Sagada: where it all began

I’ll start up my first travel blog by writing about the trip that really got me into traveling and outdoor adventures. My trip to Sagada back in the last week of November 2015.

I was invited by a friend of mine to join her in a group tour to Sagada over the weekend. I had my doubts at first, not being much of a traveler at the time and knowing spelunking was one of the primary activities to be done in Sagada.

Here is a bit of information about Sagada.

  • It is a fifth class municipality in the province of Mountain Province, Philippines.
  • It has a population of 11,244 people (2010 consensus)
  • It is located 275 km north of Manila
  • Average temperature ranges from 17.1-21 degree Celsius (World Weather Online)

Prep and Research

I did a bit of research on the internet about spelunking and read a few blogs about Sagada and the general idea I got was that it was a really tough, but worth the experience. So I made up my mind and decided to join my friend on the trip.

I started preparing for what would be a life-changing (okay I’m dramatizing a bit; more like finding new horizons) experience for me. I was up for the challenge, but I wanted to make sure I was prepared in the best possible way I could. I purchased the necessary gear and equipment for spelunking.

  • Headlamp (helpful when traveling with a big group)
  • Aqua shoes (helpful in slippery areas)
  • Gloves (gives you better grip while moving around)
  • Rashguard & inner leggings or arm & leg compression sleeves (to avoid scratches)
  • Dry bag (to keep your personal belongings dry)
  • Waterproof case for your phone (to keep it handy for taking photographs)
  • A couple of water bottles (hydration is important)
  • Snacks (optional)

I purchased most of my gear from Lagalag Exploration and the rest can be purchased from the department store in the malls. Lagalag is a pretty useful store for outdoor activities with friendly and helpful staff members. As for the waterproof case, that is dependent on your phone brand and model, I got a Lifeproof Nuud case for iPhone 6 plus from Power Mac Center.

The Journey Begins

Next up was the journey itself. It was an overnight ride that began at around 10pm in a Toyota Hiace van which to be honest was quite tiring, especially if you’re a bit taller than average like me. The leg room isn’t enough and keeping them bent for long hours can take its toll. I suggest getting out and stretching a bit at every stop the driver makes (if you’re awake, that is).

Banaue Rice Terraces

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Banaue Rice Terraces

Early next morning, we had a stop for breakfast at the Halfway lodge and restaurant in Banaue before heading to the rice terraces for admiring the beauty, the view, the creativity borne out of necessity and to take a few pictures as well.

Jumped back on the van for a few more hours heading to Sagada now. We had a homestaying accommodation near the Sagada Lemon Pie House, a famous bakery and restaurant. I noticed that people in the town are living quite a simple life and are polite in tone and nature, quite the change from the metro.

Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins

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Hanging Coffins

First place we headed to was the Echo Valley and The Hanging coffins at the foot of the Valley trail. It was a short 30-odd minute trail downhill if memory serves me right. The local tour guide gave lengthy explanations about the historical and cultural significance of the tombs and the coffins along with some trivial information and a few jokes here and there. The coffins are a traditional way of burying people and there are some conditions which must be met before one can be allowed to have a hanging coffin burial.

Sagada Pottery

Next up we visited the Sagada Pottery and got a quick demo of how pots are made and a display of their skill and craftiness. There is a dedicated area where you can buy (they are pricey) various cups, mugs, tea pots and other pottery creations. There were also kids around here selling chocolate filled bread which tasted pretty good.

Lumiang-Sumaguing Cave connection

Next morning, we finally tackled the elephant in the room (more like in my head) and headed (no pun intended) to Lumiang cave to traverse across caves and exit from Sumaguing cave. This journey was about 5-odd hours long and it’s a bit hard to describe the various emotions you go through while spelunking. Exhilarating, thrilling, energizing, consuming, stimulating… I don’t think I’ll run out of superlatives, but in essence it was adventure with ups and downs (literally) and highs and lows (also literally) like a journey of life. It is one to be experienced, not to be read about.

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Nearing the end

Remember to wear the proper gear, it helps a lot. The gloves and aqua shoes were a real help to me as I saw fellow spelunkers having a hard time gripping on rocks and boulders without gloves and unable to get a firm grip on the surface due to wearing sandals or slippers. I have to mention that there comes a point during the traversal where the guide instructs to take of your shoes, unless of course you’re wearing aqua shoes. There are a couple areas with ropes that you have to rappel as well.

The rock formations inside are quite beautiful and the tour guide often had a trivia as well as some jokes about the formation (like one formation being a male because he had an Adam’s apple). During the second half of the cave, you’ll notice a lot of bats flying around as well. Don’t be alarmed though it gets a bit creepy, they’re harmless (at least in my experience) and there will be bat poop around, but you gotta do what you gotta do. You can wash up right after you exit, and there is a restaurant nearby to fill up your tummies and recharge your exhausted bodies.

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The joy of daylight after spelunking (yeah that’s dirt on my neck)

Bomod-ok waterfalls

After the tiring but fun-filled cave connection traverse, we headed to the Bomod-ok waterfalls. It is also known among the locals as the mother falls. At the start of the trek, the locals give you a wooden trekking pole, which can make-do but it would be better if you had your own proper trekking pole as this trek was extremely tiring, there were what seems like a billion steps downwards followed by crossing a river stream and a short trek toward the foot of the falls.

The Bomod-ok is quite scenic and grand, the pictures I took don’t do it justice. There is a pool area right beneath the falls which chilling waters. There is also a small hut on the side selling food. That’s all fun but the trek back is what really kills, and more so for us because it got dark by the team we headed back up.

Kiltepan Viewpoint

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The sun didn’t show up

The final morning in Sagada, we headed to Kiltepan Viewpoint before sun dawn to catch the crepuscular rays, that is, when the sunlight breaks through the clouds. We took a jeepney ride and then a short trek uphill to reach the viewpoint. Some people were camping there overnight as well, which must’ve been a cool (both literally and figuratively) experience. Unfortunately the sun never showed up in its full glory, we did get a few glimpses though, but that was all. There is a restaurant at the viewpoint as well as an instant coffee stall to keep you floating. There were few horses around as well primarily for picture taking purposes.

Heading back home

After a couple of days of fun-filled adventures and aching bodies, we finally headed back home to Manila. We had a pit stop at the Strawberry Farm in Baguio city to pluck some berries and try out everything with a touch of strawberry ranging from ice creams to even a strawberry flavored taho (soy based snack food).

It was another long and tiring ride in the van which lasted the whole day. Thankfully I had this wonderful sophomore album by The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers loaded up on my phone to keep me company.

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The Desired Effect

 

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