Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sagada Saga I Love to Share

I first visited the idyllic Sagada in April 2009. Before, whenever I heard of Sagada, it only tells me one thing- this place is divine. Until I discovered that not only divinity it can give but more than my expectations...
Sagada delights and dazzles my senses. I am a person who can easily be enchanted by beauty especially when it shows about our natural environment.
I heard a few information about Sagada before until I totally came to her bosom last April 2009 and experienced a lot about her pulchritude and grandeur. 
Through the ardent invitation of one of my closest friends I did not think twice but quickly agreed to her plan to go there for some personal adventures. Since I, amidst the uptight schedule of work, still loves to wander and go to different places in the Philippines and wonder the natural form of God’s genuine creation. I knew it was the right time to get off from the stressful and painstaking but rewarding works of a teacher since it was also a summer vacation. And I considered it as a reward for myself too.
            My arrival in Sagada was filled with astonishment and surprises. Sagada is one of the ten towns of Mountain Province in the Cordillera Region. It has a population of about 10,000 divided into its 19 barangays. Sagada is a mountain travel destination where visitors can go caving, hiking, backpacking and camping. Along the way, through my senses are inviting me to sleep. I can’t close my eyes because of the breathtaking sceneries and natural revelations offered to me by the range of mountains. From Baguio City, we traveled like on a roller coaster on a long and zigzag road for about six hours which churned the stomach of one of our companions before we came to the paranomic town of Sagada.
Gawis ay Chalan yo. The giant arch in Barangay Sinto marks the boundary
between the two provinces of Benguet and Mountain Province.

Philippine Pali emblazons the highest point in the Philippine Highway System

My friend Neri, who is the reason why I am having my first bite of Sagada Province.

Nested in the valley, the majority of homes in Sagada are built into the side of Mount Ampakao. Rice paddies and pasture take up most of the available space, giving the feel of a town comfortably stuck in the past, without the clutter and pollution of today’s world. The main strip is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and the odd massage parlor.
The panorama of the houses in Sagada
Feeling hungry, we search along the road for any food house which could satisfy our gustatory pleasure. We ended up in a dark place in subterranean market which serves food which usually are meat. There were no available vegetables in their menu which made me wonder since the place is known for such food crops.

Our first meal after our arrival at a food house inside  the compact Sagada subterranean market.

An old-aged Sagada woman lackadaisically strolling along the street.
It is actually named Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
My adrenaline rush was active to search for whatever in store for us in that place after we have checked-in to the Saint Joseph Inn- a very affordable haven for humble visitors like us. But our foreigner friend told us we have to recharge just like our drained cell phones for us to enjoy our very first activity which is the visit to the centuries-old burial caves.
Sleeping like logs. Me and Neri take time to steal some sleep to regain the the lost strength.

Sumaguing Cave

Century old wooden coffins are arranged on the side of the cave. Some tourists offer prayers and  coins before leaving the place.
Ed Tanguilig serves as our official photographer during the climb. Some photos here are credited to him.
      One of the most popular destinations in Sagada is the Sumaguing cave. A lot have already been written about the beauty of this natural wonder but its captivating beauty seems immortal. Eerie thoughts will greet you at its mouth as wooden coffins of Sagada’s ancestors are arranged a top of each other in the right section of the cave. Total blackness envelop us as we went deeper down the caves chamber. Thanks for the sufficient light from the “bolteko” lamp carried by our local guide which revealed various rocks formations shaped by stalactites and stalagmites through the passing of the centuries.
Freezing atmosphere awaits everyone inside the cave.
            Inside the cave the water is very, very chilly. Rocks surfaces looks slippery, but we’re wrong. We went barefoot and we can feel the soles of our feet clinging to the rock. We went deeper and deeper and in some areas, bats’ dung dropped on us from time to time which came from the thousands of nocturnal creatures hanging on the cave ceilings. In the innermost part of the cave I wonder how those sea shell fossils were tattooed on the walls of the cave which is 1500 above sea level.

Various forms of objects are formed by stalactites and stalagmites through the passing of times.

        As we went out at snail’s pace and assuring every step is out of harm’s way I marvel God’s magnificent power of creating extraordinary things even in the inmost portion of the earth.
The fossils of marine life located at the farthest shangri-la of the cave.
Wet pose after the spelunking 

Echo Valley

A long shot of the stiff cliff where most number of coffins are hanged.

Tourists find time to explore shots of the hanging coffins in different angles.
Neri Langit-Profeta with the hanging coffins
Hanging coffins in worm's view
     The forebears of current Sagada residents carve their coffins out of hollowed-out logs and hewed them on tree trunks, in the limestone karst cliffs or cave walls, eliminating the waste of any precious land resources. When the coffins eventually deteriorate they fall to the ground and new coffins can replaced the old ones. This is their traditional way of burying people, but it is not practiced anymore. These enchanted me when we visited the Echo Valley the following day.

          Going there will take an hour of trek which is exhausting to many but gratifying for me. While walking I savored the pleasant breeze slapping at my face, the verdant green grass and plants of hills, the pine sceneries and the rocky terrains. Sometimes it satisfied me to bellow and shout while on track because it echoes from a far. No doubt it is called the” Echo Valley”.

The Big Waterfall

        “Getting there is half the fun”, an old expression said. Going to the Big Waterfall in Bomod-ok is both splendid and blissful.
          After less than an hour car travel from the poblacion, we came to another community of rice terraces. It is very clear to me now that Mountain Province has a lot of rice terraces not only the one I used to see in the postcard.

         I was totally perplexed and asked myself if I am dreaming. The vibrant color of monotonous green bewildered my senses. I could not believe I was in front of such a vast grandiose vista only nature and God could offer. The walk down the endless stairs and man-made walk-ways at the center of the rice fields is fabulous, the scenery divine. The locals of Bomod-ok are friendly. Sometimes they greeted us in Kankana-ey but were taken-aback when they realized we did not understand them. Most interestingly; children can express themselves better in English than in Filipino.

        The falls themselves, once you reach them after one and a half hour is predictably thunderous and dramatic. I was hypnotized in absolute wonderment at the beauty that is Bomod-ok Big Waterfalls-enough eye candy to distract me from the satisfying journey. Her charm is mysterious and you could simply utter,”Thanks God for this creation! I know my enthralled heart was left behind when we departed her. The climb back to the road was strenuous that time. I was asking when can I see her again. The steps seemed to never end too.

Sagada in my memory

I don't know if during my return to this magnificent place, I will see you again on this same street. 

The famous Yogurt House of Sagada
Cafe Saint Joe offers various pasta and salad made from the harvest of Sagada.

The stairs to Saint Joseph Inn from Cafe Saint Joe
The Saint Joseph Inn where we stayed for two nights.
       Sagada captured me with her divine beauty. I agree to Jean Mc Bride, an American missionary of the Episcopal Church when she described Sagada in here diary (1913) as “the ill or native village; peaked straw roofs dotting the hillside as the eye can see. Behind the huts are brilliant green rice terraces, mountains in every direction, pine trees rippling in the wind the sound of running water and a hillside with hundreds of limestone towers. The location is utterly perfect, the climate cool and thoroughly comfortable”.

e stayed in Sagada for three days, spelunking through caves, visiting the hanging coffins exploring Saint Mary’s Church and its cemetery, trekking terraces rice fields going to Bomod-ok Falls and soaking up the calm natural beauty of this truly serene place. But it was the people of Sagada and their stories of overcoming adversity which will leave me with the fondest memories. A people who refused to be swayed by the ultra modernization which has plagued so many other parts of our diverse country. A people who continuously embrace their heritage and develop the natural wonders of God’s gifts. There are literally dozens of places in the Philippines I have seen and eventually forgotten, but I will never forget Sagada.

  The following are just photos during our visit to Banaue Rice Terraces and on our way going back to Baguio City via Nueva Viscaya road and then from Baguio going back to Manila.

Banaue Rice Terraces

Prepping for Baguio

Dropping by at a Native Store

Nueva Viscaya Boundery

Ambuklao Dam

Baguio City