Above is the Majestic Kiltepan Sunrise, Sagada, Mountain Province

Terminal

From Victory Bus Liner in Cubao to Dangwa Terminal in Baguio City (6 hours)
From Dangwa Terminal in Baguio City to Sagada Town Municipal Office (6 hours)

 

A total of 12 hours road trip and aching butts, but definitely worth it!

 

Sagada Bus Schedule from Dangwa Terminal in Baguio (iPhone Photo by LA Madridejos)

 

The Batcave

Rock Inn

We stayed at Rock Inn the first night out of heeding recommendations but then the 4km walk to the town was proving to be impractical, albeit worthy ambiance and scenery. So we decided to transfer to a Trip Advisor-stamped guesthouse.
We met the really nice children of the house owner who alternately picked us up and sent us off in different kinds of vehicles! They were eloquent and a pleasure to talk with.

George Guesthouse

This is a 5-minute walk to the Municipal office, which is the center of everything.

It was nothing fancy, just a functional bed, private bathroom, and interesting fellow travelers from all nations, mostly young, who you can hear discussing previous trips and tips from x country over a meal. And yes, they just met there. This is just palpable travelers bliss.

 

We decided to gather all energies possible the first afternoon we arrived for the tours we signed up for. It was the best decision.

 


*Every tourist is required to register at the Tourism Booth prior hotel check-in or tour, for documentation and proper identification.

 
Tours are centralized which I think is a very good system that every province should implement.
 
Rates are standardized, guides are on queue, everyone has equal chance at a job.
 
Best of all, it works!

Only in Sagada

Central Sagada Ecotour

When we signed up for this 3-hour loop hike, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, until Manong Aklay, the old local guy in the tourism booth, said it was a good warm up for the caving later in the day. Oh boy was he right! It was a rollercoaster on land going up and down the hill passing by:

St. Mary’s Church

A quaint town church in the middle of the Sagada

 

School boys from a nearby private school passing by St Mary’s Church
Cultural “playground’ for the Sagada kids. Found along the way to the church, in the town’s center
Looks like New Zealand! On our way to St Mary’s Church

 

The Echo Valley Hanging Coffins

– yes, it’s really echo valley, as our guide Kuya Rendel urged us to shout our names, and foolish as we are, heard echoes of what beautiful names!

The Hanging Coffin Burial Tradition

Hanging Coffins found in the Echo Valley

Hanging Coffins found in the Echo Valley

According to Rendel and Jeffrey, our tour guides, the following are some explanations as to why the hanging ritual is done.

  • They believe the spirits will hover around on earth. They hang the coffins because they believe that the spirits stay within us.
  • Locals believe that the higher the coffin is placed, the closer it is to heaven.
  • They do not bury the body 6 feet under because they believe that it will be difficult for the spirit to rise since it is carrying the weight of the world.
  • The locals also believe that the higher the coffins are hung subtly proves the power of the family left behind since it takes skills, ability, and intellect, and probably funds to hang coffins to the highest spots
  • The chairs behind the coffin are the same chair the dead was placed on before burial. Yes, they have the body sit on during the wake, openly. There are rituals they do to delay decomposition.
  • They make the coffins out of logs of pine trees which are carved to make a hollow where the body is placed.
  • The size of the coffin doesn’t equal to the size of the body since the corpses are put inside in a fetal position. This is so because they believe a person should leave earth the same way it came–in a fetal position.
  • The people then are encouraged to join the burial ceremony which entails passing over of the body from one person to another until it reaches the spot on the cliff. People before joins because they believe that it is “lucky” to be spilled on body fluids of the dead. But the present generation do not agree much anymore, Rendel said.

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Sagada Underground River

It’s where we found a giant boulder which served as our refuge from the overwhelming hike

Bokong Natural Swimming Pool

It’s 10 feet deep with frigid waters. This is the place where locals gather for picnics, family outings, friends’ drinking sessions, that the government decided to put a concrete shed amidst natural greenery for people’s shelter when rain suddenly decides to join in.

The shed, as we found it, was damaged. Rendel said the destructive storm Ondoy destroyed parts of it as the water rose from the pool and took over the space.

Sagada Weaving

It was a store of the finished woven products. I was hoping to see the real weaving action here but to no avail.

 

There were several small rivers, valleys, and rice fields along the way, tall grasses on our feet, and visions of insects and reptiles hovering our legs, but yes, we braved all those because we’re badass like that! Not! We were given the option to walk back which was a less appealing choice given the distance and the difficulty. So yes, quitting is for the weak, as a friend would say! : ]

 

Fee: P600 per guide for up to 10 visitors

Sumaguing Cave Spelunking

Short Course Caving

I’ve done the Sumaging Cave spelunking way back 2001 and told myself I won’t do it a second time. But as fate would have it, there I was, tiring and subjecting myself to possible injuries, again.

 

I joined a friend who was a first-timer and insisted without resistance to just do the shorter course as we were not as fit as we would need to enjoy the whole parade.

 

Like a true experience maximalist, I did this time what I was not able to do 13 years ago– take pictures! — no matter how difficult finding a light source was. It helped that my persistent friend was determined to set up the camera no matter how long it takes to get a good shot. We were not in a hurry, at all.

 

Last natural light before caving in
Preparing the light
Jeffrey, the ex-policeman tour guide explaining precautions and what to expect in the cave
Coffins along the entrance of the cave
the only source of light for an hour or so
fellow cavemen : p

 

Fee: Short course caving (1-1/2 hours): P500 up to 4 people
Cave Connection (3-4 hours): P800 up to 2 visitors

Kiltepan Sunrise

I have a thing for sunrises and sunsets so when a place offers a must-see view, I make an effort to wake up early enough, not a morning person that I am. The 15-minute drive to Kiltepan viewpoint was a mix of good and rough road but all good with cool fresh wind on your face with matching “I’m the king of the world!” or “we are infinite!” scream if you’re lucky to have a topdown.

Sea of clouds famous in Sagada sunrise
It was majestic. Burst of color, on a sea of white clouds, on an aerial view of lush green rice terraces, cool air, quiet mornings.. ahhh.. it was a really good morning!

[save for some inconsiderate bunch who chatted like they were on a team building activity on their own. Guys, please be mindful of the solace people might want to experience during that sunrise.]

Korean Invasio

Korean Invasion

View of those who braved the chilly morning

View of those who braved the chilly morning

Then came a hearty breakfast from a local who did not just serve food, she cared for us.
And the best massage my entire muscular system has ever sensed in delicate strokes by manang Tan-ay (recommended by Manang Dora in George Guesthouse. Ask her : ]).

The Experience 

 

The next day was the biggest, most beautiful surprise of all during the entire trip.
The perks of spontaneity is best exemplified here. Begnas.

 

Left: Igorot playing gangsa for the tribe, right: Igorot tribemen in bahag

 

Begnas is a ritual of thanksgiving done 5 times a year (January, March, June, July, October) before and after the harvest period. This is the time I most enjoyed taking pictures. The ritual alone made the whole 12-hour deep vein thrombosis-inducing road trip worth it. Igorots in bahags, gangsa music, Balangbang ethnic dance, live pig and chicken slaughter as an offering– it was a festivity so welcoming that there were a handful of foreign guests enjoying the celebration.

 

This deserves a separate entry for so many post-deserving moments in photos. If you’re curious what happened, what spontaneity led us to the Dap-ay and the tribes, photo story here.

 

After the whole morning of local immersion, we spent the rest of the day soaking in Sagada life. We slowed down. Rested like how vacations are supposed to be.

 

Gaia Cafe and Crafts– an organic vegetarian cafe. I wanted to try but it was a long drive from the center.
It was close when we dropped by. Masferre was a Spanish photographer who spent his life in Sagada and had amazing photos to show
Sagada kids. They have some unique playground. And everybody knows everyone!
Sagada happy signs
left: market vendor during the Saturday Sagada market, right: caving tour guide in the dark
What magic to wake up to this?
Mother and Child in the Saturday Sagada Market

The next day, we were hopping on a toploader jeepney bound for the wonder of the world Banaue Rice Terraces.

Sagada boys on the toploader jeepney

 

Banaue days, next.

Tips Going to Sagada

  • Take the bus to Baguio at 11pm so you arrive in Baguio at around 4-5am in time for the first trip to Sagada at 5:30 am. You still have time for a quick breakfast and a short butt break.
  • Choose the right side seats so you have a better view for photography of the landscape in the Mountain Province (as advised by Maan of Maanthoughts.com). Take note that the seat number 1 starts at the right side of the driver. Important to note because we counted wrong. We got seats 3-4 thinking seat #1 starts at the left behind the driver (as it usually is).
  • Travel in groups as this will lessen the expenses. Tour guide rates are usually for up to 6-10 people. More people to divide expenses, lesser budget needed. Same is true for car rentals and rooms.
  • Wear trekking shoes and bring rubber slippers for the caves. Slippers are preferred as this take the shape of the rocks which gives better foot grip.
  • Yoghurt House is overrated. It’s good but do not expect great.
  • Wear comfy, outfit that suits your style, multifunctional, and flexible to weather. It gets hot at lunch and cold before and after.
What I Wore in Sagada: thrifted denim jacket, Dorothy Perkins black top; Forever 21 leggings; Crocs flats; Sheer printed shawl; Lacoste sling bag; Photo by LA Madridejos