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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 trip 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 learned about my plans they too got excited and wanted 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 in Batad then 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! But then, I had to scrap my grand Cordillera circuit and just stay in Sagada. I thought it was better to do the trip sharing it with friends.

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.

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Upon arriving in Sagada we registered at the tourism office and paid 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