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.

 

 

Five Faves in South Melbourne Market

Padre Coffee

When I was in Melbourne, Saturday mornings are usually spent on grocery shopping at the South Melbourne Market. This place is quite accessible both by car and by tram. I like the market’s vibe, and there are many shops to choose from. On my last visit, I was quite pleased to find that most of us shoppers have our own eco-bags in tow.

Here are my top five favorite shops at the South Melbourne Market:

Padre Coffee

I mentioned in a previous blog that Melbourne is famous for its fantastic coffee. If you ask me what the best cafe is, I’d probably have to think twice – there are too many good ones! Padre Coffee is one of the most popular ones. For the longest time, my brother-in-law likes Padre Coffee and he was the one that introduced this to me. The place is usually very busy on weekend mornings and getting seats can be quite a challenge. Their latte is quite good.

One thing I like about most Melbourne cafes is that they support and encourage people bringing in their own cups. I used a KeepCup on my last visit to Padre Coffee.

 

Agathe Patisserie

Now what’s a good coffee without a matching yummy pastry? I was told the bread here was really good so I lined up one weekend morning to get a croissant and a chocolate muffin. Boy, was it so good I lined up yet again to buy more croissants to go. I didn’t mind the long (but fast moving) queue because I was distracted by the sight of the tempting pastries and the smell of freshly-baked bread.

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Pastries heaven at Agathe Patisserie

 

Koenji Vintage

Koenji Vintage is a thrift shop that sells cool, quirky contemporary Japanese apparel and accessories. My sister is a regular here, and she bought several dresses at affordable prices. Koenji Vintage’s friendly owners, Wil and Jane, opened their shop mid 2016. To date, this continues to be a go-to by sustainable shoppers and fashionistas alike.

For more details about Koenji Vintage, check out their website here.

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Koenji Vintage thrift shop

Happy Place By Lola Berry

This is my sister’s personal favorite. If they feel like getting a healthy breakfast, Happy Place by Lola Berry is the place to go. They have a wide array of options to choose from. My sister likes trying out the different slushies with her usual smashed avocado.

Azalea

A Saturday trip to the market won’t be complete without getting a bunch of fresh flowers for the house. Azalea provides beautiful local blooms that we just couldn’t get enough of. A visit to this shop always brightens the day and lifts up the mood.

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Local fresh blooms from Azalea

So there you have it, my five favorite shops in South Melbourne Market. There are other shops for me to discover and explore, but I’d definitely go back all the time to these favorite shops whenever I visit the market.

For more information, check out South Melbourne Market’s website here.

 

Five Fave Things to Do In and Around Baler, Aurora

Baler

This is a late post, so pardon me for reminiscing…

I’ve always wanted to go to Baler. I’ve heard a lot of raves about it but it just seemed so far from Metro Manila. I finally had the motivation to go, when early this year I won a free trip to the Tribes & Treks Tour by Mad Travel. So we booked a 2 night stay in Baler, packed our bags and went to an adventure to the north.

It was indeed a long drive from Manila. We left early Friday morning to beat the weekend traffic, and arrived after 6 hours of driving (stopovers for breakfast and snacks included). We were able to see a Tourist Information office along the way and everyone was more than willing to help give us directions to our hotel.

Baler Town
Baler Town Proper

Our hotel was about 200 meters from the Sabang Beach. We could see the huge waves from our room, and I instantly fell in love.

First things first: Surf.

I’ve been fascinated with surfers and how they could balance themselves and glide through the waves with such grace and ease. I was told it was not as easy as it looks but it was tons of fun. The competitiveness in me kicked in such that as soon as we checked in to the hotel I asked where I could learn surfing. Surfing lesson and board rental cost P300 per hour. My instructor, Kuya Gerry, was kind enough to encourage me saying he would even waive my lesson fee if I do not make it to ride the waves successfully within an hour. I gleefully agreed and began my lesson. It was the most surreal experience ever – and I was able to ride the waves three times in 35 minutes! I would never forget how exhilarating surfing felt.

Surf Lessons
Learning to surf was tiring and fun!

Rent a motorbike and explore.

To get around in Baler, we left our car in the hotel and rented a motorbike near Costa Pacifica. The rent was P500 per day, and we had the gas tank filled. We were able to go to the town, Museum de Baler, and the Baler Hanging Bridge  which was about ten minutes away from Sabang Beach. The bridge is made of wood and it was a bit of an adventure walking across it. We got there at sunset and it was beautiful.

Baler Hanging Bridge
Walking along the swaying Baler hanging bridge

Vegan Resto: Charlie Does

I was pleasantly surprised to find this resto. It was a few meters away from the beach, right behind Costa Pacifica Hotel. The place looked very cozy – you wouldn’t miss the garden with its couches. They were pet-friendly too as I saw a cute labrador and beagle ‘parked’ next to one of the couches in the garden.

The vibe in Charlie Does is relaxing and homey. Their wait staff were also very warm and friendly. We got ourselves a banana shake and an all green shake, hummus and pita for our afternoon snack which was filling and refreshing.

Food at Charlie Does
Vegan snacks from Charlie Does

River and Falls Trek

On Day 2 I woke up early for the trip with Mad Travel to Diteki, San Luis. It was about 30 minutes’ ride by tricycle from Circle Hostel. We trekked through the Diyaboboo River and came to the our swimming area where there was a falls and the water was so clear. We had the place all to ourselves – well, along with hawks flying above us. Yes, there were hawks! It was so magical to see them, and for a few minutes I was just basking in the fresh air and the peaceful unspoiled place. I really wish that this piece of heaven on earth will be preserved for many more generations to come.

When we headed back to Diteki, we feasted on the local food prepared by our hosts, the Altas. The Altas are the indigenous tribe in Aurora, and they shared not only good food but also their stories and a bit of overview of the medicinal herbs they’ve used through the years.

Diteki Falls
Clear waters of Diyaboboo

RV Cacao Farm

Before heading back to Baler, Mad Travel also brought us to RV Cacao Farm. We were welcomed by JM, who manages the farm. He gave us a quick tour and showed us how to harvest the cacao fruit. We also were able to have a taste of one of their best sellers – chocolate ice cream. Their products are all organic and preservative-free. JM shared how he developed the farm and grew the business. I was inspired by JM’s story and I became more appreciative of homegrown enterprises.

RV Cacao Farm
RV Cacao Farm

I am honored to have been given a chance by Mad Travel to participate in the Tribes and Treks tour. Their advocacy on supporting the tribes and local livelihood through tourism is very inspiring, and tours like this make a difference to these communities.

When I have friends or family coming over and asking where best to go to within Luzon, I’d say Baler in a heartbeat. The surfing and the good food were all fun and memorable, and the Tribes and Treks tour was the icing on the cake.