I started dreaming of visiting Sagada four years ago after seeing its tempting charm on TV and reading it on the web. Just last week, I fulfilled that dream. Candidly, while I was there consuming its opulence, I never thought I was in reality—I felt that I was still dreaming.
Last week was my first week-long out of town trip since 2006. When I say out of town, I exclude Zambales and Bataan. I started in Baguio to witness the over-publicized Panagbenga Festival then after three days, headed relentlessly to Sagada.
In Baguio, the terminal of buses going to Mountain Province is located at Dangwa, dwellers call it “Dangwa bus terminal,” which operated by GL Trans. Earliest trip to Sadaga starts at 6:30 in the morning and 1:30 in the afternoon is the last trip. There are no air-con buses but let me stress that bus-seats are more comfortable compared to typical buses in other provinces (I hope you figure out how a typical bus-seat in the province looks or feels like). Bus departure is scheduled every hour. There are two bus stops before arriving in Sagada, first stop is at Morning Star in Atok Benguet; it’s two hours from Dangwa terminal while the second is another two hours from Morning star. Expect that it’s colder when you travel in the morning because of heavy fog along the roads.
Going across Mountain Province from Baguio wasn’t that easy, apart from burning your butt for almost six hours, you would neither torment yourself nor feed your eyes on the views waving from the left and right sides of the road. The perfect artwork of our creator (as I always dub it) and the appalling precipices on the whole duration of travel would literally take someone’s breath away. The bus is situated a meter or two before the cliff. Deal with it and savor the moment.
I, together with my travel companion, did steal several naps when we were on our way to Mountain Province— just naps, because we wanted to make sure that our eyes are full before reaching our main destination. It was also the time when missing a thing was a sin. And besides, how could we sleep if we were being enticed by the scenes beside us?
Some parts of the road going there were under construction, so making it rough, but most parts were smooth and cemented. Before reaching Sagada, we traversed the worst part of the road where we grappled with dust for almost an hour.
START OF THE ADVENTURE
DAY-1 CAVE EXPLORATION
We made it in Sagada at exactly 12:11 in the afternoon after taking the first trip from Baguio. Subsequent to our lunch was our first adventure of the day—spelunking. If you look at the dictionary, caving and spelunking are the same, but according to all tour guides, the appropriate term for cave visitors or tourists is spelunkers because caving is the activity coined for the person/persons who discovered the cave. Well, I observed that the difference between the two terms is being discussed by every tour guide to every group. So, in case you were asked about it, you know what to say by now.
We traversed the Lumiang “Burial” Cave and Sumaging Cave or the “Cave Connection.” The two caves are connected. Once you enter the Lumiang Cave, you’ll exit at the Sumaging Cave.
One tour guide will attend and assist two tourists at the same time and each will pay P400. The approximate time in exploring the cave connection is 4 hours depending on the endurance and pace of the visitors, some wander inside the cave for more than 4 hours because it’s hard for them to bear the strenuous portions of the cave or they come with large group, so the tendency is, they wait for their comrades to finish one challenge first before they can go ahead with the trail.
Situated at the Lumiang Cave’s entrance are small coffins piled horizontally. Locals believe that their ancestors buried at its mouth are protectors of the abundant forests in the area. According to Jayson, our tour guide, there were almost 200 coffins before, but due to earthquakes and other calamities, some got obliterated. Moreover, before, coffins were hung vertically, upon the stretch of Christianity, traditional burial was given to them and people started to bury their elders laid back. The oldest coffins are there for more than a century while the latest was in 1986, about 25 years ago. Now, the residents learn to adopt traditional entombment in the graveyard. When I asked the guide why coffins are small, he said that deceased were placed inside in a fetus position. According their belief, we were first nurtured when we were fetus and we should return to our creator in the same form.
We reached the cave’s opening at 3:30pm and got out at 7:34 in the evening. The first entrance was very dark and narrow which made us skeptical whether to enter or just back out. We’ve chosen to enter and conquered the first ladder of the challenge. And our first step unfolded new story of the adventure we are looking for. It wasn’t spine-chilling inside, just very dark. The life of the whole trail was the lamp carried by our tour guide. There were portions where it’s a must to perform rappelling to avoid accidents. The presence of small holes also manifested most in Lumiang Cave where we needed to crawl, creep, and bend our bodies to its fullest. It’s not dangerous inside as long as you listen to the instructions given by the tour guide—such us when to bend your knees, when to use your left or your right foot and where to place your hands. I really admired how our tour guide was able to carry bag, camera, and lamp while leading us to the trail. Don’t attempt to enter the cave alone or without any guide. We were informed that a foreigner died when he explored the cave just by himself. Another fatality was recorded when someone went inside during typhoon season. When rainwater started to fill in the cave he got drowned. The best time to do spelunking is during dry season.
Lumiang Cave is more challenging than Sumaging Cave, but the latter is more admirable. I tell you, challenges are bearable. If you are claustrophobic, I suggest you only try Sumaging and skip Lumiang. Anyway, you’ll be given two choices by the guide, it’s either you trail cave connection or just Sumaging Cave alone.
In cave connection, Sumaging Cave exploration is considered as the FUN part. Most tourists prefer to ramble around Sumaging since it is less strenuous. We reached the boundary of Sumaging from Lumiang after two hours and stayed for another two hours in the former. Here, we witnessed different rock formations—prominent were stalagmites. Some evident formations are the giant frog, giant turtle, King’s Palace which displays the Queen’s vagina, rock curtains, giant teeth, chocolate cake, elephants, dinosaur’s footprint, and water terraces. It looked like visitors were just playing inside. We also dipped in the water since mini-pool structures are scattered all over the cave. The best of part our stay here was when we plunged in the chest-deep water and when we rappelled at the 15-ft rock.
Making it happen was very rewarding. I can’t even count how many times I got tongue-tied with amazement.
Just a reminder: Wear rubberize slippers or flip-flops or any durable sandals. You’ll encounter sharp rocks and pebbles on the pathway, although there are instances where guide would ask you to walk barefoot because rocks are slippery. Also, wear comfortable shorts and shirts, preferably soft maong shorts, so you could easily move and stretch. I recommend reliable soft maong because most of the time, you’ll do butt-slide. I’m sure you don’t wanna get out with your shorts worn out. Don’t bring unnecessary baggage and let the guide carry your camera. Don’t throw waste inside to preserve the cave’s sanitation.
KILTEPAN AND MARLBORO COUNTRY
After acquiring muscle twinge from our cave exploration, Jessanie and I arranged a whole day event on our second day in Sagada. It was also our first time to bond with our fellow travelers, Trisha and Faith—both are Filipinos— and Mike, a Swiss.
We started our first trip to Kiltepan in the wee hours of the morning to see the sunrise. It is located in the middle of the forest where we were able to touch the smog. While waiting for the sun to shine (wow, seems like a song), tourists gathered around bonfire to warm up, the heat did not beat the frostiness of the area though. At exactly 5:30am, we started waiting for the sun, unfortunately, we did not capture its perfect view due to heavy fog, but for several times, it did display its horizons with intermittent yellow, orange, and reddish pink hues. We headed straight to Rock Inn for breakfast and for “orange picking.” It was another bad timing for us because planters already harvested the oranges.
We trekked Marlboro Country following our hefty breakfast. It’s an hour walk from the drop-off point. Of course, that includes taking of pictures, quick rests and informal talks. Besides, good sight of soaring pine trees and cold breeze overwhelmed the steepness of the track. When we finally arrived at Marlboro Country, we were caught in astonishment. In the middle of nowhere, the only things that appear are mountains, trees and wild plants— that’s how we described it. According to our guide, there are wild horses running at the mountain’s foot. They did not show up.
Marlboro Country is my favorite place in Sagada. For me, it’s a place to run and ease any trouble inside. I can scream, without anyone hearing it, except the trees.
Just half-hour shy before noon, the group incessantly hiked to Bomod-ok Waterfalls. It’s an hour walk from Barangay Aguid, the drop-off point. From Bomod-ok to drop-off point it took us 1 1/2 hours while passing through Sagada rice terraces.
There are several waterfalls in Sagada, and Bomod-ok is the largest. For the record, this is the first waterfalls I’ve seen in my entire existence. I do not consider the small falls in Pundaquit, Zambales as one because it only appears during rainy season. According to Mike, a Swiss traveler who had been in many places in the Philippines and around the world and had seen several waterfalls, Bomod-ok is the most beautiful, adding that its magnificence is highly praiseworthy and incomparable.
With its crystal clear water from the mountain and bluish green at its basin, we cannot just sit, take pictures, and be contented on merely praising its splendor; we felt the need to consume it. So, we hastily jumped off the water. The water was as cold as ice eventhough it was past 12 in the afternoon. Some of us tried to dive from the elevated rocky part of the falls. Faith and I had the same conclusion; it was like cliff diving— our highest dive so far.
ECHO VALLEY AND HANGING COFFINS
We spent our last day in Sagada for relaxation. We first stopped at St. Mary the Virgin Church, an Angelican Church situated a few meters before the gravesite. The church is very unique because it’s made up of piled stones. Speaking of gravesite, we noticed that instead of using candle in lighting the tomb, people burn logs.
From the Church, it took us 20 minutes before reaching the Echo Valley and Hanging Coffin. There’s nothing significant in Echo Valley except that it made us yell more because of the echo. It was nice hearing our voices bounced back.
Although I’ve seen hanging coffins in pictures for several times already, it felt different seeing it with my very eyes. Apparently, there was no attack of terror when I stared at it; it just brought me back to the old age. Locals believe that the higher the place of the dead is, the greater the chance for them to reach heaven. We wondered though how people managed to hang the coffins beside the rocky mountain’s cliff.
Sagada is only a small town situated in Mountain Province. The whole town appeared to me as two small streets in Manila in terms of dimension not in terms of population and number of houses. There is no bus terminal in the area; buses just stop at the waiting area of the municipality. It won’t be hard for travelers to look for lodging inns because they are dispersed along the two small streets of the town. Average rates of guest houses range from P200-300/day/person. I stayed at George Guesthouse for only P300 per night, with private CR and free wi-fi. Who could resist that offer? Most lodging inns also have dine-in restaurant.
Whenever I visit new places, I always make sure that I try restaurant’s specialty. I observed that In Sagada, most restaurants are cozy and have almost the same menu and offer big servings ranging from P120- P200 for a complete meal—that’s the average. In Log Cabin Restaurant, it’s P250-400. I haven’t seen any fast-food chain in the area.
Here are my recommendations:
1- Rock Inn– They serve good breakfast and I especially loved their banana yoghurt. Their tapa and fried rice are also good.
2- Yoghurt House- They offer good pasta—spaghetti and carbonara. Pls. do not try their beef menu, it’s bland and supple. According to some friends, their yoghurt cake is a must-try. I attempted to order it twice, but it wasn’t available.
3- Log Cabin– They serve buffet every Saturday night only for P350. From Sundays to Fridays they only offer regular menu. Try their menu which comes in set A to E, it’s a combo meal. Pork chop and pasta are good and very palatable. (My favorite)
4- Bana’s Cafe– They offer delectable meaty spaghetti. But their carbonara is plain.
5- Alfredo’s Cabin– Their pansit bihon is tasty.
In Sagada, it’s easier to make friends. You will make friends because except for the cave exploration, tour guide fees are charged per group, so the bigger the group, the lesser the contribution of each member, or making friends will come naturally since kindliness of locals and other tourists (mostly are foreigners) is contagious.
My three-day visit in Sagada is worth reminiscing and documenting. This travel taught me two things: First, living in simplicity is the most luxurious way to spend one’s life. Second, great things in life, aside from free, are unexpected. I hope every Filipino will find time to visit this place and experience the abundance of Mountain Province.
Truly, Sagada is incomparable. It is like a box of treasure. Anywhere you go, you’ll always be surprised and amazed.
HOW TO GET TO SAGADA
1- Buses are located in Dangwa Terminal.
2- Ride a bus bound to Sagada. Fare is P220.
3- Get off at Sagada Municipality. Trip is almost 6 hrs.
1- Ride a Florida bus en route Banaue. (9-hr ride. Fare is P400. FLORIDA BUS LINES- 810 Lacson Avenue Manila Metro Manila, Phone: +63(2)7314473)
2- Get off at Bananue. From Banaue, ride a jeepney going to Bontoc. (2-hr ride. Fare is P150)
3- From Bontoc, ride a jeepney going to Sagada. (1-hr ride. Fare is P40)
(Date of travel March 1-4, 2011)