Travel Journal: Benguet-Sagada-Baguio 2014

My brain, hands, and mood have finally allowed me to write again. For the past few days I’ve been suffering from a mild case of writer’s block, add to that the constant temptation to stay up late to play, harvest, and beautify my Smurf Village.

Nonetheless, I’m back, realizing that it’s already the love month. I’m excited to embark on new adventures and rekindle my love for life through traveling. It was only right to start off the year with a four-day trip to Benguet-Sagada-Baguio. It was exhausting, yes, contrary to how most vacations should be. But the trekking, spelunking, caving, and endless walking surely made my Sagada trip one of the best I’ve ever had.

We got a tour package from a travel agency (with sucky travel agents who deserve a separate post) and traveled to Benguet on a Friday night. I was with my brother, his officemates, and my forever travel buddy, Cindy. I felt energetic and ready for the Sagada adventure, what with my big ass backpack, clothes chosen by my dad for trekking and caving, and other travel essentials like a waterproof phone case from my brother and a GoPro camera from my ninong. Thank God for them, I felt so prepared for the trip.

After almost ten hours and three stopovers and countless bumps of my head on the window, we reached our first stop – Benguet. The cold air was, well, too cold, reaching eight degrees so I had to wear four layers of clothing to keep myself warm. We waited at Banaue viewpoint to witness the sun rising while slowly revealing a breathtaking masterpiece – the Banaue Rice Terraces.

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Postcard perfect. I guess that’s an understatement though. How could our people, without high-tech machinery create such a sight to behold? It was A.MA.ZING. The photos do not do the rice terraces justice.

After admiring the terraces with a cup of coffee in hand, we were taken by our patient van driver to Sagada. We settled in our rooms in the George Guesthouse Inn (note that the people of Sagada rejected the proposals to build five-star hotels in the area), and after stretching our legs and resting our backs from the cramped space in the van, Cindy and I took a walk to discover more about the place, the people, and their lemon pies. Yup, there’s a cozy little resto near our inn called the Sagada Lemon Pie House which offers yummy lemon and egg pies and soothing teas.

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After lunch, our first activity in the itinerary was to go caving in Sumaguing Cave (also called the Porn Cave and you have to see it for yourself so you’d understand). It was scary at first but eventually proved to be exciting and fun. Two hundred plus plus steps going down the heart of Sumaguing Cave, with our three tour guides who made us guess what the rock formations resembled. We eventually had to remove our flip-flops because the rocks were getting slippery, we had to hold on to ledges, blindly search for footholds on the stalagmites jutting out in all directions, feel the cold refreshing water in small pools, and even climb up steep slopes using a rope. A bit dangerous, I’d have to say, but that’s more I like it.

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It was a tiring day, yet we cannot stop talking about how we survived that cave. Little did we know that the degree of difficulty of our activity the next day was notches higher than our Sumaguing escapade.

We armed ourselves with energy by eating breakfast at Sagada Lemon Pie House the following morning. While I was packing at home, my ever supportive dad advised us what to wear (long sleeves, leggings, a shirt, and a bush hat) and bring (water, camera, strength) for our next stop: Bomod-ok falls. We were initially thrilled as we trekked down the side of the hill, and we were able to see the villages up close, even glimpsed at the old houses. As we tried to catch our breath and pushed ourselves to move faster an hour into the trek, we realized that we were walking right in the middle of the rice terraces. Two and a half hours and numerous short stops to breathe and drink water later, we came face to face with what the locals call the “big falls.” The water from the falls felt like it came straight out of the freezer, I wasn’t able to swim. I only managed to dip my legs and relax as the coolness of the water and air crept up my body and refreshed me after the long walk.

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We stayed at Bomod-ok falls for almost an hour after deciding that we should head back to the city. We were starving and thirsty by the time we reached our van, which was to be expected after traversing the hillside and taking almost 9000 steps just to see the falls. There were some eateries in the heart of the city which served local dishes including Pinikpikan and we just had to try it out. We still had two items to tick off of our itinerary: a visit to the hanging coffins and a stop at the Ganduyan Museum.

The hanging coffins are situated in the Echo Valley, so we had to do a little trekking (by this time we didn’t care much about mud on our shoes or about sliding or tripping on rocks). It was a bit bizarre to see coffins hanging on the rocky mountain side, some even had chairs attached to the coffins. These chairs were apparently used by the person buried in the coffin, so for them it made sense to tie these chairs when they passed on. We took a few snapshots of the hanging coffins then we headed back to the van, now with really sore legs but still game for our last stop at the museum.

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Ganduyan Museum is owned by Lola Kristina, who told us stories about her collection of antiques, jewelry, bags, weapons, clothing, and other artifacts. We felt like little kids listening to our grandmother as she related how, many decades ago, the jewelry worn by people distinguished the poor from the rich, what the Igorots used in their kitchens and in the field, why the children wore necklaces with a tiny container for their Pinipig, and how she, an Igorot, survived cancer. She was an inspiring woman, and take note, she was speaking in English the whole time. She confessed that she didn’t even finish high school, but I found it hard to believe because she was really fluent with the language. She gladly showed us around her museum and even allowed us to have our pictures taken with her.

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After the day’s strenuous activities, we decided to retire and get some much needed sleep for our last day in Sagada and sidetrip to Baguio. We woke up early the next day, hoping to catch the sunrise at Kiltepan, only to be left shivering with fog all around the area. Mr. Sun didn’t show up that day so we just headed back to the inn, grabbed a quick bite, then set off for Baguio. On our way there, we stopped over at the highest point in the highway system of the country and of course, we didn’t miss the chance for a photo op.

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Nothing much has changed in Baguio since the last time my family and I went there for a vacay. It was much warmer in that city than in Sagada, but tourists were still over the place. We made a quick stop at Good Shepherd and Camp John Hay, but since most of us have been to Baguio we agreed to skip the city tour and head back to Manila.

I have to say that by far, this is the most exhausting vacation I’ve ever had, that I wasn’t able to report for work the next day. But it is also the best in the sense that I felt really closer to nature, became more appreciative of its beauty (and realized how hard it must have been for our ancestors to plant rice), and like what I said on my Instagram account, I finally believed that life is simple but amazing.

I would love to go back to Sagada maybe in a couple of years, and I’m looking forward to seeing the mountains still untouched, the cozy inns still standing, and the people still smiling because they have fought to take good care of God’s astounding creations.

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