Sagada: Take Two

Sagada in the morning

Second time in Sagada, and I’m still struck with awe.

My first visit was with my brother and we joined a group tour for an overnighter in this beautiful, distant place nestled on the mountains up north from Manila. Back then, I was asleep throughout most of the journey. I remember highlights of that trip included having a taste of the famous lemon pie, a very delicious strawberry cake, trekking the Echo Valley to the hanging coffins, and walking the stream leading to an underground river. It was a whirlwind of fun packing everything that needed to be done in those 2 days (side trip to Baguio and Banaue included).

This time was different: D agreed to drive, so we had the car just to ourselves and managed to do quick photo stops along the way whenever we came upon something spectacular. Plus I was awake throughout the duration of the trip (well, except for the first four hours because we left at 2:30 in the morning). We took the route that Google Maps recommended. It said 9 hours’ total travel time, and we were to skip the roads to Baguio or Banaue, and take the Cervantes, Ilocos Sur route. I’ve never heard of Cervantes. We drove near the sea at La Union and took the road less traveled.HaystacksClear streams

I played navigator while D bravely drove through the long winding roads that connected Ilocos Sur to Mountain Province. It turned out to be a scenic route – breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys, clear streams, waterfalls, and rice terraces. The view kept getting better and better once we got to the Bessang Pass Natural Monument in Sigay, Ilocos Sur. It is a protected area and memorial commemorating the victory of Philippine soldiers over the Imperial Japanese army on 14 June 1945. The mountains were so beautiful, we saw birds of different kinds, the air was cool and fresh. It reminded us of Batanes and Switzerland. D was definitely impressed (yay!). Except when passing towns, we rarely saw other cars through that route. I wonder how the locals managed commuting…Mountain

So the route was very scenic, but it was also a bit scary. Several times I held my breath and asked D to speed up because we would pass signages that say ‘beware of falling rocks’. And those rocks that we saw on the road were boulders. We also passed by roads next to landslides. Some stretches were dirtroads as the lanes were being repaired from erosions from a recent typhoon (Ompong) that hit the province.Landslide

Landslide

The 9 hours estimate by Google Maps was short by 3 hours. We reached our hotel, Labanet Lodge, at 2:30 in the afternoon. Our room was facing the town, and the hotel was walking distance to the restaurants and market. When we checked in I saw some ‘Sagada Do’s and Don’ts’ posted on the frontdesk. I also saw this list when we registered for a tour at the Municipal Information Center. These rules are:

1. Register at the Municipal Information Center and present the receipt when going to tourist sites like the caves, falls, Echo Valley.

2. Engage the services of local guides. Not children.

3. Respect all sacred grounds and sites.

4. Do not take photos of local rituals. Ask permission first.

5. No scanty clothing. No necking in public.

6. Use only designated parking areas.

7. No littering.

8. Bring your own bag (preferably eco bag) when shopping.

9. Minimize use of plastic bottles. Refill at water stations.

10. Inform the hotel of whereabouts past 10 PM.

I am all for these rules. I don’t recall seeing these during my first trip. Kudos to the municipality of Sagada for reinforcing these basics to tourists.

After the twelve hour drive I rewarded D lemon pie and tea at the Lemon Pie House. I rekindled my relationship with Sagada’s mountain tea. During my first trip I bought a bag of the leaves thinking I could brew it at home – but my version did not turn out good at all. So this time, I asked the staff at the restaurants as to how they brew their mountain tea because it was so good I just have to make it work at this time.

Around 4 in the afternoon we walked less than a kilometer from the hotel to Gaia Arts and Crafts Cafe, a quaint little restaurant that was featured in a local hit film ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’. Along the way we met a cute, friendly labrador. (I made a mental note to say hi to her again on our way back to the hotel). We also saw a couple of hanging coffins – these were different from the ones I saw at the Echo Valley. Just as a background, people who die past the age of 100 are buried in the hanging coffins. We were told by a local that the hanging coffins could be seen at different places coming from the Echo Valley to the Sumaging Caves. Our destination, Gaia, was near the caves.Gaia

Gaia serves vegetarian food and offers a nice view of rice terraces and fields. This is where we had our early dinner. I got the vegetarian adobo and D had the fried breaded tofu. I was giddy with excitement because I was looking forward to the side salad and the red rice. You see, only in Sagada do I get to eat red rice. I have to learn how to cook it properly, so it won’t end up too dry.The Wayfarers

When we got back to the hotel it was almost dark. For the first time in a long time we went to bed very early – 6 o’clock in the evening. Boy, did we have a long good night sleep.

Day 2 was a big day: we had a healthy, filling breakfast at the Strawberry Cafe. Afterwards, D and I registered for a tour and did a 3 hour trek to the Bomod-Ok Falls. It was a good cardio workout and a sight to behold. Our guide was also engaging and she provided a lot of educational information about the culture and traditions of the local community.Bomod-Ok

After the tiring trek we had lunch at the Sagada Brew. I’ve raved about this restaurant in TripAdvisor because I loved their breakfast. Lunch was good, but I didn’t enjoy their lava cake this time. It just looked good, but it was stale and dry.

In the afternoon we checked out the market and the Sagada Weaving store. Was able to get my stash of fresh greens for salad, and the award-winning Sagada Bana coffee from the market. At Sagada Weaving we got to watch the weavers in action. Got myself a belt bag as a souvenir.Sagada Weaving

That night there was a bit of a drizzle but the cold air was quite nice. We had dinner at the Yoghurt House. And then for the second night in a row we slept early.

On the third day we had an early breakfast at Bana Cafe. Their coffee was indeed a hit! It’s a good thing we were able to buy the coffee from the market because there we were able to negotiate for a discounted price.Bana Coffee

On our way back we were able to see the sea of clouds. We tried to deviate from Google’s recommended route because we planned to pass through Baguio. It was a mistake! Thirty minutes in to the new route we came upon a dead end because the roads were closed due to a landslide during Typhoon Ompong. Needless to say, we retraced our steps and heeded what Maps told us to take. So we passed by the long scenic road again. Come to think of it, it wasn’t so bad.Sagada in the morning

I asked D what he thought of Sagada and he loved it. It can now compete with Batanes, his favorite destination in the Philippines. I doubt he would want to drive back though. The way to and from Sagada was an adventure on its own. It was just too long – longer than a plane ride from the Philippines to another country. I’ll try to convince him again maybe in a couple of years.Scenic

Sagada – it was nice to be back! Hope to see you again soon. Maybe next time I will bring my folks and relatives so they can also get to appreciate you. It definitely is more fun in the Philippines!

Sunset and homeward bound

Bomod-Ok Falls, Sagada

Bomod-Ok

This is my second trip to Sagada – I like it so much that I hope to do it a regular trip. Thing is, it’s just so far away. I was so happy when D finally agreed to drive with me during the Thanksgiving weekend. We booked 2 nights to make the most of our time in Sagada.

During my first trip to Sagada with my brother, we were so pressed for time and we didn’t have the energy anymore to trek to the waterfalls. It was an overnighter anyway, and we covered a lot of things in 24 hours: the market, the highly rated restaurants by TripAdvisor, Echo Valley Hanging Coffins, Sagada Underground river entrance. We skipped the Sumaging Cave (short course caving) and swapped it with the market and the restos.

I’d skip Day 1 and will write about it more in detail in a separate blog. In this trip, Day 2 was the highlight.

After breakfast, D and I went to the Municipal Information Center to register and book a tour to the Bomod-Ok waterfalls. I was told it was the highest falls in Sagada, and it would be a 3-hour hike (back and forth) from Banga-an, which was 5 kilometers away from the Information Center.Wayfarers

We hopped on rented van and our driver, Jong, drove us from Aguid to Banga-an where we paid the guide fee. We were welcomed by Fritz who would be our guide for the trek. Fritz provided D and me each a wooden walking stick. She advised us to wear our caps as it might be hot. D and I left our caps at the hotel, and luckily it was a cloudy day so it was not scorching hot. Plus the air was cool and it was windy – I had my hoodie ready. Fritz gave reminders on bringing our trash with us (I assured her we won’t have any) and to have our water bottles ready. Guide

Off we went begin our downward trek. We were to walk downhill for 2 kilometers until we reach the falls.

The view from the top was breathtaking. We feasted our eyes on a lush of green. There were mountains, rice terraces, and some clusters of homes to see. We had to stop every once in a while to take photos. Topscene

Fritz was very engaging and she shared a lot of information about the lifestyle, culture and traditions in Sagada. She said that the main livelihood of the people (herself included) is agriculture. Some days she would be planting vegetables like chayote in the fields. While tourism is also a source of income, planting crops is still what she enjoys doing. The terraces used to be filled with rice, but now they have diverse plantations of vegetable crops. Arabica was also widely grown by the locals, and alongside the coffee shrubs they plant a certain type of tree (I failed to note it down, but it had small pines as non-edible fruit), which grows faster and provides the shade for the coffee trees, and the leaves that fall on the ground provide the nitrogen that will benefit the coffee trees. Fruit-bearing trees that are widely planted are the persimons, oranges, mulberries, and blueberries. Coffee

I asked Fritz why it was so quiet even as we passed through the Barangay Fidelisan where we paid the barangay fee. She said the children were at school, and most of the people were tending to the fields. Come lunch time the community will be livelier when the folks from the fields go home for a meal.

At the community, Fritz showed us a hut where the elders hold their meetings. This is called ‘dap-ay’. Adjacent to it is a house where teenage men reside in as they are trained to become future elders. In their community, the elders facilitate wedding ceremonies first before the newly-weds hold the church weddings.Dap-ay

As we passed through the rice terraces I was amazed by the irrigation system that the people built. The water comes from a natural spring (it does not dry out) and flows down to the bottom of the valley. From that spring people could also get water to drink. Near the terraces are rice granaries (wooden houses used to store grains) called ‘agamang’ by the locals. But these are now seldomly filled. That’s because rice is not as widely grown anymore and there are also field mice to look out for. Rice terraces

At last we were able to reach the Bomod-Ok falls. It was a spectacular sight to behold! D went close to it and took a lot of pictures. I dipped my feet in the cold water (and envied a couple of visitors swimming in the shallow pool). Fritz showed me where she replenished her water bottle with mineral water. We spent about 30 minutes walking through the rocks. Falls

Bridge

Going back we took a different route going to Pide where Jong would be waiting for us. I felt exhaustion kicking in halfway through and begged for several rest stops. D and I finished our big water bottle. Needless to say, going back was quieter as I opted to stay mum and catch my breath. Thoughts of where we would have our big lunch occupied my mind. I was so happy to see Jong’s van (Jong fell asleep waiting for us LOL).

I’m so glad I trekked to the falls with D. It was a good long walk (and climb) and we were fortunate to have a good guide. If you are in Sagada and up for a cardio adventure, the Bomod-Ok falls is highly recommended.

In total, we paid P1,170 (about US$23) plus tip for our trip to Bomod-Ok falls. Here’s a breakdown of the cost:

Guide Fee: P500 (approx. US$10) for 1-7 visitors

Barangay Fee: P10 (approx. US$2) per visitor

Transportation Fee: P650 (approx. US$13) two way vehicle hire from the Information Center

Five Faves from a blissful weekend in Sagada

backyard

Sagada – the beautiful place on top of the mountains that’s so far away – 456 kilometers from where I live to be exact. About 9 hours’ nonstop drive – that is, if there would be no traffic jams. And light traffic is quite rare when going through the streets of Metro Manila. My only challenges in going is that one, D wouldn’t drive that far (not with the traffic), and two, I’ve seen discouraging news about landslides and road accidents affecting folks going to or back from Sagada.

Yet, Sagada constantly beckons. Its lush mountains, caves, clear streams, organic food, picturesque surroundings are just too hard to resist.  So, having checked the weather forecast, I looked for tour packages from Manila, and booked a trip for my brother and me. We got a 3 days/2 nights tour package on a good deal. We left by van at 11 o’clock on a Friday night, and woke up in the far north of Luzon on Saturday morning. We were supposed to have breakfast at Banaue Rice Terraces, at the Ifugao Province, but we got stuck in a traffic jam en route to Banaue that morning. Wikipedia describes Banaue Rice Terraces as “occassionally called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World‘”. It’s majestic views were even used in the Avengers: Infinity War movie ending, where *spoiler alert!!!* Thanos was enjoying the view from his hut one fine day after he wiped out half the universe’s population. Remember that scene? That background was the Banaue Rice Terraces.

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Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao

Oops, I digress. Anyway, our van reached Sagada at around 2PM that Saturday. So much for the 9 hours’ drive. We were relieved and excited – we were finally there! Our first stop was at a restaurant. Our late lunch included veggies and brown/red rice that Sagada is known for. At the backyard of that resto was old Igorot hut. It was awesome!

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old Igorot hut

After lunch, we checked in to our hostel. The rest of the folks in our tour opted to go to the spelunking activity. My brother and I stayed behind and explored the town instead. We reviewed must go to places in Sagada town and checked them out.

These are the places in Sagada that are my favorites, and I highly recommend them all.

Sagada Lemon Pie House

I loved the concept of the restaurant. Guests can choose between sitting on the floor or on short stools. We were surprised to see that they sell their lemon pie and tea for cheap price. A slice of lemon pie costs 30 pesos (around 60 US cents); and a cup of tea costs 20 pesos (around 40 US cents). The lemon tea was sweet, and the mountain tea had a gingery taste to it. I preferred the mountain tea over the lemon tea. As for the lemon pie – it was simply delicious! I guess that’s why the resto was named after this specialty, right? I saw a sign at the counter saying it’s best to order the pies in advance as they sometimes run out of stock. I’m not surprised.

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Sagada Lemon Pie and tea

Yoghurt House

We read good reviews about this place. We had a bit of a wait when we got there as there was a queue. I’m not really into yogurt (I like kombucha more), so I’m relaying what my brother thought about it. He liked his yogurt, and the price was also affordable. For a healthy daily dose of probiotics, this place is worth checking out.

Strawberry Cafe

I did see strawberries grown in their garden, but for some reason I did not see any strawberry cake in their menu. I asked the owner and they did have it – it just wasn’t listed. My brother and I shared one huge slice which we bought for only 80 pesos (around US $1.60). Wow the cake was so good! It was not too sweet and the strawberries were fresh. If I had not just eaten late lunch and a slice of lemon pie I would have loved to have another slice of the strawberry cake. I’ve looked far and wide for this taste, and Sagada is where I found it.

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Home grown strawberries at the Strawberry Cafe, Sagada

Sagada Market

Just like what I did when I was in Baguio, I brought eco-bags during the trip to Sagada because I anticipated some marketing to be done. I was going to the vegetable capital after all, so why not make the most out of it. I was delirious with the low prices of the merchandise in the market that I ended up asking my brother to carry some of the items in his bag for me. I bought persimmons, mountain tea, sweet potato, broccoli, and other vegetables. I wanted to get more but I remembered my commute back in Manila when I get home. So I bought only what I (and my brother) could carry. Oh, if we only drove in our car!

Sagada Brew

Went here the next day for a quick breakfast. Their service was impeccable, and they offered a wide variety of food choices at reasonable prices. Of course, being named Sagada Brew, I expected their coffee to be good. It surely did not disappoint. Interesting what came with my wheat bread toast was something that looked like kimchi but tasted like jam. I think it’s their homemade strawberry preserve. It was so yum!

Echo Valley and The Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Just walking distance to the main road of the Sagada town center is the entrance to the cemetery. An interesting trivia about the cemetery is during All Souls Day (which is today, 2 November), people remembering their dead light up acorns instead of candles.

We walked past the cemetery to get to the Echo valley.  Echo valley is a beautiful place – cool weather, fresh air, nice scenery. The only downside when we went here with a tour group on a Sunday was that there were so many other tour groups that came with us. We could not take a decent photo because people were lined up and taking their time to get their selfies and different poses taken.

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overlooking view of the Echo valley

After the Echo valley we took a short trek going to the hanging coffins. On the first landing I saw 18 hanging coffins. Our guide told us that anyone who has reached at least 100 years old can be buried through the hanging coffins. The most recent one was placed there in 2010. Some of the coffins were small because these were for bodies who were ‘buried’ in fetal pose – there is a belief that since they were born in the fetal pose, then that is the way they will leave the world. Along the short coffins were chairs which are called death chairs (hope I remember it right). This is where the bodies were prepared prior to ‘burying’. The longer coffins are for the ones who have been Christianized.
On burial day, the coffins are hang first, before the bodies are put in.

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The Hanging Coffins of Sagada

After the first landing, we went further down to see other coffins placed way up higher.  My brother and I were just amazed at how our ancestors were able to apply this practice and maintain the tradition throughout the ages.

We took a different way back where we passed through a clear stream and a cave. It was quite fun walking through the cool waters of the stream (and trying hard to maintain balance). img_5537

There you have it, my five favorite places in Sagada. People who might have already visited Sagada would probably ask why I did not include Kiltepan. This is where people go to very early in the morning to get a view of the beautiful sunrise (just like the Sunrise Tour that I did in Borobudur). When we went, the sun failed to show up as it was masked by clouds. I was a bit disheartened at Kiltepan because it was packed with hundreds of people and I saw a lot of tourists littering.

Overall, Sagada is one of my favorite travel destinations in Luzon. I would love to go back, so I will persuade D to schedule a tour so we can drive there – on a sunny weekday so we can get away from the crowd. I really hope that Sagada will not be commercialized and that its beauty, simplicity, serenity and cleanliness can be preserved. It truly is spectacular as it is now.