December 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
This trip was planned many years ago, and would not have pushed through as with all our fantasies if not for Kuya Raffy’s impending trip abroad. There’s so much things I want to say (but might not be able to) about our entire experience in Sagada, but in trying to make this short I hope I am still able to retain all the details that will help me remember those priceless moments. :) Here goes!
Our journey started in the intersection of Fajardo St. and Lacson Avenue in Manila where the “only legal bus line to Banaue”, Ohayami, was supposedly stationed. With only 3 days to spend in Sagada, we decided against taking the Baguio route which would require a good 4-6 more hours compared to the Banaue route. In retrospect, even with the seriously freezing air-condition, butt-punishing & cramped seats and just-1-stop-over, it was a good decision. Actually, the cramped seats helped us utilize our seatmate’s body heat. haha. The bus left the station 10 in the evening and we were in Banaue by 8 in the morning. Kuya Raffy got seated next to a really nice guy who lived in Banaue and by the end of the 10-hour ordeal, he was able to get enough information to help us figure out what to do next. We started off with breakfast at People’s Park Restaurant, which overlooked a nice view of the mountain side right beside the town.
beside the Ohayami bus (we were deceived by the new-looking exterior – but we didn’t have a choice anyway)
view from People’s Lodge
This was where we met our friend, the Sanfranpsycho, the funny, the crazy, the great – AVRAM! Haha. Kuya Raffy struck up a conversation with him, and the rest of the trip would have been different if we had not met him. Since he was also on the way to Sagada himself, we agreed to meet at the jeepney stop where the jeeps from Banaue to Bontoc are stationed. The jeepneys here usually don’t leave unless they’re full, and it took quite a long time for that to happen. In the course of waiting, we also met a Bulgarian couple, Geni and Didi. They were such a sweet, amiable pair that they even offered to buy us beer 9 in the morning. The jeepney finally got filled an hour later and we were all set on the rooftop, just like in the pictures! When one travels to Sagada, I seriously insist that you ride the jeepney on top because it’s the best way to experience the spectacular view offered by the mountains.
view from the top
Didi and Geni :)
Avram refilling his beer bottle with fresh spring water from the road side
The ride to Bontoc was about an hour and a half long, plying alongside mountain ranges, terraces and several other towns on the way. I initially thought that it would be strongly similar to my experience in Cameron Highlands, but I think I could say that the view in Banaue is even better. Or maybe it’s also because of the fact that I traveled to Cameron in an air-conditioned bus? haha. In any case, it was another awe-inspiring experience of looking at the beauty of nature and realizing how much there is to discover in the world. Upon reaching Bontoc, we transferred to another jeepney going to Sagada. This was another 45-minute ride on top of the jeepney, this time on a bit more rugged terrain. We finally reached Sagada at 12 noon and invited Avram, Geni and Didi to check-in St. Joseph’s Inn as well (where we made reservations). Luckily, there were rooms available and all of us dropped in our things there and proceeded to the Tourist Center to look for something to do. The three of them decided to take the Short Caving Course whereas we decided to take the Echo Valley, Hanging Coffins, Small Falls Tour since we were set on doing the 4-hour Cave Connection the day after. Before proceeding though, we had to look for a place to eat lunch since Kenneth was starving (it was a revelation to me how Kenneth can get hungry pretty quickly, he’s the weakest link when it comes to suppressing hunger hahaha). The restaurants in Sagada are open the entire day, but it can usually take 30 minutes for your food to get ready. We found ERL’s eatery right beside the Tourist Center where Kuya Raffy and Kenneth ordered bulalo. As I was trying to stick to my diet, I ordered a ham and egg wheat bread sandwich. However, upon seeing the bulalo which was filled with so much fresh vegetables, I ordered bulalo myself, sans the bulalo. In effect, I ate more than what I usually allowed myself to! fail. After the quick lunch, we met up with our tour guide Kuya Arvin, who led us by walking down to Echo Valley.
with Kuya Arvin
The entire tour took around 3 hours and the valley did live up to its name as we shouted out our names to hear it bounce back to us again. We also saw the most recent site of hanging coffins where the local people buried their dead. Walking along the forest, I couldn’t help but notice that wild sunflowers were everywhere. Even pako! We also did a little bit of caving and finally ended in a small waterfall where Kenneth and Kuya Raffy decided to take a cold dip in. Upon getting back to town, we decided to take a look at some souvenir shops and ended up buying 2 bottles of wine (Blueberry and Bugnay), which I proceeded to try immediately as it was getting a bit cold already. Having not done a walk as long as this in a long time, we were pretty much exhausted when we got back to St. Joseph so we decided to take a shower and look for some serious dinner after. It was at this point that we started blaming ourselves for relying on pictures of our friends who recently went to Sagada. As they sported pretty much summer outfits in their picture, we assumed the cold was manageable. Turns out, even if the weather can get pretty warm in the afternoon, it was seriously cold in the evening and the morning. It took some serious will power to take our first “warm” shower as the windows in the bathrooms would not even close fully. And as Kenneth explained, “mainit yung tubig pag labas ng shower, pero pagdating sayo malamig na”. :)) At the end of our showers, we went down into town where I spotted large, red, ripe tomatoes for only Php20 a kilo. I bought a kilo and the tomatoes would turn out to be a helpful snack over the next few days. While walking along the town in search for a place for dinner, we met Geni and Didi again and just as we were about to eat at Pinikpikan House, we spotted Avram who was deadset at convincing us on eating in this restaurant he was raving about. It was already 7:30pm by that time and aside from the fact that we were really hungry, we didn’t know if this restaurant Avram was talking about would still be open. The guy insisted so we unknowingly agreed into a 20-minute walk in the dark to Gaia. That was far to think we were just a meter from dinner before we met Avram! :)) Fortunately, the decision was a right one as Gaia did serve up a really superb vegetarian adobo, aside from having a library and a spectacular view (unfortunately, in the morning only). The place is owned by a popular local author who has several books chronicling Sagada. We all had the vegetarian adobo, and Avram ordered his second dinner. He was a bit worried for making us walk all the way there, but we reassured him that we did love the food. We had a great time talking about so many things and we ended by drinking up Geni’s bottle of Bugnay wine. We walked back to town, this time considerably heavier and a bit less sober but definitely happy with the great, many laughter we had with dinner.
Dinner at Gaia with Didi, Geni and Avram! :) really good vegetarian adobo
The next day, we woke up around 7 in the morning and decided to save a bit on breakfast by eating the large can of tuna Kuya Raffy brought. The three of us actually brought our own tuna cans, and I also had 2 cans of pineapple chunks while Kuya Raffy had a bag of calamansi with him. :)) We needed carbs so we bought some bread to eat with our tuna. After a bit of walking though, we realized that we needed rice so we went to Masfere where we ordered 3 plates of rice with a sunny side up each and kindly asked them if they could open the can of tuna for us. We were then surprised that they had proceeded to cook the tuna and serve us with 3 plates of hot, steaming rice with cucumber, tomatoes, and a slice of fried banana on the side. Our cheap breakfast had turned into an expensive-looking one and we were eternally grateful for their initiative.
After breakfast, we went back to the Tourist Center to get a guide for the Cave Connection. This was where we met our travel companion for the rest of our trip, Josh, who was lined up next to us in the counter. Josh is a 24-year old Kiwi (New Zealander) who quit his job and went off to see the world in a year or so. He was a really cool, funny, somewhat geeky guy (geeks are cool in my book), who was really easy to get along with. I was also happy we had some overlapping taste in music, as well as in humor. But I have to admit, he can get a bit corny sometimes, which adds to the fun of talking to him. :)) Since he was alone and wanted to do the Cave Connection Tour himself, we joined up with him to form a party of 4. We walked back up to the cave entrance, which was actually near Gaia haha, and proceeded to enter the deep cavern. It was December 21 that day, and at the “end of the world”, the worst thing that happened was that both Kenneth’s and my camera had drained batteries!! We forgot to charge the night before and we were so frustrated at the fact that we couldn’t take any pictures in the cave. We had to rely on Kuya Raffy’s blackberry to take pictures, even if it meant grainy, unfocused shots. Thank god blackberries have flash! haha. The tour was around 3 to 4 hours of possibly-deadly spelunking. I was actually surprised at myself that clumsy and inflexible as I am, I was able to finish the entire thing without flinching. Also, the fact that once you get in, there’s no way to get out but to keep going on, everyone was bound to finish the course by hook or by crook. Kuya Raffy, on the other hand, had to overcome an attack of his fear of heights in one part of the caving where we had to scale up a slippery rock wall with no harness and just a rope to hang on. I myself had a hard time locating the “dito ka humawak ma’am” holes and there was a moment that I thought I would lose my grip. It took a good 30 minutes for him to do that and Kenneth, Josh and I were so proud when he finally made it up. :) The rock formations weren’t that superb (compared to the one in Palawan), aside from the fact that the general theme the guides insisted was all about mushrooms and porn. After seeing those porn formations, I guess anything can be porn. haha. But aside from that, I think what I loved most about that caving was the fact that even if it took us around 3.5 hours to finish it, we didn’t get tired at all. And we managed to get out without a single scratch. There was also a part where you could swim in the cave, and Kenneth even drank water there – something me and Kuya Raffy passed off, I think wisely. The only thing I didn’t like about it was all the guano-groping that it entailed. Upon emerging from the cave, we had already made friends this time with a Taiwanese couple Erin and Lin (who almost convinced us he was Jeremy Lin’s brother…sayang! haha). They turned out to be performance artists who were friends with another couple we met at St. Joseph’s. What a small world! After buying a bottle of water to wash our guano-covered hands with, we walked back to town in search for lunch. We decided to eat at Lemon House where they had their famed Lemon Pie. I think of the three of us, Kenneth was the most entranced to this 25-peso-per-slice pie. He was clearly won over as he kept yearning for lemon pie during the rest of our stay in Sagada. It was quite good, actually. :) But we found better-tasting lemon pie the day after. hihi. After lunch, we went back to St. Joseph to take a shower and we arranged to meet up again with Josh, Erin and Lin for the sunset and lake viewing. Before the trip, thank goodness Kenneth insisted on bringing sulfur soap because it was pretty comforting to know that we could completely eliminate all the guano by using that. When we went back down to meet up with the other guys, we joined up with Avram again and this time with new friends from Malaysia: Seb and Wei. We all rented a van and our multinational party couldn’t go any better as everyone swapped stories and experiences as if we were long time friends. The lake was okay and we missed the sunset, but the experience was great nonetheless because we gained new friends. We swapped emails by the end of the tour and I really do hope I get to meet these guys again in the future. :) By the time we reached the town again, we split up for dinner since the Taiwanese and Malaysian group had reservations at Log Cabin. My cousins, Josh and Avram then went to our originally planned Pinikpikan dinner to try the local delicacy of a beaten-up chicken turned tinola. It was a good thing that there was Pinikpikan readily available because you usually need to order this in advance. The Pinikpikan was very tasty, and we noticed that this was actually because of the smoked pork or etag that they placed in the soup. I ended up buying a kilo of etag before going home because of this realization. hahaha. Etag tastes like chorizo de bilbao, somehow. We then went back to St. Joseph after to rest a bit and then returned to Kimchi bar, which was a reggae bar, to supposedly drink a couple of beers with the rest of the people we met. I guess they got too tired with the caving since only Josh and Avram showed up again. I should note that this entire trip is probably the only time I’ve downed so much alcohol. I’m not sure if it’s because the fruit wines have low alcohol content or if I actually have a strong tolerance to alcohol, but I never did feel too dizzy or nauseous from all the drinking. :)) Anyway, after a bottle of beer each and a whole plate of Korean pork barbeque, we decided to go home and sleep in preparation for our last full day in Sagada tomorrow.
with Wei, Josh, Avram and Seb
The next day, we ate at Strawberry Cafe, which was nicely set beside a ridge. We had my cans of tuna and a strawberry crepe and pancake for breakfast. That day was a Saturday, and Saturday is market day in Sagada. All the fresh produce from the mountains were right there for the taking! Baby potatoes and carrots were Php15 a kilo, whereas brocolli was only Php40 a kilo, and so much leaves and other fruits were there for the taking. Kenneth and I got quite carried away as we bought so many vegetables which ended up with the problem of how to bring them all home. We went home with seriously heavy baggage because of this. :)) I am eternally grateful for my Kuya Raffy for bringing one of my bags the entire trip back home. :)) My favorite purchases were the 3 kilos of red and black rice as well as the etag and brussel sprouts.
After marketing, we met up with Josh to go to Bomod-ok (or “Big”) Falls which was situated in a different town: Bomod-ok. hahaha. We had to catch a jeepney going there and while waiting, we couldn’t help but notice the white stuff people were eating from a cup in the jeepney. With some interviewing, we found out that it was actually binatog, so we looked for the source and Kenneth bought some right before the jeepney took off. Their binatog was deliciously different as aside from the coconut shavings and salt, it also had milk and sugar. I ate half the cup even if I was lactose intolerant as it was too good to pass on. I suffered minimal consequences after, thank goodness. haha. The jeepney ride was around 15 minutes, and upon reaching Bomod-ok, guides were available for Php500. The walk to the Big Falls was all downwards. From up the mountain, we went down “pilapils” (rice paddy ledges) and rocky paths, some beside ravines and others passing through streams. The view was spectacular, but the walk was quite long at around 45 minutes. The pressure of repeated landings on my foot unfortunately took a toll on my right ankle but fortunately I was able to make it thanks to Kenneth’s ingenious self-made walking stick. When we finally reached Big Falls, all of us decided to take a dip in the ice cold water. It was like taking a bath in water colder than the one from the dispenser, but you couldn’t pass off that after that long hike down. We only had around 10 minutes to spend in the fall as the last trip from Bomod-ok to Sagada was 1:30 in the afternoon. We had to get back to the town before that jeep left. It was only then that we realized was an arduous, tiring, steep walk the way back up was. Josh was unbelievably only mildly tired as the three of us paused intermittently to catch our breaths. Only when we had surfaced from that seemingly unending steps did we find out that it was more than 2000 steps up all in all. In any case, I’m proud of myself that I kept almost the same pace as my male cousins. Hindi ako lampa! haha. We could barely breath when we got up, and we were just in time before the jeepney left. I ate a tomato on the trip back.
upon reaching “Big Falls” with the walking stick Kenneth made me :)
are we there yet??
after swimming in the cold, cold, cold, water brrrrr
When we got back to town, we unanimously agreed to go home and rest. After taking showers (we had learned already that it was wise to take a shower while it was still a bit hot, meaning still in the afternoon), Kenneth and I decided to do some pasalubong shopping while Kuya Raffy slept. Kenneth bought so much martial arts stuff like 2 pairs of fighting sticks and 3 bolos(?)! Plus 2 knives. Forgive my ignorance, I forgot how they’re properly called. If not for our financial constraints he would have bought even more. I spent around 6000 for the entire trip and I deliberately left my ATM to avoid overspending. Kuya Raffy spent around the same amount (and this is because he magnanimously paid for our transportation going there…he was cool for not buying too much pasalubongs. haha) but Kenneth bordered at around 8000. But if you don’t plan on buying any pasalubongs, I think a budget 4000 for 3 nights is already enough. When Kenneth and I got back to St. Joseph, Avram was already there and we also met Paolo, who was a Filipino traveling by himself. We agreed to eat dinner together at Yoghurt House that night and when we got there, it was such a big disappointment that they couldn’t seat a party of 6 together. It was then that we persuaded Josh, Avram, and even Paolo, to try their first balut on the way in search for a different place to eat. We ended up eating at some cafeteria and after that we went looking for this traditional Igorot wedding which our guides mentioned to us would be happening that night. We walked in the dark for around 30 minutes in search for the wedding, but failed to locate it. We ended up attending a reggae concert turned free-drumming drinking party instead. It was cool to observe how a “party” was there. The locals, even if not dressed in their traditional costumes anymore, would dance to the beat of their gongs around a bonfire as people listened and drank together to sustain themselves through the cold night. After listening to the drums until midnight, we decided to call it a day as tomorrow we were leaving Sagada.
Avram trying his first balut
Kuya Raffy trying the drums
On the day we were to leave, we were determined to eat at Yoghurt House for breakfast. We ate with Avram, who I felt was already starting to miss us. Their yoghurt was absolutely great, and we all voted that they had rightfully earned their fame in travel reviews. We then got our things from St. Joseph and met up with Josh to all go home together. We had to leave around 8:30 to avoid getting left by the last trip from Bontoc to Banaue (which was around 1pm). We took our last rooftop ride on the jeepney to bid the mountains good-bye. We parted ways with Avram at Bontoc (where he had some “business” to do haha), and it was a formal good-bye without the tears even if we were all sentimental to leave each other’s company which we had become so used to. During the last leg of the trip from Bontoc to Banaue, it started raining and we had to shield ourselves from the cold, wet breeze using a tarpaulin. It was quite an experience as I kept a fetal position on top of a spare tire to keep tarp locked in position and the rain out. Upon reaching Banaue, we had to kill 5 hours until the Ohayami bus left for Manila. It was raining really hard by then so we couldn’t go out to explore the town. Aside from the fact that we were lugging 2 heavy bags each. We went to Uyami Greenview Lodge to eat lunch and they welcomingly agreed to let us stay there until 6 in the evening. Thankfully Josh had a pack of cards, and we entertained ourselves by playing Scum, where Kenneth was the eternal scum and Josh the eternal President. Every time you become president, the prize was to eat a Tortita (which was actually Kenneth’s and what a pity that he couldn’t eat as he was always the “scum” haha). I ate Tortitas even if I didn’t win anyway as my cousins tolerated my “patay-gutomness”. We had so much fun doing that and before we knew it, we had to board the bus and leave Ifugao for good.
last breakfast at Yoghurt House with Avram and Josh
the prized Tortitas, I ate 3 illegal ones (I was actually running closely for “Scum” on most games haha)
Our trip ended again at that intersection of Fajardo St. and Lacson Avenue, and it was where we hugged Josh good-bye and bade him luck in his next adventure to Bohol. This entry is a really a short summary of everything that happened, and it’s mainly because I will never be able to put into proper words all the wonderful experiences we had during our brief stay there. I’m just extremely glad that this trip materialized and I went with the best travel buddies/cousins I could ever ask for. Kuya Raffy for being our “kuya” talaga, treating us meals and taking care of us. Kenneth for all the handy items he brought along with (we were teasing him for having the largest bag going to Sagada), his crazy ideas and for providing real entertainment as scum-for-life. :)) I’m also thankful for having met and shared stories with Geni, Didi, Erin, Lin, Wei and Seb. And of course, I will never forget Avram and Josh who were both really wonderful strangers turned travel buddies. And last but definitely the greatest, thank you God for creating such a wonderful place and for allowing us to see it in this lifetime. :) Although I did bring home quite a lot from this trip, the best ones would definitely be the memories. As many writers often quip, “what are we after all, without our memories?”.
*Thank you to visitsagada.com for all the helpful information we got to prepare for this trip. the title of this blogpost was actually inspired from that site. haha. :)