"My Sagada Experience (May 15-18, 2003)" morgagni's Profile
There are two ways to get to Sagada. One is by taking the various buses bound for Baguio, and from Baguio, take the Lizardo buses going to Sagada. Manila to Baguio takes around 6-7 hours and costs P285, while the Baguio-Sagada trip usually lasts 7 hours and costs P189.
The alternate route, the one we (my sister Olive, my girlfriend Joy, and I) opted to take, is the Manila-Banaue-Bontoc-Sagada route. We took the lone 10pm trip of the Banaue-bound Autobus, starting from its new bus terminal located at the corner of España and Cataluña Streets in Sampaloc, Manila, somewhere between UST and Morayta. The trip took around 9 hours, with two stop-overs- one in Bulacan, and another one in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya- and cost P257. I never knew that Nueva Vizcaya was a moutainous province until recently. I have always thought that just like Nueva Ecija, it was just purely flat land with vast ricefields. And also, Nueva Vizcaya had a cooler temperature than in the lowlands. I bet this leg of our trip would have been more exciting during daytime since it passes through the scenic Dalton Pass.
We arrived in Banaue at 7am, and took a short tricycle ride to the town proper for P10. The driver brought us to the People's Restaurant where we had breakfast. The restaurant had a nice view of the terraces located in the poblacion. I ordered the People's Breakfast (P80) which consists of ham omelette, toasted bread, and banana; and coffee (P15). After breakfast, we were informed that the one and only jeepney bound for Bontoc had already left. We were then told that the only alternative was to wait for the Bontoc-bound buses originating from Tuguegarao which would pass by Banaue at around 11am. We decided to go to the Banaue Viewpoint, where the most famous terraces are located, and do some sight-seeing until the bus arrives. The tricycle ride took just 20 minutes, and cost P20 for all three of us.
The view from Banaue Viewpoint was simply awesome. The terraces, now green in color, were mammoth in size, and seem to have a velvety texture. Upon careful observation, one sees the intricate irrigation system that has sustained these terraces for centuries. I couldn't help but wonder how the natives were able to build these structures using just their crude tools and bare hands.
Since we had a lot of free time, we attempted to go down the terraces. I said "attempted" because a few meters down the trail, we gave up, mindful of the difficulty we would be facing when climbing up. We stopped by this small two-story house by the trail. It was owned by Mang Tony, a native of Banaue. I?m not sure if you have seen him on Brigada Siete, or read his story in the newspapers way back, but Mang Tony was the one who had an American cab driver friend who toured him around the US for free. He was nice enough to show us clips of newspaper articles about him, and pictures of his US tour. After a few minutes of chatting, we left Mang Tony and started waiting for the bus. While waiting, we did some shopping at the souvenir shops along the road. We saw a few foreign tourists arrive. Some were caucasians, others were either chinese or japanese. There were two white men accompanied by two very young local girls. They couldn't be more than 16 years old. I wondered if this was an inevitable price that Banaue would have to pay for the development of tourism in their town.
Finally, at around a quarter to 11am, a non-ariconditioned Bontoc-bound bus arrived. There was still space inside the bus, so we didn’t have to ride on top. Thank God. The trip took 2 hours, and cost P70 each. The road was not asphalted nor concretized, hence, the dusty ride. This must have been the way to make that sweet Los Baños native delicacy because, after the long trip, we surely looked like espasols. It’s a good thing we brought face masks with us.
At around 1pm, we reached Bontoc, the capital town of Mt. Province. The temperature here was not as cold as in Banaue or Sagada, but the tricycle driver who brought us to the terminal of Sagada-bound jeepneys told us that the temperature drops dramatically during the colder months.
After a few minutes of waiting for more passengers, the jeepney started moving through the scenic Mt. Province countryside. Along the way, we saw lots of rice terraces of different sizes and shapes. Actually, all thoughout your tour of the Ifugao-Mt.Province-Benguet area, you would see numerous terraces that dot the landscape. I guess it was time to finally say goodbye to my long-time notion that rice terraces were only found in Banaue. In an hour, we arrived in Sagada.
When the jeepney pulled over near the municipal hall of Sagada, we immediately went to the Tourist Information Center (TIC). There we logged-in, and paid the fee of P10. You may inquire about the daily schedule of buses and jeepneys going to and from Sagada, and the regular rates of various inns and resthouses in town. The standard rates of tourist guides were also posted there.
We then proceeded to the most popular resthouse in Sagada—the St. Joseph’s Resthouse, located atop a small hill, along the main road. It is being run by the Episcopalian Missions in Sagada, which also runs the St. Mary’s Church and School, and St. Theodore’s Hospital. Episcopalian, or Anglican, is the main religion in Sagada, so you wouldn’t find any Catholic churches in this town. There is, however, a 4:30pm Catholic mass celebrated every Sunday at Masferre’s Restaurant.
Accomodation at St. Joseph’s costs P100/person/night for the dorm-type rooms. The only difference with the private rooms is that the bathroom is communal. It was not a problem for us since the inn had few guests at that time. For the dorm-type rooms, you can choose from 1 to 6-bed rooms; while for the private rooms, you can choose the 3-bed rooms (P500-800) or 4-bed rooms (P1000). They also have separate cottages with much more expensive rates.
We left our things in our room on the ground floor of St. Joseph’s, and looked for a good place to eat. We spotted St. Joseph’s café found in the same compound as the resthouse. I ordered the fried chicken with buttered vegetables and rice for P80.
Since we only had a few hours of the afternoon left, we decided to just explore the town proper and nearby landmarks. We first went to St. Mary the Virgin Church located in the Episcopalian Missions compound, just across the street from St. Joseph’s. It had an impressive romanesque architecture, and was built in the early 1900’s. At this point, the rain had started to pour. It’s a good thing we brought umbrellas. A few meters down the path, we reached a fork, with the left trail going up the calvary hill and leading to the cemetery, and with the right trail leading to the school. Since we didn't know yet where the cemetery was, we took the trail going to the school. There we stayed for a couple of minutes while waiting for the rain to stop.
At the school’s administration office, we met Mrs. Dominga Agpan Tocong, a nice lady probably in her 70s. We were able to chat with her about Sagada, its history, its inhabitants.
As the sky started to clear, we decided to continue with our exploration, and asked Mrs. Tocong for directions to the cemetery. As it turned out, we should have taken the left trail going up the hill. After a few minutes walking up the hill, we reached the cemetery. There was an eerie feeling as we walked through the cemetery, with the sky still gloomy and with the drizzle still falling. After taking some pictures, we decided to go down the Echo valley where the hanging coffins are. But unable to find the trail, we went back to our inn.
Before scouting for a place to eat dinner, we first took a shower. One at a time, of course. As expected, the water from the faucet was very cold, almost too cold to bear. Fortunately, I brought my portable water heater. But after mixing one part of hot water with one part un-heated water, it was as if I had never used a water heater at all.
Dinner was at Shamrock Café near the town hall. I ordered Club House sandwich (P50) and the local mountain tea (P15). The tea had a slightly sweet salabat-like taste.
We were back at the inn before 7pm, and by 9pm we were asleep.
Second day in Sagada. Wake-up call was at 6am. We ate breakfast in bed, with the bread, ham spread, liver spread, and juice that we brought with us from Manila. By 7am, we were once again exploring the town. We walked up the road just behind St. Joseph’s, the same road that leads to Besao. The view of the poblacion was nice from this elevation. After taking some pictures, we headed down to the town center. Fortunately, there was a Banga-an jeepney that was just about to leave. Banga-an is the jump-off point to the Bomod-ok “Big” Falls. We boarded the jeepney, and soon after, it made its way through a rough and bumpy road with a great view of Sagada’s terraces. Fare, by the way, cost P12 each. Twenty minutes later, we were in Banga-an. With us in the jeepney was a tour group of 6 people – 3 female and one male Americans, and 2 male Filipinos. Since the three of us were new to Sagada, we asked the group if they could take us in. And they did.
What followed was an hour of trekking down the valley, passing through a trail which cuts through rice terraces, and which has a spectacular view of more distant ones. I think the view from the trail made the long trek a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.
We finally reached the Big Falls, and admired its 40-meter beauty. The refreshing cool mist generated by the splashing of the falling water against the rocks below could be felt even at a distance. We approached the falls, having left all our things some hundred meters away. The minute we stepped into the pool below the falls, we knew we would have some difficulty dipping in it. But I guess it was pure courage that made us finally take the plunge.
At first, the cold was unbearable, even to the point of painful. The typhoon-like wind originating from the foot of the waterfall did not help either. But after some time, it became more tolerable. We soon found ourselves enjoying the swim.
Then it was time to go back. The ascent took more time because my sister got tired easily after a few steps. At first, she rested around every 20 steps, but as we got higher, the rests became more frequent, around every 10 steps! We already asked the other members of the group to go ahead of us, so as not to slow them down. And they did. After more than an hour of intermittent climb, we finally reached the clearing in Banga-an. Our groupmates were already resting at the nearby sari-sari store. We waited for the jeep bound for the town proper, however, it would not come until after two hours. So the group decided to rent a jeep for P200. Joy and I rode on top of the jeep for a better view of the Sagada countryside. The view was great, yeah, but our butt hurt after the ride.
We arrived at the town center, paid the jeepney driver, and then paid our tour guide, Mang Biag, P500. It was a good thing we were 9 in the group, so the expenses of each were kept to a minimum.
We had lunch at Cuisina Igorota, just behind St. Theodore’s Hospital. It was actually the hospital’s canteen. We were given generous servings of chicken adobo, sauteed mushrooms, and unlimited rice. They even served iced tap water, something that you wouldn’t find in other restaurants. They also have the only television set I’ve seen in Sagada, complete with cable. For all these, each of us just paid an unbelievable P50!
The caves were the only itinerary for the afternoon. At around 2pm, we went to the TIC at the town hall to look for Mang Biag who would be our tour guide to the caves. We walked for around 40 minutes to the entrance of the Sumaguing “Big” cave, stopping by a sari-sari store to rent a kerosene lamp, the type which gives off a very powerful light. I never really thought how big this cave was until this day. I also thought that this cave was so developed that there would be paved stairs throughout its whole length. I was wrong. There were stairs only from the road to the entrance to the cave. The rest, you would have to climb down sharp-edged and slippery rocks and boulders. As we entered the cave, we could hear the squeaks of bats resting against the cave’s ceiling. So we assumed that the mud coating the rocks, and that would soon coat almost our whole body as we maneuvered ourselves through the rocks was bat dung or "guano." As we descended deeper into the lower vaults of the cave, the bat squeaks slowly disappeared, and the rocks became smoother and less coated with mud (bat manure?). The guide eventually asked us to remove our slippers and sandals. From here on, we went bare-foot. We soon found ourselves amidst various rock formations and icy pools. The rock formations had this fleshy color and sandstone-like texture. When illuminated, they revealed a variety of forms. One rock looked like the lower torso of a pregnant woman, with legs apart. Another was like a bunch of bananas (or Saging in Tagalog); they said Sumaguing cave was named after these formations. Yet another looked like a turtle with its head hiding under its shell. Another rock breaks the surface of one pool, and looked like a crocodile waiting for its next prey. I could go on with a list of the other rock formations and the things they resemble, but that would take forever.
After our group climbed down King’s Curtain with some degree of difficulty, our guide advised my sister not to go on with the rest of the trail, because we would be going through some very narrow passageways. So after leaving her with the company of a lighted candle, we continued. As expected, Joy and I and the guide did go through a narrow passageway, so narrow that we had to pass sideways, and on all fours. I couldn’t imagine my sister going through this hole. We then reached a vault with lots of stalactite and stalagmite formations. Water still dripped from these inverted peaks, indicating that they were still in the process of being formed. We continued our exploration, this time we had to hang on to a horizontally fixed rope, while our feet “walked” on the wall. We had to do this carefully, because there was this gaping water-filled hole on the floor. Our guide told us afterwards that he had accompanied one tourist who fell through the hole. He would have surely died in that 12-feet-deep pool had Mang Biag not rescued him.
We finally came out of that tunnel, into this very big vault. Mang Biag asked us to look closely at the wall of this vault, and upon closer inspection, we saw various fossilized sea shells imbedded in the wall!!! Wow, how the hell did they get in here?!? Mang Biag also informed us that this is the lowermost part of the cave’s system of vaults and tunnels. I then wondered why the sea shells were found only the lowermost part, and not in the upper parts of the cave. As soon as I return to Manila, I would look for the answers.
We came out of this vault by climbing a big dome-shaped rock, then and the Queen’s Curtain. This looked like a carbon copy of the King’s Curtain, but was much smaller. We then realized that the vault that we had just come out of was located opposite the side of the cave where we entered the tunnel. So it only meant that the tunnel passed underneath the place where we left my sister. Cool!
We started our way back to the entrance, first by climbing the side of the King’s Curtain. We reached the place where we had left our sandals, and put them on. I don’t know how you would explain it, but I found the climb up somewhat easier than the descent. I was more confident and less afraid that I would slip and fall into the jagged-edged rocks below.
Sumaguing was indeed a wonderful place. It was, for me, the best feature that Sagada has to offer.
Next stop was the Lumiang Burial cave. My sister, who was already exhausted by now, decided to go back to our resthouse. There was a short downward trail from the road to the entrance of the cave, but that was the only climb that you would have to do to get to the coffins. They were located right at the cave’s entrance. We didn’t even need a lamp to see them, the daylight was more than enough. The coffins were piled up neatly against the wall on the right. Some were wedged in a gap between the wall and the ceiling. One particular coffin caught our attention. Its lid had a very nice carving of two lizards facing each other. We opened the coffin, revealing its contents. Inside were two or more incomplete sets of skeletons. Mang Biag told us that some coffins, due to natural and human forces, fell into the bottom of the cave. They salvaged as much bones as they could, and then randomly put them in coffins. That’s why there are more than one set of bones inside some coffins. There are still coffins and bones at the bottom of the cave, he added.
We went back to St. Joseph’s, still awestruck by the two caves that we had just seen. By now, I had already concluded that Sagada was the best place I’ve been to.
We ate dinner at Cuisina Igorota again. This time, we were served chicken with a gravy-like sauce, sayote with corned beef, and, of course, unlimited rice. Meal again cost P50 each.
We went back to our inn, and by around 9pm, we were already asleep.
The next day, Saturday, our third day, we began by eating breakfast in bed. But we decided that we’d never leave Sagada without trying the yoghurt and crepes of Yoghurt House. So we went there, and ordered Yoghurt with Granolas, Banana, and Strawberry (P60), and Yoghurt pancake with Banana (P40).
The only itinerary for that morning was Kiltepan tower, so there was no need to hurry. It was already 9am when we started our way to Kiltepan. We were supposed to meet Mang Biag at the TIC so that he could be our guide, but apparently, he was already in the caves, accompanying some tourists. Mang Biag was so nice that I couldn’t get angry with him for standing us up. We then decided to go there by ourselves. Anyway, we had the Sagada map by P.M. Stephens. During Saturdays, by the way, the main road of Sagada (the one in front of St. Joseph’s) becomes a marketplace. People from the barangays, and other towns, come here to sell their merchandise. Actually, as early as Friday night, the vendors already start setting up their stalls. Stuffs from vegetables to grains, from the local blueberries to halu-halo are sold here.
There were two ways to get to Kiltepan according to the map. We chose the one which looked shorter. Soon we would find out how not-to-scale the map was. The road we chose turned out to be the longer route, despite its being a wide road, able to accommodate motor vehicles. We then reached a fork in the road. We chose the one on the left, and a few meters later, we met a nice German fellow. He told us that the way to Kiltepan was the other road. So went back to the fork, and took the other road. We eventually reached Kiltepan peak with the tower. Unfortunately, the ladder leading to the tower’s view decks was missing, and we would later find out that it was stolen. The view of Sagada and the rice terraces from the peak was simple awesome. Pardon me for having used this word a lot in this article, but I couldn’t find a more appropriate term to describe Sagada and its various treasures.
A few more minutes of admiring the sights, and we were on our way back. When we reached the fork, we decided to take the one that we had mistakingly taken on our way up. The German guy had told us that he had a house somewhere down the road, and that this was the shorter way to town. So we eventually passed by his house, the only one standing in the vicinity of Kiltepan. But we couldn’t find the trail that he had told us. So we approached his house, and there, by the house’s balcony, were the German guy, his Filipino wife, and their cute three-year-old.
They were so accommodating that they even offered us drinks, and toured us inside their house. According to Mrs. Jacob, the wife, tourists could rent some of their rooms for a minimal fee of P100/head/night. They could even use the cooking facilities of the house if they want. After chatting about almost everything, we finally bade them goodbye, and left. But before leaving, they showed us the trail. Thirty minutes later, we were back in town.
On our way to the resthouse, I started wondering why the film on my SLR cam still hasn’t run out yet, being stuck on the 38 mark for so long. When I checked, que' horror! I had not loaded the film properly! All my shots of Sumaguing and Lumiang caves, and of Kiltepan peak, were useless! Damn! So now, Im left with just the low-resolution digital pictures of those sites. But for Kiltepan, I did not bring the digital cam, so I totally have no pics from that site.
After cursing myself for not having checked the film before, we fetched my sister at the resthouse, and then we proceeded to Masferre’s Restaurant for lunch. We ate Binagoongang baboy (P75), Chicken with black beans (P75), and Ginataang gulay (P60). The food was delicious, though not as cheap as Cuisina Igorota. We went back to St. Joseph’s and rested a little before proceeding with our itinerary.
Next stop was Echo valley with its Hanging coffins. Still, we did not employ the services of any tour guide, confident that we would find the right trail, the same way we managed to reach Kiltepan by ourselves. After passing through the church’s compound, the christian cemetery and calvary hill, we descended the hill into the valley below. Ordinarily, the trail would have been very easy to descend, but due to the trekking and hiking and caving that we had been doing for the past two days, we found ourselves tiring easily. Between Joy and me, I was out of breath more often.
In just 15 minutes of walking down the trail, we were already face-to-face with the coffins hanging against the high stone wall. We were so close that we could actually touch the wall that cradled these coffins. But they were set so high that it was quite impossible for us to inspect the coffins, like what we did in Lumiang cave. At this time, the sky had begun to darken, so we started our way up and back to town.
In town, we ordered halu-halo from one of the stalls in the road-market. When we finished it off, we proceeded to Bokong “Small” Falls. Still, no tour guide. Finding the trail to Bokong Falls was easy. The map by P.M. Stephens was accurate enough, despite being not-to-scale.
After passing through some rice paddies, and skipping over rocks across a small stream, we finally reached the falls. The walk took only around 30 minutes. The falls had a nice 15-feet-deep pool which, they said, was good for swimming. However, when we went there, there were about 10 local kids swimming in it, so we decided not to spoil their fun by joining them. We just sat there for a while, then went back to our inn.
Dinner was again at Cuisina Igorota, where we had grown fond of the female chef’s cooking. They served us Nilagang baboy, some vegetables, and unlimited rice.
We slept at around 10pm, and woke up early at 5am. By 6am, we were already at the bus stop of Lizardo Lines. By 7am, the bus had already started its 7-hour trip to Baguio. Bus ticket cost P189.
The bus passed through Halsema Highway, which had a stunning view of the Benguet countryside. As we got to higher elevations, the temperature dropped and the clouds descended on us. The bus soon snaked through the highway in thick fog. People living in houses along the road had rosy cheeks and were all wearing thick jackets. All these at midday! How I wished I lived here and avoided the 36oC temperature of Manila’s midday.
When we arrived in Baguio, it was only then that the I realized that my Sagada experience has come to an end. I missed Sagada already. If only I had the time and money, I would have stayed longer. Well, maybe next time, I would stay longer…or even forever.
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