Date: 19th April 2011
The whole of today morning was spent in a jeepney – first from Banaue to Bontoc, and then again from Bontoc to Sagada. After checking-in to George’s Guesthouse, I went downstairs for lunch.
The George's Guesthouse restaurant had Filipino curry and it was the first time I saw curry in a menu here. I had to try it! It was quite spicy, mostly because of the pepper. Not bad.
I sat at the table and had a slow lunch (even though I couldn’t honestly afford to). My plan was to try and see if I could finish seeing Sagada’s famous caves and hanging coffins by end of day. Both attractions were among the “must see” sights for me on this Philippines trip.
Today was a Tuesday and I had to be in Angeles City at the most by Thursday, because on Friday, I needed to be in San Fernando town for the Good Friday activities. Trouble is, I was really worried about the Holy Week national holidays and all the talk of everything shutting down as Good Friday neared. So I wondered if I could finish seeing everything by today evening and then leave for Angeles City tomorrow itself, just to be safe.
At 2:30pm, I decided not to waste anymore time and decided to begin my tour
The perks of living in a hilly village
I went to the guides' office because I read that you are not allowed inside the caves without a guide!
Inside the office, I speak to the guides and I tell them what all I want to see first. They told me the caves are doable but I may not be able to see the hanging coffins by sunset — nor the church (which wasn’t high up on my list of things-to-see anyway). I told them I needed to be in Angeles City by Thursday and the guides informed me I first would have to go to Baguio city and catch another bus from there to Angeles City. It was going to take an entire day, and if I had to see the church or the hanging coffins, I would have to do it before the last bus to Baguio leaves in the afternoon.
I thought to myself about the journey to Angeles City and realized I would be cutting it a little too thin if I left Sagada in the afternoon (and I may have to spend the night in Baguio if I miss the last bus from there to Angeles City!)
So I decided not to waste any more time ‘thinking,’ hired a guide and told them I’ll try to see everything I wanted to see today itself. The other guides were pessimistic, but I was quite adamant.
The guide and I walked down the road towards the caves
Jason, my guide, pointed to these limestone rocks and asked me if I could spot the hanging coffins
There they were. (By the way, these are not the main hanging coffins site)
I was impressed by how clean and neat Sagada village was
After 10 minutes of walking, Jason asked me to wait here while he went inside the store to get his lamp
Jason led me up the path to Lumiang burial cave
It was a short walk
We slowly climbed down
Lumiang burial cave
...and this is what it's famous for
Hundreds of coffins which have been placed here for more than 300 years, the last one being in 1986
The coffins are made of pine wood and have stood the test of time quite well
(Panorama comprised of 8 shots)
For more on the Lumiang burial cave, check out this video.
We climbed back up
Walked back out to the main road
Jason pointed out to me coffins buried below here as well (bottom right)
I sat a few minutes for a breather. As it turned out, my body hadn’t fully recovered from its abused state from yesterday.
But I couldn't afford to sit around for too long, as I was the one who told the guide I wanted to see as much as possible by sunset
It only looked like the views were going to get better on this tour
Walking these neatly paved roads, all I could think of was: "Wow, a village here has such nice roads where as many Indian cities don't even have them!"
Looked beautiful even through these trees
Even their rice terraces are prim and proper
Panorama comprised of 8 shots
Another 10 minute walk later, we reached the entrance to Sumaguing cave.
Down we went again
This was the big one (Panorama comprised of 3 shots)
First step: Take a lot of steps down
Second step: Wait for guide to light the lantern
Okay, I guess we're ready
Final step: Descend into the darkness
I used the lantern as the point for the camera's auto-focus to lock on to
Jason told me from here on, it's best that I walk barefoot -- and be prepared to get all dirty
Visitors are advised to walk barefoot because the grip is better
As for the getting dirty bit, the rocks at first are all covered in bat droppings (a.k.a bat shit)
The bat shit-covered rocks eventually give way to the smooth limestone rocks
We kept descending further
The rock surface is super-smooth... and wet, with water dripping from above
Jason would stop at places to show me unique formations inside the cave. Guess what this looks like?
And it's highly unlikely that a T-Rex dinosaur took a stroll through these caves
We still had more darkness to cover
One of the few photographs taken using flash. Most of the photographs I took using the tripod and on long exposures -- and some even hand-held. (Most were shot at f4-4.5 and exposure ranging from 1/10 to 1 second)
Jason helped carry my tripod so my hands were free to climb down (the camera was on the neck strap)
Be prepared to get wet too
It was quite chilly inside and you could see vapour every time you breath out or speak. Even the rocks were cold and walking on them felt really soothing.
I got this blur-free shot after six attempts
Even the chilly waters felt therapeutic, don't know if it was the minerals or not
This is for those asking why there isn't one single photo of me in these posts
Here's an example showing you how the caves look with flash and without. See how the characteristics of the cave differs?
A formation that resembles molar teeth (Panorama comprised of 4 shots)
Yes, there was more going down to do
There were few other tourists/visitors inside the caves as well, mostly Filipinos
The guides all knew each other
Another shot which took up to five attempts to get right
You reach all the way down when you get to this pool of water, in which you can swim if you wish. Given how cold the water was (and given the lighting conditions), I chose not to.
It was time to head back (Panorama comprised of 2 shots)
One of the most photographed rocks from inside Sumaguing cave
The moisture in the air when you breath out inside this chilly environment. Amazing thing is, despite the chill factor, you don't shiver one bit!
Jason, my guide, isn't much of a 'smile' person
There was water inside this, making it a jacuzzi of sorts (minus the bubbles)
The obligatory "Hey foreign guy with DSLR, take photo of us" shot
Tried a shot without flash on long exposure before this, but all I got were the people in the back
That's the only way to go back up
It must be a challenge to visit this cave with family
Jason suggested we wait for other groups to go first
It was our turn now
I can't remember what this rock shape resembled but Jason did say it looked like something (a hippo?)
The stars align
Oh look, Jason is smiling
Back up to bat shit territory
I know using flash would be wrong (and Jason reminded me not to do so) so I tried my best to try and capture the bat clusters using long exposure. I wasn't in a position where I could set up the tripod well.
Another attempt to capture the bats (ignore the large shadow, that's me). The bats weren't flying about inside. Maybe they were camera shy.
And then there was light...
We had spent nearly 2 hours doing the Sumaguing cave part of the tour
But the reason why it takes that much time is because you have to tread very carefully! This is why they insist you hire a guide, because they know the caves and the trail to follow.
I had never been inside a cave like this before so this was quite an amazing experience!
This is an Inn just outside the caves (thus the clever name)
Shot this at 5pm
Sagada is a truly beautiful place to visit
These trees are everywhere here in Sagada (Are they a type of pine trees?)
I can highly recommend Sagada as a pleasant trekking destination
Had to stop and get one final look of the rice terraces as we walked past it again
Pff, so outdated
As we walked back to town, I asked Jason if there was anyway we could go to Echo valley and see the hanging coffins today itself as I didn't feel like staying back another day just to see them -- and I REALLY wanted to see them!
Jason, took a pause and said: "Sure". I told him I wouldn't mind walking a bit faster, and then he told me there was a shortcut we could take.
So I followed my guide, through small alleyways and past village houses
This is the famous church. You normally come here through another path from the village center.
We were near
Sigh, I officially hate climbing now
This is Sagada's main cemetery, where they bury people nowadays
After 15 minutes of 'speed walking,' we were in Echo Valley
Echo valley earned its name for obvious reasons. You could see visitors shouting to hear their echoes in return. Though, I’m not sure the dead who were laid to rest here really wanted to hear “I love Justin Bieber” and the equally famous “Justin Bieber sucks”. I’m not kidding, Filipino kids were having a blast shouting it out.
See, even the dead aren’t spared from the Bieber.
Jason pointed to the coffins... and if you can't spot them...
(takes out the 70-200mm zoom lens…)
The lens was at 200mm
There were a few older coffins a bit further away
Even after witnessing the hanging coffins from up here, I still felt ‘incomplete’. I knew I would feel like this unless I went all the way to the coffins and took photos from up close, because that’s how I saw them online. And I wanted that.
I asked Jason if we could get a lot closer. He sighed and asked me if I was willing to climb down (he knew I was a bit tired). I told him that I had come this far already, no point in coming back tomorrow just to go up close to the coffins.
And down we went, to get a closer look at the coffins. Took just 5 minutes.
Eerie as it may sound, I felt much better coming down here
Even though this is originally a centuries-old Chinese tradition, it isn't practiced anymore. Despite that, the brown coffin was the most recent addition as the person insisted on being laid to rest here, along with her ancestors.
The rest are decades old, some even centuries old
Because it was getting dark, I set the camera on the tripod and shot these at f4, 1/2 second exposure to absorb as much light as possible
And this is what happened when the camera nearly fell to the ground after I clicked
If you are tall enough, you could touch the lowest hanging coffin (but that would just be disrespectful)
It was nearing 6:30pm, so we had to head back before it got too dark
Took this using flash so that you get an idea of just how dark it really was
The climb back up was tough for me, simply because there were no proper steps. I found myself panting for breath, but in some ways, I now felt ‘complete’. I had accomplished everything I wanted to see in Sagada.
We walked back, a bit slower this time…
... and this is how dark it got by the time we were out of the woods
When we got back to the main road, Jason said he would be heading straight home from there. So I paid him the ₱700 ($16/€11) guide fee, plus a ₱100 tip, and thanked him — for putting up with me and my
demandsrequest to see everything I wanted by the end of daylight.
Took this photo from where we got down to the main road
This is George's Guesthouse... at 7pm
Back in the room, I rested my feet briefly, took a hot shower to cleanse myself of all the bat shit, and then stepped out again for dinner, because Sagada (like Banaue) has a 9pm curfew.
I had read a lot of good recommendations for a place called the Yoghurt House, so I went there for dinner just as it was winding down for the night.
I had the apple ham sandwich...
... and the banana yoghurt with granola topping. It was alright. Cost a total of ₱180 ($4/€3).
On the way back, stepped into a souvenir store, bought a neat-looking ‘I Survived Sagada’ t-shirt (₱180) and some biscuits to have tomorrow morning as I was going to be waking up really early to catch the first bus to Baguio city.
Back at George’s Guesthouse, even though the doors were shut, men were drinking and having a jolly time proving that despite the 9pm curfew, the night doesn’t end early for the locals. I copied over today’s photos from the camera to my laptop and made the most of the wi-fi to make bookings for the coming days.
Today was yet another stupendous and memorable day for me. Like yesterday, despite how tired I was trying to see as much as possible, I felt glad at end having accomplished everything I came to experience. Sure, Sagada has some famous waterfalls too, but the trek to the waterfalls was surely not possible today and I had no regrets about missing it either. The main attractions on my Sagada checklist were Sumaguing cave and the Hanging Coffins of Echo valley. And I couldn’t be more pleased with the photographs I took of both the places.
Sagada makes for a perfect weekend getaway for Manila’s residents but even as a foreign tourist, I would still recommend one make the effort to come all the way here.
I was tired, sure, but with nothing else to do in Sagada’s chilly nights, I cuddled up and went to sleep satisfied. Only dreaming this trip would keep getting better.
Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc
Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village
Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio
Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time
Other posts in this series:
Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)
Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites
Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia
Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town
Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple
Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches
Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan
Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus
Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan
Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country (Last post)
Tags: bat cave, caves, echo valley, george's guesthouse, hanging coffins, limestone caves, lumiang cave, philippines, rice terrace farm, rice terraces, sagada, sumaguing cave, trekking, village