The Gypsy Soul in Me : My North Luzon Adventure Part 1

I’ll look back on this and smile, because it was life and I decided to live it.

On my travel to North Luzon during the Christmas Holidays, I’ve come to realized that one of life’s greatest adventures can be defined thru the moments of impulse decisions. And these great things are the following:

1. Getting lost somewhere unfamiliar isn’t always so bad; sometimes it leads you to meeting new great strangers to share your wonderful stories with.

2. Spontaneity is the best kind of adventure.   

3. Coming home makes you realize nothing about your house or your sheets has changed, It’s you, something inside you has changed and has awakened for the better. And suddenly you’re glad looking at yourself in the mirror.

I’ve always wanted to go to Sagada Mt. Province. I’m always fascinated by the stories of people who have experience it, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. My only dilemma was, I couldn’t find someone who wants to go with me. I have mountaineer friends but they’ve got different plans during the holidays and my other friends aren’t up to that kind of adventure.

The beautiful landscape of Baguio

But it’s very rare that my work permits me to have a looong holiday vacation and I knew I needed to arrange an itinerary so it won’t go to waste. Besides, I can never stay home just doing nothing, I know it’s gonna kill me! haha

A friend knew of my fascination of Sagada and how much I wanted to go there, so few days before Christmas, he invited me on this trip to the mountains along with his girlfriend and a friend, wherein we will be staying there from 26th to 29th of December. In a bolt of lighting, I’ve decided to tag along! So I planned my itinerary, that on the 26th of evening I will travel to Sagada until the 29th and head to Vigan, Ilocos Sur to visit Gresh’s (my friend from college) hometown and spend the New Year’s eve there with her family. I also invited my brother and his girlfriend to come with me.  Unfortunately, they still have work until the 3oth of December so they can only join me in Vigan and not in Sagada. But that’s good enough for me, as long as we’re together on New Year’s eve 🙂

Suddenly, Gresh invited me to join her to Nueva Viscaya on the same days as I planned for Sagada because she and her partner Oma will be meeting with a very important client who lives there. Since the area is in Solano, the route going to Sagada, I decided to join them. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt tagging along with free hotel accommodations and meal all throughout the day haha

But the itinerary has changed. We’ll be staying in Solano overnight, then we will head back to Baguio and then to Vigan. So the chances of me going to Sagada suddenly became unreal. And I was about to give up, because I couldn’t convince them to join me to this adventure and, to be honest, I was also a bit scared travelling to the mountains all by myself. So I told myself, maybe some other time..

At Balai Gloria in Solano City

Then after our hearty dinner at Balai Gloria, our group were accompanied by Kuya Iking, their client’s assistant, to this marvelous pub in the heart of Solano Town, We met their client’s brother-in-law, we were having drinks and he told us about his recent trip to Sagada and I was like “I’m sooo itching to go!” That night as I lay in my bed, I couldn’t get the image of Sagada out of my head! I couldn’t sleep and it seems like the mountains are calling me and I needed to go! haha

A night out in Solano 🙂

So the next morning, I told my girlfriends I’m leaving for Sagada! hehe drastic move but then I realized, if not now, then it might not happen at all. I’m really aching to go, and the idea of going to Sagada alone doesn’t seem like a scary thing at all. Besides, I’ve been in Italy for a month, all by myself in a foreign country, so why would I be afraid of going to Sagada, just 275 kilometers away from Manila, right?? 🙂

The jampacked bus to Bontoc. Yeeeep I was standing the entire trip!
A little mishap on my journey that day, a flat tire.

The next thing I knew, I was packing my stuff and catching the first bus to Bontoc City, the capital of Cordillera Mountains which is about 5 hours ride to Sagada. At the jeepney terminal, a guy named John overheard me talking to the guys there about my intentions and in some twisted fate, he’s also on his way there! So being the kaladkarin myself, I tagged along to Bontoc! Yes I know what you’re thinking that it’s not such a good idea going somewhere with some stranger, but I figured and I don’t mean this as an insult or something, but I’m bigger than this guy and I know I can take him down with my brazilian jiu jitsu skills hahahaha

So anyway, the bus was jampacked with commuters going to Bontoc for the holidays and I had no choice but to stand on the bus aisle. And you know what? I didn’t knew until then that I could sleep in a standing position! haha I know the destination is far, but I didn’t care cause I’m going somewhere beautiful 🙂

After a few hours of travelling,  we passed by Banaue Rice Terraces. And I have to emphasize it, it’s the goddamn BANAUE RICE TERRACES!! 🙂 It was like living in a dream.

Yes it is, it’s one of the most beautiful man-made thing in the world

Known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Banaue Rice Terraces is carved into the mountains by the ancestors of Ifugao. It’s majestic figure is mainly done by hand and is about 1,500 meters above sea level. The step by step terraces have water going through it from the rainforests surrounding and above it.

Agriculture is considered a great deal of livelihood in Philippines especially in the provinces such as Banaue or Sagada, and it’s wonderful to see this man-made architecture come to life from the books I was only reading many years ago, but it also saddens me how more and more younger Ifugaos do not find farming appealing anymore. Most of the parts of the Banaue Rice Terraces have dried up and I hope that the locals would do more reconstruction and really take care of it.

One of the beautiful rice fields of Cordillera

Finally after 6 hours of travelling, I made it! I’m now in Sagada Mountain Province and I’ve no single idea where I’m heading! I have no room reservations, my friend whom I’m supposed to meet there wasn’t answering my calls and text messages, I knew NOBODY, I’m just simply clueless. I started going downtown and knock on every inns and hotels that I passed by and of course, to my great stupid surprise, all the rooms are full!

I’m like, oh god, oh god, oh god. I’ve got no idea what I’m gonna do. It’s around 5:30 in the afternoon, and it’ll be dark soon and I was bracing the idea of literally sleeping on the streets! Then I went inside this humble sari-sari store to buy some toiletries and I asked the sales lady if she knew some inn which still has a vacancy for me. And God is soooo good to me, that they have a spare room in their house which I can rent for 300 pesos a night! HA! I won’t be a homeless person after all! 🙂

I’m sorry about my messy stuff. This is the room I was staying in from Ate Joan’s house at Sagada. Not too shabby right? Just perfect 🙂

That night, I was eating dinner all by myself at this restaurant, and even though I’m grateful that I found a room for the night, I feel bad that my friend ditched me! UGH right??! I was soo pissed at him and I’m like, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to enjoy my trip here. So I thought, I’m only gonna stay here for one day and the next morning I will catch the first bus trip going to Baguio. But I still arranged a tour for myself the next day. What the hell right? Might as well enjoy the trip all by myself. At 4 o’clock in the morning, my tour guide Kuya Gayah a.k.a Ultraman (lol) fetched me at the house I was staying in to catch the sunrise at Kiltepan peak, overlooking the mountains and rice terraces.  The word Kiltepan came from the three barangays surrounding the terraces namely, Kilong, Tetep-an and Antadao. 

Breathtaking view from the Kiltepan Peak. Just plain AWESOME.

Coming into this trip, I didn’t know what to expect or what am I gonna do next and I wanted to leave from the moment I stepped out of the car from Bontoc. But upon reaching the Kiltepan peak that day, and as the clouds started to dissolve with the view of the mountains, the sunrise and rice terraces came to life, I was completely out of words and out of breath.. The only thing running through my head was. thank God I jumped inside that bus from Solano and fate brought me here to witness this beautiful creation of the Almighty God. And I feel so privileged that I’m sharing that blessing with you all 🙂

The fantastic view is soo worth the 4am call time, don’t you agree? 🙂

One great thing happened that day, I made friends with three cool strangers from Manila namely, Machie, Raywin and Melbar. Who would’ve thought our personalities would click and soon we were laughing our asses off at the mountain peak and just ultimately having fun 🙂

The beautiful strangers I met in Sagada 🙂

Machie and Raywin are officemates, working in one of the prestigious media network in Metro Manila. They met Melbar, a member of the very famous dance group representing Philippines all over the world called All-Stars, with his uncle in Baguioand together they were touring around Sagada when I met them at Kiltepan Peak. During our selfie-taking at the peak, we met Ate Arlene, a teacher from Isabella together with her boyfriend, Chad, from Minnesota. It was a glorious morning 🙂

The turistas, together with our tour guides while waiting for the sun to come up.
Raywin is totally feeling it 🙂
The highlight of that morning, we rode back to the village on the top load of the jeepney! yeaaah! one for the books 🙂
The Fidelisan Village between the mountains

After witnessing the sunrise, I went back to the village and had my breakfast. I decided to visit the Bomod-ok falls which is one of the most visited tourist spot here in Sagada. In order to go there, one must hire a trek guide from the Tourist office of the town hall. It cost 500 pesos which is a bit expensive if you’re alone like myself, because if you’re in a group, you can divide the cost among yourselves.

Before you get there, you will trek down to the Fidelisan Village located at the foot of the mountains and go around the rice terraces. Called “BIG,” the Bomod-Ok falls is about 200 feet tall with a massive pool like a basin underneath it which is really, really cold! I wanted to swim much longer but the cold is too much for my allergy 😦

The charming Bomod-ok falls and the massive boulders surrounding it
The scenery going to the Bomod-ok falls.
Just like a girl who’s been picked as one of the first six of her volleyball team. My genuine smile filled with excitement upon seeing the charming Bomod-ok falls 🙂

During my trip to the Bomod-ok falls, I saw the couple I met at the Kiltepan peak and they were kind enough to invite me to their group. After swimming at the pool of the falls, we head back to the town together to prepare for the next adventure waiting for us, the trip to the connection caves 🙂

I had my lunch that day at the Yogurt house where they offer great-tasting meals but the worthy of your pennies here, are the yogurts 🙂 After a hearty lunch, I head back to my room and prepared for the next trip. Ate Arlene and Chad together with our tour guide for that afternoon, Kuya Jim, picked me up later that day. It was my first time ever to explore a cave and I’m freaking out, giddy, excited, totally mixed emotions all over! We we’re grouped together with 8 or 6 more tourists, two of them are Canadian girls from Quebec and the others are from Manila and Pangasinan. As we are about to enter the Lumiang Cave, I couldn’t help but notice the extravagant rock formation just beside the mountains surrounding the town. Who would have thought that the village itself hides a great treasure underneath its mountains.

The beautiful pine trees of Sagada
The rock formations outside of Lumiang Cave
Alright ladies and gents, lets do this! 🙂

Being a first-time spelunker, I’m totally nervous about what’s in store for me inside the caves. I’ve been trying so hard to keep my composure because I was shaking in nervousness and at the same time, I’m excited like a little girl! haha

The SEGA and SAGAAS highly recommends this activity, the spelunking, to see the marvelous rock formations, stalagmites, and stalactites inside the cave and, it’s perfect for people who are always on the search for adventure. And what an adventure indeed!

The giddy smile of a first-time-spelunker hehe

I didn’t took lots of photos from my mobile phone, because to be honest, I’m too focused on my life! haha Because seriously, the rocks are too slippery and some are rough enough to cut your skin. Trust me, one wrong slip means the end of your life. But still, this is me encouraging you to try it out and see the caves for yourself because even the fanciest SLR camera would NEVER give justice to how electrifying the adventure was. It’s such a relief that our tour guide is an expert when it comes to adventures such as this. Despite the fact that he always makes fun of how my butt couldn’t get through the rocks haha, but still, I’m grateful he was there to guide us through safety 🙂

Our spelungking team! Chad and Ate Arlene, and the ladies from Canada and other parts of Metro Manila 🙂 we made it! 🙂
One of the most beautiful rock I’ve ever seen in my life 🙂 Don’t you think this looks like an egg?

The activity is called Connection Cave because the caves are literally connected to each other. You enter the Lumiang Cave and passes through a series of assaults and traverse towards Sumaguing Cave. The Sagada folks are known for hanging their ancestors’ remains atop the huge rocks, (also known as hanging coffins in Echo Valley) and on the mouth of Lumiang Cave is no different. The opening has marks and traces of bones and wood planks used as coffins of their dead ancestors. Yikes!! When Kuya Jim mentioned about it, I seriously don’t want to look around because I’m too scared of what I’m about to see!

Rock formation mimicking the shape of a turtle. So cute!
The vagey-gey rock! hahaha

Spelunking isn’t only as challenging as it looks like, it’s one hell of a dangerous activity to do. There’s a total absence of light plus you get to rummage along the stretch of rough and slippery rocks, You really have to carry yourself well in terms of climbing all the way up with only single rope without any harness supporting your weight, literally just words of encouragement from your team shouting “You can do it KC!!” What the hell right?? hahaha Your body’s flexibility will be tested and as well as your vigilance. And yes, your sense of hearing because there are lots of bats around!

Of course I don’t want you to get discouraged, hell it’s a lot of fun! But if you are planning to go on caving I suggest you really have to wear garments which are thermal because on most parts you will be crossing waters and crawl through it. You also have to be comfortable with what you’re wearing because caving requires lots of spreading your legs like a gymnast in order to fit into small openings. Also be aware on what footwear is appropriate for such activity and has a low risk of slipping specially on the limestones. Trust me, the limestones may look attractive and very pretty upclose but it’s a total bitch to your balance! lol

The price to pay on holding too much to your dear life – a roughened hand. Oh well..
My first chimney experience, seriously!

The whole caving experience was about 3 tiring hours. haaaaayyy I was out of energy from the activities for the whole day but there’s so much stories to be told beside the open fire 🙂 So after we’ve all freshened up, we head at Davey’s Inn for a nice dinner and beer beside the chimney. This place is considered as the hide out of some of the tour guides here in Sagada. And I couldn’t blame them, because this bed and breakfast is very cozy with great food, wifi and shelter from the frightening weather outside. The next day we head to Echo Valley to visit the very infamous Hanging Coffins! It’s really creppy, seriously, but you’ll surely be amazed by how this ritual of Sagada’s ancestors has become a world-known tourist attraction. And mind you, this ritual is still being practiced by the locals up to now. Hey, maybe we should get a reservation for a spot atop a big rock! 🙂

The Calvary Hill Cemetery

But seriously, why do they want their coffins be hung on the rocks? Simply put, the ancestors believed that the higher your coffins are hung on the rocks, the closer you are to the heavens. Which made sense, because now I realized, even though you’re dead and all, wouldn’t it be nice to be surrounded by wonderful scenery than be stuck 6 feet underneath the dirt? 🙂

To get to Echo Valley, you will first need to go through the Cemetery of Sagada. Notice that even though this is a cemetery, the tombstones are artistically aligned along the hills, making it so pleasingly beautiful. I learned that the locals have bonfires here in the tombs of their relatives, commemorating their loved ones. This practice is called Panag-apoy where the locals light some pine woods instead of normal candles during November 1st. I’d loove to witness it this year 🙂

The beautiful landscape of Sagada Mt. province on our way to Echo Valley
The very creepy by so very interesting hanging coffins of Sagada. I dare you to take a peak inside those coffins??! haha
The hanging coffins up close! I can’t remember what those words stands for, maybe some rituals or something. Or probably the names of the dead ancestors inside. Eeeeeerie! haha

It’s a beautiful day out here 🙂

In order to get a glimpse of the hanging coffins in Echo Valley, you have to hike across the rain forest just for a few couple of hours. The trek isn’t so bad as long as you are well-equipped to do so. It’s sort of creepy seeing tombs hanging on huge rocks but it’s also fascinating at the same time.  After seeing the coffins, we hiked inside the woods all the way back to the city proper. We saw different rock formations, mini falls, lakes and never ending pine trees! Paradise indeed 🙂

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Writing about this places makes me miss Sagada even more! 😦
AMEN to that! haha
Beautiful rock formation, isn’t it?
The very cold, and very cute Bokong Falls! 🙂

I’ve always known that Philippines is a treasure waiting to be explored. But just like most of us, I was always “too busy” with career etc and shamefully, I was too afraid to get out of my comfort zone. But visiting Sagada that weekend made me realized that life is too short to not want to see things, experience things, and meet incredible people. And that, as we are young and able, we should have the courage to think differently, to travel and explore the unknown, and discover our strengths, what we are capable of or even our weaknesses, and learn to CONQUER them.

So let’s keep the hunger for travel and conquering ourselves on fire!! As for me, this is only the beginning… 🙂

Xoxo

KC

 

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