Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My unusual journey in Sagada

Banga-an Rice Terraces

May 1-3, 2009
Sagada, Mt. Province

I knew the moment we unloaded our bags from our bus that I’d be up to a great adventure in Sagada. Actually before we arrived there, we had already enjoyed the scenic Mt. Province - indeed, it is a province with a lot of mountains! The deep ravines, the majestic stretch of rice terraces, the simple structure of uphill houses, the long and winding Chico River, the cotton-cloudy sky kissing the mountains, the moist of fogs, the road’s delicate curves and ultimately the dominance of green. I later on realized that these were just a prelude to what we were up to in Sagada.

My travel mates included my sister Cha, my college classmates Ems and Precel, my new-found friend ate Melody and some other 60-strong adventurous urban folks (trip made possible by Travel Factor). It was a large group of tourists expecting to find some fun for the long weekend. We traveled more than 13 hours to get to Sagada.

bonfire with new-found friends in Sagada

group pic with ems, kuya edwin, cha, cel and ate melody

Spelunking- my life changing and life threatening experience

Based on what I learned, spelunking is a cave tour or trek while caving means cave studying or exploration. Honestly, I thought that all caving adventures are called caving.

Sagada is a good site for anthropological studies. Photo here of a skull inside the traditional coffin used by Sagada ancestors.
skylight seen inside Lumiang Cave

hanging coffins at the entrance of Lumiang Cave

When our guides told us that the whole process will be difficult, my raging adventurous spirit did not bother to listen. They gave us two different options, the easy and the difficult level. Cha, Precel and I chose the difficult level which means we will have to brave the 5-hour intense caving experience. We were repeatedly reminded that once inside, there is no turning back (just like crossing the Rubicon River).

We started at around 3 p.m. Everyone was still on the picture-taking mode since there are hanging coffins at the entrance of the Lumiang cave. Then, it was a different story when we got inside. The only source of light are the petromax carried by our guides. We had to use almost all body movements just to get to another place. One false move, may pagkakalagyan ka. We  also had to fight the freezing pools inside. Our lives practically depended on the hands of our guides. I could not count how many “thank you God” and “t*** I**” I have uttered during the entire course. Despite this unexpected level of difficulty, we have achieved so much just by enjoying the wonderful sites we saw inside the caves. Really a gift of nature!

We reached the end of the Sumaguing cave almost 10 p.m., tired and half-frozen! I survived spelunking inside Lumiang and Sumaguing caves!

Gastronomic exploration

One thing very notable in Sagada is its zero-fast food chain policy. Thank God I got a break from the big golden arc and the smiling bee.

Sagada offers various gourmets ranging from Western, Asian to Filipino dishes. I especially love the sinful yogurt at the Yoghurt House. The “ate” who cooked our meals in Alibama was also great. I liked our breakfast at the Bana Cafe. My only regret was not being able to taste the famous lemon pie at the lemon Pie House(sold out). Luckily, we were able to taste a home-made lemon pie available near the place we stayed.

breakfast at Bana Cafe
Lemon Pie House

Lemon Pie House has artsy and ethnic interior

Walking tour

Sagada has no trikes. Almost all tours have to be done by trekking or by some guided jeepney rides. On our second day, we woke up around 4:30 am so we can get a good sunrise view at the Kiltepan Tower. Sadly, due to overcast sky we were not able to see even a streak of light coming from the sun. Nonetheless, the view below us was still amazing.

early morning at Kiltepan Tower

bonfire with some Sagadian as we were trying to beat the crisp and cold  temperature at Kiltepan 

After our breakfast, we readied for a trek to Sagada Terraces and Bomod-ok falls. After the caving experience we had the other night, we thought the trek would be “sisiw.” Unfortunately, we were all wrong. The up and down walk in the terraces was very strenuous. But it’s all worth it when we reached the very imposing view of the Bomod-ok Falls. What a huge huge cascade we saw there! 

passing by Banga-an Rice Terraces on our way to the Big or Bomod-ok Falls 

the massive cascade of Bomod-ok Falls

Bomod-ok Falls is fierce and feisty 

Just before sunset, we reached Lake Danum. This time we got a nice sunset. The tour organizers prepared a cultural presentation for all tourists there. The bonfire was our only source of heat. Despite the crisp and cold temperature, everyone enjoyed the night.

solace and sunset at Lake Danum

On our last day, we had a chance to go around Sagada. We went to St. Mary’s Episcopal church, Calvary Hills , Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins. While on the walking tour, our guide, Kuya Erwin, discussed with us some cultural and historical values of the places we visited. There I learned how Sagadians compromised with white missionaries some of their old traditions (ex. how to bury their dead and how they got educated).

market day in Sagada

pine trees are usual sight around Sagada 

misty clouds and fogs covering the town even on mid-day

Calvary Hill

hanging coffins at eco valley

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, an Episcopal Church in Sagada

The Sagadains

Sagada sits at the highest of the Mt. Province. It presents to be multi-faceted. It has attracted lots of artists, activists, anthropologists, urban yuppies and adventure seekers, spiritualist and hash smokers.

One thing notable about Sagada is its people’s good command of the English language. Like kuya Erwin, he speaks really good English. He said that many elderly Sagadians also speak impeccable English than Tagalog. The reason being is that their primary education came from American missionaries.

I also learned that some Sagadians put more trust to white tourists that those coming from the lowland. It is because they seem to have received better treatment from the whites. They feel like many Filipinos have certain prejudice against mountain people, especially Igorots. Kuya Erwin mentioned that Carlos P. Romulo once said “Igorots are not Filipinos.” I have yet verified the validity of this statement but I guess these words have created quite an impression on them on how some of us treat them.

Kuya Edwin with the Travel Factor group

Leaving Sagada

While on our trip back to Manila, we were all reminiscing the experiences we had in that majestic place. One thing I'm sure of, I shall return.

Bontoc-Sagada route


  1. Hi Ate Che, while browsing your blog. I spotted your blog about Sagada. Charm and I had a great experience indeed in Sagada. We experienced the Spelunking (the difficult one) and the ultimate power trekking too.

    What I learned from my adventure there, I was able to contemplate on some things which was probably the main turnaround for me. It wasn’t an eye-opener of sorts, but it made me realize that there are some tough challenges in life that will really test your strength and wil-power. It will be a tough battle and you may not be a hundred percent ready for it, but you will push through and survive and become stronger because of it. When the time comes that you are faced with a similar challenge, you are more ready to beat the battle.

    1. Hi Cams! Couldn't agree more to your insights. We are more than the sum of our past challenges. So the key is to be patient and endure the pain with dignity. More often than not, the most wonderful things come right close to the time when we feel like giving up.

      I had my own share of struggles and the most important lesson I learned from it is kindness... to myself and to others. :)

      Now going back to Sagada, isn't that place super surreal? Still is one of my favorite destinations, taking into consideration culture, nature, and adventure. I plan to revisit it after 80Before30. :))

      Regards to Charm, Tito and Tita. Hope to see you soon!


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