– Their pansit bihon is flavorful.
In Sagada, it’s easier to make friends. You will make friends because except for the cave exploration, guide fees are charged per group, so the bigger the group the lesser the contribution of each member. Also, making friends will come naturally since kindliness of locals is contagious.
Now I understand why people find relief in Sagada. It is like a box of treasure because anywhere you go, you will be surprised and amazed with the kind of peace it can offer through its rustic vibe. This travel has taught me two things: First, living in simplicity is the most luxurious way to spend one’s life. Second, great things in life, aside from free, are unexpected.
Do yourself a favor by finding time to visit Sagada.
HOW TO GET TO SAGADA
1- Buses are located in Dangwa Terminal.
2- Ride a bus bound to Sagada. Fare is P220.
3- Get off at Sagada Municipality. Trip is almost 6 hrs.
1- Ride a Florida bus en route Banaue. (9-hr ride. Fare is P400. FLORIDA BUS LINES- 810 Lacson Avenue Manila Metro Manila, Phone: +63(2)7314473)
2- Get off at Bananue. From Banaue, ride a jeepney going to Bontoc. (2-hr ride. Fare is P150)
3- From Bontoc, ride a jeepney going to Sagada. (1-hr ride. Fare is P40)
(Date of travel March 1-4, 2011)