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.

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: 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