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.
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.
For more on the Lumiang burial cave, check out this video.
I sat a few minutes for a breather. As it turned out, my body hadn’t fully recovered from its abused state from yesterday.
Another 10 minute walk later, we reached the entrance to Sumaguing cave.
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.
(takes out the 70-200mm zoom lens…)
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
After yesterday’s epic (and mad tiring) day, I woke up relaxed at around 5:30am. Quite early, I know, but necessary as I wanted to catch the first jeepney to Bontoc, to get to Sagada by afternoon. (All transportation to Sagada passes through Bontoc)
After breakfast, I ‘booked’ my seat in the jeepney. In quotes because it’s really on just a ‘first come-first serve’ basis. So you just drop your bag in, tell the driver and reserve a space for yourself. (Banaue to Bontoc cost ₱150)
Once I was assured a spot, I decided to walk around town a bit, as I still had some time.
As it neared 8am, the jeepney managed to fill itself with enough passengers and we left Banaue town.
The jeepney stopped at a junction in Bontoc town and we were told we would have to wait for more passengers before it set off again to Sagada. Those who wanted to get down at Bontoc, got down.
After waiting for around half-an-hour in the mid-day heat, the jeepney managed to get enough passengers to leave Bontoc and head for Sagada.
I didn’t have any hotel reservations but I had listed down a few names of recommended guesthouses and lodges. A lot of the places in and around the main bus stop (essentially where you board the buses or jeepneys to get to other towns) were full, so I walked downhill a little bit and took a room at George’s Guesthouse.
I freshened up and headed downstairs for lunch.
(This concludes the first half of this day; the sights I saw in Sagada will be in my next post)
The bus departed from Autobus station at around 10pm and not soon after the bus had started, we encountered a problem — the air conditioning wasn’t working. Which made sitting inside a small bus (ticket costs ₱450/$10/€7) all the more uncomfortable.
When I was doing my research, Autobus and GV Florida were the two bus companies that were popular for overnight trips to Banaue. Both had customers complaining about how cold the ride was because the A/C inside the buses were often so cold. How ironic that I experienced the complete opposite!
The passengers were getting quite restless as there were a few children in our group as well. Eventually the bus stopped just off EDSA and the bus personnel tried to repair the A/C. A good 15 minutes later, repair it they did… slightly. There was air being recirculated, which was essential, but not cool enough to call it ‘conditioning’.
I tried my best to sleep, but given that I can hardly ever get sleep in bus journeys, this too was one of those journeys. We arrived in Banaue town just past 6am the next day. We were dropped just outside the main town and I had to take a trike to the area where all the hotels were.
As soon as I got down, the trike driver asked me whether I wanted to do a tour, to which I obviously said “yes,” but I told him I wanted to have breakfast first. I took a room at New Wonder Lodge (cost ₱250/$5.8/€4.1) which wasn’t a rice terrace facing lodge but given I was going to be out all day, I didn’t care much for the view. All I wondered was how long this lodge has been ‘new’ (hint: it wasn’t).
But I did hop over to the plateau facing Greenview Restaurant for breakfast.
Post breakfast, I began shooting.
The trike driver who offered to take me around for a tour of the rice terraces was waiting outside and I asked around to find out how much the tours generally cost. They all said ₱900 ($21/€14) if going by trike (which is the most common). I hadn’t even slept properly so I asked the trike driver if we could go a bit later, say around noon. He said that’s not possible because if I want to trek all the way to Batad village and see the other rice terraces, we would have to leave now.
After nearly 40 minutes since we left the main town, we finally arrived at our first stop on this tour.
It took me nearly half-an-hour to get to this point and I was only halfway through my journey to Batad’s rice terraces. Arnel had told me the walk would take me an hour. So I figured it would be another half-an-hour more.
Just around the corner, I passed by an elderly American who nodded to me as if to say “Boy, this is tough!”. I asked him if he made it to Batad village but he said his legs couldn’t even make it halfway through the journey. On hearing that, I though to myself – “Maybe it’s because he’s old”.
I tumble once but fortunately I didn’t roll any down any further. My immediate reaction was: “Oh shit, my camera!” Fortunately the 7D is built to take a bit of a beating so nothing happened to it. The only damage was a few scratches on my arm and on my knee. I got up, washed the very same parts of my body but realized I wasn’t carrying any band-aid with me!
So I had no other choice but to continue walking towards the village. I didn’t walk back because I wasn’t sure how far along I was — whether the Batad village was closer or was I much closer to the viewpoint junction back uphill.
It took nearly an hour to get to Batad village — and that was just from the junction, not including the trek uphill from where Arnel had dropped me.
So, were the Batad rice terraces worth the trek?
But the rice terraces could wait. I approached a store and asked if they had band-aid, fortunately which they did. I asked where I could wash my wounds and the store lady pointed down to the basement.
I washed up, plastered up and sat down for a while. I needed to rest my legs!
Had something to eat and drink before resuming my photography.
As I check out the surroundings, I feel something touch my legs.
There were village kids following me asking for money (don’t want to use the word ‘beg’), and I gave them ₱10 each, out of sympathy.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay in Batad any longer. It was already 12:30pm and with an already tired body, I knew I was going to take another one hour just to get back.
They were requesting visitors to make a donation to the village for its ‘upkeep’. Whether it was for Batad’s development or just for the locals to make good use of the money for their daily lives, I still donated ₱100.
I also asked if any local was willing to carry my bags as I just couldn’t walk uphill with the load I was carrying, now with an injured leg. One of the villagers agreed to carry my bag uphill for ₱100.
Eventually he too had to stop for a break and we rested for a few minutes at one of the makeshift stores along the way. I bought him something to drink and I asked him how long he has been walking these hills. As a native of Batad village, he told me they’ve been doing this since they were little. Young boys are made to carry goods up and down the hill, so their bodies get used to it as they age.
I even saw a small boy carrying a load of potatoes on a log uphill and the expression on his face was nothing short of hardship. It really was revelation of sorts for me. Here I was on this trip, to take my mind off from being laid off from work and yet, here are people who have been living like this for decades… all because of their lineage. Few make it out of Banaue, let alone their own village, and move to bigger cities.
I asked the local what their primary source of income was. He told me it was mostly farming, but a lot of the rice that’s grown in their rice terraces are for their own consumption as very little is sold in the markets. Of course, tourism is now helping them a bit as well.
As we moved on and neared the junction, I caught up with the American I crossed paths with earlier on my way down. He still hadn’t reached the top. I told him about my ordeal as we walked up together.
The American (again, forgot his name as well) told me about a different path up but I decided to just stick to the steps and follow the local who carried my bags. I told him I’ll catch up with him later.
Once I reached the junction, I paid the local ₱150 instead of the agreed ₱100. He was grateful, and I had no reservations about my actions. I thanked him for carrying my bags and he headed back to his village.
The American reached the junction at about the same time I did, and we both sat at a store because sitting was exactly what we needed! A few minutes later, we were joined by a Brit who was with his trekking guide. With all three of us sweating profusely as evidenced by our shirts, needless to say, our conversations immediately began with how each of our experiences were. The Brit was concluding his nearly 4-day trek across Batad and was panting as he spoke. He spoke of how his guide (surely a local) just wouldn’t break a sweat and how he couldn’t do without his trekking pole.
Anyway, myself and the American couldn’t sit there forever and though we thought of taking a jeepney back, none of the jeepneys looked like they would be moving until they had enough passengers. So as one final effort, we both decided walk back down to where our trikes were waiting for us.
The trek back down was easier this time simply because, one, it was downhill, and two, there were concreted patches of road. Also, speaking to each other about topics ranging from the world economy to where else both of us had traveled took our minds off of how much distance we had to cover.
Thirty minutes later, we were back to the starting point. The American and I parted ways but he suggested that we catch up for a beer later at night once I’m back in town.
Once I was back in Arnel’s trike, more than beer, I just wanted to get back to my room to wash my wounds properly and then rest.
But instead, Arnel took me to the next stop on this tour:
Despite being a bumpy ride back, because of how tired I was, I still dozed off in between.
Once back in Banaue town after nearly an hour, Arnel drove me up to the first of three viewpoints for Banaue’s rice terraces.
We moved on higher up to the second viewpoint.
I asked Arnel to take me to the final viewpoint.
But this being the last stop on my tour, I decided to push my legs one last time and walked down the steps towards the house.
With that, I decided I had taken enough from the main viewpoint.
My legs were really quivering with each step I took. I had to use my tripod as support to raise myself to take each step. I was that tired!
As we drove back, Arnel told me if it wasn’t so foggy today, I would have gotten a better view of the entire Banaue rice terraces. I said it’s fine, because at this point all I wanted was to take a hot shower and give my feet the rest they needed.
Arnel dropped me back and I paid him ₱900 plus a ₱100 as a tip, simply because I felt like it. I first went to a store to buy some biscuits and cake in case I woke up too late. Because here in Banaue, there is a 9pm curfew and just about every shop closes by then. It’s wise to stock up on essentials before the sun sets.
Back in the room, I first took a hot shower and felt so much better. After that, I just crashed on the bed. Given the fact I barely slept at all the previous night due to the bus journey, and after all the tiring activities from today, it only took me a matter of minutes to doze off.
I hadn’t forgotten to meet up with the American from earlier, but when I did wake up…
Yes, I overslept. But I didn’t care, I needed the sleep.
My legs felt a little better and I sat on the bed, switched on my computer and ate something. As I transferred today’s photos on to my hard drive and reviewed them, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of achievement. Despite how my body felt, today really changed me in some ways. First, I couldn’t imagine where on earth away from India I was. Secondly, the trek really changed my perspective on life (in some ways). I shouldn’t be complaining about losing my job when I go back to my office. At least I had an office in a city to go back to. To the people in Banaue, life wouldn’t be that much different when they wake up tomorrow. Tomorrow, all I was going to do was see even more amazing places!
This is undoubtedly is the most epic post I’ve ever written (so far). 170 photos just to show you, my reader, what all I saw today. Over 3400 words to tell you what I experienced on my secondday of sightseeing across Philippines.
I have been trekking since my college days and I enjoy walking, a lot. Trekking to Batad was undoubtedly the toughest trek I have ever undertaken. I cannot believe I walked 9kms up and down. A total of 18kms in Batad. And you know what? I didn’t even know it was 9kms to Batad village until I began working on these photos!
Go read the sign about ‘Batad rice terraces’ up above just after Arnel dropped me to the point I had to then go on foot. I didn’t notice the description and 9kms mentioned on the sign until I worked on that photo!
In a way, it’s a good thing I didn’t. I would have had second thoughts of trekking 18kms had I known the distance and the terrain I encountered along the way. Also, had it not been for the pleasant, not-sunny-at-all weather, there’s no way I would have gone all the way.
But would I do this again?
Edit (16/09/2011): I found the map I had with me that day