Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sagada in Film

Date visited: October 2007

In my mind, Sagada will always be this stunning eerie  little town up north that I wouldn't mind living in.   It was not just Sagada per se; the Cordillera region in general mesmerized me during my first trip to this town. I had forgotten my first love affair with the region when I first traveled to Baguio in the summer of '99. The to-be-high-school-senior version of me couldn't believe that a city was nestled among the steep mountains and winding roads. 

You have to understand that I come from a place in the Visayas where, when you travel by land, what you often see are plains. This is why I don't mind the 12-hour travel to Sagada; the scenery is different and refreshing. I take a route that makes sure the trip is interesting, besides. To Sagada I take the Banaue route, and to Manila I take the Baguio route.  

During my first Sagada trip, I did the Lumyang-Sumaguing cave connection (you go in through the mouth of Lumyang Cave and exit via the mouth of Sumaguing). I did other things too, like eat at the Yoghurt House and Masferre Inn, and go to Echo Valley and Bokong Falls. But my memory of these things aren't as vivid because of how exhausted I was from spelunking, which is by far, by my wuss-y standards, the riskiest thing I've done. 

Early mornings in Sagada: Cold and foggy. 

I was in Sagada for three days and two nights. And because we rolled into town a little after lunch time, day one was spent walking around town and shopping at Sagada Weaving. 

Sagada: Lots and lots of pine trees, rice terraces, and steep mountains. 

Day two, we got up early to meet Lester, a member of the Sagada Genuine Guides Association (, who was referred to us by George Inn (crazy cheap accomodations, by the way, at P400 a night for a room). Then, we walked for about ten minutes to Lumyang Cave.

The mouth of Lumyang Cave is also where Sagada's famous stacked coffins are. Our guide said that they believe that when man dies, he should either be as close to heaven as possible, thus the hanging coffins; or be brought back to Mother Earth's womb, thus the stacked coffins in the cave. The stacked coffins are small because the dead is put into fetal position.  

The Lumyang Cave part of the spelunking experience was scary for me. We squeezed ourselves into a small gap to get into the cave, and then there was more of squeezing into small holes once we were inside. The experience also involved stepping on Lester's back to ascend elevated areas, and  using a rope to descend from them. Add to that Lester's stories of kerosene lamps suddenly dying on some spelunking groups at a particular area in the cave  (he said that when that happens, the guide has to go out of the cave to get a new lamp while the tourists wait inside). 

I didn't really have the chance to appreciate the beauty of Lumyang Cave as all my faculties  were devoted to just getting past a certain part. I think all the while I was just looking at what I was holding onto. There was a lot of fumbling and groping in the dark (the risky type). I didn't even notice the bat shit that I'm sure was all round. 

View from Echo Valley. It's a few minutes walk from the town center, and if you don't feel like trekking to where the hanging coffins are, you can check them out from this vantage point. Caution is  very important because, as with most places in Sagada, you'll be walking and standing on cliffs. Our guide said the area can be slippery because of the dried pine leaves, and there have been several cases of people who have gone missing and then have been found dead at the bottom of a cliff. There's even a tombstone in Echo Valley of an Italian tourist who fell to his death while having his picture taken. 

I was really relieved when Lester said that we had reached Sumaguing Cave (you'd know too because then you starting seeing other people). In retrospect, all I remember of Lumyang Cave are the really steep rocks, small holes, and darkness. 

Bokong Falls, dubbed as Sagada's "small falls," is about 20-feet high and is a few minutes walk from the town center. 

Sumaguing Cave was the nicer part because of the interesting (mostly sensual) rock formations. Although most parts of the cave were still tricky (i.e. slippery), it gave me comfort that the area was brighter because of other groups' lamps. 

Above: St. Mary's Church. Below: Sagada Cemetery behind St. Mary's Church. 

I know I'm not a cave fan, but I seem to forget this when a spelunking opportunity is present. My first caves were Langun-Gubingob in Calbiga, Samar during a girl scout activity in high school. I disliked the experience. All I could think of was how we were going to get out. 

Maybe I am a bit claustrophobic, but I'd still say yes if you ask me to go caving because I have this feeling that there is something to love about caves that I haven't quite found yet. 

Images around St. Mary's Church. 

Some not-so-relevant thoughts:

* I'd lost some of the printed copies of these photos, so I had to have them reprinted. I've been shooting digitally for a while now that I didn't realize how daunting a task printing photos from film is nowadays. Most of the photo shops in malls have gone totally digital; they don't develop films nor print photos from negatives anymore. 
I guess I need to find a shop which scans films really well. 

*This one's for my badass-est friend, Lily Joyce Duremdes, who talked about Sagada with such enthusiasm in 2006 that she inadvertently convinced me to visit the place. She also lent me her manual Minolta SLR camera until it died. 

Next up: My second trip to Sagada. More pictures and details of what to do in this majestic town. Meanwhile, read Jeff's POV of our 2008 trip here.

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