Part 1 of 4
In his latest novel, Inferno, Dan Brown called Manila as “the gates of hell.” For me who grew up in the countryside, the stressful life in Manila really makes it a good candidate for that title. It was a long weekend and I wanted to escape from a hustle and bustle of this large metropolis. So I decided to visit Sagada in a hope to find paradise and the “gates to heaven.”
Ever since, I wanted visit this beautiful town in the north before urbanization can reach and alter the natural beauty of the place. For those who are planning to visit this town, spend at least 3 days for your transport and stay in Sagada. From Manila, you can choose 3 different routes- via Baguio, Bontoc or Banaue. I choose Baguio since this is my first time to travel up north.
Victory Liner in Pasay and Cubao have daily trips to Baguio. I suggest to travelers to book online in order to keep away from the long waiting line. The trip towards Baguio is around 6-7 hours depending on the traffic. I left Manila around 10 in the evening and reached Baguio past 4 in the morning. Baguio is known for strawberries so I tried Strawberry Taho sold at the bus terminal for 20 pesos. There are fast-food chains in Baguio, along Session Road, who are open 24/7. Since the first bus for Sagada will leave around 6:30 in the morning I decided to hear the mass at Baguio Cathedral and had some breakfast. I took a cab for Dangwa Terminal from the church, cab usually cost around 40 to 50 pesos from the terminal or from the church. Lizardo Bus is one of the first bus to leave for Sagada, the bus usually leaves before its scheduled departure whenever it gets filled so it’s better to be early to get a window seat and be on your schedule. The trip from Baguio to Sagada will take at least 6 hours via a long winding road carved at the sides of the mountain. You will have at least 2 stopovers for you to eat and attend the call of nature. Bus is not air-conditioned but who needs an AC when the weather is cool. If your seat has a view you can see cliffs on your side and a stone wall or waterfalls (especially along Halsema Highway) on the other. When it rains, sometimes your bus is positioned higher than the clouds. During your first few hours on the bus ride you will pass by the highest point of the Philippine Highway System (approximately 2000 meters above sea level). Halsema Highway was described by the Rough Guides as one of the “most awesome road in South East Asia” so who needs sleep when there are views everywhere? Just a tip, better take some motion sickness pill for the road between Baguio and Sagada can make you dizzy and nauseated.
Our bus left before 6:30 in the morning and we arrived in Sagada around 12 noon. I checked in at the Residential Lodge, I choose this place because it is highly recommended among bloggers. One of the advantage of the Residential Lodge is its proximity to the restaurants like Pinikpikan House, Yoghurt House and Salt & Pepper. The place is good, for only 250 pesos one can stay in a decent room which is good for 2 persons. No AC since there is no need for AC, towels are actually not routinely provided but my host, especially Auntie Mary, are very hospitable and never hesitates to go beyond what they are offering. You can cook at their kitchen if you want to, they also serve breakfast- just inform them in advance. According to the owner, Howie Severino stayed here during his visit in Sagada.
I was like starving when I reached my destination so I head to Yoghurt House to feed my gut. Surprisingly this restaurant does not only serve homemade yoghurt but also pasta, sandwich, veggies and main courses. For my lunch I had breaded pork with rice and granola with strawberry for the yogurt.
I was alone on this trip, actually my first time to be alone and my first time in Sagada, so I started my day with a simple sightseeing at St Mary’s Church, the Hanging Coffins, Echo Valley, the Underground River and Bokong Falls. At first I wanted to explore alone using the map that I bought at the Municipal Tourism Office (its open even on Sundays) however I highly recommend hiring guides from SAGGAS to avoid accidents since the trail is quite challenging and I think you can easily get lost even with a map. Hiring guides also provides livelihood to the locals which in return will help the community preserve their culture and tradition.
Sagada is well known for its tradition of burying the dead, it was believed that the higher the coffin, the easier it is for the dead to reach heaven thus nobles would want their coffins hanged on the cliffs. St Mary’s Church was bombed during the Second World War and was rebuilt by the help of the Japanese, it has a beautiful architecture worth visiting. Bokong Falls is actually smaller compared to the other falls in the area but it has a natural swimming pool but according to the locals it’s deep. If you want to swim on this pool, plan ahead. You can rent a life jacket for 50 pesos for the whole day at the second floor of Centrum in front of the Municipal Hall.
To wrap up my day, I tasted an authentic “Pinikpikan with Etag” at Pinikpikan House near Residential Lodge. “Pinikpikan” is a local dish of the Cordillera’s and in Sagada they usually add “Etag” which gave it an authentic Sagada flavor. “Pinikpikan” is prepared by beating live chicken with a stick prior to cooking. The bruises caused by beating bring blood to the surface which is believed to improve the chicken’s flavor. “Etag” is a slice of meat, salted and smoked and is usually added to garnish “pinikpikan” in Sagada. Some groups consider the process of preparing “Pinikpikan” cruel however it is part of the a very rich culture of the north worth preserving.