Mountain Highs: Sagada
Most people recommend taking a bus from Baguio to Sagada because the roads could get narrow, muddy, and dangerous. We stuck with Mic’s truck and rolled the windows down to enjoy the chilly air and the view.
We had the confidence to make it up on our own because of Olan’s familiarity with the area and Mic’s experience driving through rough terrain. Nevertheless, a slow, cautious drive was in order and about six hours later, we arrived.
First things first: Lunch! We had a quick bite at a place called Alfred’s Cabin. Then, we had to find a place to stay, and the popular inns were all fully booked. After some searching, we found Aling Josie (not the same bead-wielding Josie in Tam-awan) who led us to a little red house on a hill.
The house was just off the main road but in an enclosed section that gave us an isolated feel. It also added to the eerie vibe that the town tends to emanate.
Accommodations weren’t great. The rooms were clean, but there were termites lining the main doorway and the bathroom… lord. The bathroom. (That’s what you get for not making reservations in advance!)
On the bright side, we weren’t going to be there most of the time anyway. After settling in, we headed out, first to Echo Valley which Olan guided us through. He told us about how Sagada teaches you to respect nature, as any wrong move could put your life in danger. It didn’t take long for us to see what he meant.
The hike took us past a church and a graveyard notable for being the burial site of author William Henry Scott. Past the cemetery was Echo Valley. A winding footpath led us up and down some very steep slopes, with a very long drop just a few feet away from where we were standing. We had to be deliberate about each step we took as there wasn’t much room for error. Christy learned this quick enough as she got snagged against a sharp rock and ripped her pants in the process.
Across the valley were the infamous hanging coffins. This burial method is an ancient tradition of the Igorot people. Some are over a century old. The most recent, meanwhile, date just a few decades back.
A while later, we were back where we started. Getting through Echo Valley made nature novices like us breathe a huge sigh of relief. “Thank God we survived!” was a phrase that certainly ran through our heads and out trembling limbs.
It was only fitting that our next stop would be the church.
We had our first taste of what the town had to offer and needed to condition ourselves for what was to come. Dinner was at the Rock Inn restaurant, Cafe Bodega, where Olan talked to us about the plan for the next day.
Our meal was nice and simple: fried fish, vegetables, and red mountain rice. And because we were THAT stubborn, we went on and ordered another type of wine. Lemon. It was slightly better than the coffee version. Local musician Jun Utleg kept us entertained.
The next morning, we had breakfast at The Yoghurt House, a popular restaurant with homemade yoghurt and a lot of other great food.
We proceeded to the tourism office where we had to sign up for a professional guide who could take us to the caves. Check out their rules:
Our guide took us to the first cave which was a long way down. There were handrails for the most part, which were a big help.
The mouth of the cave was decorated with a wall of wooden coffins, some over 500 years old.
Next was Sumaguing Cave. Our guide asked who among us was the weakest link. Christy didn’t hesitate to raise her hand. Being so, she headed our pack with the guide, holding his hand for extra security most of the time. Patti, meanwhile, stayed close to Olan, who had been to Sumaguing several times before.
The best way to explore the cave is with a sturdy pair of sandals that have good grip and can’t slip off. The first half of the climb down consists of rocks that are slippery with mud and bat excrement. Gross, we know. But when your mind is focused on staying on your feet, clinging onto whatever you can helps you get past the ickyness of the situation.
At one point, the guide told us to take our sandals off. The rest of the way down was through cold, clear water that rushed beneath us, cleaning every trace of muck off of us. Interesting formations on limestone paved our way.
There was even one part that required two guides to help us down, and a rope to pull us back up. Of course, the way back up meant going through our bat friends’ mess again. Fortunately, across the street from the cave was a clean enough shower area for a thorough rinse.
We rewarded ourselves with a treat at the newly opened Lemon Pie House. Breathless and with limbs trembling anew, we opted out of touring the waterfalls in the afternoon, and let our guide go back to his office.
The afternoon was spent recuperating at the house with a pack of Chewy Chips Ahoy that Mic found in one of the shops along the main road.
In the evening, in the middle of a strong rainfall, we dined at The Yoghurt House and had a nightcap at the Lemon Pie House again. (On its first day open, we were already the place’s regulars.)
Due to the 9pm curfew, we were at home again in the early evening and bug-watched the rest of the night. Fireflies flickered outside our window, and moths made our ceiling their home.
It was back to the Lemon Pie House in the morning for our final meal in Sagada. We all had the breakfast plate of sausage, a vegetable omelette, garlic fried rice, and a hot cup of native coffee.
A while later, we were on the road again. It was time to head home, with a few last stops along the way.