It was from the 80’s movie “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” where I first learned about the place called Sagada. Another movie, the 2006 romantic comedy “Don’t Give Up On Us” also had Sagada as its setting. It was then when I decided to pack up my bags and go to this far-away place dubbed “Shangri-la of the Philippines”.
I Loved You Before I Met You
My travels to the north went only as far as Baguio and I never thought I’d fall in love with Sagada even before I finally set foot on it in April 2006. Located 387 km north of Manila near the provincial capital of Bontoc, it is a 13-hour bus trip through the country’s highest highways over narrow mountain tracks of the Cordilleras. If one decides to commute from the big city, there are three routes to choose from: a) Manila via Baguio; b) Manila via Banaue; and c) Manila via Bontoc. Since I have tried the first two options, maybe I’ll try the third one next time.
and where time momentarily stops
“Travel light” is my travel mantra, so armed with only my weekender backpack, I went with seven seminarians and one priest on Easter Sunday 2006. From Manaoag, Pangasinan (where the seminary is located) it is just a one-hour drive to Baguio City. We hurriedly ate lunch at the Dangwa Terminal and boarded the last trip of Lizardo Lines.
Buses plying the Baguio-Sagada route are non-airconditioned.
We couldn’t keep our eyes off the road as we marveled at the beauty of the vegetable terraces on both sides of the Halsema Highway. The ear-to-ear smile of my Sri Lankan friend, Manoj couldn’t be wiped off from his face. After what seemed like forever (6-hour bus ride through winding roads) we finally reached our destination at 7 P.M. We stayed at St. Joseph’s Resthouse, which is located atop a hill offering one of the best views in town. Offering accommodations from the basic dorm room to family cottages, it also has a restaurant and a spacious garden which is an ideal place for relaxation and meditation.
The next day started early with an exciting trip to the Sumaging Caves. We boarded a jeep to the caves and on a spur-of-the-moment decision, my friend Ian and I climbed the rooftop of the jeep and rode on top of it all the way to the cave.
Before reaching our destination, we had a side trip to the Lumiang Burial Cave. This is also the jump-off of the Cave Connection. A visit to Sumaging requires one guide for every group of five. After descending 245 steps from its entrance, we were plunged into total darkness.
The Sumaging Cave experience can be divided into three parts: 1) the descent through a slippery trail of sharp rocks surrounded by total darkness; 2) the barefoot walk on stone that feels like sand paper; and 3) the limestone rocks with tunnel-crawling in ice-cold waters.
The way back to the entrance is less tedious but one has to be alert for guano or bat dung. The final hardship is the ascent to the main entrance and by the time I got to the top, my knees were shaking from sheer fatigue. But being inside one of the country’s most popular caves that made it in Lonely Planet’s list as one of the best Adventure Travel Destinations in 2009, the experience was all worth it!
We went back to St. Joseph’s for lunch and to freshen up before moving on to the afternoon’s trek to Bomod-ok Falls or Big Falls. We were one of the few who dared squeeze in one day these two exhausting activities. From Banga-an, the easier route to the falls, it was a long and exhausting trek along the sides of countless rice terraces. Some parts were easy because the trails were cemented while some parts had deep ravines on one side.
After walking for about an hour, we finally reached the falls. The sight is so refreshing but I was contented to just stay near the water’s edge because only good swimmers were advised to dare swim in its deep and cold waters.
The trek back to the main road was more difficult because adding to the all ascending steps was the threat of a late afternoon thunderstorm. I thought I wouldn’t make it to the road because my leg muscles were complaining and it was hard catching up with an all-male group. Thankfully, they were all encouraging and we even sang my favorite songs on our way up to distract me from the hardship of the trek.
It was dark when we reached the town proper and we were all too glad to partake of a simple meal of instant noodles because almost all stores were already closed before 9 P.M. We all went to bed tired, hungry, but extremely satisfied and happy over the successful adventures we had the whole day. We had to regain energy for yet another day of exploring Sagada.
(April 16-19, 2006)