Thursday, May 17, 2007

Surreal Sagada

One of my most memorable trips was to Sagada, Mountain Province. It started as a plan between a few of my fellow team managers and one lead CSR—until it started raining the week we were supposed to leave. They were worried the roads to Sagada was going to be very slippery and dangerous—7 hours from Baguio on unpaved roads, that was enough to deter them.

Of course, being the die-hard travel fan that I am, I decided to go for it. I packed up and left Manila for Baguio at 12midnight.. 6 hours later, I arrived and headed straight to Dangwa, where the bus going to Sagada would be. It was still very early in the morning and I welcomed the coolness of dawn. Thank God my prayers were heard—it didn’t rain that day.

At 7am, the rickety bus started its way. It was another long trip but I barely noticed the time because I was too caught up soaking the sights. I’m a beach person and this was a new experience for me—nothing but mighty mountains everywhere I look. The temperature grew colder as the bus approached Sagada.

My first impression: Sagada is a place in another time. I can’t fully explain it in words but check out the photographs I’ve taken and you’ll see what I mean. The small village, perched on top of a mountain was rugged and unspoilt and incredibly beautiful. Maybe I was just breathless from the travel but whichever way—I was at a loss for words.

I stayed at St Joseph Inn—very popular for tourists (and very reasonably priced, I might add). One day in Galera or Bora would be equivalent to maybe 3 days stay in Sagada. I’m serious!! I rented a small room sparsely furnished but clean. I felt like the aircon was on 24/7 that was how cold the temperature was, I had to close the window when evening came because I was getting chilly.

I mingled with some tourists (mostly Korean backpackers who were in the same place I stayed) over dinner and asked what activities would be the most interesting to do around.

The first thing on my itinerary was to check out Echo Valley (where the hanging coffins where). It was a few hundred meters hike from the town hall where I registered. A guide was with me, telling me all about the culture of his people. A short distance from Echo Valley was the small waterfalls. I couldn’t get a better shot because my shoes kept skidding and I was afraid I would ruin my new (and frightfully expensive) digital camera. I don’t normally get tired easily but maybe it was the mountain air—humihingal na ako.

A short note about the food—excellent!! Palaging fresh lalo na yung veggies. I swear, I never tasted real spaghetti before—made with fresh tomatoes and everything. Wala nga lang favorite ko—seafood hehe. I guess you can’t have it all!

The following day I checked out several stores and the ultra-scary Sumaguing Cave. Spelunking is not one of my favorite activities, it turned out. It was my first time to really get inside a cave. The entrance was filled with bats and it was just creepy hearing the rustling of their wings and not being able to see them. Plus I kept slipping again on the rocks. My guide was carrying a kerosene lamp and stupid as I was, I forgot to bring a flashlight. After several meters inside the cave there were no more bats. Only silence and the trickling of water and absolute darkness.

My clothes were wet from hugging the rocks. There were some areas where the descent was too steep that I had to grab into a rope. It was about 2 stories down (or was it 3 stories down) when my guide proudly showed me the rock formations in the cave. I pretended I was shaking from the cold (there was knee deep icy water from where we were observing the rock formations) and not from fear. Gosh, I’ve never known such absolute darkness, plus it was so cold down there steam was coming out of my mouth and nose whenever I breathed. After taking pictures I urged that it was time to go back up.

When I first saw a sliver of light from the surface, I was relieved. Shit, I’m not doing that again! I swore to myself. On the way back to the town proper we had to stop twice for breath. During the evening at least I was comforted by the food. (By the way make sure to try the fresh yoghurt!).

We went to see more coffins the next day and regretted not being able to go to the big water falls because it was such a long hike. I settled on hitting souvenir stores and bought some tea leaves (which I never actually brewed).

I was off to Bontoc the next morning and I’ve got to say, its not the same as Sagada. It was more populated and looked more like you usual towns in provinces. There was nothing left for me to do but wait for the Cable Tours bus to leave for Manila (which was a bitch of a commute, by the way—14 hours!!!)

Maybe the reason why Sagada’s magic remains is because it’s too inaccessible. But I like it that way = ) If you want to find yourself—you need to make a pilgrimage to Sagada. Five stars for this destination!!

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