September 29, 2011

Sagada Adventure, Mountain Province, Philippines

I have this affinity of going to high altitude adventures so it’s just fitting that I start this blog by posting my trip to Sagada, Mountain Province.  A colleague of mine was telling stories about the place and how scenic it was so I told myself  that I’d go there the soonest I can be on leave for my job, more than excited of course. 

We, my colleague and I, left Iloilo for an afternoon flight to Manila which is just a little less than an hour.  If you are planning to take the direct route from Quezon City – Bontoc-Sagada, booking for an afternoon flight is the most ideal time because the bus leaves Quezon City at around 8:30pm. CABLE TOURS is the only bus company that operates in this route so it’s better to reserve a seat for you and your travel group: here’s their contact information, landline: 02-2573582; mobile: 0929-8194688, 0918-5216790, you can also check with the internet for the latest information. You can also ask them for the directions to the terminal where they can be found.The other option is that you take a bus from Cubao to Baguio then Baguio to Sagada. Victory Liner serves Cubao-Baguio route almost every hour so you won’t have any problem about that. However, Baguio to Sagada is a whole new story as Lizardo Bus Lines, (again, not paid) transport passengers from Baguio to Sagada (from what I know) only once a day around 7 or 8 am. So, if you’ll be late for that, at least you can still go around Baguio City for a whole day and stay overnight, that is, if you have plenty of time. Long story short, it’s a looooong day of traveling and waiting so might as well, enjoy it =). (Btw, I heard the Baguio route passes by the highest point in the Philippine Highway System and lots of Mountain towns)
Ok, Bus Advertisements aside, we chose to travel direct from Quezon City-Bontoc-Sagada which, as I have said, leaves Quezon City at 830 pm. Upon arrival at the bus terminal, we immediately went to the booth and asked for our reservations. It was very fortunate that we decided to reserve seats because we found out that if you don’t have reservations, chances are, you’re gonna be sitting at the back of the bus with heaps of baggage and chickens for 13 hours or you don’t get to leave at all. I can’t really decide which is worse.  The bus left almost immediately after we settled down and I started counting sheep.
The time I woke up we’re already passing through a winding road. I don’t have the slightest idea where we are but what I’m sure of is that we’re already on high altitude. There’s fog everywhere I look and clearing seems to be very infrequent. I try to look at signs which would give me a clue on where we are.  Finally a sign that says “Welcome to Banaue” comes into sight. So obviously…
I told myself sleeping further wouldn’t be an option so as to avoid missing the Unesco World Heritage site I’ve been wanting to see. It was a long 10-minute travel until I was able to take hazy gaze upon the world famous rice terraces of Banaue. Fog was everywhere.  With the weather being uncooperative, it was nearly impossible to appreciate the majestic view of the Banaue Rice Terraces adding to the fact that we are moving, I was quite disappointed that I didn’t get to see it with the glory it’s known to possess. I said, oh well, I’M GOING BACK TOMORROW, ahahaha!
After quick stopovers and more winding roads known to mankind, we reached a ROADBLOCK. A massive landslide obstructed the only road going to Bontoc. I was amazed to see an act of nature so massive right in front of my face.  Beyond the hassle it may cause us, it was something that made me think how small I am and how vulnerable I can be. Anyway, to avoid further delays, my colleague and I decided to walk through the landslide as the bus is surely not going anywhere with such a massive landslide staring at it in front of its face and waiting for heavy machinery to clear the landslide is clearly not a viable option due to time constraints. Lucky enough, a woman on the bus who’s bound to the next town asked her husband to fetch her and we tagged along. They dropped us off before they exited the highway and we waited for almost half an hour for a ride to Bontoc which is a mere 1 hour away. Imagine the frustration. Since the road was blocked, no vehicles are passing so we decided to trek along the winding road filled with fascinating pine trees, anywhere your eyes can see. No regrets.
After one carabao, a makeshift bridge,  a thousand photos and countless steps, we finally reached a small community where we can ride a jeepney to Bontoc. We waited for around 20 minutes and off we went.
Upon arrival in Bontoc, we immediately looked around for a place to eat. We found out that pork is the only meat sold in local restaurants. ALL THEY EAT IS PORK. Not that it’s all they want but it is all that’s available. Then I realized, where the hell do you find fish on top of the mountains. It makes sense. After eating, asked around and looked for the jeepney terminal that would take us from Bontoc to Sagada. We decided to ride on the roof of the jeepney so we can see the 360-degree views. Forty five minutes of hanging-on-to-dear-life and my backpack, we then arrived.  Fifteen hours of land travel, Finally, Sagada.
First things first, we checked in right away to get the packs off our back at Sagada Lodge, 0919-6728744, or you can check with the internet for more choices for accommodation. There was a sign saying that all tourists must register at the municipal hall but that didn’t stop us to wander around. My colleague had been there before and he knows the way around town so we went about. 
The Church and the famous bell. Built in the early 1920’s almost as old as the town itself, the Episcopalians built the town from the ground up. Sounds silly. Who would have thought of building a town on top of the mountains eh?. Well, they did.  Lined with pine trees, the view of the church while it overlooks the town is something you’d only visualize while reading a book.  During this time, a lot of kids are approaching us asking if we wanted a guide. Of course, we don’t like a guide. Some of you who know me personally, as much as possible I’d like to explore places my own way.  So we moved along.
At the back of the church, an uphill slope leads you to the cemetery. It was creepy of some sort because of the white tombs sprawling atop the hill but if you know how to appreciate beauty, you’ll go beyond the creeps.
Passing through the cemetery, my colleague led me to the echo valley. It’s called echo valley coz when you shout, yes, mr. obvious, it echoes. It’s a 200-meter deep rock valley overlooking the cliff on the other side.  Though the hanging coffins are visible from where we are, we decided to go down to the valley trails, steep-as-walls to see the hanging coffins point blank.  And of course, take photos. My colleague told me that when he first went there, the hanging coffins are way way higher than where they are now. It was almost impossible to think how they actually put it up there, around 150 meters high, hanging on a rocky cliff.
We went back to the town proper and started to go to Bomod-ok Falls. From what my colleague can remember, Bomod-ok Falls was just near and we could just walk from the town to the falls. With no rental vehicle in sight, we started walking.  And walking, and walking and walking.  We walked for almost 2 hours asked an estimated 20 people for directions until we reached the last Baranggay, Aguid, which is the jump off towards the famous BIG falls of Sagada. It was very tiring but with those kinds of views and a very refreshing weather, who’d complain? The hike towards Bomod-ok is almost an hour as well. With the majestic view of a modern rice terraces, again, you couldn’t complain. Upon registration, they would assign you a guide for the reason that they do not allow tourists going to the falls without a guide due to security reasons. They told us that some had been robbed or even attacked on trek and some had been held up while there in the water falls, also, it’s already 5pm, not a very ideal time because it’s nearing nighttime and we still have to trek going back.
The water was so cold, I’m wondering why it hasn’t frozen. Instant thought when I finally got to dip my foot in the water that falls from a 200-meter cliff. The rocks that formed like a swimming pool beneath the falling water made the place look like paradise. Water cascades from a higher pool to where I was standing and it was a feast for the eyes. I wasn’t really afraid of the cold so I jumped right in and enjoyed the freshness of the water. All exhaustion was gone. After 30 minutes of taking photos and taking a dip in icy cold water, we headed back.
A group of people hiking in front of us had a rented van waiting for them were kind enough to let us hitch back to town. Upon arriving at the lodging house, all I can think of was to lie down for a quick rest and I suddenly heard my stomach shouting for food. We went out and headed to the famous Yoghurt house. The food was good but wasn’t something that would blow you heads off.  The place is famous for their yoghurts, home-made.  I don’t know about you but it is the first time I ate home-made yoghurt so I have no point of comparison. It was a first nonetheless.
After eating, we went back to the lodging house and went to bed.
We arranged a very early morning trip to the Kiltepan Peak to see the sunrise that everyone’s talking about. The group of people whom we rode with from Bomod-ok were going there too so we asked them if we could just chip in for the ride, kind enough, they agreed. We arrived there at around 5 am waiting for the clearing of clouds. The sun slowly rose and yet the clearing seemed very disobliging. For an intermittent minute or two, there were clearings, a view one could never forget. Clouds spread out towards a full blown mountain range, as far as the eye can see, with mountain peaks piercing it. I told myself; this is definitely something you don’t see every day, like I was in heaven seeing the face of God. LOL exag, breathtaking nevertheless.
We left after about 30 minutes and had breakfast in town. We didn’t have time to go to the famous caves of Sagada due to time constraints and I vowed to go back as soon as I have the chance. My colleague told me that I should go back for the caves for the adventure of it. Pitch black, barefoot, ropes, rock formations, water falls, mud. Yeah I’m definitely coming back for that.
We rode a jeepney going to Bontoc and as soon as we arrived. We immediately looked for a bus going to Banaue Rice Terraces. We were quite at a panic because everyone we asked told us that the last morning bus already left and we have to wait for 2-3 hours until the next. We had no choice but to wait.
We left Bontoc and arrived Banaue after 2 and a half hour. Wasting no time, we looked for a tricycle that would take us to a viewpoint where we can see the world famous terraces of Banaue. The tricycle dropped us off to a viewpoint where we can see the terraces in such a way that it was shown in the 1,000 Peso bill, sad thing was, it was very cloudy. Though we can see it with our eyes, our cameras cannot capture its pure awesome. After some clearing, picture taking and pasalubong shopping, we headed back to the town proper. We started to look for a ride back to Manila.

While waiting, I observed that there a lot of signs saying, “bawal dumura dito” or something like that. Locals are prohibited of chewing betel nut (nganga) which I find kinda sad because chewing betel nut is a part of their culture and the government is prohibiting them to do such. 
Moving on, we rode a jeepney that would take us down from the mountain ranges of Cordillera. It was raining and it seemed to be a very long jeepney ride until we reached a junction where, as the people we asked say, we can ride a Bus to Manila. 

Finally, we boarded a bus to Cubao. I was thinking it wouldn’t take long as we have traveled a lot already. However, when I asked the person sitting beside me in the bus, he told me that we still have 8 more hours to go for travel before Manila. As tired as I am, I slept the journey to Manila off. We arrived 2 am and almost as soon as we arrived my colleague’s home, we left for the airport for our 5am flight to Iloilo. 
While on the plane ride home, I thought of how short three days can be for a place like Sagada and Banaue.  I’m coming back for all the adventures they could offer, definitely, very soon!

In summary, Sagada adventure was indeed the best so far of all the places been traveled this 2011. Trimmed pine trees, cool breeze, smiles on everyone's faces, waterfalls, caves, fascinating rice terraces, delicious food and reasonable-even cheaper prices for accommodation made this place the "best" so far. 

Words & Photos by: Jino Ferrer & Eduard Pugosa

For more photos please visit this site below:


HaRoVzKi said...

wooh. mao ni sunod nako gusto adtoan. tsk.

Eduard P. Pugosa said...

har dali rani adto-on, il post the detailed I.T. nako on how to get to Sagada with contact no. para dali nalang. but nindot if group mo you can save a lot.