Day 8: Arrival at Sagada
In between the muted calls of song birds in the distance and quiet gale making its way through these peaceful mountains, I found myself finally able to take in the tranquil notions I’d been hoping for thus far on the trip.
I was extremely lucky in choosing my lodgings the night before in Bontoc. Because the organization that ran that guesthouse, also had a sister hostel which happened to have the very last room available in any of the homestays in the entire town.
Creeping up on the New Year, this area becomes a hippy mecca in terms of its festivals and celebratory traditions. Almost every morning people cook up a storm and have their shops open selling all manner of trekking and camping gear. Almost every afternoon you’ll see people coming back in from long hikes in the surrounds. And almost every night there is a bonfire festival.
There are pockets of scattered masses moving in their own dust clouds up the dirt streets through town. And they appear to be a pleasant mix of foreigners, locals and hippies — and various combinations of the three.
And upon arriving and noticing all this, I also noticed that it was well past due for a relaxing day doing little to nothing, save showering and scrubbing the last few days of dirt from my pores.
First order of business: Shower. Next: the bunk. Evening time: beer.
So that was my first day. It’s quite easy to sleep in a town like Sagada. The dreaminess of the place almost keeps you in a perpetual state of laziness anyway.
Upon arriving at St. Joe’s, I was confirmed for the reservation that the lady from the Bontoc hostel had arranged for me and promptly shown to my room. But it wasn’t two minutes into the conversation that I was interrupted multiple times by desperate backpackers trying to secure a room for the night. So along with the horror stories that accompanied trying to sleep through the last week’s rainy nights, I was also told about how there were quite literally no more places to stay anywhere in town. People had started to go around asking the locals to take them in for a fee. I am sure that some of this was arranged. But I would still hate to have been in that position in such damp climes.
The restaurant was as peaceful and cabin-like as the surrounds. All the woodworking from the entire grounds was done by local artisans with quite a western sympathy. It seemed like it was more influenced by Norwegian winters than the more common tropical humidity. But it nevertheless brought in a feel that was well accepted by the patrons.
The food was good. It took quite a while, but when I went to find out where the staff was at with the preparation of our meal, ordered no less than 45 minutes before, I found the head cook: a vicenarian mother of two (one of which was strapped to her rump like a huge humpback with curious eyes).
I let it pass.
On to bed to plan my next day.
Day 9: Humping through the hills
Being a top-heavy lad of 33, the longer, more technical, more demanding hikes I’d pounce through like a gazelle in my younger years, I am finding the excuse to shy away from nowadays. Thankfully, Filipinos are among the like-minded citizenry who make an effort to place their most important cultural relics within a stones throw of the main arteries that gnarl the mountainside around Sagada.
Besides the miraculous echos that pander themselves along the jutting karst formations, gaining depth and definition as they bounce around the area, the Hanging Coffins of Echo Valley are just the right counter to break their flow. And as you descend the mountain to reach them, the echos of even your conversation-level tone can be heard answering back at you like phantoms escaping the limestone erosion.
Seeming so foreign even to this unfamiliar corner of the Southeast Asian wilds, these stoic boxes clinging to the sheer cliff faces at the base of the hike offer an otherworldly glimpse of the deep spirituality that has existed here long before Magellan plotted his course and imposed his Portugese slant on Catholicism here.
Off in the distance was an amazing looking mansion overlooking the entire valley. That house, my guide told me, was at the end of the hike that we wouldn’t be doing today. Oddly enough, I knew that I had paid for that hike. But this news came after an all-important phone call of his to which my day unfortunately took the back seat. So it was to be back into town with me without word on when I would be completing my hike.
Throughout Sagada, you’re not supposed to hike without a guide. That’s what the sign says when you perform the other required task of registering as a foreigner to the town hall. I couldn’t tell if this was for safety purposes or for commerce. Well, I couldn’t tell until I read the part of the ledger that asked the budget, rather than the number of days, that you had planned for their lovely hamlet.
Pacing and feeling like I was wasting my day to the badly prioritized teen guide, I decided to hop in a jeep and take the long hike through the Fidalizan village to the Bomod’ok waterfall on the other side of the crescent valley.
Up at the top, I met my other guide. Equally expensive. Equally young. We set off down through the village which rounded banks overlooking the valley in 180 degrees of crisp, sunny views.
The village, itself, was quite and serene. But infrequently, we would hear gun blasts or some such oddity coming from an undetectable direction. My guide would tell me that it was dynamite from the copper mining near the river to the south.
Making our way along the only concrete path in the layered rice terraces, we eventually weaved through the pass and down to the foot of this magnificent waterfall. The water was a brisk and perfect contrast to the hot day working in on us from behind the mountains.
I swam for about a half-hour at its base. But all one need do is stand near it and become drenched in its powerful sheeting swathes of fall-spray. It was a wonderful experience to see that kind of power from mother nature even in this remote, unexpected place.
Once out of the water and dried off in the sun, we headed back. But not before my boots lost a sole. to this day, I have no idea what took them down. But whatever the case, I was forced to run through a new pair of socks on the climb back through the other side of the village.
Back in town, we found out that, because of New Year’s traffic, all the tickets would be booked for the next two days. So if I was to have any hope of making it to the islands before my departure time, I would have to cut my mountain escape one day short. So I packed and woke up to the early bus for a day-long trip back to Manila.
There, I would run into all sorts of problems. But that’s going to be another journal.
Check out the rest of the images from Sagada, but don’t forget to watch Part Four of the Philippines documentary below:
At about 3:00 into this movie, you see Sagada from where we arrived, at St. Joe’s.