Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost

This ought to be the best days of my life as I discovered something entirely different from what I’ve known all along about the Philippines.  I guess my companions shall agree with me.

Ah, Sagada… how do I begin? There aren’t enough words to describe it. The positive energy just spreads all over town and whenever I reminisce about Sagada, I become speechless yet my mind starts wandering to this utterly beautiful place. I wonder how the charm of this quaint town brought about some peacefulness even to the most restless soul.

Sagada is located at the Mountain Province of North Luzon. It is a town of 10 municipalities, nestling in the middle of a valley at the upper end of Malitep Tributary of the Chico River, 1,500 meters above sea level. Its lofty little town, dirt-free air, and sights of towering pine trees, for every visitor, represents an ambiance of tranquility & peaceful life.

{ Click Sagada Map for a large format }

It was in 2005 when we planned our Mt. Pulag Assault.  Since we will be going on a long holiday for All Saint’s Day, we figured out, this is the best time to hit two birds in one stone. Sagada is accessible via Kabayan route which isn’t far from Mt. Pulag. The road is deadly though. I can’t imagine myself crossing the same route again.

We left around 6 PM from Mt. Pulag DENR Station with one stop, to eat at a local eatery which serves lemons for free (to go with soy sauce) as an alternative to our usual kalamansi. So good things are free here.

Six hours of heart-stopping road trip to Sagada. We rented the popular Mang Roger’s Jeepney that took us from Baguio to Mt. Pulag and now to Sagada. I was seated right next to the driver. We’re not traveling on the highway but on a shortcut route. The rough road is usually use on mornings by Vegetable delivery trucks plying Sagada to Baguio. It looks to me as one lane, so I can’t grasp how drivers deal with a two- way traffic. Not that it usually happens.

Coming from our Mt. Pulag descent, my tired body can’t even move an inch or rest for a minute, I felt like our one foot is on the verge of the cliff, something might just go wrong. The fog enveloped most of the road, and I could only process that both sides of the road are cliffs, yet, through the dark I couldn’t figure out how deep we’ll fall.

Ah, the dream of a nature seeker’s thrill. I hushed my brain from thinking a tragic end to our journey. We could be on the headline the following day and I am responsible. Oh my. My first major attempt to lead the pack and there. God knows how I prayed hard to get us safely to Sagada. All 6 hours of our journey.

On the other hand, all were silent at the back of the jeep. They too are speechless to the looming darkness and maybe holding on to dear life.

I found new respect to our driver though. He is indeed the best driver in the world. No one messes with him.

We reached Sagada after midnight. The whole town was asleep. We were greeted by Regs, who missed out our Mt. Pulag assault and just decided to go ahead of us in Sagada with his wife. They already arranged our accommodation.

We got a room from Alapo’s View Inn and another  one in the fronting rustic house.

Headcount: 19 | Participants:

The unwearied bodies of  Mt. Pulag accomplices : Moi, Asi, Allan, Ferdie, Badet, Jeff, Dang, Pilo, Precy, Tessa, Shirley & James, who just spent half a day tour in Sagada and left for urgent matters to Baguio.

New companion who reached Sagada earlier: Regs, Grace, Kathy, Kitten, Jill, Chester and Jayvee

First Day – Oct 31 { Monday }

We dropped by at the Town’s Municipal Hall for registration. The local government strictly implements hiring guides for the safety and the protection of Sagada.

The itinerary we brought with us was just a guide of places to see. We were only prepared to squeezed it on a short 2 whole day trip and a half.

After arranging our itineraries and meeting our guides, we went ahead with our first stop.

Sumaguing Cave. On our way to the cave, our driver pulled off to the left side of the road. We were clueless, but our  guide spoke and told us to get down and see “Sugong Coffins” hanged on the rock wall across the road.

A bird’s eye view of century-old, hanging coffins from afar. Its amazing to see it is still intact despite the years and harsh weather. Its creepy but amazing somehow to connect with the history and culture of Sagada.

Further ahead, we were excited to go spelunking to Sumaguing Cave, known locally as the “Big Cave”.  A vast formation of stalactites & stalagmites beautifully carved by time. It has the largest chamber connecting all 60 caves in town.

There were groups ahead of us. Our curious clamoring led us to sharp & slippery rocks, dark and wet entrance. It only helped slow down our pacing.

It’s hard to stay dry once inside. There were water pools, dipping area and curtain falls, nature’s wonders at its best. Its amazing how such beauty formed in time and hidden in the dark. There is a dipping area, more than 8 feet deep for the bravest of heart. The water seemed crystal to our lights, yet cold as ice.

A perfect place for photo op.

I wish that the beauty of Sumaguing Cave stays forever, without the waste and vandalism.

Our Next Stop is the Lumiang Burial Cave

Our spelunking at Sumaguing Cave left us all sweaty and muddy and we can’t find any water resource nearby. We made a short trip to Lumiang Burial Cave to check out the wooden coffins located just at the cave’s entrance. There were some bones scattered around, and we heard that there were cases of stealing bones in the area, for the reason I cannot fathom. For souvenir perhaps?

We were told that if we go the 2nd time around in Sagada, we should try the 4 hours spelunking starting off at the mouth of Lumiang Cave and ending at the chamber of Sumaguing Cave. He warns though that it is quite dangerous and is only fit for the hard core thrill seekers.

I got intrigued though and secretly noted that.

Good thing our lodge is only about 30mins from the Cave. We were all wasted to go for another activity so we washed off and rest until noon.

James who’s original plan was to get back to Baguio on Nov. 1, left that morning. He missed out our spelunking but did had the chance to wander around St. Mary’s Ground while we’re out. We were told by the locals that there will be no transport going out of Sagada by Nov. 1, and James had to attend some priorities in Baguio. He decided to leave before lunch on Oct 31. The next day we saw at least 3 buses waiting for passengers… poor James.

Just before sunset, we stroll at St. Mary’s Ground. A Halloween party is being prepared. Children were dressed up with their scary and fun costumes. Later that night we watched a portion of their performance at the church. Trick or Treats?

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, The Mission of St. Mary the Virgin, is the heart of Sagada. It was built in 1904 by American Missionaries, a known province of Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian communion in the world. Sagada has also become the only Philippine town that is predominantly Protestant with almost 95% baptized into the Episcopal Church.

A walk at the ground, we discovered the old bell on display. Further behind the Church, was the Calvary Hill. Some local folks perform rituals on the eve of all Saint’s day. The smoke coming from the cemetery isn’t a usual sight. The weather dropped as the evening falls.

The Echo Valley is a sight to behold, the jagged rock formations tower across our view. It is a memorial cliff with more than hundred year old coffins hanged in the air. Sagada people prefers to bury their deceased through wooden coffins kept in caves, or hanged above the ground as high as possible. It still remains a practice today by old locals. It is said that the higher it is placed the closer it is to heaven.

Life in Sagada is easy and downright simple. It’s hard not to be captivated by the warmth and charming smile of Sagada People. We noticed they spoke English better than Tagalog. The frequent visit of foreign tourists must have contributed a lot.

The town sleeps early as 8 in the evening. I was kind of worried though as the cell network gets cut off at around 9 or 10 at night and returns the next day. There were limited options for ATM, banks and land phones.

Second Day – Nov 1 { Tuesday }

We started the day early and headed to Bomod-Ok Falls. It’s also known locally as the “Big Falls”. Indeed it is, when we reached the location after almost 2 hours of trek.

The long walk was quite exhilarating, especially on a hot day.  The trail is awesome, like that of Banaue Rice Terraces, although the cemented steps gave it away. If I could only bring home the serenity of this place, and fill my bag with peace, I can have a lifetime of worry-free life.

After few scratches and fallen debris (oopps, fallen bottled water), we were greeted with the “majestic (put all superlatives here) Big Falls”. For the full effect, visit during the cold months or rainy season. Basking in the sun was all worth it.

The freezing water penetrates and soothes our tortured bodies. We were like kids who instantly changed moods to super and just wanted to dive in the waters. The slippery rocks and the strong current didn’t made it easy for us though.

There were local children who offers a form of foot spa, which is very unique. I haven’t been tickled on my feet for a long time. lol.

The journey back home was a breeze, so much for a tanned look.

Badet, was celebrating her birthday. Jeff, her then boyfriend (now husband), collaborated with us to surprise her. I was impressed that with the limited supply in Sagada that time, her boyfriend was able to find a cake and a candle. During breakfast, we sang her a birthday song, much to her astonishment.

We visited Yoghurt House in the afternoon. The place is cozy and warm. I can imagine sitting by the fireplace all day with all their reading materials and magazines. Masferre Photographs serves a visual treat, displayed on the walls. The place can only fit a small number of guests though and we had to wait for a while before getting a table. The weather drops this time.

We were able to visit some souvenir shops, Sagada Weaving, Igorot’s Souvenir Shop, Masferre’s Souvenir Shop and even ukay-ukays. lol. Most of the items though are available in Baguio, so if you are penny-pinching like  me, consider comparing prices before buying.

Third Day – Nov 2 { Wednesday }

We are heading home. But we’re going to rock Baguio first.

Sagada town is such a charming place that everyone seemed hesitant to leave. Its 14 hours away from Manila, and God knows when we will be setting foot again or if we will be seeing the same ground when we get back. Fresh air, beautiful scenery, all I ever dreamed was to settle there for a little longer and escape the stress of city life.

We had a little issue with the lodging but all were settled then.

We reached Baguio at half past 5 in the afternoon. We still had plenty of time to stroll, shop for pasalubong, and have a sumptuous group dinner at Burnham Park.

We took the 10 PM bus bound to Manila. Everyone was able to return home safely. Thank God.

Photo Credits:
James Dela Rosa | Edwin Allan Riguer | Panfilo Villanueva | Valerie Teves

We love Sagada. We’ll be back soon.

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