Friday, September 23, 2011

Sagada: Northern Delights

April 14, 2011 (Thursday) 

    The Sea of Clouds: View aboard a bus en route to Sagada, Mt Province    

     Uncertainty:  The deep ravines that   
  will meet  you with a smile    

The Road To Sagada

All roads lead to Victory Liner Terminal station in Cubao, our jump-off place for this four day trip. Minutes past 10pm, the bus started its way to the famed road going north passing by Tarlac, Pangasinan, and finally-Baguio City.

I barely remember the whole trip since I was asleep all throughout, but for a few minutes there, I reminisced being awoken by a nauseating feeling when we were trudging along the treacherous Kenon road. I did not expect the searing coldness that met us in the city of Pines when we arrived there at around 3:30 am. Unbelievably cold for summer, I must say. After hailing a taxi, we went straight to Dangwa Terminal Station and ate our breakfast at the nearby restaurant.

It wasn’t until past 6 am, when the first trip of Lizardo Bus Line going to Sagada arrived. The ticket booth wasn’t open until 6 am, and the swarm of tourist/locals that was gathered there was bent on picking the first trip come what may. I was actually anticipating the crowd since April is a month where people choose Sagada as an escape for the hot summer. Limited Bus trips + Crowd of passengers = of course a commotion and alot of non-smiling faces. But for us who waited for almost 2 hours in the terminal, we just can’t settle for the next trip.

Thirty minutes later, we left the terminal aboard the ordinary, non-aircon Lizardo bus heading for Sagada. Well with this trip, one doesn’t really need aircon buses. The early northern chill is more than enough to toss you in throes of hypothermia. We didn’t dare open our windows for most part of the trip.

The road passing Benguet offers panoramic view of deep ravines and breathtaking rice terraces. The sea of clouds, which could only be seen early in the morning, is one of a kind. I thought I would only see it in Mt. Pulag. Well, northern mountains are really distinctively unique. There are not enough superlatives to describe the feeling of beholding such splendor.Though the ravines are covered with lush and towering pine trees, one could not mistake its perilous depth. One wrong move and the bus would tumult down its precarious abyss. Not only once or twice have I thought that we would make it to the headlines the next day: Another car road accident in Benguet.

  Brief Indulgence : a 10 minutes stopover to the Highest Point in Benguet

       Blue Wonder: Pines and Mountains... Great escape for tired eyes 


Morning Star: the first and only stopover (canteen) going to Sagada

     Mountain Top: the view from the 
Highest Point in Benguet   

Well, the idea is not farfetched. Though most roads are paved, there were times when the road could only contain one vehicle at a time. I have to ask myself why this isn’t written in most blogs. The road to Sagada is definitely not for novice drivers! Be warned.

The bus driver indulged us for 10 minutes before advancing through the inclined road ahead. There was only one bus stop, the Morning Star restaurant. We arrived there at around 10 am. The sun is already high in the sky, but the chill still seeps through. A few minutes later, the bus stopped at probably the highest point in Benguet, rising 7400 meters above sea level, “The Highest Point”, as they call it; no need to really explain why.

Yogurt House

    Wooden Walls: a cozy way to spent your lazy afternoon    
     Delectable: A sure way to gastronomic satiety    

Hours later, we passed a crossroad: one road going down the town of Bontoc and the other road going up in Sagada. From there it was mostly rough road. And when I say rough, it isn’t just a small ditch in the road, you must try Star City (without the harness) to know what I mean. We arrived at the town center at around 12: 30 pm. After checking in at Residential Lodge, we had our first meal in Yoghurt House.

The food is good, their serving is bountiful (compared to other resto’s there), but I could not say much with the staff’s attitude. We were expecting nice, friendly, and accommodating people. What we got were quite irate, stiff, and non-smiling servers. 

Okay guilty, that is a generalization. Well as a customer you tend to remember those unreceptive gestures more, right? No? Well I do. 

I suppose they focused more on what’s served in their plates that they forgot the most basic and simple idea: it’s more appetizing to eat in place filled with friendly staff. I hope their popularity hadn’t levitated high in their heads; hard enough to pull it back to lower humble grounds. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the sumptuous meal especially their carbonara. 


Burial Sites

     In A Time Capsule: The memoirs of the past serves as pieces of wonder of the present.    

    Rugged Rocks: one of the hanging burial site    

Next in our itinerary is exploring the famed caves of the area. After hiring guides at SAGASS (Jason and Dave) and after debating whether we would have Sumaging Cave (2 hours) or Cave Connection (4 hours), we started our journey downhill, choosing the former since we are all first timers. Which I may say, probably is the best choice we made. Hahahah. 

Along the way, we chanced upon Sugong Hanging Coffins in the distant rock formations. Even from afar, it’s still quite an ample view. 
    Breath of Life: The Pines that nurtures the Earth    

We also passed the Lumiang Burial Cave (the starting point for those opting for Cave Connection) and saw numerous ancient wooden coffins pilled amidst the rocks. 

The tradition of cave burial has already ceased due to the introduction of new 
religion and practically due to lack of space. 

Some of the coffins there having embossed sign of Cross are said to contain the remains of ancestors who turned into Christianity before their death. Contrary to common belief, mummifying their dead is a taboo in this part of Mt. Province, according to our guides. I must have heard a different story with the Cordilleras mummified artifacts.

   Reflections: A different peace and tranquility to mind  

Kapay-Aw Terraces

Along the road, picturesque Kapay-Aw terraces would greet you with its humble grandeur. Its postcard perfectness is cut straight from pages of Travel magazines. I would have loved to walk down this road again even in my dreams.

     Kapay -Aw Famed Heritage: The Wealth of Wonders  of Sagada     

  Paved Road: A scenic overload 
amidst the Pines and Leaves 

The tranquility of the green terraces and the charm of towering pine trees, with dried pine leaves gently falling along the perfectly smudged road, would surely have a lingering effect on your memory. Somewhere in your life, you surely have dreamed of this or imagined yourself leisurely strolling the same path. 

      Blossoms: the wild flowers that 
  blooms with careless abandon.   

I would have loved to spend the whole sundown in the area, if not for our jam-packed itinerary. For a few moments there, I breathed the air, the scene, and all the beauty that surrounded me… and smiled as the memory embedded itself on my mind. 

   Unknown: The creeping darkness ahead   

Sumaging Cave

We arrived at the entrance of Sumaging Cave almost sundown. Our guides prepared our portable kerosene powered lights (Gasera) while we did our own preparations. 

Cold and Clear Water Runs Through

Actually, there was not much of a preparation since we don’t know exactly know what to do to prepare ourselves. We don’t even know what to expect or how our body would respond. This would be our first time! We all know spelunking is a strenuous activity. Deep inside me, there was this tugging fear that my body would not make it through. 

I know myself, and I know my weakness when it comes to coldness. Hypothermia was always at the back of my mind.The first part of the cave is a night crawl amidst a bat infested area (where their stinking manure is all you can smell and touch!!!! Eww...! hahahah). 
We had no choice but to cling to slimy rocks since the path is so slippery and dark. This lasted for a slow pace of 20 minutes. Twenty minutes of darkness, coldness, and unusual smell... 

    A Piece of Cake: The unique rock formation inside the Cave   

Then as we went downwards, we reached a part where we need to remove our footwear. This time, the smell was gone and the start of the real action materialized: slide/ cling/ grab/ reach/ hold! The guides’ stories were lost to me since I was last in line and barely heard a word from them. And they had my camera so I can’t do some point-and-shoot pics. All I can do was stare silently and shiver at the magnificent and shining stalactites and stalagmites. The flowing water is freezing cold and I wished I brought a thick jacket to sooth my numbing skin.

   Test Before You Dip:
    The cold water will make you insane   
   Crawl if you Must:
   The narrow passage to the next chamber   
There were some parts in the cave where you’ll need the assistance of the guide to be able to pass through the next section. I slipped a couple of times but no one seemed to notice. I realized spelunking could be treacherous game for those who are careless. Hard limestone rocks could be very unforgiving.

After almost 2 hours, our guide told us that the next part has two trails; wet (challenging) and dry (easy) trail and made us chose between the two. 

We opted for the challenging one thinking our experience would not be enough without really trying everything that the place has to offer. Well, I was one of the few who voiced some worries since the wet part involves crossing a water basin and I don’t know how to swim. 

But I was assured that the water level is just waist deep. 
The next part involves crawling through small crevice and sliding through wet rocks. 

    Support: Reach out when needed    
The waist level water basin that we had to cross was so so so cold! I was shivering involuntarily and I had to run 
through the whole 500 meters of freezing water to go near the “Gasera” for warmth. 

There was also a part there where you’ll need to cling to a thick string or else you’d fall into another dark creepy water basin (with unknown depth). 

A friend actually fell in it, but was luckily and quickly pulled up by our guides. You can just imagine the drama we went through: the running, shivering, screaming and the hysterics. Priceless! Hahaha. 

The last challenge we had to hurdle is climbing through a rock using a cable. That part is easy, if you can carry yourself up after all that theatrics. En route, we saw some sea shells fossilized in the cave ceiling. How those shells found its way there could only mean that Sagada could be submerged underwater some millions of years ago.
After more than 3 and half hours we were already back at the entrance of the cave. It was already hours after sundown.

Sea Shells... sea shells on our ceilings..

 We met some tourists who were just starting their way inside. I can only shrug and smile at the adventure that awaits them. If the inside the cave was cold, outside was way colder. We started walking our way back to our lodging house with endless snapshots of the events that happened inside the cave. 

Everyone has something to say. After all the pain and swearing, you could see the smiling faces underneath the smudged faces and tired eyes. 

   Priviledge: See the world from above   

  Sisig: classic taste for your buds  
Pinikpikan House

While walking we realized that we had to keep our silence since the town is unusually quiet at night. Before heading to our lodging house, we stopped at Pinikpikan House for our dinner. The restaurant serves their original specialty dishes but I was not very enthusiastic to try them. I opted for the more familiar sounding “sisig”. Although, my friends who tried their “pinikpikan” have only positive words to give it ... The staff were quite friendly people, I noted.

As I closed my eyes that night, I realized how tired my body was. But knowing I survived day one made me feel renewed. I like doing this.

(to be continued)

Silent Ponder - Petrified Dreams

"Maaring ang paglalakbay ay isang pagpupunyagi ng katawang marating ang isang banwa.

Ngunit hindi kailanman natin dapat paniwalaang ang paglalakbay ay tanging sa pisikal lang: sa mga tanawing natatanaw, sa mga amoy na nalalanghap, sa mga tunog na naririnig o sa mga pangdamang nalalasap... higit ang pagpupunyagi ng paglalakbay sa kaisipan.. dahil tanging ang isip ang maglalandas ng daang hindi kayang liparin ng sinuman..."

MT--meeting time
ETA-- Expected Time of Arrival
ETD- Expected Time of Departure

Day 0 (April 14)

Choice A: Manila-Banaue -Sagada Route

Option 1: With Side Trip to Banaue Rice Terreces

2100H - MT UST Area, Sampaloc Manila
2345H - ETD Florida Bus Line (Manila-Banaue, 450Php)
0800H - ETA Banaue Terminal Station
0900H - ETD Terminal Station ( hire a jeep to Sagada,depende sa tawad, around 1.5-2K )
1200H - ETA Sagada!

Option 2: Via Bontoc Town

1900H - MT (E. Rodriguez Sr. QC. front of Trinity University of Asia. Right Side of Garcia’s Supermarket
2030H - ETD Manila (Fare, 650Php)
0900H - ETA Bontoc (Explore)
1000H - ETD Bontoc (via Jeepney, 50Php)
1100H - ETA Sagada!

Choice B: Manila-Baguio -Sagada Route

Option 1: Via Baguio (Side Trip City of Pines)

2100H - MT Cubao Terminal Station

a. Victory Liner ( Php 450) - with sched trip per hour
b. Genesis Bus (Php 400) - Relatively New

2200H - ETD Terminal
0400H - ETA Baguio Terminal (Engineers Hill- Victoryl/ Gov. Pack Road- Genesis)
0400-0600H = Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral Baguio City, Benguet, or Meet sunrise @ MInes View
0600H - ETD Baguio to Sagada (First Trip, Php 240) Lizardo Bus Line, Dangwa Terminal Station
1200H - ETA Sagada!

Day 1: April 15, Friday
(Southern Sagada Spelunking Survi-best!)

1200H - ETA Sagada
1200-1230H - Book at Residential Lodge (Php 250/night/head)

1230-1330H - Lunch @ Yougurt House or Cuisina Igorota
1330-1400H - To Municipal Hall, arrange guides for Sumaging Cave
1400-1800 - Sumaging Cave Spelunking
Incuded Sites on the way:
1. Sugong Hanging Coffins
2. Lumiang Burial Cave (Entrance Only)
3. Kapay-aw Terraces

Std Guides: 5 people - Php 600
6-9 People - Php 1,000
10 People - Php 1,200

1930H- Dinner at Pinikpikan House
2030- 2100H:  Freshen up, change clothes
2100H - Bed Time (Curfew hour is at 2100H)

Day 2: April 16, 2011 Saturday
(The Northern Sagada Trekking Escapade)

0330H - Wake Up Call
0400H - ETD for Kiltepan View Point (Guide Fee 200Php)
0500H - ETA Kiltepan Summit, Wait for Sunrise
0800-0930H - Breakfast @ Rock Inn (Pick Oranges at the Orchard)
0930-1000H - Arrange for guides to Big Falls
1000H - ETD to Bomod Ok Falls (Big Falls)

Guide Fee: 1-10 people - Php600
Vehicle Fee: Php 800

Included sites:
1. Aguid Rice Terreces / Fidelisan Rice Terreces (Walking at the terreces!)

1300H - ETA to Bomod Ok Falls (2 hours of trekking)
1300 - 1330H - Lunch near the Big Falls
1330 - 1630H - Swimming, Picture Taking, etc...
1630 - 1700H - Changes of Clothes, ETD Big Falls
1800H - ETA Residential Inn, dinner cook our own meal.

Day 3: April 17,2011 Sunday
(The Ultimate Eastern-Western-Central Sagada Invasion)

0600H - waker up time, breakfast (in bed, nagtitipid na...hahaha)
0700H - ETD to Marboro Mountain (30 mins trek, with wild horses!) (

0800H - ETA MArboro Mountain
0800- 1100H - commune with nature, seelimestone formations
(photoshot theme: Haciendero e' haciendera paradiso! Clothes in chekered, hahaah.)

1100H -ETD from Marlboro Mountain
1130H - Lunch at Sagada Lemon Pie House
1230-1600H - Echo Valley,Underground River/ Bokong Falls

Included sites:
1. Saint Mary’s Church
2. Sagada Weaving
3. Calvary Hanging Coffins

1600H - ETD to Central Sagada
1630H - ETA Lake Danum
1630 - 1830H Sunset View at Lake Danum/ visit Pottery Shop and Demang Old Village
1900H - Dinner at Masferri resturant or Rock Inn (try their Bonfire)
2000H - Prepare for Tomorrow's Departure

Day 4: April 18, 2011 Monday
(The goodbye)
Lean time!!!! Go on shopping, souvenir hunting...

0900H - ETD Sagada
1500H - ETA Baguio City!!!!
1500H- 1700H (Visit other places, if possible, like grotto, teacher's camp,or ukay-ukay shops, etc...)
1700H - ETD Baguio City
2300H - ETA Manila

Other Tips here

PS. I wrote this on our planning days. Kinda funny reading it now.

Marvin Eric Says:

I am so exciteddddddddddddddddddd....

ahem... prepare natin ang ating mga kasuotan ha..

1. Checkered long sleeves for boys(or kahit long sleeves)... bistida (preferably white) for girls... (let's have this ranchero photos at MArlboro Mountain... sana me hats...hehehhe..Theme: Sa Rancho)

2. Shorts and gloves (yung parang sa tricycle, yung butas ang kamay) para sa spelunking sa Sumaging Cave (theme: Earth Diggers)

3. Shawl..scarf... lots and lots of shawl... scarf!!! for the sagada weather! (Theme: Lamig-lamigan sa Tag-Araw)

4. More than 1 Jacket... (for the sunrise at Kiltepan, sa biyahe, and Fireplace sa bahay!Theme: State-side )

5. Swimming attire (for the hidden Bomok-Od Falls)--> Sando + short is good, let's not swim in t-shirts.. hehehe. (theme: Katorse)

6. Something Yellow (for... wala lang... pwede for Ninoy and Cory? hahaha)

7. Something White ( It's Holy Week afterall, magsimba tayo in white clothes in St Mary Chapel and the cemetery nearby, plus the hanging coffins!)

8. And last but not the least, stuff toy, yung maliit lang. It would be our miniature self, our own AVATAR... kasma sa lahat ng picture taking.. heheh.

Shocks. kmusta naman ang bag ko diba? ahhaha....

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