Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

A trip to Sagada

Posted on May 07, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 7, 2017 – 12:00am

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A breathtaking view on the way up. Fog invasion.

After decades of saying I wanted to go to Sagada, I finally decided two weeks ago to set the date and do it. When I married Lydia, we vowed we would go to Sagada, but never followed through. We’ve opted for many other travels other than this place we had heard so much about.

Summer was going fast. I felt that I had not done any great traveling yet. Lydia was abroad. I did not want to let summer end and regret not embarking on some trip to remember.

Last week, with my driver Zenon, my grandchild Ananda and her friend Tricia, we finally took the 11-hour drive up to Sagada. The ride to Baguio, which was the first part of the trip, was fairly easy. It took us less than five hours. We stopped for lunch and then proceeded to Trinidad Valley to start our journey further upward. This was a bit tough, not because it was a long drive but because half of it is zigzagging roads. You have to really pay attention.

But the scenery was at times so breathtaking that we had to stop and take photos. Mountains of pines everywhere, an occasional waterfall, a sudden fog invasion, unexpected hard rainfall, pretty flowers lining the road kept us entertained and focused.

On the road up, we would sometimes feel we were lost and would stop and ask for directions. What I noticed was people in the area seemed to have a poor sense of distance. They may know directions but distance is always underestimated. During our fifth hour of driving, we asked a lady how far Sagada was and she said it was a kilometer away — only to discover it was 12 kilometers further up. We also asked directions to our hotel when we got there and someone said it was 600 meters away. It was more like one kilometer.

We arrived at the Shamrock Tavern at 7 p.m., which was to be our modest abode for the next three nights and days. In Sagada, most things are modest. Do not expect five-star accommodations. Mostly, you will have a decent place to sleep, a shower and CR, and that is about it. It is a small, rustic town and for all practical purposes, everything is within walking distance. The foreigners like to walk in their shorts and sandals while the Filipino vacationers like to ride.

The weather at this time was not very cold. It was about 24 degrees when I was there. You could feel the heat of the sun on your skin at noon but the air was cool and breezy enough to keep you from perspiring. I was wearing T-shirts every day. In the evenings, I would put on a jacket. But locals say that from September to February, expect the temperature to drop to a very cold eight-degree Celsius.

Sagada has many nice restaurants and places to eat. Notable are Sagada Brew, Lemon Pie, Strawberry Cafe, Yoghurt Place, and a few others. Eating out is great. And the average cost per meal is around P150 to P250! Yes, you read that right. All the meals I ate at Sagada Brew where delicious and wonderful. When you go there, try the pasta and the steak meal. You really get value for money.

When we planned the trip we thought we would do the sights on our own. As it turned out, you really need a guide to show you around for practically every spot you wish to visit. It is mandated. And you need to register as a visitor at the tourism office when you get to Sagada. Your guide can do that for you.

The first attraction we visited was the famous hanging coffins. This is a burial site where coffins are suspended on the side of a cliff to hang. On my way down a steep incline with improvised steps to get there, I slid down and twisted my ankles, tore my pants and got a gash. I was shocked since I do a lot of walking on similar trails in Australia and I’ve never slipped or fallen. Painful as it was, I still managed to reach the sight and take photos. Our guide who was very knowledgeable and he explained the tradition to us. I will not discuss it here since you may want to hear it for yourself during some future trip.

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I had to rest my ankle after we climbed back. After lunch, Ananda and Tricia visited Sumaguing Cave. There are two paths inside the cave: the easy and the difficult. Not surprisingly, the two of them chose the difficult one and had the time of their lives.

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Did some pottery.

Despite my swollen ankles, I was able to visit four other places, and photographed a sunset at Lake Danum. I was also able to visit a place called Agid where I waited for Tricia and Ananda who met us there after trekking to a big waterfall and swimming for two hours. We also attended a pottery session. We noticed that we did not have enough time to see all the sights.

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The trail at Agid which the kids took to get to us.

On our last day, we woke up at 4 a.m. to go to Kiltepan, an outlook ridge famous for its spectacular sunrises. When we got there, hundreds of people had already arrived earlier. We found our viewing spots and waited patiently. And waited. And waited. By about 5:20, I knew the sun would be a no-show. It was a cloudy day and all we saw was night turning to day. It happens, I guess. But none of us felt bad about it. We had arroz caldo and champorado which we bought from vendors as we enjoyed the cold morning.

Driving down was more relaxed. I was at the wheel and I knew the road already. It was a Saturday and the traffic going up had peaked the day before. There were few cars going down to Baguio.

I had heard a few legends about Sagada. One of them was that you could buy marijuana easily and no one frowned at you for being high. I asked the people from there about this and they said it was true. But not anymore. Duterte’s drug campaign put an end to that.

There was this other story we heard during the ’80s, that NPA warriors and military would cross one another’s paths in Sagada but neither side would fire a shot. They considered the territory a war-free zone, an escape from hostilities. An old cadre from the left confirmed this and so did one resident I talked to.

As much as I love Sagada, I was actually hesitant to write about it because, frankly, I do not want too many people going up there and destroying its pristine, rustic quality. But alas, I saw the cafes visibly filled up the night before we left with people who had suddenly ascended from below the mountains. They were brought in by “agencies,” as the locals like to call organizers of tourist groups.

I am glad that many people are still turned off by the long drive to get there. I secretly smile when vacationers who have not gone up get anxious about the less than five-star accommodations and the sites that demand some physical challenges to get to them.

No. This is not a place for your average tourist who is on the lookout for discos or nightclubs, or eating in elegant restaurants. It is more for tourists who like gazing at the stars at night, and who like to walk during the day and enjoy the simplicity of life there.

And I hope it remains so for a long time.

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