Mt. Ugo: Going Beyond My Limits

As I attempt to start this story, I try to recollect my memories on how it all started. How did I got my self hiking this monstrous mountain.

Towards the end of 2015, I finally faced my fears and hiked solo. It was something that I have always wanted to accomplish. This fantasy of walking around nature while thinking about things in life. I am glad I did. On this solo hike I went the down the mountain with a couple of friends. Then one of them stuck out and together we hike some more. Meet Louie. On one of our hikes, we randomly joined a group of hikers looking for people who can fill slots. This is where we met Jurish.

Life got in the way of hiking. My friend and I hiked a little lesser together till work totally hindered me from going. But she together with Jurish hiked on forth.

Even though I never get to join them in their hikes, Louie still updates me with them. Luckily, I got a bunch of leave credits that will expire and I was forced to take them ^_^ . So I plotted my dates and prepped for the hike.

Conquering Mount Ugo

With a bag full of things that I am not quite sure that I’ll be using yet still feeling under-packed, I joined the team waiting in Kamuning to start our journey.

One butt numbing bus and a monster jeep ride later we arrived at the jump off point in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya. Last minute preps were made before we said our prayers to start our hike. I was nervous, this inexplicable butterflies in my stomach started making my heart pump harder. My brain started creating these thoughts of what ifs. What if I never make it to the end? What if I fall off a cliff? What if some rebels kidnap us? Yes I was silly nervous. But I didn’t let it show, maybe it actually manifested more as excitement.

 

The trail started with a series of stairs up to a village. The first few hours were a series of assaults that made us start thinking of the usual lines “what have we gotten our selves into?” LOL.

Long walks are nothing if you are with friends, oh yeah I almost forget, I invited Prei (my former officemates) and John (Prei’s boyfriend) and it was epic. I was really impressed how they managed the whole trek even though this was their mother mountain. Yes, a major hike for a first hike…. Hahaha well I did warn them yet they still pushed through, I was really happy.

After the walk through the series of stairs through the mountain side village, the scenery started to become like a park. It actually felt like we were in one of Baguio’s parks with all of those pine trees. We decided to take some good rest at this area, we knew that we will still be facing some serious assaults.Mt. Ugo

 

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The sun wasn’t showing it self that day, we were lucky; It made our hike relatively leisurely. The clouds slowly embraced the trail giving this mysterious feel like it was trying hide something from us. As we progress into the trail the heavens showered us with drizzles of rain as if it was playing us making us switch on and off from our rain coats.

It was a busy day for the mountain. Aside from a few groups including ours hiking that day, trail runners were every where vying to be the king of the mountain. We took rest in one of the sheds along the trail where we met one of the runners. He was a bit disappointed because he didn’t made the cutoff time. But then as soon as his friends arrived they pushed through and conquered the trail with or without any recognition, a true athlete indeed.

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As for us, we continued our journey to the summit. Honestly I didn’t knew how long the trek was going to be, but that wasn’t an issue all I want was to scale the mountain with friends. That was enough for me.

The trail continue to be as picturesque as it promised on the photos that I’ve seen online. As usual I and Louie are last on the pack, we just can’t help but take photos.

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Light started to become scarce as we progress, but it was a show by it self. The sky started playing with colors with hues that just takes my breath. Then darkness fell and the rain started pouring. We were still last on the trail with one of the guides. Thankfully, Jurish went ahead of us. He was the kindest of all that I have ever met. He went ahead and made sure that our tents are pitched on the ground to shelter us when the rain pours. Then it happened. The rain fell from the heavens and the strong wind on the summit wasn’t helping at all. I tried to help with the remaining tents that needs to be pitched but the cold got the best of me. I surrendered and retreated inside our tent.

Socials

One of the best part of hiking overnight are the Socials. This is a moment where hikers get to know each other but sharing stories over food and drinks. This was my first. Honestly, I am uncomfortable with such events. But I wanted to make this first one memorable. So with all my energy I went out of my shell. I prepped my psych to mingle with others. I was ready. But then the rain wasn’t stopping.

I collected everyone’s food assignment while Jurish started preparing food. There was something more special about this climb though, it was Louie’s birthday. Jurish connive with me and Amy to surprised Louie with a improv birthday cake. We made all excuses for louie to stay stuck inside our tent while I and Jurish joined Amy in her mansion-like-family-size tent! LOL! We then called Louie to come in, as soon as she opened the tent’s door we started singer her birthday song!

The rain started to weaken to a drizzle, eventually stopping. We called everyone who was still up, it was funny how tried to fit everybody in Amy’s tent. Eventually people started joining and we had to move out of the tent. We shared our first mountaineering experiences and why we climb mountains. It was a good experience for someone like me. I feel icky when I have to do things as such. But I was there all prepped up to interact, so I did. It was a pleasant experience.

The wind got colder and the rum wasn’t helping at all. I decided to retreat within the comforts of our tent. Louie got a head of me, so i found her all tucked in and cozy. I tried my best until I found a good spot and fell asleep.

The Morning After

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The air was crisp and fresh. The wind wasn’t blowing as hard as last night but the temperature was still almost freeing. Wrapped in our cold weather clothes (yeah, I can’t say they’re winter clothes. Hahaha!) There was a bit of clearing and a promise of a sea of clouds. I can see this sheet of clouds starting to move in and form some kind of pool, I put my hopes up too soon though. The wind started to blow real strong and broke the clouds into fog. Soon enough there was nothing to see in the horizon, just a massive curtain of white clouds.

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After a few group photos, we decided to move on and reach for the true summit from the campsite. The trail to the summit was simply stunning. Lush flora can be found as if it was a garden perfectly tended by someone. We thought that that was it, there’s not going to be some sort of clearing. But patience does pay a lot. A few more moments the sea of clouds was back and we could see the horizon. It was magical. We took as many photos as we could of each other, solo, group. Whatever that we can think of! Hahahaha! I was like thinking hell yeah I’m gonna take as many photos as I can cause I can’t imagine my self trekking that long again. Or am I talking too soon? Hahahaha We’ll see.

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Time came that we need to start descending. This time we had a schedule, a time to meet. The jeep that we hired was only going to wait for so long. But trail, it just so picturesque and yes we were last among the pack.

The trek down hill may not be as difficult as going up, but it was a bit more taxing on our knees. It was all worth it though. The scenery along the trail was worth every step that we took. This trip has been some sort of a challenge for me, emotionally and socially. I am glad I did it.

As we have washed up, we boarded our monster jeep and headed to the municipal hall and received our hike certificate. Yes, it is written on paper. We completed 32 kilometers of the entire trail. It was a trek worth remembering for a life time.

Ilocos Norte Backpacking Day 3

Last day, the most difficult part of the trip. There’s always this feeling that you don’t want to leave just yet but you have to.

Waking up ahead of JR I decided to take a  last walk along the beautiful beach of Pagudpud. It was a beautiful morning with a couple of dog with their owners walking along the coast. The Sun was high up but I couldn’t feel it burning on my skin as the cool wind blows from the vast sea.

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It was about 10 when I felt the need to bite on something, so I walked up to one of the hotels’ restaurants along the beach to see what I can eat. Meals are a bit pricey since it is a tourist area, but I thought hey this is my last day and it would be great if I can indulge inot something a bit more luxurious. So I sat down on one of the alfresco dining areas and ordered a TapSiLog ( a Filipino meal composed of fried rice, egg and tender meat) for about 150 pesos.

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There was nothing exceptional with the meal, it was meh. I swear I could find a better version of this meal somewhere in Mandaluyong at a third of the price. But hey I was there to enjoy so I did, not minding the price and just enjoyed the beautiful view from where I was sitting.

After that good meal, I decided to go back to our room to fix my things. But as I take a step nearer to where we are staying the sea just seam to keep on inviting me, beckoning for me to jump right in for the last time. I.am.Just.Human….. I gave in. For one last time i swan into his beautiful turquoise water.

30 past 10, time to go back or else we’ll miss the bus.

We quickly packed our bags and and hailed a tricycle to the town center where the buses are.

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By noon time the bus started navigating the roads back to Laoag at a steady pace, it was as if the bus knew how I felt about leaving making it easier for me to say good bye to this beautiful coastal town.

We reached the capital city of the province by three pm. As we got off the bus we saw an old looking structure and as we approached it we found out that it was actually the Ilocos Norte museum. Since we thought that we still have lots of time to spare, we decided to go in and explore it.

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After seeing the museum we were hoping to do a tricycle tour around but it was a lot more than we expected it to be so we decided to just go on DIY and see the Paoay church and the Marcos Museum, our main destination.

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it was just unfortunate that the mausoleum was closed when we arrived due to “power outage”. There was a group who had been there for a while, hoping that the mausoleum would open. Unfortunately, closing time came and the power was still out. The group was really upset but there’s nothing that we could do.

So we decided to move on leaving this unhappy group behind. Next on our list was the Paoay Church, an Augustinian Spanish colonial church made of coral stones. The church is particularly known for its massive pillars of architectural style popularly called earthquake baroque.

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Chills ran through my whole body as I stepped into the church. The church that I only used to see on text books is right before me. The church is simple interiors and its simplicity works best as the attention of the people hearing service will be focused on the altar. I stayed inside the church for quite a bit, feeling God’s presence. I sat down and talked to him. I closed my eyes and told him of what my heart aches, desires and hopes for. I may not hear his voice literally but I know hat He has heard my prayers.

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It was awesome that our short backpacking trip culminated with a prayer. It was a roller coaster experience for both of us – him being a newbie backpacker and me backpacking with a friend for the first time. See, I am not a good companion when it comes to tandem backpacking. My social skills are waaaay below average, at least now I know some one can survive my stupidities.

We got back to Manila full of memories and stories to tell of our misadventures and experiences. we honestly could have done more, but time is not on our side. Then again that gives us a reason to go back. Till next time Ilocos, see you then.

The Year Blessed With Travel

To be honest, I thought that I have traveled less this year but as soon as I try to recollect the memories of the year that was I have realized that I was truly blessed with my travels this 2016.

I may have not jet set for the past 365 days that was but my wanders are far more valuable than thought they were.

Sagada

I like I said on my travelogue about this trip, I have long held my plans because I didn’t have a good camera and I did had a couple when I went there! I wanted to make sure that I have good equipment for this trip because I know how beautiful Sagada is and I want to capture each scenery and moment the best possible way. It was a dream come true.

Sagada

Mt. Ugo

For many years I have always fancied about going on an overnight trip up on the mountains of the Cordilleras. I never thought that this would ever come true knowing my self that I am not an “Outdoorsy” person. But I have been blessed with friends that actually encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone pushing me to my limits, without them I would have not accomplished this.

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Ilocos Backpacking Trip

One of the region that I have really not explored except for one quick trip to Vigan about a decade ago. Together with my best friend, we explored both Ilocos Sur and Norte spending most of our basking under the Sun on the sand in Pagudpud.

Ilocos Backpacking Trip

Southeast Asia Backpacking Trip

Still pending to be written as one of my travelogues, I recently solo backpacked throughout Southeast Asia for two weeks! Yes! I have finally checked this one out of my bucket list! I never thought that I would actually be able to this, thinking that it is too expensive and having no time at all. But I guess the lack of trips throughout the year actually played in favor of me allowing me to file and use all my leave credits for this trip. This one opened up my mind and empowered me giving me the courage to travel more and explore farther. Now, I want to go beyond Southeast Asia!

 

Southeast Asia Backpacking Trip

Travel doesn’t have to be as frequent as you think it should be, sometimes thee quality of travel really does matter that proved to be right for me for this year. I may not have had trips every month but the trips that I had were actually memorable and important for me, I fulfilled parts of my dreams and and pieced a part the puzzle that is me.

Cheers to 2016 and more travels for 2017!

Ilocos Norte: Day 2; Life Is A Beach

Most of time paradise is where you least expect it, when you think that a place is over rated but then proves you wrong. Many have touted that Pagudpud is the Boracay of thee north, but I am one of those who think that Boracay is Boracay this place – with all confidence can;t possibly compete with the powdery white sand of the World’s Best Island.

We arrived in Pagudpud a bit late that day, nothing can be seen anymore at middle of that pitch dark silent night. We settled in our room in a home-stay and ordered for dinner. The area though a tourist spot was still very provincial, stores close early and no “restaurants” were around the area that you can dine in. Lights out,

A plan is always a plan until you get to execute it. We are good, no I say great in planning…. but execution? Hahahaha. We planned to wake up really early in the morning and enjoy the beach, getting that morning sunshine on to our skin. But the climate control of our room did a great job and kept us tucked into our sheets well into mid morning. I got our of bed by about 9 in the morning but Jr wasn’t that keen in getting up; yep that air conditioning unit took him down.

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I decided to see the beach on my own, with no breakfast no shower I put on my flipflops and walked my self to the beach. Our home stay was located on the other side of a small municipal road and on the oposite side are the beachfront properties of big resorts. It isn’t really that bad, the beach is just a three to five minute walk.

There’s this thing that I’ve come to form as a habit for my travels, I tend to lower down my expectations for the places that I go to. Why the hell would I do that? To save my self from disappointments – oh yeah drama king am I hahaha. To be fair, I just to want to ruin my trips and the good thing is that when the destination actually delivers, I actualy get one heck of a trip; But when it does not the trip isn’t ruined at all!

Anyways, just right across the road is a small community gate that the homestay owner told us about so we don’t need to pay for any fee – yep perks of staying with a local ^_^. I stepped right in and found my self on an unpaved road, several steps more I found my self staring at the limitless ocean inviting me to take a dip.

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Now pickup your jaw and step into the sand Ian. I was blown away with the beauty of Saud Beach. People always say that it is the Boracay of the north, but I felt that it was unfair. Saud beach exudes a different kind of beauty, leaning towards an untouched piece of paradise. The resorts are well down on the southern end of the curving 2 kilometer white sand beach while the northern end stays pure void of any modern structures.

Returning to our homestay I caught up with Jr on how beautiful the beach is and that we should enjoy with the day, he concured. After breakfast we packed a few things on my bag and went back to the beach. We ventured further into up to its northern end, it was a weekday and lean season so we literally had the beach for our selves. We looked for a good spot to swim where we could go farther inot the sea without drowning, we’re not really good swimmers.

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At aboout 12 PM we walked back to our homestay for some lunch. Like I mentioned earlier we didn’t find any restaurant around our area so we picked up some canned goods from the store and some bread – diet kase hahaha. Here comes the air conditioning unit’s magic spell again, yep we lazy around after eating. Gahd that aircon really did hit our lazy buttons hard.

Mid afternoon and we stood up and got our selves back to the beach, we had a good excuse – you know, UV Rays, Skin Cancern those stuff – but really we we’re just lazy. It felt like -at least for me- that I belong to the place, you know that feeling if you live in an area that you won’t miss a thing coz it is always there? yeah something to that effect, then I come to my senses and got dragged my ass back to the sand.

 

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The day was coming to an end kand the sky was playing with colors, shades of blue, orange and yellow painted the sky like an empty canvas. It was magical, however we need to go back to our homestay as it was getting dark. As raw as it gets there are no ilghts on the beach which I approve of.

It was just a lazy day to be honest, the perfectly hued water the fine sand and the abseence of people just made it perfect. It seemed like the beach wanted us so much welcoming us into its arms wide open. It was like it had prepared for our arrival making sure that our experience will be perfect. It was beyond perfect, it was like a dream.

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Sagada: Mornings With Morrie

I remember this movie called Tuesdays with Morrie, it is about a student and his old professor. It tells us how we should appreciate the small things and how we should value each moment of our lives. Living life to the fullest.

Our first morning in Sagada started early, we were off to see the sunrise in Kiltepan peak; The place made famous by the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana”. We had high expectations, a beautiful sunrise unveiling the beautiful landscape covered by an amazing sea of clouds. Our van driver picked us up at about five in the morning giving us enough time to secure a good spot at the peak. There were a good number of people at the peak already when we arrived, but we were still lucky to get a good vantage point for nature’s show. Breakfast were some left overs of Prei’s famous french toast, it was a perfect meal.

The surrounding slowly brighten up like a carefully choreographed stage lighting as the sun pushes its light. We were holding our breath, waiting for the magical moment. But as we see more of the landscape, it dawned to us that there’s no show that will happen. The sky had over cast clouds, and the wind was blowing too hard for the clouds to congregate into this sea that wee are all hoping for. Dismayed as we were, we still took the opportunity to take photographs, memoirs of our time in Sagada. Though the heavens did not grant us the sea of clouds and play of colors in the sky, we were blessed to see the amazing rice terraces of Sagada.

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Morning has broken as we head back to our hotel, we rest a bit and prepare for the rest of our day. We had some fee time in our hands, I decided to hang out at the front porch and watch people do their daily routines. walking past me carrying food, produce and household stuff. I love to feel, or at least pretend that I am a local – a part of the community.

It was mid morning when we decided to see the other sites of Sagada. I am the one in charge of research and somewhat their travel guide. I looked up every blog that I can find about the attractions and all of them were showing that one can just wander into the where we intend to go, the Hanging Coffins of Sagada. Unfortunately, as we try to enter the trail going to the Hanging Coffins we were stopped by the local tourism officers stationed there. We were told that guides are required to enter, ergo we had to pay. It was a nominal feee of Php 200 pesos for our group of five so it was not a big deal. But the trail to the Hanging Coffins, Cemetery and Echo Valley is easy and not dangerous so you really don’t need a guide. On second thought, we thought that it is better this way. Having guides take tourists around will prevent vandalism and maintain the sacredness of the burial site. It was just logical, we can’t expect everyone to act the same, also this gives additional income for the community. To be honest though, I did try to get in without a guide telling the officers that we’ll just go to the cemetery, but they were firm and that is good.

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The trail leads you first to the cemetery, they call it -at least our guide tells us- as the Christian cemetery as this is where those who have converted to Christianity are buried. This cemetery is specially famous for the Panag-apoy festival every November 1, when locals burn fire to remember their dearly departed. Yes it is beautiful, but one must keep in mind that this, despite the grandeur still is a closely kept tradition of the Sagadi-ans.

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Beyond the the cemetery is a place called Echo Valley, like the name suggests your voice will echo a hundred fold as you shout at the top of your lungs, but please don’t over do it; it still is part of their sacred grounds. In silence, you can still feel the awe inspiring beauty of nature. How great things are in this scheme of things.

At the end of the trail the famous Hanging Coffins of Sagada is found. Our guide explains to us that they hang coffins to cliffs and caves because they want their loved ones to have easy access to nature for their needs in the after life. There was nothing grand about the Hanging Coffins, it actually is a humbling experience to have witness how life completes it’s circle. Just like how us Christians would say from dust we return to dust, the Sagadi-ans believes that from nature we will all return to nature and we will bring nothing more than but our souls.

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It was almost mid-day as we retreat back to the town proper. We headed to Gaia Cafe for lunch but was extremely disappointed with how bland the taste of their food was, may not be their fault though; they could be targeting the western palate. Unsatisfied with lunch we headed to a simple eatery in the market area -though the price ain’t simple LOL- Back at the Hotel Prei and John prepared to leave for the 3PM bus leaving me, Diane and Jolyn for another day.

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The next couple of days allowed us to relax and experience Sagada on a slower pace, allowing us to digest what happens in our surroundings. We returned to our favorite coffee shop at the end of the paved part of the road where our hotel was at. There’s just this warm atmosphere whenever we hangout there not to mention that their food tastes amazing, striking a balance between the Filipino and western palate. Mornings were nothing but waking up late having brunch and doing things as we like. It was indeed a retreat, a reset from all the crazy stress that we’ve come to be so immersed in our lives in the city.

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I am just glad to have finally gone on this trip, I have long held this because I kept on thinking that I don’t have a good camera and I want to make sure that I can capture each and every moment of it. But if I can turn back time, I’d tell my self go on even without that bulky camera because it’s going to be worth coming back for.

Like Morrie, this trip has taught me of simple things. Appreciate them. Cherish, and then you will feel and learn what life and living is really all about.

Sagada: Sunsets and Bonfires

Exploring the Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves is exhausting yet fulfilling. After freshening up we contacted the van driver for our afernoon tour. Honestly we were reluctant in seeing the other spots like Sagada Weaving but we did drop by the pottery house, we just wanted to see the sunset.

Still not hungry but I wanted to bite on something so when Prei offered the french toast that she made I, wihtout any hesitation grabbed one. I tell you she makes one if not the best french toast that there is!

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The Van arrived on time, seeing it upon we descend the stairs of our hotel. We booked the van to take us to the Lake Danum. On our way to the view point Sagada pottery we saw that Sagada Pottery was along our way, so we hopped off and took a quick tour of the place. We don’t have money soo… just a quick tour 😉

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It was about 5 PM when we arrived at the viewing point in Lake Danum and the sun was still high up, with plenty of time in our hands I took out my picnic blanket and made a good spot where we could all sit donw. It was just a delight when our driver decided to make fire out of the twigs around the are building a small bonfire of some sort. Everything was just happening right.

6PM was fast approaching and the sun wasn’t showing, hiding behind the clouds. We we were not bothered though may be because we know that we’ll see a spectacular show on sunrise the morning after or maybe because we were just have such a great time lounging near the small fire.

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We shared beer and snacks over the fire while the cool wind was blowing, it seemed enough for me. It was a great time.

On our way back Diane insisted on stopping by the Lake for some photos, I was like meh, coz the water is just brown but then i joined the photos since it was an opportunity, so touristy of me… hahaha

off we go back to the hotel.

Ilocos: My Northern Escape, Day 1

Brought about the pending burial of former president Marcos, I and a friend toyed with the idea of visiting his mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte. The plan was just simple, visit Batac. But my friend was whining about how he had not been to the beach still this year so I suggested that we visit Pagudpud too. Well,  I think it was inevitable, I know that I would have pushed this opportunity to cover what there is to see nearby.

All packed up and geared properly we found our selves in the Partas bus station buying tickets.  It was a bummer that we had to wait for the nigh trip, thanks to my crazy schedule that changes every so often, we could have had more time to explore.

Ilocos Bound Bus

9PM the bus left the station starting our 9 hour journey to Vigan our first stop.

Clock ticked 5AM as we arrived at the Vigan terminal. We decided to do a walking tour of the city, really it is very much walkable. From the terminal we walked all the way to Plaza Salcedo. We can’t help but notice how clean the city is.

Vigan Ilocos Sur Plaza Salcedo

From the plaza the Vigan Cathedral prominently dominates the skyline as you stand from the end where the provincial capitol stands. This is not the first time that I have seen the church but no it doesn’t get old. After exploring the church we said a little prayer before leaving.

The plaza just looks so inviting with hues of blue pleasing your eyes. We hanged out and talked with some locals about their food and places that tourists come for, while the cool morning breeze keeps on blowing as we sit under the shade of the trees.

Ilocs Sur Cathedral

After resting for a bit we continued with our walking tour of the heritage village. We walked down the the historic Crisologo street all the way to its southern end and it felt like I was walking in a quaint European town with its old buildings, missing some al fresco coffee shops where you can sit and enjoy the view.

The Crisologo Museum can be found at the southern end of heritage village, the caretaker that greets you as you enter boasts that it is the best museum that there is Vigan, I think she’s not just bluffing  about that. The museum is filled with many memorabilia about the Crisologo family which was the most prominent clan at their time. From the ambushed cars to the collection of hats from all over the Philippines, even the world! The entire place was just overflowing with information and history, truly a must see when in the city. Donation is asked upon entry.

Vigan Ilocos Sur Crisologo Museum

From the museum we decided to make a loop and walk back to up north of the village through the parallel street from Crisologo. There can be found the Syquia mansion, it houses the President Elpidio Quirino memorabilia which was closed when we were there.  The care takers of the house collects entrance fees before you go upstairs, where the living areas of a typical Filipino house was. If you are a fan of the president or if you like class interiors, maybe you’ll enjoy the house. What I am trying to say is that what I just saw was just a house asking for a fee so that you can see its furniture and interiors and that was it. There were no signage, no labels and no one there to guide you through and tell you stories about the house, I mean I am sure that there’s a good story in each corner of the abode. In the end, I felt cheated my friend felt otherwise. He enjoyed the posh interior and furniture, maybe I was just expecting too much. Was I?

Much disappointed from the museum, I asked for us to move on with our mini tour. Vigan should be enjoyed with leisurely walks, preferably early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the it’s not too hot and most importantly the light is perfect. The soft light in the morning and afternoon gives you a chance to see the vivid colors of the houses contrasting the blue sky letting you observe the village at its best.

Vigan Heritage Village

Back now at the northern end of the village, we sat on one of the tables in Plaza Burgos to savor on Ilocos Sur’s famed Empanada. Something that we couldn’t let pass. My first bite of our empanada took me years back when I first relish on its adventure filled fillings, the softness of the egg contrasts well to the crunchiness of the deep fried wrapper skillfully hand made on the spot by each vendor.

Ilocos Empanada

 

we decided to move on to our next destination the Batac-Loaog area to visit the former president’s mausoleum. We headed back to the Partas station to take a bus to Loaog. The trip to the capital of Ilocos norte took a little close to three hours, which was an hour longer than what we were expecting.

Initially our plan was to arrive at about 1 pm and take a tricycle tour around the Batac-Loaog area but arriving late forced us to change our plans, we’ve underestimated the travel time. Faced with a conundrum of how to proceed, we took a break from all the walking and snack for a bit. Decided, we opted to go on and spend the night in Pagudpud instead.

Loag Welcome Sign From Afar

We met the sunset on the road on board an ordinary bus where the wind blows on you as you navigate a coastal highway for a good two and a half hours. It was a perfect time to reflect about things in life. I shoved my headphones on distancing my self from my surrounding. The perfect view of the sea, the setting sun  and nature was more than enough for me to feel at peace. The idea of being on a bus lets me feel the joy of escape and new beginnings as you move farther from the chaos of the city and the madness of real life.

A temporary euphoria.

 

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This post is part of my Ilocos Backpacking trip covering Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Mountains: Pico De Loro

climbing pico de loroSometimes my feet just itches to put on my shoes and just wander off. Thankfully, I have friends who suffer from almost the same syndrome as I am.

I honestly can’t remember how it started, but what I do remember is having a conversation with Dy -my office mate contemplating on what mountain to explore. He mentioned the option of going of some places then we started arguing. I was already good with the first option but he seem to have second thoughts, so I put my foot down and told him that we are trekking Pico De Loro.

Pico De Loro technically is situated in Nasugbu, Batangas. However, the jump off point for the mountain is in  Ternate, Cavite.

Getting to Pico de Loro is quite easy, just take a bus to Ternate, Cavite get off at the terminal where you’ll find tricycles waiting that can take you to the jump off point.

Upon arriving at Pico De Loro’s jump off point we registered at the DENR desk for hikers, the trail going up the summit is easily readable so no guide is needed, but if you are not that confident with your trail reading skills you might want to hire a guide just to be safe.

The trail started with something like what you see in the movies where characters venture on a journey to an enchanted kingdom on a mission to save a princess or maybe take into a possesion a magical potion that would save the queen.

After the dry part of the stream, the assault part of the trail dawned to us. This part could be a bit challenging to beginners as it could get a bit tiring if you are not used to climbing uphills, but yes noobs can manage this mountain I’d say.

Climbing Pico De Loro

Dy and I took the new trail that they’d just opened. Well we didn’t had any choice the old trail has already been closed possibly due to right of way issues. I really don’t know the real reason, I’m just speculating so never mind.

Since it was a weekday, there were very few people on the trail encountering just two groups of two people with their guides along it. I really like hiking on weekdays since the trail is not crowded, you can enjoy more of the mountain, it’s beauty and serenity it gives.

Half way up we found a viewing deck being installed. It gives you a good view of the surrounding mountians including Batulao, I think… Well I’m really not an expert when it comes to mountains so let’s just leave it at that. We spent a good amount of time at the viewing deck, the view was just incredible that even if it was mid morning, the sky was just amazingly beautiful.

climbing pico de loro

climbing pico de loro

We reached the summit after about an hour and a half of hiking but, the summit really isn’t the destination for this mountain. The ultimate reason that most hikers come up here is its famous monolith. This enormous rock that exudes some kind of power over the land that it overlooks.

Just near the summit small stores set up can be found selling snacks twice sometime thrice the price, but who are we to complain I think that it’s fair enough knowing that they have to manually transport them from below to the summit. We took some photos at the summit then proceeded to our final destination, the monolith.

climbing pico de loro

climbing pico de loro

climbing pico de loro

There is a steep part that some would find challenging, well it is just don’t let it get into your nerves and be careful and I tell you it will be rewarding. From a far the monolith seem to be unscaleable, but as you get near it you’ll find a way to go up it. We navigated the crevices of the monolith on our way up, thankfully there’s no crowd on that day so the pressure to go up quickly wasn’t felt at all. One may get intimidated in navigating their way up the monolith but as long as you follow your guide and keep your center of gravity low you should be fine.

climbing pico de loro

A sense of achievement can be felt as we reached the top of the monolith, honestly I felt a bit nervous but like I mentioned earlier everything is manageable. At the top the vast land of cavite and Batangas is just right in front of your eyes. We spent sometime at the top marveling the beauty of the scenery. From afar a resort can be seen to the left with some urban structures while a great plain is seen at the right side. Everything seem to be perfect.

climbing pico de loro

pico de loro

climbing pico de loro

Pico de Loro gave me something I was needing a sense of control. I needed it at the time when everything seem not to be going my way, everything seem to become a disaster. Some ask me why I go up the mountains and I guess one of the things I can tell them is that they teach me things that can only be learned through solitude realizing that these are the things we already poses that we just need to focus and become one with again.

Click here for more stories about mountains.

Sagada: Exploring Middle Earth

Lunch at Yoghurt House was awesome, after having our fill we proceeded to the SaGGAs office or the Sagada Genuine Guides Association. It was like order fast food on how ask for a guide, it was just awesome that they had guides ready waiting for deployment. We walked in ask for a guide and off we go!

 

Our guide was Sebastian, we were kind of confused at first since it he was kind of a snob not replying to some of our queries about the attractions; later on we discovered that Sebastian actually was hard of hearing. It was inspiring to know that SaGGas actually gives chance to people with sorts of disabilities like Sebastian and let me just mention he was really careful and made sure that we are all safe during the trip.

Walking from the SaGGAs office to the cave Sebastian pointed out some of the natural wonders of Sagada. The town is just a dreamland full of natural wonders that you wont get tired of watching. At the mouth of the cave our guide gave us a brief orientation then started a quick lecture about the cave and how sacred it is for Sagada’s people explaining to us why they keep their deceased in the caves or may be hanging on cliffs.

Mixed with excitement and nervousness we commenced our cave connection activity. We will be entering through the mouth of Lumiang Cave of which is know for it’s adventure filled and challenging maneuvers to get through. True enough the first hole that we had to get through made us think and ask our guides “are you serious?” it was as if entering a dark cave wasn’t terrifying enough but entering a small hole not knowing where it leads to was paralyzing.

sagada cave connection

I didn’t want to show my friends that I was terrified of what we are doing so I kept cool proceeded and voila! it was just that easy. Modesty aside Lumiang Cave at the time that we explored it was quite an easy one for me having experienced the technical mountains of Rizal so it was quite -forgive me for the lack of word or the shallowness of my vocabulary- entertaining to watch my friends try to manage those crevices, while I was thinking silently with my mouth shut that it was just like a walk in the park. Well maybe because the cave for most part was dry since it is summer, I bet it would be a lot difficult if water was running -that I really want to see.

We had several stops for rest but it still felt like we were moving fast, they say that it takes about three to five hours to complete the cave connection yet it feels that it only had been so short since we started and we were almost half of the cave connection activity.

sagada cave connection

At the other end is Sumaguing Cave the more relaxed part of the adventure where you get to see different rock formations that have taken millions of years to form. It just leaves you in amazement of how beautiful nature is.

At the end of the activity where the Sumaguing Cave starts, we all just sat and pondered on what had just happened, most if not all of my companion are first time adventurers but I can tell you that their determination is just beyond what I have.

sagada cave connection

sagada cave connection

sagada cave connection

sagada cave connection

Less than three hours later we are back from middle earth, yeah I guess I’ll call it middle earth. A place where beauty and adventure never seem to end as long as you are within the boundaries. Ugh enough of this poetry, I can never give justice to the beauty of Sagada with my words.

I think I am just hungry. Let’s eat!

Sagada: Getting To Sagada

It was the first time for me to actually organize a trip for people, well it didn’t really started that way. Having several vacation credits expiring soon, I had no choice but to use it up -can I just say what a beautiful problem I had ;). So I planned a grand Cordillera circuit travel for me, a good seven days for me being on the road.

I guess I just have a big mouth so when I meet up with friends over coffee or just plain catching up I often times tell them about my plan. Hey, who wouldn’t be excited to travel and be on the road, away from work for that long? So when some of them learn about my plans they too got excited and wants to tag along with me turning me into an adhoc tour operator of some sort.

But there were road blocks in making it happen the most challenging of them is everyone’s availability. My initial plan was to go Banaue and spend a night Batad, proceed to Bontoc. From Bontoc I was to go to Sagada where I will be staying for about two days before going to Baguio then finally end my trip by the beach in La Union.

After several itineraries prepared I finally came up with something that I think would work!

Started our journey by taking a Coda Bus near St. Lukes in Quezon City going straight to Sagada(Fare: Php720) . Yep! Getting there is as easy as that! The bus departed the terminal by 9PM, good thing we reserved our seats prior going to the terminal as the bus was really packed. You can just call them to reserve and they’ll be confirming if you are pushing through the day of your trip.

view of Bontoc Town from my bus window seat

Upon arriving in Sagada we registered at the tourism office and payed the Environmental Fee of 35 pesos. They’ll be giving you a map that you can use to plan your activities. It also has information about accommodations where you can stay in the town. As for us, we’ve made reservations at George Guest House located along the South Sagada Road which was good because this is where most of the restaurants and shops are located. We opted to stay at their annex building away from the road but we were actually relocated to Lodge Labanet, a hotel of the same owner. It wasn’t bad at all since the location was better than George Guest House and our room was facing the back of the building so noise coming from the road was to a minimal.

We settled in our three-bed-room and had our first decent meal at Yoghurt House. This welcome meal made us feel rewarded after traveling for 12 hours on a bus something one must endure when getting to Sagada. After a good heavy meal we’re ready to embark on our first adventure!

 

This post is part of my Exploring Sagada Series

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