Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Getting High (Sagada, Mountain Province)

Date visited: November 2008

My second Sagada trip was something of a checklist trip. It involved a nagging, a resolve to visit as many tourist spots as we could, as we were taking advantage of the All Saints Day/ All Souls Day long weekend. 

'Twas the indie movie "Batad" that first got me interested in Banaue. This stopover made the long trip to Sagada worthwhile. The trip from Manila to Banaue lasted 9 hours. Then we hopped in  a jeepney bound for Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province. Bontoc is another interesting town where you'd find the museum which houses many of Eduardo Masferre's photos of the Cordillera region.  From Bontoc, we took another jeepney that took us to Sagada. 

That resolve did not last.

Let me explain. See, the thing about Sagada is that it's a breathtaking town to explore. The operative word is explore - to make the most of it, you need to hike to see the sights, descend and ascend steep mountains, and - well, you get the picture. There's a LOT of walking. Think Lord of the Rings, minus the horses.

The evening after the trek to Bomod-ok falls and Sagada's underground river, we had to turn down our guide's invitation to visit a village to witness a cultural presentation. That same night, Lois, one of my companions, ran a fever and opted to stay in her room, instead of joining us for a Pinikpikan dinner at Persimmon Grill--a Rastafarian-themed cafe. Jeff and I also passed on going to the pottery because we were ready to pass out. Likewise, towards the end of the trip, everyone was exhausted that no one was up for some caving, so we skipped that bit. 

My top Sagada destination--Kiltepan Tower/Viewpoint. If you beat the sunrise, you see a sea of clouds parting to the view of rice terraces below. It's a few minutes ride away from the town center, and it doesn't involve a lot of walking. 

Lake Danum is a postcard-ish, well, lake, and it is also a few minutes ride away from town. Accessible by jeepney too, so not a lot of walking required. 

It's a cardio challenge. The tourist spots are spread out and most can only be reached on foot (there are no tricycles in the area too). But I guess that's one thing I really like about Sagada--the town has a lot of character that whether you visit the tourist spots or not, you're assured of a pleasant experience. I would definitely go to Sagada just to walk around the town proper, hang out in its cafes and listen to locals converse in English (sorry folks, but in my opinion, collectively, Sagada locals speak English better than any other place I've been to in the Philippines. Read related anecdote at the end of the entry :). 

Catch the sunset in Besao which is supposedly the best sunset spot in Sagada. 

 Best way to ride a jeepney--"on" it. 

The Big Bomod-ok Falls. We trekked downhill and walked along rice paddies for about an hour. In the end, it wasn't really worth it because height-aside, the place has nothing else. The water is freezing besides. 

'Was amused to see sweaters as part of these students' school uniforms. That's how cool Sagada is. :)

Sagada's hanging coffins - yet another spot that's not easy to get to. We started the trek from the town center, passed by St. Mary's Church, the cemetery, then Echo Valley. After checking out the hanging coffins, we proceeded to Sagada's underground river. There was nothing much to check out really because the river was almost dry. 

My Sagada '08 gang at the George Inn Extension. If George Guesthouse is far from the town center, this one is even farther. It's not located on the main street and stands next  to"real" houses. The inn is not advisable if you plan on spending lots of time going to restaurants and stores because it will require you to really walk a lot. The inn is also located on an elevated area, so yeah, there's a bit of climbing. 

Homeward bound. The gang waiting for the mini-bus that would take us to Baguio. This 7-hour trip is worthwhile because the Benguet scenery is quite different from what you see in the Ifugao and Mountain provinces. The trip gives you a view of houses on cliffs, endless terraced cabbage farms, and people wearing sweaters during midday. My favorite stopover is Atoc, a town with temperature even lower than Sagada.  

Aside from the landscape, the places that overlook clouds, the symmetry of trees and their shadows on the lake, and the cool climate of the area, what's most fascinating about Sagada is the culture. The people have lots of interesting stories to tell, and one gets a sense of how protective they are of their land (I was told that the chances of a non-native buying a piece of land in Sagada is almost zero) and of how proud they are of their heritage. 

Back in '07, I asked a George Guesthouse innkeep, who was at that time sweeping the floor, if "Okay lang ba pumunta sa Kiltepan Viewpoint ng walang guide?." Without batting an eyelash, she said "If you're brave," with a tone that might have been taken  for condescension. 
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