If you were to ask me, I’d pick Sagada over and over again (next to Batanes).

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This sleepy town full of new people to meet is just about the right mix of bliss in travel.

Sagada streets

Kids walking to and from the school alone is an indication it is a safe community.

It all started with a Facebook chat with two of my closest ex-colleagues. They badly needed a vacation–some peace of mind, as we kid. Fernweh (n. an ache for distant places; the craving for travel) just hit me.

Sumaguing Cave entrance, Sagada

Entrance to Sumaguing Cave, Sagada

“Life has a funny way…” started singing in my head. I said I will never do Sumaguing Cave spelunking again, but what do we know. I did it for the 3rd time this trip. Things I do for the love of travel.

There are no strangers in this world, only people we’ve yet to meet

Sagada can get expensive if you travel alone or as a couple, especially if you’d like to do all the tours. The first thing I did was find solo or couple travelers to share the tour with, and consequently the expenses, win-win! This paved way to meeting the friends we have yet to meet.

I got there with 1 friend, we left with 12 new ones.

The variety of people you meet along the way is mind-blowing. You sometimes wonder why people choose the comforts of their own places where people are the same.

Fresh honeymooners in Sagada

Fresh honeymooners

We met young honeymooners from Cebu who just got married the Saturday prior;

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A super friendly solo male traveler from Makati who just wanted to be in a place where he knows no one for a change;

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Another solo female traveler from Nuvali who  decided to spend her 21st birthday in Sagada;

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A solo female Pinay traveler from Canada who decided to experience Sagada on a whim leaving her vacationing family in Baguio for a few days;

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Veteran traveler

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Rookie traveler

2 Canadians guys, 1 seasoned traveler who has already seen the world, while for the younger guy, the Philippines is his first out of the country trip — the beginning of many, I believe.

A college couple since highschool from 2 different UP campuses (Baguio, Diliman) whose student numbers are 2013-(jaw just dropped yes) exploring their young world through travel.

1 solo female traveler with a Makati corporate job decided to spend her birthday in Sagada despite her limited off-days. She left the next day after she arrived. She just wanted a change of space for her birthday.

Ariel, our tour guide who set up a bonfire for us at Lake Danum with our driver Robert let us in to their culture, their mindsets, their beliefs and principles. It was a beautiful chilly night under the starry sky.

There were several more hi’s and hellos in between, going up and down the hill. Each gasp of air was permeated with small conversations that nourished my soul. These tiny random moments are why I travel.

The sunrise at Kiltepan may not be as perfect as it was in June, but the conversations over hot choco and cup noodles made the 4:30 am call time even more worth it.

Kiltepan Viewpoint, Sagada

New development: mini log cabin store offering quick tummy-warming breakfast while waiting for the sunrise

Sagada sunrise

Kiltepan Sunrise, Sagada

Kiltepan Sunrise

There will always be new experiences in the same place

This is my 3rd time in Sagada but there were new things to try that I haven’t had the chance before.

Orange-picking in Rock Inn may have upset Nikki’s tummy but there’s a joy in eating fresh fruits straight out of a tree whilst getting to know your new travel companions.

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Orange-picking at Rock Inn, Sagada

Sagada Brew opened a few months after my last trip in Sagada. I had the most pleasant of experiences dining with a long table of new people sharing humongous breakfast together after a beautiful sunrise.

I have always wanted to try a topload ride in Sagada but didn’t really get the right tribe until this trip. Cool wind on your face, the thrill of tumbling down, the perfect vantage point for the sceneries, it was definitely something to do in Sagada. There’s comfort in knowing that no one has ever fallen down from a jeepney’s topload by accident. It’s either the drivers are that cautious or people are.

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Sunset in Lake Danum might be one of my favorites this trip. It was a random invitation from David just moments after we arrived. I was still a little dazed and shaken by the motion-sickening zigzag roads. Good thing he approached us and our afternoon was still free.

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Sunset by the Lake Danum with friends we have yet to meet

Lake Danum, Sagada

Nikki had an upset tummy so she wanted to come back so she can enjoy the lake better. When we returned the next day right after spelunking, it was cloudy for a sunset. We had bonfire by the lake instead with chips and chats and sharing of insights about the past and the future of Sagada with the locals.

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The people of Sagada will do whatever it takes to preserve their culture. It was clear from the way the next generation of locals protect their place from tourists. Even the way the local men police their young girls from influences of the city, it made me hopeful that they’ll keep Sagada the way I loved it. I even made them promise to rally against any possibility of anyone erecting a mall.

A mall in Sagada will really make me sad.

I went away with an insight that they did not want people selling/marketing Sagada to tourists.

They were surprised that people were all of a sudden all about finding their fate in Sagada. Couples were ubiquitous. Solo travelers were blabbering about finding the one for them or screaming all their heartaches out at the mountains of Kiltepan or Echo valley.

The local boys have not seen the movie and have no intent on doing so. They did their research, though. They asked their guests who were so willing to retell the tale of the movie Tadhana detail per detail, memorized like the back of their hands.

They were not so enthusiastic about the thought of people visiting their homeland for soul searching. If you’ve seen the movie, you’d know where this came from.

I asked them if there were higher influx of tourists this year after the movie came out, they begged to disagree. They believe their visitors have always been on a roll even before it. Foreigners have been constant even before fellow Filipinos rode the bandwagon.

They don’t want tourists. They want friends. They want people who are open to experience what they can offer, not people who have a clear idea of what they came to see.

Sagada is an affair. It’s not a tourist destination. They can’t give you the same experience as all of the people who have been write and rave. Each day and each person will have a different encounter depending on where you are in your life.

There are a loooot of Sagada stories. But it’s not your story. Go to Sagada sans romance and expectations and see what Sagada for you is.

For the logistics, itinerary, bus schedules, and other info, I made a Sagada Travel Guide for Travel Finds Shop’s blog.