Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sagada: Adventure Written All Over the Place

Some of us are struggling to save for our dream destinations and admittedly they are called "dream destinations" because they remain elusive to us.

But like most people, we pursue our love of traveling by having a bucket list - carefully planning the masterful exploration of the unseen and the unvisited!

Every year my mind sets off to travel destinations and 2015 is not an exception. The constant stalking for Piso fare promo finally paid off this year and made my dream vacation in Sagada, Mt. Province a reality. I am intrigued by the mysteries Mt. Province keep what with the secret rituals in food preparation, the unusual burial of the deceased and the world renowned rice terraces. 

We took the first trip leaving for Sagada via Besao at 6am and paid P200 at the Dangwa Bus terminal in Baguio City. But just like any other beautiful destinations, getting there is a challenge in itself. The zigzag road is enough to make your heart skip a beat and it's quite difficult putting on a brave face staring down from the high cliff while inside the bus.

When you have the window seat, your mind drifts from reading warning signs of falling rocks, the steep mountain on your side of the window and the deep ravine in front of you. Nevertheless, the spellbinding landscapes compensate the 6-hour butt sore experience. 

Beautiful cannot even begin to describe the majestic scenery that is Mt. Province. The dramatic rice terraces looked more attractive seeing them up close. 

Throughout the journey however, fogs and smogs seem to force itself in the alluring picture. The mist outside temporarily blocking the view stirred an unfamiliar feeling inside like being suspended in a mysterious atmosphere. 

Every 2 hours the bus has to drive further to layover destinations for a quick bite and toilet break. This is also a chance for taking a glimpse of the culture embraced by the Cordillera region through their local food and delicacies.

Upon arrival, we registered to SEGA or Sagada Environmental Guides Association at the Municipal Hall and paid P35 each (keep the receipt as proof of payment). This is in line with the local government's ongoing drive for proper waste disposal towards a cleaner and litter free environment.  At the same time this is their way of having a "directory" of tourists visiting the place both local and foreign.

It was past 12 noon when we arrived so we proceeded to check in at The Residential Lodge after SEGA registration. It was a residence turned lodge for tourists owned by a retired teacher, Mary A. Daoas. It is located at Daoangan, Sagada Mt. Province 2619 and may be reached via mobile nos. 09196728744 and 09396392477. The rate was P300/pax per night (you may opt to get a common/shared room or a private room).

Since it is a must in Sagada to get a tour guide, we availed the services of the competent and skilled guides from SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association). Tour packages range from P600 to 1200 depending on the tourists' attractions you want to explore. We chose the bundle 'Echo Valley, Hanging Coffins, Underground Cave and Bokong falls for P600.

Off to our first stop the Echo Valley, we came across the burial remains of one of the SAF 44. 

While we are at the Echo Valley, I did not miss the chance of doing my own version (a self-made howl) of the infamous Angelica Panganiban's cry "Walang Forever". The now famous line of the indie movie 'That Thing Called Tadhana' often draws responses from other tourists such as "Akala mo lang wala pero meron, meron, meron!" which never fails to amuse other touring visitors along the valley.

Right down next to the valley is the world's famous and Sagada's main tourist attraction, the Hanging Coffins. It is considered to be an unusual burial ritual of the deceased where the dead are placed inside a wooden coffin and hung on the side of a mountain. It was an eerie feeling standing next to the 400 plus year old coffins perched on the cliff. Yet the solemnity of the place gave me a clear understanding that the people in Sagada have a deeper respect for the departed.

After visiting the hanging coffins, we went further down the steep hill towards the Underground Cave. It was like going inside the Underground river of Palawan but on foot. It was pitch-black, the water was cold and the rocks are slippery. The knee-deep water spelunking experience was both exhilirating and nerve-racking. The only light that we see is the glow from the traditional lamp carried by the tour guide which serves as our torch inside the dark cave. Each time my feet touches the dark waters, images of water snakes lurking in the shadows make me shiver to the bone. 

What appeared to be the conclusion of this physically challenging activity was the part where we need to crawl up via a wooden ladder but need to step on a side stone where the water underneath is said to be really deep. One false step and voila down the drain you go! Honestly, when the guide hollered that warning, I would have retorted "This is not what I've signed up for!" Hahaha.

Seeing the cave's mouth at the other side was truly a relief. But our journey doesn't end there because next pit stop is the Bokong Falls. It really felt like we have been walking for hours and hours of rough terrain, unending rivers and a vast area of rice fields.  

When we finally reached Bokong Falls, we decided to not have a quick dip but instead call it a day. Not because the water was uninviting but because it was a bit crowded. 

It took us almost 3 hours to finish the tour and if translated deserves a bowl of fresh and local sweet strawberries! 

I don't claim to be a "travel buff" but visiting a new place is almost synonymous to gastronomic wanderings, a never ending search on what food to eat and where to eat them. There were too many eating places to binge on but we can only do so much with our limited time. 

After we left our things at our accommodation, we decided to try the first of my list on where to eat in Sagada, the Yoghurt House. We sampled their best sellers which are Spicy Chicken Curry with vegetables & rice (soup was flavorful and meat was tender) and the Baked Chicken with potato rosti & vegetable salad (chicken was crispy and the potato rosti was delish). To satisfy our sweet-tooth cravings, we ordered Fruits in Season Yoghurt which was an enjoyable dessert.

It is a crime not to have a slice of the raved about Sagada Lemon Pie. For only P35/slice and a box for P200, it's a pastry treat all tourists deserve. It's sweet and tangy with a hint of sourness in every bite but I really loved it. Dine in customers are provided with a jar of sugar though just in case you like it sweeter. And if you're planning to bring it as a pasalubong, be sure to order ahead because they run out of stock quickly.

We also tried Masferre Country Inn and Restaurant's All American Sub & Strawberry Smoothie. The smoothie however was really a disappointment, good thing the All American Sub Sandwich delivered.

The best eating place in Sagada for me is the Sagada Brew where staffs are mostly "Bisaya" including the cook. I enjoyed the flavorful and tender callos plus the roast beef was tasty as well. It was by far the best dining experience I ever have in Sagada.

There is no doubt that "Adventure" is written all over Sagada and there's no denying it both in activities and food. Despite the distance, this is one tourist destination worthy of visit and exploration.

I am proud to say, I've crossed one item off my bucket list!