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 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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